Depiction of Megalithic Burial Site in Anegundi

Unearthing Pre-historic Rock Paintings of India

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).

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)

Ten foot serpent cave painting in Anegundi
Ten foot serpent cave painting in Anegundi

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.

Chhattisgarh

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!

10,000-Year-Old Depictions Of Ancient Aliens And UFOs Discovered In India – Archaeologists Say

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
http://www.academia.edu/2563450/STUPAS_IN_PETROGLYPHS_A_LIVING_HERITAGE_OF_LADAKH

Maharashtra : https://buddhistartnews.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/kondane-cave-art-depicts-myth-and-daily-life/
http://www.academia.edu/13013981/Maharashtra_Rock_Art

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.



Read More

Bhimbhetka : Rock shelters and cave paintings of central India

I have been a history aficionado since I was young. My mom being a history teacher, we have grown up loving our history books, discussing the Harappan civilization at home and discovering places of historical importance during our travels. Yet, before visiting Bhimbhetka, I never knew that we actually had rock paintings from the Stone Age, right here in the center of India!

The Bhimbhetka caves are located 45 km from Bhopal. They have been declared a World Heritage Site and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have done a really good job maintaining the caves in a good condition. There are guides available at the entrance and there are details of the site available near the main entrance.

Rock Shelters

Although there are around 700 rock shelters in this area, not all are open to the tourists. They are spread across a forest area. As you enter, you can see various interesting rock formations, that illustrate the magic of erosion over several thousand centuries.

Auditorium Rock Shelter
Auditorium Rock Shelter

The Auditorium rock shelter is one unique formation that the guides generally point out. This shelter was probably used in ancient times as a gathering area or auditorium, and hence the name.

Cup marks
Cup marks

At the end of the Auditorium shelters, there are unique cup marks. These marks are supposed to be dated nearly 10,000 years back!!

Cave shelter
Cave shelter

As you move through the path with your guide, you will come across several caves. These were used as shelters by the ancient man.

Cave Paintings

The paintings are seen in different colors: white and red being the most popular, followed by some yellow and green. The guide explained that they depict different periods in time. The white ones seem to be the oldest. On observing carefully, you can make out that the white ones look more primitive in their designs. The drawing patterns improve with the reds.

White elephant
Big tusker

Elephant

Man riding horse
Chief with his entourage

This particular pattern is pretty elaborate, showing the men carrying weapons and riding horses. There is one man (probably the chief) riding an ornately decorated horse. There seems to be some celebration with people playing drums around.

There are places where you can see a mix of paintings in various colors, done on top of each other. One of the most popular must-visit spot is the Zoo rock shelter.

Zoo rock shelter
Zoo Rock Shelter

The Zoo Rock Shelter supposedly contain the most number of animal paintings on one rock. The paintings here date back from the Mesolithic to the Medieval ages. You can see spotter deer, antelopes, elephant and other cattle in white.

Zoo shelter up close
Zoo shelter up close

The red paintings of the Zoo shelter show human forms with bows and arrows, and some other forms of weaponry probably.

Hunting Deer
Hunting Deer
Peacocks
Peacocks

There is an interesting patch of paintings which, very distinctly, show a stationary and a flying peacock, as well as a snake.

Men riding horses
Men riding horses
Horse
A magnificient horse

Another point of interest is the Mythical Boar. You will understand why it is termed as “mythical”, when you see its size in comparison with the humans drawn beside it. Since no remains of an animal of such proportions have ever been found, this painting is believed to be a work of fiction. Probably the first creative fiction story ever!

Mythical boar
Mythical boar

But the one painting that really left a mark on me, was of a human palm. Someone, who existed some thousands of years ago, left an imprint of his hand (left hand to be precise) behind, giving us a story to think of. For that person, it was probably a pastime, just scribbling away with paint. But in that ONE painting (I believe) ‘She’ literally left her mark behind.

Hand impression
Hand impression

“Bhimbhetka” or “Bhimbethika” : The Mahabharatha connection

The locals talk of the original name of this place being Bhim-Bethika, meaning the seat of Bhima (One of the Pandavas). There are forest areas, not very far away from Bhimbhetka, that are named “Lakhajur”. Locals tell stories that this was the place where the Lakshagrah was built for the Pandavas.

In the Mahabharatha, the Kauravas try to kill the Pandavas by building a palace for them made entirely of Lac (which is highly flammable) in the woods. When Kauravas think that the Pandavas are deeply in sleep inside the palace, they set it on fire. But the Pandavas are already aware of the Kauravas’ plan and escape.

Tips:

  • The forest trail that takes you around the caves is narrow, pebbly and rugged. So be sure to wear good walking shoes.
  • The trail might not be comfortable for people with knee or leg pains.
  • Entry to the rock shelters is closed a little before sundown as there is no artificial lighting available. Plan your travel properly.
  • It is best to hire a car, if you are traveling from Bhopal.
  • If you can make a one-day trip from Bhopal, you can cover Bhimbhetka and Bhojpur. Bhojpur is famous for its Shiva temple and connection to the Pandavas.




Read More