Professor Malladi Leela KrishnaMurty, popularly known as M.L.K. Murty, a renowned Professor in Archeology of India and South Asia, passed away in Hyderabad on 2nd June 2016 due. He served the University of Hyderabad community as the Head at the Centre for Regional Studies and also as Honorary Director at the Centre for Folk Culture Studies which he held till his retirement in 2003. He was also instrumental in establishing the Centre for Folk Culture Studies in the University with the support of Ford Foundation.
The university feels a great sense of loss on the unexpected demise of one of few pioneers in India in the field of Prehistoric Archaeology.
Professor Murty was an extraordinary academician. He has left behind an illustrious canon of research in the field of Paleolithic age (Stone Age), which was a first in the field. After a brief exposure in the sciences, he made a switch to the social sciences, particularly Archaeology, and he started this journey from the prestigious Department of Archaeology in M.S. University Baroda, which was then headed by the famous professor, Bendapudi Subbarao, who grew fond of Murty.
But Murty’s academic excellence flourished only after he joined for Ph.D at the well-known Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute in Pune under the supervision of Professor Hasmukh Dhirajlal Sankalia, a Doyen of Archaeology in India. His doctoral work was on “Stone Age Archaeology of Tirupati Hills Farming Parts of the Eastern Ghats” which looked in to the occurrences of Stone Age sites in the areas located between Kurnool and Kortalayar valley in Andhra Pradesh.
In a short span of two years, Murty discovered rich clusters of sites from period of Acheulian to period of Mesolithic, in the Renigunta region. These sites resembled the discoveries made in other regions around the same time and made up the first primary Palaeolithic sites identified in India.
Murty’s findings in the region of Renigunta included several blade and burin assemblages which were different from the Middle Palaeolithic and Mesolithic tools. After completing his Ph.D thesis in 1966, He published a paper on the blade tool assemblages in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society in 1969. This paper is seem as a landmark publication in the field of prehistory of India, and cleared all the longstanding doubts about the existence of Upper Paleolithic cultures in India.
He returned to Academia in in 1970 as a lecturer this time and continued his field studies on a regular basis for more than a decade and half in the areas around the region of Kurnool and discovered many new Stone Age sites. With a view to gaining further insights into the Upper Paleolithic phase, he carried out the fresh excavations in the Billasurgam caves which was earlier excavated for the first time by Bruce Foote, the Father of Indian Archaeology.
In addition to stone tools, these excavations found a variety of bone tools and fossil fauna from the Upper Palaeolithic times. His findings of the site located at Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi also traced the earliest evidence of using fire in India and this was dated to 17,000 B.P.
Murty had a rare quality of applying his anthropological knowledge to examine the prehistoric India. In this direction his field study in the Eastern Ghats on the hunting, gathering practices and land use patterns of indigenous people living in simple societies, especially the Chenchus, the Boyas and the Erukalas was critical. These ethnographic studies enabled him to reconstruct the settlement and subsistence patterns of the Stone Age communities in a more comprehensive way.
Apart from academic teaching, he conducted several ethno-historical studies in a detailed manner in the form of audio-visual documentation of myths, legends and other cultural traditions of the Kuruma pastoralists and other simple groups of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He carried out these studies, even after retiring from the teaching profession.
His recent works were dedicated in understanding the cultural lividity of the various sects in Andhra and Telengana. Even in his last days, his passion for his subject didn’t seem to recede. A few weeks before his sudden demise, he completed a final draft copy of a comprehensive monograph on the prehistory of Eastern Ghats for publication as part of this research.
Murty was an awardee of a Tagore Memorial National Fellowship of the Ministry of Culture given by Government of India at New Delhi in 2010.
His students remember him as a dedicated and an inspiring teacher. He was loved by his colleagues who found a true friend in him. He was fondly called, ‘Upper Palaeolithic Murty’, a name given to him by his beloved teacher Professor H.D. Sankalia.
University pays condolence to the celebrated Academician, Professor, M.L.K. Murty.
-Edited by Donita Jose with inputs from Dr. Ram Babu Mallavarapu