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THE ROCK ART OF CENTRAL INDIA BY DR JEAN CLOTTES

THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIAN ROCK PAINTINGS

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Somewhat surprisingly for such a wide continent, Indian rock art has often been considered as pertaining to a "cultural unity", as is the case for Upper Palaeolithic cave art in Europe. Disparities do exist according to the areas, so that regional groups have been and will no doubt be defined (see for example Chandramouli 2002 for the rock art of Andhra Pradesh in the south of India, or Mathpal 1985 for that of Kumaon in the north). However, "in spite of the great distances of the different regions Indian rock paintings bear surprising affinity in forms, subject matters and design elements to their contemporaries" (Kumar 1992: 56).
 
The only petroglyphs (i.e. rock engravings) we have mentioned are cupules, because we hardly saw any other engraved motifs during our trip. Still, it is necessary to recall their existence and their importance in many parts of India, even if we are here focusing on pictographs (i.e. rock paintings). Among the colours used red is overwhelmingly dominant, at all periods. It comes from iron oxides such as haematite. White (from a white clay like kaolin) has also been widely used. Other colours are scarcer, like "green and yellow derived from copper minerals" or "blue or coal black obtained from manganese or charcoal" (Chakravarty & Bednarik 1997: 46). Painting was carried out "by rubbing the colour nodule dry, or with water, without any visible use of organic binding material, using finger tips, twigs, hair brush or by spraying with the mouth" (id.).
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala
Hunting scene with bow and arrow
rock art India
Bhimbetka - Fighters with bows and arrows,
shields, swords and horses
The subjects represented are quite varied and numerous. Depending on the periods and the areas, their relative proportions may change hugely. For example, animals, as we have seen, are less abundant at some Bhimbetka sites than in the Chambal valley and humans are central to Historic paintings.
 
rock art India rock art India rock art India
Bhimbetka - Historical figures: Man on a white elephant Bhimbetka - Riders and foot soldiers in two colours Bhimbetka - Historical figures: Dressed man and others
 
The diversity of the animals and of the ways to represent them is much greater than what is found in European cave art. Nearly thirty different species were for example identified in the rock art of the Upper Chambal valley (Badam & Prakash 1992). The techniques used to render them are also far from stereotyped: for the for the simplest figures only the outlines may be drawn, or they may be in flat tint with the whole body coloured. A great many animals, however, have a body infilling with sometimes very intricate motifs in the form of parallel lines, grids and all sorts of geometric patterns which make the art distinctive. They may be sexed or not. Sometimes pregnant females have been painted with the foetus showing in a sort of X-ray style. Two (generally red and white) or more colours may be used for the same subject. The animals may be represented in isolation or in herds or in conjunction with humans.
 
Humans may sometimes be dominant (see above about Bhimbetka) but in any case they are nearly always present even among the earliest paintings. In their case too, variety is the main characteristic, even if they seem to have been given less details than the animals, except for the horse riders and fighters of the later ages (Chakravarty & Bednarik 1997: 69). They may be stick figures and be stiff or, on the contrary, quite dynamic, seeming to be running, dancing, hunting or fighting. Others have double lines for the body and arms and sometimes inner decoration, though far less than is the case with animals. Their heads are rarely detailed, even if they may occasionally sport some headgear. They often wield weapons, such as bows and arrows, shields, variously tipped spears or axes. They are often engaged in activities with other humans (dancing, fighting, having sex, curing the sick, carrying loads, eating, sometimes inside a house or a tent or with animals (hunting), fishing, riding horses, elephants or oxen, driving carts or chariots, drawing ploughs. The abundance of scenes of all sorts in Indian rock art is one of its major and most appealing characteristics.
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala - Chariots drawn
by oxen also appear in the Chalcolithic
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala - Appearance of humped
bulls at the beginning of the Chalcolithic
Various objects, as well as geometric signs, can be represented independently of humans and animals. In Historical times, inscriptions have been used to help establish a chronology. Superimpositions are frequent. "The particular portions of rock were probably sacred parts of shelters or the artists painted upon the old drawings simply to enhance the power of his new pictures. It might be a taboo to erase the old drawings" (Mathpal 1998: 9). Establishing a succession of styles from superimpositions has often been attempted.
rock art India
Bhimbetka - Big felines are sometimes
represented, this snarling cat is in two colours
rock art India
Bhimbetka - Panel including bulls, elephants,
stags big cats with a few small humans
 
 
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