India is supposed to have the third largest concentration of rock art, after Australia and Africa! And yet how many of us have actually heard of these rock art sites, let alone visit one? It does go to show the need to educate people about India’s pre-historic heritage as well as popularize these sites.
While researching about the pre-historic rock art in India, I realized that they are spread across most parts of India: Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, North East, Kashmir etc and yet it was difficult to find information about these sites on State tourism sites. The only information we found were research journals or papers published by Indian historians or researchers. For a traveler, the reports are pretty technical. Also the actual sites are not easily accessible and sometimes hard to find even.
What is Pre-Historic?
We do not want this to be a history lesson but just want to give readers an idea of what we want to convey here. So trying to explain relevance of some technical terms in easily understandable language.
Pre-historic literally means something so old that it precedes recorded history. It would denote an era when there would most probably be no written language, and hence we can learn about these time periods only by other forms like sculptures, carvings, pottery, weapons or art/paintings.
Pre-historic era is divided between different time periods:
• Palaeolithic Age : Early Stone Age; Before 10,000 BC, marked by introduction of basic stone tools
• Mesolithic Age : Middle Stone Age; 10,000 to 5000 BC
• Neolithic Age : New Stone Age; Beginnings of farming
What is a Rock Art?
Rock art is a form of painting or carving that is done on massive rocks or caves as a canvas. Since in ancient times, people lived inside caves and had huge rock formations around them, it can be assumed that they took up painting or carving (using natural colors from leaves and flowers) as something to pass their time.
Rock art from the pre-historic times are extremely useful in understanding an era of which there is no written record. We can learn a lot about the beliefs of the people, any kind of rituals that they followed, the type of animals found in the area, etc. The most popular Indian rock art is from Ajanta and Ellora, which although ancient are not from pre-historic times.
Bhimbhetka : UNESCO World Heritage Site
The most well-preserved and probably most popular amongst the India pre-historic rock art are those in Bhimbhetka near Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). The rock shelters and cave paintings have been accorded a World Heritage Site status, and have been quite well-maintained by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).
Rock paintings on pre historic rock shelters at UNESCO world heritage site in central India (Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh) See more pics here https://goo.gl/i9afJ6 #unescoworldheritage #worldheritagesite #madhyapradeshtourism #bhopal #incredibleindia #rockart #paintings #prehistoric #lpindia #lp @lonelyplanet @natgeotravel #ohmyindia
A photo posted by Four Blissful Feet (@fourblissfulfeet) on
There are official guides available who can give you a tour of the site. There are elaborate paintings like the “Zoo Rock” which shows paintings from various eras layered over one another. The paintings evolve from being mere stick figures to elaborate depictions of rituals and war scenes.
Other Madhya Pradesh Rock Art Sites
Madhya Pradesh has a large number of recorded rock painting sites including Shamala hills, Pachmarhi, Panna and Rewa. Dr Meenakshi Dubey Pathak is recognized to have done a lot of research and fieldwork around these sites.
Anegundi, near Hampi (Karnataka)
Before our trip to Hampi we had read about the cave paintings in Anegundi and made it a point to visit them. It was a real task to find the location as the guides weren’t fully aware of them. There are no signs that guide you to the cave paintings site and you are left to the complete mercy of the guide. The approach to the caves is through paddy fields and then trekking up some barren boulder-laden areas. Right up until you reach the caves, you can never tell there are these paintings hidden in these fields.
There are two sets of cave paintings located opposite to each other. The caretaker does not speak English, so understanding the paintings is difficult. We wrote about the cave paintings in a separate post on Hampi.
Recently there have been reports of some unusual cave paintings found in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh. These paintings have been dated to at least 10000 years back. Archaeologist Bhagat involved in researching this site has hypothesised that people from these regions might have been in contact with alien civilizations! Taking a look at the cave paintings sure will make you believe so!
— AboveTopSecret (@AboveTopSecret) July 15, 2014
It is believed that there are many such rocks hidden in the forests all over the state. The Chhattisgarh State Department of Archaeology and Culture is supposedly planning to get in touch with NASA and Indian space agency to explore further, if reports are to be believed.
The theory about Ancient Aliens is not new. We have been really fascinated by these theories where certain section of researchers and historians believe that certain structures like the Pyramids or Stonehenge were built with the help of aliens, and pre-historic man was in close contact with aliens. Whether you believe in this theory or not, it does make for some interesting stories! It is the first time that we have heard about Ancient Aliens theory in India, and its fascinating!
Another archaeologist Hari Singh Chhatri has reportedly found unique rock art from dense forests of Korba, which he believes to be from the period of the Ramayana.
Rest of India
There are several other pre-historic rock painting sites showcasing art from tens of thousands of years back. Some other sites that find mention but have not been on the tourist map:
Kaimur, Bihar : http://www.bharatonline.com/bihar/art-craft/rock-painting.html
Tejgadh, Baroda : http://indiatogether.org/photo/2003/bhil.htm
Leh, Karu Petroglyph site : http://www.outlooktraveller.com/photo-features/petroglyphs-rock-of-ages-1004842
Maharashtra : https://buddhistartnews.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/kondane-cave-art-depicts-myth-and-daily-life/
Note: The most consolidated information that I could find on the rock paintings of India was with the Bradshaw Foundation.
We definitely will be planning to visit many of these sites in the future, and hope the ASI and state tourism boards try to assimilate these sites in the Tourism maps and websites, giving history-lovers like us a new aim to explore this different side of India.
Disclaimer: We are not experts in the field of archaeology or history. We are just making an effort to make the masses aware of India’s unique pre-historic locations.