THE ROCK ART OF CENTRAL INDIA BY DR JEAN CLOTTES

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIAN ROCK ART RESEARCH

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Contrary to what one might think, rock art research began very early in India. The first discovery of rock art we know of was done in 1867 by Archibald Carlleyle, then First Assistant of the Archaeological Survey of India, in the sandstone hills of the Vindhyas Mirzapur District (what is now Uttar Pradesh). This was twelve years before the discovery of Altamira. His discoveries were not published at the time, but long after, in 1906. On the other hand, in 1870, H. Rivett-Carnac, a Colonel of the colonial British administration, found and reported cupules near Nagpur, then in the state of Maharashtra. Then he found some more in Kumaon (Himalaya). In 1883, John Cockburn reported the painting of a rhinoceros hunting scene in the Mizrapur District and shrewdly attributed it to prehistoric times and made ethnological comparisons, so that"Cockburn’s views and concept on the rock art of India (are) still valid for further ethno-archaeological investigations" (Chakarverty 2003: 9).
 
A number of other officials subsequently reported discoveries : C.-A. Silberrad, F. Fawcett, V.-A. Smith, then C.-W. Anderson, M. Ghosh etc. Several Indian scholars, mostly University professors, like P. Mitra and A.-N. Datta, were pioneers in the field (op. cit.). In the nineteen thirties, D.-H. Gordon worked on the chronology of the art and he attributed the bulk of it to historical times, i.e. to a period from the 5th to the Xth centuries AD. As a consequence, people lost interest in an art that was supposed to be quite recent and that paled in comparison with the architectural and other marvels of Indian historical art (Wakankar 1992: 319).
 
The "father" of India rock art studies was Vishnu Wakankar whose memory is universally revered. When he discovered the Bhimbetka shelters in 1957, he started working there, both on the art and on excavations, and he attributed some of the images to the Mesolithic and even to the late Palaeolithic, which undoubtedly spurred research on Indian rock art. Because of his untiring work he discovered and reported many different rock art sites.
 
Yashodar Mathpal sees three broad periods in the history of rock art research in India. The first one, from 1867 to 1931, would be that of enthusiasts and explorers. During the second one, from 1952 to 1972, "more attention was paid to faithful recording" while "during the third period which still prevails, the study of rock art has become a science and a subject of research" (Mathpal 1992: 213-14). About the scientific work done during the third period and for more information, see the References hereafter.
 
Finally, one should recall the work done by the Rock Art Society of India (RASI) since it was founded in 1990. Under the impetus and leadership of Dr. Giriraj Kumar, it has been publishing a journal, Purakala, devoted to the scientific study of rock art, organizing national and international seminars and exhibitions as well as scientific projects, and, within IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organizations), it plays and will continue to play a leading role in the discipline of rock art.
 
 
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