Prof C.P. Rajendran is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.
Every rock tells a story
‘The Society to Save Rocks’ was formed by a group of artists, photographers, and environmentalists in Hyderabad. It has been doing a great service by working to save the city’s and the surroundings’ unique, rocky landscape, against real estate forces. The society is composed of artists, photographers and environmentalists, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It wants to impress upon landowners, developers and the government that our beautiful granite boulders can and should be preserved.
Hyderabad is a city with a deep cultural history – but it is an equally important place where you can learn natural history by watching and talking to the rocks, as geologists are wont to do. Every rock has a story to tell if we know how to decipher it. Within the unique composition and arrangement of materials that compose different rocks, one can find the signatures of the processes that formed them – representing various chapters in Earth’s dynamic history.
The rocky landscape of Hyderabad and its surroundings display different kinds of ‘stone arrangements’, as Aboriginal Australians known for their special connection to rocks would have defined them. Sculpted by tectonic and climatic agencies over millions of years, these large, rounded rocks are often found standing alone, atop hills or perched precariously on each other in a titanic embrace. They may look inert, but billions of years worth of Earth story is preserved in each of them. These rockscapes tell us spectacular stories of our planet’s origin.
The story of Earth starts around 4.5 billion years ago. Studies have found that some rock types around Hyderabad are up to 2.5 billion years old – a time that saw the emergence of continental crust with a granitic composition, dominated by lighter minerals – in contrast to the darker basaltic rocks that typically floor the oceans. This profound change in crustal composition coincided with the changes in Earth’s tectonic regime, especially the initiation of the movement of continental plates.
The magma oozing out from the crustal depth solidified at the upper levels, and became the ancient crustal nuclei occupying the central part of continents. Their immense age implies their exposure to multiple crustal and climatic processes, leading to repeated cycles of land emergence and erosion. The exposed granitic basement developed horizontal and vertical cracks, and was sculpted to its present spectacular forms. This timeless process of change is known in geology as weathering. Due to the prolonged exposure to heat and cold and coupled with the action of water seeping through their weak planes, the rocks fracture and wear down, rounding off their angularities and morph into spheroidal shapes – the most efficient shape, from stars to rocks, for holding matter.
There is something that links rocks to stars and eternity. They embody time both fluid and frozen. I am reminded of a quote in a 2019 article in The Conversations by Tyson Yunkaporta, a scholar in indigenous knowledge, attributed to a wise man of the Aboriginal Australians, who was asked about their love of rocks: “Stones to me are the objects that parallel all life, more so than trees or mortal things because stones are almost immortal. They know things learned over deep time. The stone represents earth, tools, and spirit; it conveys meaning through its use and through its resilience to the elements. At the same time, it ages, cracking and eroding as time wears it down, but it is still there, filled with energy and spirit.”
The city of Hyderabad is a veritable natural museum of rocks and forms a vital part of India’s geo-heritage. But unplanned real estate growth has destroyed many of its geological features. Instead of acknowledging the rock formations as a national asset, industrialists are mining and ruining them.
Geo-heritage sites in many countries have been preserved as geo-parks for posterity. This and other forms of geo-conservation should be a major factor in land-use planning, and we need to evolve an appropriate legal framework to support such strategies. As the wise man said: “Stone teaches us that we should be strong no matter what tries to crack us or wear us down, keeping an unbreakable core through your culture and your beliefs. The majority of this earth is rock, and while water and plants make up its surface, the body of the earth, the part that keeps it all together, is rock. You can have life and creation, but it will all crumble without a solid base, same with society, companies, relationships, identities, knowledge, almost anything both tangible and intangible. Like those forests and trees sitting as a skin over the rocks of the earth – without that strength inside, without that stone, it would crumble”.
What should we do to stop the destroyers of our geological legacy from pushing these precious spheres over the ledge? It will take a big shift in thinking to avert such destruction. And for it shift to happen, we need to learn from the rocks that “we are no greater or lesser than a rock”. We truly need to become a part of a society that saves rocks.