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Handprints in the Rock Art and Tribal Art of India

Tuesday August 2016
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In India the tradition of hand printing on various surfaces has never stopped and it is still very much alive. We shall concentrate here on Central India where we are working and where we have found examples of hand prints not only in rock art but also in tribal art - on both sides of the doors of houses, on grain vats, on cows, on trees, not to mention temples. Such locations allowed us to collect direct information about this ongoing cultural practice.

Hand prints in India

In the Kamur Range of the Rewa area at Deur Kuthar and in the Dharkundi area, a number of red and yellow handprints have recently been discovered. Those at Deuer Kuthar were yellow (7) and those at Gaddie red (6) and not very well preserved. 

Hand prints in rock art of India

Two colours were used at Dharkundi (Jogi Ki Gufa shelters No.2 and 3) for 9 yellow handprints and 21 red ones, all from right hands and all belonging to adults. They were sometimes superimposed over prehistoric paintings. A number of others could not be precisely identified either because of their preservation or of superimpositions.

Mathpal numbered 222 handprints in the Bhimbetka area. In Pachmarhi we only found one white handprint in the so far unknown site of Jaldafy. It is a small right hand. One red adult handprint is also visible, even if not very well preserved, among many other figures in Shelter B20 of the huge Chaturbushnath Nalla site. In Shelter B4 of the same site, about 8 very faint red handprints came partially out when DStretched. They all seem to be right hands.

Hand prints in the tribal art of India

Modern red handprints on various surfaces are found all over Madhya Pradesh. In the Mandu and Jhabua regions, we saw a number of houses with five red handprints in a group on each side of the door (including at a luxurious hotel in Mandu where they were part of the original decorative designs!). 

Hand prints in the tribal art of India

We were told locally that this was an auspicious gesture always carried out by unmarried girls to ensure health and prosperity for the house, the family and the cattle. In the Mandsaur area, newly-wed couples made handprints on the wall, associated with a swastika. In the Bhulaya village of Bhil tribes, near Mandu, the handprints were not only next to the door but also inside the house, on huge grain vats or in cattle sheds on vats that hold food for the animals.

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We saw propitiatory handprints elsewhere, for example on the outside wall of a house in the Gond village of Manakachhar (Pachmarhi), or on a tree elected for a small forest sanctuary near Astachal, as well as flags and stalagmites painted red at the base where a small fire was made and offerings were deposited.

Ref: 'Handprint in Rock Art and Tribal Art of Central India'  Rock Art: Recent Researches and New Perspectives, Vol.1. New Bhartiya Book Corporation, Delhi.2015,( ISBN:81-8315-263-5). (pg no. 242-250).

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