The people of the past have often left behind various riddles that we try to glean some understanding of even today. Among the various ruins and abandoned structures of our ancestors there are often puzzles, often surrounded by myth, magic, and mystery. Among these mysterious places are great pillars reaching up towards the sky, which hold their secrets close and elude our attempts to figure them out, and here are some of the most enigmatic.
Many of the world’s mysterious pillars are located in India, and by far the most well-known of these is the one called the “Iron Pillar of Delhi,” or also the “Ashoka Pillar,” which currently resides at the Qutb mosque complex of Delhi. The immense pillar stands nearly 24 feet high, resting upon a grid of soldered iron beams covered with stone, and weighs around 6 tons. Upon the pillar are various inscriptions, the oldest of which is a message in a form of Sanskrit, a eulogy to the god Vishnu engraved right into the iron likely by the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375-415 A.D.). More interesting than any of this, though, are the various mysteries orbiting the pillar.
One thing that has been oft-debated with the Iron Pillar of Delhi is just how it ended up in its current position to begin with, as it was not originally erected here, although where is was originally constructed is unknown. It has been theorized based on clues within its many inscriptions that it was likely made in around 300 AD at the caves of Udayagiri or at a place called Vishnupadagiri, and moved to the city of Lal Kot in the year 1050 AD to be put up at the main temple of the Tomar king, Anangapala II, after which it was stolen by invading Muslim forces and eventually moved to its position at the Quwwat-ul Mosque of the Qutb complex, but this is still much debated. Another mystery is that no one is really even sure what its exact purpose was, but even more mysterious still is that the Iron Pillar of Delhi seems to be impervious to rust, barely corroding at all even as the Islamic ruins around it slowly crumble to dust. As a matter of fact, the pillar seems to have not rusted at all in well over a millennia.
Indeed, for as much time that has passed, an iron pillar like this should have thoroughly oxidized and be absolutely decrepit, not nearly in its rust free condition it is in now, let alone with clearly legible inscriptions still on it. The reasons why this should be have also been the subject of much discussion, but the main theory has to do with the skillful way the pillar was constructed and the unique qualities of the metals used. The idea is that the Indian iron extraction and forging techniques were so advanced for their age that the pillar was imbued with an even, protective layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate hydrate, which has had the effect of guarding the metal from the elements to a remarkable degree. In this case, a perfect combination of metal properties, extraction techniques, and masterful forging skills has occurred to ensure that the iron is basically encased within a protective shell invisible to the naked eye. Whatever the answers to any of these enigmas may be, the mysterious Iron Pillar of Delhi still stands tall for tourists from all over to see, much as it has done for over a thousand years, and probably will for thousands more.
Another mysterious such place also lies in India, over in the village of Hampi, in Karnataka, where there is the majestic Vittala Temple complex, originally erected in the 15th century during the reign of Devaraya II in honor of the god Vishnu. The temple is well-known for its gorgeous, extravagant architecture, elaborate carvings, and grand stone structures, and it is also famous for a series of 56 granite pillars called the SaReGaMa pillars, which have some very strange qualities indeed. Rather oddly, these pillars are renowned for producing musical notes along the whole 7 note Indian musical scale when tapped gently, and producing different timbres depending on what they are rapped with. They can also depict the sounds of different instruments, with one producing a drum sound, another something like a chime, still others emanating the sounds of bells, with each of the structures bearing engravings of the instrument they are meant to mimic. It is a delightful little oddity, and making it all the more bizarre is that no one has any idea of why they should be able to produce these sounds of music.
The unique qualities of these musical pillars has been perplexing people for centuries, and at one point in the 1930s during the years of British rule two of the pillars was actually dismantled by scientists desperately trying to figure out how they worked, ultimately finding absolutely nothing inside, no special holes in it, and nothing to really differentiate it from any other normal pillar. Make it even odder still is that all of these columns are of the same height and width and made of the same exact material. This mystery has persistently baffled archeologists and scientists all the way up to the present, and we still don’t know how the pillars do it. The best estimate is that the creators of the pillars mastered some unknown way of melding different densities of materials into the granite to change the layers of density within the structures, thus producing the sounds. However, just how they managed it all and how exactly it works are complete mysteries, and it means they would have had to have someway to melt and manipulate rock, to change the very nature of the material itself, something we would have a hard time trying to do even with modern technology. Whatever the cause may be, it will probably forever be a mystery, and in order to protect the integrity of the site tourists are no longer allowed to tap the pillars to make their strange music.
