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


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The style is different from the technique. The word 'technique' represents the early evolutionary stage of the paintings where as the word 'style' denotes the experimental conditions. It represents the comprehensive and mature stage of the compromise. The conflicting claims in painting of symbolism and representation are very much like the conflicting claims in life of body and soul. And just as the finest forms of life are neither the extreme of hedonism on the one hand nor of asceticism on the other. Both symbolism and representation are easy enough to be described in words. It is a phenomenon that can be readily grasped by the mind (Newton 1945 : 22).
The main qualities of rock paintings which have attracted scholars and artists are the representation of figures including styles, pose and posture, composition, action, movement and different size of forms. Scholars like Breuil (Breuil? 1952 : 32-42) Burkitt (1923 : 187), Kuhn (1958 : 55, 58), Pericot (1961 :201 ? 2), Gordon (1958 : 99 ? 108), Pandey (19975 : 34), Wakankar and Brooks (1976 : 96 ? 103) and Mathpal (1984 : 171) have noticed continuous development in styles of execution. Leroi Gourhan has interpreted all the animal and human forms and abstract symbols on a well determined scheme of four styles on the assumption that in the absence of stratigraphic evidence, style alone can be the base of dating. But again he says, if we attempted this then any formless drawing, of any epoch, would be presumably Aurignacian (1968 : 44).
The style is the basic criterion to establish the chronology and decide the series, but the style alone cannot decide the chronology. We have noticed at Pachmarhi several ways of executing figures of a single period and even in a single composition. In every following composition each new figure varies from the others. Thus if all details of outline, colour filling, decoration and unpainted inner spaces on animal bodies were to be taken into account, the number of styles to emerge would be virtually limitless and therefore of no analytical value. The other factors also contribute in the classification for this purpose; the help of super-imposition and other aspects are necessary.
"The Mahadeo hill paintings have a whole array of stylistic peculiarities which do not appear in other rock paintings but which can be found in some periods of early Historic art and even in recent folk arts. An eye-catching peculiarity is the treatment of facial features. Rock painters all over India drew heads in profile. This convention was followed in the Mahadeo hills but both the eyes are usually indicated. In some paintings both eyes are placed on the visible half of the face, in others the second eye (invisible in a profile) is placed out side the profile line. The bodies of humans are always shown frontally and the legs and feets in profile" (Neumyer E, 1985; 22).
Generally there were several types of drawings. Though we find both human and animal forms in this first style. But the realism or naturalism has been observed only in animal drawings. The technique adopted is potraying the animals in a freehand wash, no outline was drawn but the figure was completed with wash only. But in many cases, first the outline was completed and than the body was filled, either by a wash of light red or white or by different geometrical patterns. In some cases drawing was completed by a thin white wash and then the details of outlines and strips were finished with brighter white line. In this case the wash outline is so perfect that it gives a naturalistic look of the animal.
The human forms associate with the representational style are simple and without any skill. The figures are either in outline or in silhouette having the formation of square. The torso of the outline figures is decorated with straight, zigzag or horizontal lines. They have been adorned with peculiar headdresses. The figures are shown equipped with stick like objects. The overall picture gives the impression of a hunting society (plate148-). The considerable change in the human forms is also witnessed. There are divergent views regarding the origin of human forms. According to Gordon the human depiction begins with square shape which was followed by stick shape. He further elaborates that where ever square forms are found associated with stick forms, they represent transition. Henceforth, we get major development in huma drawing in stick shape and square shape. According to Wakankar the conception of human drawing beings with the portrayal of stick shape man and square shape style followed it.
In many places square shape figures are found associated with stick shape figures which on their part are equipped with bows and arrows. “At Pachmarhi the figures of both the series are shown together. The earliest human figures drawn in the picture are in square shape. The largest number of these paintings have been depicted in Pachmarhi area and at other places. However, their number is very limited. The square shape human figures have been located so far at Sighanpur, Kabra Pahad, Pachmarhi, Sagar, Khawai, Bhopal and Mandideep areas. These figures are either armed with wooden sticks or bare handed” (Panday S. K., 1975 : 93). Arrows are always fixed with microliths. These figures represent male hunters. However, at Pachmarhi some such figures do represent female form too. In the perspective drawings some time children are also shown associated with the group.
rock art India
Hunting Scene
rock art India
Hunters with Bows
There are numerous variations among square forms. Sometime squares are filled with curvilinear liners. The hands are shown raised up, legs stretched and the head is triangular in shape. Sometime torso is decorated with linear or intricate patterns, while the limbs are shown only in stick forms. The figures are shown generally bare handed, though sticks, bows and arrows are occasionally represented. These paintings are executed in monochrome (dark red or burnt sienna) and bichrome (red and white or creamish yellow). These paintings are shown with breasts, which clearly indicate their feminity. This style has been termed as representational, the naturalism continued in case of animal figures and representational style was adopted for human figures. The earlier animal figures follow the simple decoration but gradually the complicated designs in the form of intricate patterns dominate the paintings. Gradually, this style indicates advancement in the cultural complex of the painters. His perception was gradually developing and he was leading towards the consciousness of his surroundings. Since his experiences were transferred into visual art, he started portraying the narrative groupings.
rock art India
Soldiers Celebrate Victory
rock art India
Lion Mask
We get several modifications in stick like forms. The change can be detected in case of head dresses. Torso, though continued, but double or triple lined, as well as the triangular forms of torso also started. Another two more new elements were added to this style. The artists replaced the head with the animal masks. The purpose of the masks was to camoflauge the hunter during the course of hunting and identifying oneself with the totemic deity during the ceremonial dances. The second element has been found in case of animal figures in the form of X-ray drawings. The artist was well versed with the anatomy of the animals. Gradually, he started giving the anatomical details of the animals. He successfully depicted the naturalism in the animal drawings. Instead of depicting the individual animals, the paintings of heards were attempted. Artist has also attempted narrative groupings by depicting family groups engaged in different activities. Not only that even he painted the picture of man-eater tiger in different stages.
A radical change is also marked in the paintings. The convertionalised forms gradually replaced the stick shape human figures. The decoration in case of animal figures was also changed. Afterwards, we get the domination of geometrical forms. We observed many human forms in triangular and rectangular shapes, engaged in different activities. Dancing, fighting and running, horse riders are also found executed in symbolic style. Artists have depicted them in various techniques, and monochrome and bichrome colours. The different religious symbols such as moon, sun, cross, swastika and tree worship are also depicted in the same style. This style is the most impressive manifestation of the intellectual level and represents the great majority of prehistoric art sites of painted or engrave geometric or symbolic figures.
rock art India
Cross Symbol
rock art India
Cross Symbol
All Images Subject to Copyright: Meenakshi Dubey- Pathak
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