On the uneven sides or walls and roofs of many of the caves or rock shelters there were rock paintings apparently of various ages, though all evidently of great age, done in red colour called geru. Some of these rude paintings appeared to illustrate in a very stiff and archaic manner scenes in the life of the ancient stone chippers; others represent animals or hunts of animals by men with bows and arrows, spears and hatchets. As per the study of scholars, that there is no doubt about the association between the microlith-users and the paintings, because, there was nothing in the archaeological as¬semblage of the painted rock-shelters except microliths.
The study of the rock art of the Mesolithic period defines that there may be a succession of styles in different areas, which has been part¬ly worked out in the central Indian hills on the basis of a close study of the succession of superimposed paintings on the rock surface. Moreover, the study of the material contents of life, as depicted in many of these paintings, is an important source of study of the Mesolithic life in India. Even, the densest distribution of such paintings seems to be central India, across the entire east-west length of its hilly section and the Mesolithic character of many of these paintings is self-evident. It would not be correct to claim that the tradition of modern tribal and village art in India is rooted in the Indian rock-art tradition except in an obscure and general way.
Some of these paintings serve as an artistic manifestation of the Mesolithic in India and as a source of reconstructing the Mesolithic way of life. In this purpose, the paintings documented from the region around Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, with some specific reference to the archaeological situation suggests Mesolithic antiquity for some of these paintings. The most famous painted rock-shelter complex in this region is at Bhimbetka and in seven locations extending over 10 km (Vinayaka, Bhonrawali, Bhimbetka, Lakha Juar East, Lakha Juar West, Jondra and Muni Babaki Pahari); there are 642 rock-shelters, with about 55 per cent of them containing paintings. There are 243 rock-shelters in the Bhimbetka group alone among which 133 are paintings. In some parts of the hill range, rock arts are found in rock shelters and open sites, marked by concentrations of chipped stone, were found on the summits of slopes of most of the hills in which groups of shelters were located. Most of the rock shelters reveal paintings on their walls, and ceiling. These were executed mostly in tones of red, or in white, or both, with other colours like green, yellow, and black was rarely used.
The characteristics of the rock art of Mesolithic period were that the cave paintings were based on animal structures and the rock paintings were basically related to human groupings. The paintings of the human structures were at a large the depictions of hunting or rituals. The figures formed in the rock art were stylized and glorified figures which resemble pictographs than pictures, and as per a few scholars, they are the representation of primitive sources of writing namely the hieroglyphs. Sometimes the groupings of figures are fabricated in repetitive patterns that define an artistic rhythm.
In the Bhimbetka locality it has been noticed that in the scheme of stratification attempted for the paintings of the area. There are only two broad periods; one showing scenes of a society of hunters and food-gatherers, and the other those of fighters riding on horses and elephants, using metal weapons, and of royal processions. There are some overlap-pings between these periods, but the first one is prehistoric or broadly Mesolithic, while the second one is historic, covering the entire spectrum from the Maurya-Sunga (late centuries BC) to the post-Gupta periods (seventh century AD and later). The den¬sity of images sharply conveys the sense of a lost hunting-gathering world. The locales by themselves are very beautiful; the innate beauty of such landscapes has been juxtaposed by a world in which people collect food in the forests, hunt and trap animals and occasionally drink and dance with abandon, the warmth of which one can perceive in these paintings after all these years.
Interestingly, some of the painting sites in the eastern Vindhyas seem to be aligned according to the orienta¬tions of the local routes. For instance, if one takes the general line of the main route to the Deccan from Mirzapur in the Ganga plain, one notices painted rock-shelters along the way once the rocky outcrops and plateaus begin to appear. Similarly, beyond Robertsganj, on the way to the Son valley and the Surguja area of Madhya Pradesh, one notices painted rock-shelters overlooking the way. The painted rock-shelter site of Bhuili lies on the straight route from the hills near Ahraura to Banaras, and some rock shelters have been recently reported on the direct route from Ahraura to the Sasaram area in Bihar. It is possible that the lines of movement of Mesolithic people in central India marked the alignment of what became historically recognized routes.
Furthermore, in demonstrating that the knowledge of the early Mesolithic in India amounts to very little: only eight excavated sites with proper occupational evidence and early dates in admittedly limited areas of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and an assortment of rock paintings still seem to be confined only to the central Indian highlands from Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat. Also, at least two sixth millennium BC sites among them Bagor and Adamgarh show domestication of cattle and sheep, goat and people might al¬ready have shed some of their hunting-foraging ‘Mesolithic’ activities. On the other hand, the importance of Mesolithic hunting-foraging emphasizes the way of life in the context of Indian history and culture. Even some of the modern cult spots may well have a Mesolithic background or ancestry like, around the modern Shakti cult spot known as Kalkaji in a part of the Aravallis on the outskirts of Delhi, the only archaeological relics that one can pick up are microlithic flakes. Whether some of these modern cult spots have Mesolithic ancestry or not is impossible to determine with satis¬faction, but the possibility is always there. The Mesolithic hunters and fora¬gers who roamed the Indian landscape have left long enough shadows which still touch us in different ways. One hopes that future research will give it a far greater semblance of reality than has been possible in this chapter.
(Last Updated on : 12-01-2010)
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