Indian Rock Art - Prehistoric Paintings of the Pachmarhi Hills by Dr. Meenakshi Dubey Pathak


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rock art India
Dr Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak
and the Research Team
The population of Pachmarhi is principally tribal. The main tribes are Korku and Gond. The four-sub caste of Korku is Muwasi, Bawaria, Ruma and Bondoya. The word Korku means simple men or ‘tribesmen’. (Koru meaning 'man' and ku its plural). According to Korku, traditions of their origin, on the request of Ravana, Lord Mahadeo created two images of a man and woman from the clay of an anthill. He then infused life into these figures and they were called ‘Mula’ and ‘Mulai’, with a common surnames Pathre. These two were the ancestors of the Korku tribe. Korku are a Munda or Colarian tribe as their language belongs to the Mundari of Austro-Asiatic family. The Gond tribes speak Gondi language. The Gonds also call themselves ‘Ravanvasi’, meaning descendants of Ravana king of Lanka. Their legends suggest that they have migrated to the area from Andhra in the medieval period, and they speak a Dravidian language called Gondi. The Korkus consider themselves superior to Gonds. They would not take food from Gonds, but would not refused water and chilam (cigar).
rock art India
Tribal Village
The average Korkus are well built & muscular. They have a round face, a nose rather wide, prominent cheekbone, a scanty mustache and his head shaved after the Hindu fashion. They are slightly taller than Gond (Russel and Hiralal 1969 : 552). They make houses of wattle and daub and with roofs made of handmade, baked clay tiles. The locals generally sleep on the ground and a few low stools carved from teak wood serve them as pillows. There is generally a verandah in the front of the house, a cattle shed attached to the side. The villages are kept remarkably clean.The interior of the house in Korku village is kept clean. The walls are decorated with various designs drawn on festive occasion, and the villagers take delight in pasting coloured pictures on the interior walls of their hut for decoration. Every villager has a few pigs and fowls about and both of which are eaten after being sacrificed. They are by no means particular about what they eat, fowls, fish, crabs and tortoise all consumed. Bondoya korku eat buffaloes too. The millets (kodu - kutki) are grown principally in the hilly tracks of trivial inhabitant, which form the staple food. Tobacco smoking and country liquor made by the local mahua flower is very common among these aboriginals. They often supplement their food with a number of edible fruits, tubers and honey collected from the forest. The tribal economy depends on agriculture.
Like most hill tribes the korku are remarkably honest and truthful. Korku consider themselves to be Hindus, and are held to have a better claim to a place in the social structure of Hinduism than most of the other forest tribes. They worship the Sun, Moon and also Mahadeo. The main festivals among Korku tribe are Shivaratri and Nagapanchami. Pachmarhi is the important pilgrim center for Shivaratri and Nagapanchami fares. The priests of Korku are of two kinds: ‘Parihars’ and Bhumka’. The Pariahs may be any man who is visited with the divine afflatus or selected as a mouthpiece by the deity. Parihars are also rare, but every village has it Bhumka, who perform the regular sacrifices to the village gods and the special ones entailed by disease or other calamities. The Korku have some belief in sympathetic magic as other primitive people. They also trust in Omens.
Korku tribe also has funeral rites. The dead are usually buried, the head pointing to the south. The earth is mixed with thorns while being filled in so as to keep off hyenas and stones are placed over the grave. Their family members and relatives honor the dead with carved and decorated teak wood memorial boards, placed under a sacred tree in the memory of the deceased during a highly religious ceremony. The primitive men in Hoshangabad district used painting as the chief source of amusement. Pachmarhi and Adamgarh hillock is the living monument of their art. The times have changed and there is a variety of means of amusement available to the people now.


In the remote mountains, deep dense forests, swamps and deserts the lives of hunters and gatherer remained almost undisturbed, long after more advanced cultures settled in the valleys and lowlands. The tribal people living in the rock shelters observed the colonizing groups and recorded their activities in paintings on the walls of their rock shelters. Later, they were to adopt from the newcomers only few basic cultural items. This is the most complete record, supported by the evidence of archaeological remains, of the tribal culture, as it existed in the past.
rock art India rock art India rock art India
Huge Shelter Occupied
by the Local Tribes
Dr Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak
with Local Tribe near Shelter
Tracing the Rock Art
at the Nagdwari Cave
Over time the valley culture exerted greater influence on the tribal groups. They left the rock shelters and the painted record ceased. Although this occurred only a few hundred years ago, there exist only a few, more recent paintings, which may be linked to the earlier examples of rock art. The Korku honour their deceased members with carved and decorated teak wood memorial boards, which are placed under a sacred tree in their memories during the highly religious ceremony. This may last for seven to eight hours. During the ceremony the tribe females dance in a circle around the sacred mango tree. In between they hold the memorial board in their hands and dance.
rock art India rock art India rock art India
Dr Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak
with Tribal Couple
Memorial Board placed
under a Sacred Tree
Memorial Board placed
under a Sacred Tree
Following this the carved boards are venerated and wept over. Later, a goat or jungle fowl is sacrificed and eaten, while the local liquor made from the flowers of the Mahua tree (Bassia latifolia) is consumed. One such sacred tree is situated in the “Gond Baba Udhayan” (lit. - Garden of the Gond deity) located in the Pachmarhi town itself. Tribal people who come from the surrounding villages of Pachmarhi use this site for their religious rituals followed by feasts. Memorial boards are placed at the base of the sacred tree within ten years of a death. The subjects carved into the board are selected form a limited list of elements. These are usually horse riders; group of geometrical human figures holding hands, and representations of sun or moon and the name of the deceased.
In carvings of the horse and its rider the Korku do not depict their own ancestors, as they did not have horses. The figures mounted on horse represent their conquerors. This element of the carving is totally unrelated to the loves of the deceased, but its stylistic form and that of other human figures is similar to the more recent rock paintings situated in rock shelters only a few kilometers away (Wakankar and Brooks 1976: 16).
rock art India
Women of the Tribe busy with
their daily routine
Many of the present day tribal communities decorate the walls of their house with paintings. The selected subjects relate to their natural and cultural environments, depicting birds, floral patterns, whilst other appears to be of symbolic or ritual importance. These wall paintings also seem to have their roots in the rock art tradition. At present the Korku tribal live in wattle huts whose walls are coated by clay colored white. The tradition of paintings continues as the korku women decorated their house walls with paintings and sketches. They use local colour such as the dark or Indian red, yellow ochre, blue and white. The paintings are executed during the slack rainy season or occasionally during festival events. The women in the Korku society carry out all domestic work and look after the children.
The depiction of a peacock on the wall of a hut in the Kajri village situated 35 kilometers from Pachmarhi town is very similar to rock paintings found recently in the Langi Hill shelter . A symbol painted on the same repaired wall closely resembles a rock painting of the Swem Aam shelter that has only been recently explored. That the two traditions share the same roots can be seen in the common subject matter and the continuing stylistic conventions displayed by the contemporary art.
All Images Subject to Copyright: Meenakshi Dubey- Pathak
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