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


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Prehistoric artists have drawn all aspects of their life independently and complete in it. The artists depicted various compositions on the rock surface. Such compositions usually comprise scenes of hunting, food gathering, fighting, dancing, and music, social and daily chores.
india rock art
Figures with Monkeys
india rock art
Tree Ladder Scene
india rock art
Dancing Figures and Animals
india rock art
The subject of head hunting in the history of rock art is very uncommon. At present, in Indian rock painting its only the rock art of Pachmarhi which contain this unique depiction of head hunting. Peru in South America is the only other so far known place where scenes of head hunting are found (Bednarick 1989:73).
There are a total of seven depictions of headhunters, which have been first recorded by me. Executed in bichrome colour, these depictions belong to the historic period. The acts in these scenes depict the brutality prevalent in the society of the Stone Age man. The head hunting scene is very prominent in Lanji Hill shelter wherein a human figure is holding a human head in his right hand and shown running, yet looking back over his shoulder, perhaps anticipating a chase or ensuring himself of breaking contact with his enemy. A giant and robust figure measuring 3 ft in length and 2.5 ft  in width executed in light red colour has been depicted which makes everyone curious . A headhunter with identical description as stated above, has been recorded at Swem Aam shelter.
In yet another depiction at Nagdwari shelter a headhunter decorated in red lines, perhaps his tattoo marks, has been shown carrying a well-dressed severed head . At Rajat Prapat shelter four human figures have been depicted as headhunters running in the same direction but at different distances. Drawn rhythmically and full of action, this scene is eye catching and gives an insight into the historic life.
india rock art
india rock art
Headhunters Running
Remarkably, all the drawings of headhunters are filled with white colour and outlined with red colour. The figures have sharp facial features and body proportionate. Headhunters were probably most respected perhaps because they ensured protection of the clan, group or community and achieved victory over their enemies. Hence, the figures of headhunters are often found well decorated with headdress, crown, earrings and bodies covered from waist downwards up to the knees. Every figure holds a severed head, which is well decorated with crown, earrings, headdress identical to its hunter, running in the same direction and same of fashion looking back over the shoulder. The act of beheading human beings was perhaps not a ritual as nowhere in the shelters any such scene has been depicted. It may be assumed considering the prevalent brutality that beheading may be a form of severe punishment to those who committed a heinous crime of transgressing the law of the land of the tribes. However, it is quite likely that the head of the enemy was severed to ensure annihilation and carried back home to confirm victory to own ground, clan etc. and displayed as a war trophy.
Indian history is replete with the instances of human sacrifice prevalent amongst the tribes in the country, particularly, by Gond and Korku tribes. The tradition of human sacrifice was alive in Mahadeo Hill. “In the days that are forgotten, human victims hurled themselves over the rock as sacrifice to the goddess Kali and Kal Bhairav, the consort and son of Shiva, the destroyer”. Capt J Forsyth has mentioned about an eyewitness account of an incident of human sacrifice at Mahadeo Hills in his famous book “The Highlands of Central India” (Forsyth J 1889:180-184).
Tree Symbol Worship
Tree Symbol Worship
The rock art suggestive of mythological origin is that of tree worship, cross worship, symbols of mother Goddess and demons. Gordon has commented that only a few Indian rock art paintings have a religious significance (Gordon 1958:109). “Symbols and so called signs found in rock paintings in different parts of the world are difficult to decipher. It is a code we have been unable to crack”, says Benerguer referring to European Ice Age symbols (Benerguer 1973:73). The paintings of Pachmarhi, which are likely to be related to mythology, have been grouped as follows:
1. Mother Goddess 2. Tree Worship 3. Symbol 4. Cross Worship 5. Swastika 6. Labyrinth (chakra) 7. Geometrical figures 8. Superhuman or deity worship 9. Demons 10. Mythical Animals
Writing of inscriptions on the walls of the caves and shelters is associated with Hermits and Monks living in isolation in early historic times. It was common practice in many hills and forest area inhabited by Hermits. These inscriptions do help us place paintings of historic period to certain chronological order. Two inscriptions both in Nagri script in Pachmarhi have been recorded. One is in Dorothy Deep and the other is in Mahadeo shelter. The inscriptions in Mahadeo are too faded to be translated but the inscriptions at Dorothy Deep are by far the most legible. It consists of two lines written in cremish white colour. The first line is obviously meant to be same as commencement of much longer second like. It would appear to be from Nagri of probably 11th to 12th centuries. The translation, which does not make any sense, is as follows: "Lenamasiya a vri vri Dha Dha Ve She Jai Jai".
All Images Subject to Copyright: Meenakshi Dubey- Pathak
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