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Kaimur Range Rock Art - India

Newly discovered Rock Art Heritage in the Kaimur Range of Bihar - India

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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 based on archaeological data, including finds provided by previous studies (such as the work of Dr. Prakash C. Prasad and Col. Umesh Prasad in 1997) and 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 explored 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.

Kaimur Range Rock Art

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.

Kaimur Range Rock ArtNon-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.

Tentative chronology

The antiquity of the rock art of the Kaimur region as also those from other sites of India appears to be a debatable issue. In fact, due to lack of definite evidences there is hardly any absolute method for dating this class of art. However, as suggested by some of the scholars like V.S. Wakankar (Wakankar, 1975), E. Neumayer, Y. Mathpal (Mathpal 1975) and others, the most important basis for relative dating of the rock art is the study of the superimpositions. The study of superimposed paintings on rock shelters and caves clearly indicates that at least 7 to 10 phases are represented by these arts.

Unfortunately, the phases in the rock art of Kaimur region are yet to be ascertained, but it may be presumed that they may form a parallel to the Mirzapur rock art in the matter of relative dating.  The possibility is that most of the art is related to Mesolithic activities and that at least 10,000 years ago, prehistoric people lived in the Kaimur region. The rock art in the Kaimur deserves intensive and extensive explorations followed by excavations.

Problems with the rock art of study area

The continuous flow of water in the shelters has affected the pictographs by way of washing off pigments. In addition, deposition of salts, clays and mineral components on the surface provides conditions for cryptogrammic growth. Apart from seepage of water through the developed cracks on the rocks, domestic animals from nearby villages are also damaging the rock art by way of their urine and excreta. Moreover, visitors who come to see the rock art pose more problems in the form of vandalism. The fast growing mining and blasting activities in and around this hill will soon affect all the caves and shelters of this plateau. The original character of cave, Dumuhawa Maan has been severely affected by the constructions in the recent past by some religious men who have converted this place into a cave-temple by the help of devotees who have also ornamented the place by whitewashing and applying paints on the walls and ceilings. Many shelters and caves have now been blackened because of the accumulation of soot and carbon due to the burning of earthen pots by the visitors who come to the cave regularly for their picnic. Development is important for our country, society and economic growth, but in the race of this achievement, we are losing our cultural heritage. It is high time to decide how far we should go in the pace of development over our culture. We have to realize that once the evidence of heritage is lost it will not be retrieved.

The Significance of Kaimurian Rock art:

Ø More than just the particular density of sites, the rock art of Kaimur is of international importance because it has large and well-preserved rock art sites belonging to important and rare Indian rock art traditions.

Ø The sites have tremendous cultural significance as traditional and religious ceremonies for the creators of the art as well as their descendents. Some of them are still being used for these ceremonies today in hilly as well as valley areas.

Ø The rock art sites have considerable historical significance as they record very important events such as the transition from the foraging lifestyle to food production.

Ø The sites have great educational value as places where teachers and students can visit to learn about the history and cultural heritage of India as well of Kaimur.

Ø No other research has been conducted in the area, there is still potential for archaeological, ethnographic and historical research, which can provide additional information to enhance the interpretation of the rock art.

Ø The area has potential economic value in that; once it has been opened to the public it can create opportunities for income generation by the local communities and other stakeholders.

By Dr Sachin Kumar Tiwary


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The boxlike figure shown in one of the pictures is a game I found quite often during a trekking in Nepal, drawn on stones on the path. It is for 2 players. One has 4 tigers placed in the angles and the other has 20 goats added one by one. The tigers can eat the goats jumping over them, but the goats can block the tigers. I don't know the 2 triangles on opposite sides. It's quite fun to play.


Dr. Sachin Kumar Tiwary

Sachin Kr Tiwary, born on 1st February 1985 in the Chaibasa (Singhbhum district of Jharkhand), has a great passion for the field of archaeology right from his college days. He had passed Graduation and Post Graduation from Banaras Hindu University and... Read More

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