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


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The chronology of the rock paintings is based on the subject matter or cultural content, superimpositions, styles and archaeological findings from the painted rock shelters. The chronological study of Indian rock paintings begins with the work of Col D H Gordon, who devoted much of his time to the study, but only 217 figures from the large shelters of Pachmarhi Hills. He classified them in four series. The first of the series was compared with those of Singhanpur and Kabra Pahar. The second one was confined to Mahadeo hills. The third was mainly from the area around Pachmarhi and could be compared with the Ellora group. He compared the paintings of Jhalai with those of Ajanta. This, of course, was put in a time bracket of about 6th century A.D. The fourth series was compared with the early medieval sculpture, dating between 9th and 13th century A.D. Each series has an early and late phase. He examined this sequence with reference to drawing in 13 more shelters in and around Pachmarhi. According to him a geometric human figure (with rectangular bodies filled in wavy lines and triangular heads) (Series IA) and stick shaped figures (IB) are older than crude figures of hunters (2A and B). Series 3A comprises both geometric figures and crude silhouettes. Series 3A has the most natural animals silhouettes. In the paintings of series 4A and 4B, horse riders and fighters are grouped. In earlier writings he has also mentioned animals of the fifth series executed in greenish yellow. But unfortunately, Gordon's chronology does not clarify his various series. He also did not give a summarized chart with details of features of each of his series.
R K Verma has classified the rock paintings of the Mirzapur area according to style, into four main series, with three subdivisions of Series-II. He has considered the silhouetted drawings of animals as the oldest. The animal figures in Series IIA are either outlined or have partially filled in limbs, while in series IIB natural silhouettes of animal and horse riders are grouped. The scene of elephant trapping at Lithuania-II is assigned to Series IIB. Drawings of Series-IIC comprise crude, outlined figures of hunters. Symbolic and geometric signs characterise paintings of Series III. In the paintings of Series IV crude figures of animals are included. Jagdish Gupta has also classified the rock paintings in 1967 on published material. S K Pandey has classified the rock paintings of Betwa region in 1969. Wakankar, who has discovered the largest number of rock paintings in India, has prepared several chronologies of Indian rock art between 1973 and 1976. Wakankar has classified the entire rock art of India into five periods and 20 styles:
(a) Period I - Mesolithic or earlier (8000 (?) - 2500 BC): Style 6
(b) Period II - Neolithic/Chalcolithic & Early Iron Age
(2500? 3000 BC): Styles 7-10
(c) Period III - Early Historic (300 BC ? AD 800): Style 16
(e) Period IV - Medieval (AD 800 ? 1300): Styles 17 and 18
(e) Period V - Recent (1300 AD to present): Styles 19 and 20
Summary of paintings styles, according to Wakankar in 1976:
Style Features Colours
I Mesolithic and Earlier [8000(?)-2500 BC]
1 Large silhouette, Tuskless elephants, Bison and no human figures Faded Red,
Brown & black
2 Buffalos and Bisons in outline Red
3 Animal drawing in thick outlines with partially filled and decorated bodies, Hunters shown, chasing game like rhinoceros, bisons, antelope and elephant. Red
4 Bisons, deer and antilope in outline and non-geometric body decoration. Red
5 Animals with body decoration in several geometric patterns and partially filled limbs. Main animals are rhinoceros, tiger, ox, deer and antelope. Red & Bichrome
6 Geometric and floral designs hut shaped symbols and animals. Figures of Style-3 and human figures of Style 4 and 5. Red & Purple
II Neolithic\Chalcolithic and Iron Age (2500 ? 300 BC)
7 Silhouette drawing of bison, buffalow, elephant, ox, black buck, monkey, and lizard. Red & brown
8 Simple and stylized outline of cattle, boar, jackal, deer and antelope-overlapped by drawing of Period-III. Red
9 Figures depicted, crude and thick white drawing of animals and triangular bodied human figures. White
10 Silhouettes drawings of animals ox, tigers and human White, Yellowish White
III Early Historic (300 BC - 800 A.D.)
11 Symbols like Swastika, hollow cross design and inscriptions. Red, White
Green, Yellow
12 Animals with outlined, partially filled and large decorated bodies, Hunter with large bows and arrows, resemblance with Nevasal. Navadatoli pottery designs. Red & Purple
13 Drawings of horse and elephant riders Swordsman and archers in outline and wash. Red & White
14 Polychrome decorative patterns, Gupta and Shankh Inscription. Red
15 Multi coloured decorative designs. White, Red
& Yellow
16 Social and Cultural life in natural silhouettes and scene of tribal conflicts. White & Red
IV Medieval (800-1300AD)
17 Stylized drawing of cavaliers and soldiers. Red, White
& Orange
18 Silhouettes and linear drawings of elephants, horses and human forms. Red & White
V Recent (1300 Present)
19 Swordsmen and camel like animal in outline. Crayon Charcoal
20 Geometric human figures in double Outline along with Devanagri scripts. Red
However, the efforts of Wakankar (1978), Gordon (1958), Verma  (1964), SK Pandey (1969) and Mathpal (1984), who have been able to put forward minimum workable criteria and guidelines for choronological interpretations, are well perceived.
There are only three periods reflected in the rock paintings of Pachmarhi. One - scenes of a society of hunters and food gatherers, which can be called Prehistoric period (Mesolithic). Two - scenes of using chariots, huts, agriculture, pottery and domestic animals, which can be termed Protohistoric period (Neo/Chalcolithic). Three - scenes of fighters, riders and the use of metallic weapons, which undoubtedly, belong to the historic period.
(a) Prehistoric period - Mesolithic, Late Mesolithic.
(b) Protohistoric period ? Neolithic/Chalcolithic, Late Chalcolithic.
(c) Historic period - Historic, Late Historic.
All Images Subject to Copyright: Meenakshi Dubey- Pathak
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