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


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The Stone Age man has painted many aspects regarding the social, cultural, economical, religious and ritualistic, pertaining to his life on the bare and uneven rock surface. The surfaces in the caves and shelters have been formed naturally over a period of time. The depictions of contemporary flora fauna and domestic activities have also found their places in these paintings. The antiquity of these unique paintings was probably realised first time by Archibald and Carlleyle in 1867-68 when they discovered the first rock paintings in India at Sohagighat in Uttar Pradesh. Mainly amateurs have brought approximately 150 sites of the rock paintings to our attention. The archeologists never seem to appreciate the antiquity of these paintings. Hence due to lack of attention, this national heritage of our country is now subjected to vandalism. It is pathetic to see at some places where those paintings are near extinction due to lack of protective measures. The shelters in Pachmarhi are well known from tourist and archaeological points of view. But their historic, cultural, artistic, musical and dimensional aspects have been left uncovered totally by most of the researchers known to have worked here. Unlike in Bhimbetka, there are numerous shelters and painted shelters scattered all over the Pachmarhi Hills. The approaches to many shelters are difficult, dangerous and time consuming.
Considering Pachmarhi town as the hub there is hardly any direction where the paintings are not evident. The painted shelters are also found in the outer periphery of the Pachmarhi Hills in the Satpura ranges. The study of these shelters has not been done in my work; however, some references of these have been made here and there. I feel a separate study in a different time frame is needed for the detail study of such paintings. Therefore, I have confined my study to the painted rock shelters of Pachmarhi Hills only. I am hopeful that this work will be an authentic record of the paintings of Pachmarhi hills for the students of the rock art in the future. The present study is the first comprehensive and exhaustive record encompassing thematic and stylistic analysis of the rock paintings of Pachmarhi Hills.
The freehand drawings of the rock painting are the most popular method amongst the Indian scholars. But these kinds of drawings or copies can never be accurate and authentic, hence unsuitable for a scientific study. Such reproductions do not provide us the actual size of the form and scale for reduction or enlargements. Even a line drawing made in this way (reproduction without the colour scheme) cannot do justice to a coloured figure drawn on the shelter. Only a few drawings have been recorded to show the details of their features and ornaments etc. Photography is also a very common method for recording the rock paintings. It is an authentic and trustworthy method. The scholars like Leroi Gourhan (1968) have used basically coloured photographic reproduction of South Western European Cave paintings. Marshack (1975:64-89) has also used the special technique of extra close-up, ultra violet and infrared photography for his work. The photography has not been able to avoid the scratching and writing by vandals on the paintings. Many of the paintings are faded to varying degrees because of their age and prolonged exposure to the natural agencies. Therefore such paintings cannot be reproduced satisfactorily by photography. (Mathpal 1984 :4) Brooks (1975 : 92 :97) has evolved another process of reproducing Indian rock paintings. He first prepares a coloured transparency of the original paintings and makes a line drawing from it by projecting the transparency on the paper. After filling the drawing with colours he prepares a fresh transparency by superimposing the projection of the earlier transparency on the coloured drawing.
Today, the method for the reproduction of the rock painting followed is the combination of three means, tracing for dimensions, photography for colour effect and video recording. Tracing method applied by me to reproduce the rock paintings of Pachmarhi hills is not new. Nearly all the art of the Ice Age as well as the later period in Europe and Africa has been reproduced by this method (Cooks, 1961: 61-65, Vinicombe, 1966: 559 - 60). In India also J Cockburn, Manoranjan Ghosh, D.H. Gordon, V.S. Wakankar and Y Mathpal have employed the direct tracing method. In this method, the figure on the rock surface was first traced on fine transparent sheet. The reverse of the tracing paper was then rubbed with a lead Pencil to serve as carbon paper. The traced drawing was then transferred on the drawing paper. The figure on drawing paper was carefully compared with the original paintings on the rock surface to eliminate errors caused in tracing due to the uneven and rough surface of the rock. The drawing was than coloured on the spot continuously observing the tones and the shades of the original. The natural background of the painting was also reproduced in the same way. This method has been followed only in some paintings of the rock shelters, which are easily approachable and located nearer the town. The area of Pachmarhi hills is still one of the most inaccessible parts of India (Wakankar and Brooks 1975: 103). Shelters are spread all over in the dense forest. The shelters are 10 to 30 kms away from the town. This process was not found practicable at every place because the nature of terrain, constraint of the time and danger of the wild life.
The author has done the maximum recording of the rock paintings by the photography method using both coloured films and transparencies. This gives accurate sizes and originality of colours. Infact about the colours you cannot say the present colour tone is as original as it was about ten thousand years ago. Because of the natural weathering paintings are getting faded gradually and they are loosing their original colour and shades. On one hand the size and drawing of figure can certainly be correct and original but on the other one cannot say about the exact tone of their original colours from these photographs. Third method is video recording of some rock paintings of Pachmarhi area. It is so because day-by-day natural weathering and vandalism are damaging these paintings. Thus this is the best process to record the painting with there natural surroundings. All forms and compositions of Pachmarhi Hills have been copied in different methods. During the survey the figures and scenes have been counted at each shelter starting from left to right and from top to bottom. As many of the paintings are damaged and faded by natural agencies and vadalised by ignorant tourist, it is essential to have a factual record of them for the posterity.
The paintings have been analysed under the seven main categories:
(a) Human forms, (b) Animal forms, (c) Scenes, (d) Material culture, (e) Mythology, (f) Nature, (g) Inscriptions
Forms and scenes are studied according to their colour, style, size, technique, period and shelter. Description and analysis of subject matter is the main theme of the thesis. Next is the colour pigments and technology employed in the creation of paintings and finally, chronology, comparative study, motivation behind the art; the aesthetic aspects forms and styles are discussed. The present study is based on data collected from Pachmarhi hills over a period of five years during the suitable weather conditions. Consequently, the sole endeavour throughout the research work by the author has been to carry out an analytical study of the paintings, paying due attention to the above discussed aspects.
The artists painted at considerable heights, standing on ladders or branches of the nearby trees, which existed then near the shelters. Painted walls have been used several times by the painters of later periods, without removing the older paintings. These overlapped or superimposed paintings of different colours; styles and periods may be seen in the many shelters of Pachmarhi.
Four techniques have been used in the creation of Indian rock paintings. These are wet transparent colour (water colour painting), wet opaque colour (Oil or tempera), crayon (dry colour painting) and stencil (Spray colour painting). The transparent and opaque colour techniques are more common in rock paintings than the stencil technique, which is generally restricted to the execution of negative handprints (Mathpal 1984: 185). The only example of a stencil drawing is mentioned by Gordon from Kabra Pahar in Raigarh area of Madhaya Pradesh (Gordon 1959: 12). The techniques of paintings are not so complicated. Every artist should have either used wet colour or dry colours paste but drawings by means other than colour are also recorded on rock surfaces. These include engraving, carvings and brushings. Except for the stencil techniques, other techniques have been commonly used in the execution of paintings at Pachmarhi. In addition to the paintings, rock engravings are also found in Pachmarhi. The shelters at Rajat Prapat shelter bears a very few designs of symbols filled with white colour, and Astachal shelter also has an engraved horse rider. Only the earlier period paintings are found executed in wet transparent colour technique. Colours are greatly diluted in water; only red and white were applied as transparent. Later period paintings are executed in what is now known as non-transparent, opaque and crayon techniques. Only two inscriptions engraved on the rock surface have been found at Pachmarhi.
All Images Subject to Copyright: Meenakshi Dubey- Pathak
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