Newly discovered Rock Art Heritage in the Kaimur Range of Bihar - India
The Kaimur Range, located in the eastern margin of the Vindhyan Range in India, is comprised of about 800 square miles of undulating tableland. The present study is primarily based on archaeological data supplemented by exploration and local traditions wherever possible. Efforts were made to undertake extensive but arduous exploration of the most difficult caves and rock shelters of the Kaimur range with highly encouraging results. It was my rigorous effort made over seven years between 2007 and 2013 that I discovered 120 rock art sites in the Kaimur range of Bihar.
The subject matter of Kaimur rock art is marked by a wide range of depictions containing almost all major classes of representations like human beings, animals, geometric designs and floral designs including trees that can be observed both in pictographs as well as petroglyphs. Such combinations of all forms of pictographs and petroglyphs at a single location are difficult to be observed in other rock art regions of the country. The Kaimur range has an optimal mix of all forms and designs associated with rock art and thus may be termed as encyclopedia for rock art. The convergence of all major types of depictions is also very useful in comprehending the generalizations of social, economic, religious and technological aspects.
It is special in another way also because the continuation of rock art from the post-Mesolithic period extending up to almost the modern period is found here. Therefore, it equips a researcher with the ability to study the ethnographic connections of the rock art tradition.
Most of the illustrations are rendered in different shades of ochre, which was presumably prepared by utilizing the hematite nodules abundantly found on the surface of the rock shelters and in the nearby areas. Almost all the rock art has been executed on the smooth surfaces of the inner walls, floor and ceilings of the rock-shelters and caves. Moreover, imitation of earlier rock art continued for centuries, not only in the prehistoric period but also in the historical period.
Generally speaking, this class of art can be divided in to two main types: pictographs and petroglyphs. The latter term refers images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, and abrading. The former refers to images drawn or painted on a rock face. In the Kaimur region, rock art is mostly confined to pictographs with petroglyphs being exceptionally rare. In many cases, the paintings of an earlier period are superimposed by subsequent paintings and as a result it is often quite difficult to identify the paintings of a particular phase.
The discovery of rock paintings depicting prehistoric lifestyles has not only added a new dimension to Indian history but also suggests that the indigenous culture was similar to cultures found in many other parts of India. As the process of evolution continued, primitive man devised the practice of drawing to express his feelings of daily life through pictures. They took their subject matter from the natural world around them: the sun, moon, stars, animals, birds, plants and so on. They also depicted the various activities of their everyday life, like hunting and dancing.
The continuation of the rock art tradition up to the modern era in the Kaimur range has added additional advantages as we find there many historical landmarks in association with it, such as numerous inscriptions belonging to different phases of history. Similarly a lot of human activity from different periods can be observed here; in the form of pictographic evidence, we can see a group of male and female figures having different hand poses, and a fertility ceremony in which some male figures with erected phallus stand in front of female figures. Furthermore, historical paintings comprising the paintings of a preaching Lord Buddha flanked by votive stupas (ceremonial mounds) have been depicted, which provide important evidence for the existence of Buddhism in the region.
Non-iconic petroglyphs include images which are box like, circular with some lines inside connecting with each line, dots in eight rows running from a west to an east direction. Similar types of artistic work have been found in Australia. Evidence of criss-cross engravings and gauging have also been found on the floor of some caves, made with the help of sharp pointed tools, as well as pit holes, and circular lines motifs on ceilings.
Besides the vast assemblage of art, the rock art sites yield an equally large assemblage of archaeological data such as evidence for the production of microlithic tools, potsherds (broken pieces of ceramic material), hematite lying embedded on the floor and microliths, which amply suggest that man occupied the shelters and were habitation sites. All the tools are made of chert, quartz and other locally available semi precious stones.