Also in India is a strange pillar in the village of Lepakshi in the Anantapur District of Andhra Pradesh, at a mysterious place called Veerabhadra Temple. This 16th century temple is notable for its enchanting architectural style, huge idols, exquisite sculptures, elaborate fresco paintings, and massive carvings, as well as for another anomalous pillar. There is a total of 70 pillars here, but one of them stands out as particularly noteworthy, in that for some reason it does not actually touch the ground. The so-called “Floating Pillar” is huge, fashioned from pure granite and standing 20 feet high, weighing many tons and the whole of it adorned with intricate carvings, and it just so happens that it is all apparently just so slightly elevated from the floor, to the point that it is possible to pass a sheet of paper or cloth beneath it, making it seem to defy gravity. The reason for why this should be is unknown, although has been pointed out that there seems to be one tiny piece of the corner that does make contact with the ground, and that this was perhaps all caused by a misguided and failed effort by British engineers to uproot the massive pillar and move it, but it is still quite a curiosity that attracts droves of tourists.
Moving away from India we come to Japan, where there is a rather spookier story of anomalous pillars, which is wrapped in a sense of legend and myth. It is said that in the old days a practice known as “hitobashira,” literally “human pillars,” was sometimes utilized in the construction of walls, castles, tunnels and pillars, using humans buried alive within the structures in the belief that it would make them sturdier and more durable, as well as from the idea that they could form a link between humans and gods, as it was said that deities could be enshrined within pillars and poles. Another persistent belief was that the souls of those who sacrificed themselves to be ensconced within these structures could serve as guardian spirits against malicious supernatural forces.
There are numerous tales of this being done throughout Japanese history, and many digs at such sites have turned up human bones and skulls within the ruins, often standing upright, all of which gives fuel to the legends. In Hokkaido there is the Jomon tunnel, built in 1914, which underwent repairs after a large earthquake for the startled construction crews to allegedly find numerous upright skeletons within the concrete supports, and there are many similar stories from all over Japan, with a large number of structures said to utilize these human pillars and some claims that there are sometimes even the names of those embedded within engraved upon the macabre constructions.
Some of the eerie tales have a definite ring of the paranormal to them, such as the case of the 17th century Matsue Castle, in Shimane prefecture. According to the lore, the stone supports of the castle were prone to collapse, causing the builders to find a beautiful young woman, who they then lured away from her dancing at a summer festival and had sealed within the walls. Unfortunately for them, the vengeful spirit of the woman has been said to haunt the location ever since, and it was once said that the castle would shudder if a woman were to dance during a festival, leading to a ban on dancing in the area at one time. In another similar tale, an old woman was tricked into becoming a human pillar by promising that her son could become a samurai in return. They went through with the process and she became a pillar of Maruoka Castle in Fukui prefecture, but the builders reneged on their promise. This apparently angered the spirit of the old woman, as she has supposedly caused the moat around the castle to frequently flood and overflow. Although the existence of these human pillars is mostly treated as a myth, it is all curious nonetheless.
One does not need to go to the far corners of the earth to find mysterious pillars, and indeed one lies right within the United States, itself wreathed in plenty of sinister tales of dark magic. Within the quaint town of Augusta, Georgia until very recently stood an odd structure that was constructed in the 1800s and was once a part of the Augusta Market, along Georgia’s historic Broad Street. The pillar itself is fashioned from concrete, standing 10 feet tall and seeming to be quite out of place with the rest of the surroundings. It was also once supposedly enchanted with a sinister curse by a preacher who was forbidden from preaching there. In his fury he would go on to proclaim that the whole market would be destroyed, leaving only the single pillar behind as testament to his wrath. This would come to pass when a tornado tore through the town and annihilated the market, leaving just the mysterious pillar standing untouched.
Another component to the sinister curse is that death and misfortune will come to those who try and move it or damage it, which seemed to have come true when it was reported that construction crews who tried to relocate the stone column were plagued by freak accidents and even lightning bolts dropping from the sky upon them. There are numerous other stories of people trying to move the pillar or vandalizing it and meeting with woe, and some legends even say that to merely touch it will bring about bad luck. Almost in defiance of this curse it seems the pillar has been the target of vandalism and accidents ever since as well. People have tried to destroy it with sledgehammers and it had been crushed by car crashes and rebuilt two times, in 1935 and 1958, before finally being reduced to rubble once more by a crash in 2016, with locals saying that even just the pieces of it left behind are cursed and leaving officials to try and decide whether to rebuild it or not.
These are certainly some strange places wrapped in mystery and myth, their secrets elusive and possibly lost to time forever. What lies behind the enigmas we have looked at here? Where does myth and legend end and reality begin? Is there any way we will ever come to an understanding of any of it? Time will tell, and in the meantime pillars like these stand the test of time, stuck in a mysterious history and with secrets we may or may not ever comprehend.