Rock Art from India

In archaeology, rock art is human-made markings placed on natural stone; it is largely synonymous with parietal art. A global phenomenon, rock art is found in many culturally diverse regions of the world. It has been produced in many contexts throughout human history, although the majority of rock art that has been ethnographically recorded has been produced as a part of ritual. Such artworks are often divided into three forms: petroglyphs, which are carved into the rock surface, pictographs, which are painted onto the surface, and earth figures, formed on the ground.

Almost all early painting in India survives in caves, as very few buildings from Ancient India survive, and though these were probably often painted, the work has been lost. The history of cave paintings in India or rock art range from drawings and paintings from prehistoric times, beginning around 30,000 BCE in the caves of Central India, typified by those at the Bhimbetka rock shelters to elaborate frescoes at sites such as the rock-cut artificial caves at Ajanta and Ellora, extending as late as the 8th – 10th century CE.

First discovery of rock paintings in the world was made in India (1867-68) by an Archaeologist, Archibold Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain (site of oldest rock paintings in the world).

In India, remnants of rock paintings have been found on the walls of caves situated in several districts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar and Uttarakhand.

Some of the examples of sites early rock paintings are Lakhudiyar in Uttarakhand, Kupgallu in Telangana, Piklihal and Tekkalkotta in Karnataka, Bhimbetka and Jogimara in Madhya Pradesh etc.Bhimbetka rock shelters (World Heritage Site), Madhya Pradesh, India with rock art ranging from the Mesolithic to historical time.

Some of the general features of Prehistoric paintings (based on the study of Bhimbetka paintings)

  • Used colours, including various shades of white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green and black.
  • But white and red were their favourite.
  • The paints used by these people were made by grinding various coloured rocks.
  • They got red from haematite (Geru in India).
  • Green prepared from a green coloured rock called Chalcedony.
  • White was probably from Limestone.
  • Some sticky substances such as animal fat or gum or resin from trees may be used while mixing rock powder with water.
  • Brushes were made of plant fibre.
  • It is believed that these colours remained thousands of years because of the chemical reaction of the oxide present on the surface of rocks.
  • Many rock art sites of new painting are painted on top of an older painting.
  • In Bhimbetka, we can see nearly 20 layers of paintings, one on top of another.
  • It shows the gradual development of the human being from period to period.
  • The symbolism is inspiration from nature along with slight spirituality.
  • Expression of ideas through very few drawings (representation of men by the stick like drawings).
  • Use of many geometrical patterns.
  • Scenes were mainly hunting and economic and social life of people.
  • The figure of flora, fauna, human, mythical creatures, carts, chariots etc can be seen.

(The list compiled by: Jijo Sudarshan)

7 replies on “Rock Art from India”

This is a very informative article. the supporting research and photos are striking. Rock art is not easy to reach ,so these articles are like food for the hungry.

Dear Ms. Niveditha
This is very informative but I would suggest please study more about rock painting and correlate our civilization which is oldest in the world. I have read some research article of Europeans on this subject, they claim every things that they are pioneers and originators. Let me inform you that if you read some research articles on this subject of Southern Africa and our research articles you imaging that if there is any similarities and correlate with Genomic theory of Dr. Well and Team. I know one example of Botswana that there is rock painting in Tsodilo hill by Bushman of Kalahari called Shanbush man while I was working in Ministry of Education, Botswana. Southern African and Indian rock paintings are older than European rock painting.

Oh how I would love to know how this was done. When I was a little girl someone ( don’t remember who ) showed me how to paint on rocks by using stones of different colors and our spit. I have always to this day love to paint on rocks. Do it with my grandchildren but we have paints. I was told my grandfather was full blooded Cherokee Indian ,however don’t know that for a fact but many of my relatives including my dad defently have the features of one. If you have any information please let me know. Thank you.

Thank you for sharing this information. It was useful and interesting. You indeed have written it in a layman way so that anyone can understand and work accordingly. You have done a great job.

Dear Nivaditha , I am looking for rock art in shekhawati rajasthan . I am told that it is found in the Aravali range in Sikar and jhunjhunu . Will be grateful if you please give me some leads .

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