I had never been to a rock / cave shelter before (and read somewhere that how some are not easy to reach) so was a little apprehensive about its accessibility and my physical fitness :-D I kept telling my husband that he might have to go down into the ravine cave without me. Ultimately we left it for the final moment to decide, amen!
Rock Art / Cave Painting is a vast specialized subject and every now and then newer theories emerge basis on going research and studies. I had to do a lot of study and references before penning it down in the best possible way
Hence, before we go to the Bhimlat rock art, we will try and understand cave rock paintings briefly as a layman so that its easier for us to relate to them.
Cave paintings are painted drawings on cave walls or ceilings primarily of prehistoric origin. The rock art is prehistoric man-made markings on natural stone. Both belong to the wider Parietal art, the archaeological term for artwork done on cave walls or large blocks of stone. Its interesting to note that paintings / drawings were the oldest art forms used by human beings to express themselves with cave wall as the canvas.
Why did prehistoric people draw these pictures?
They may be beautifying their homes
They may be keeping a visual record of their day-to-day life (like modern day diary)
They may be educating their people / children through these paintings
They may be communicating with each other through these drawings
They may be Shamanic art or expressions. There is a school of firm believers that the artwork of the caves are depictions of what our ancestors witnessed in their visions. The shamanistic element in the cave decorations is getting even more widely (though not universally) accepted
What are a few salient features of such paintings?
They are the greatest wealth the primitive humans have left behind
The paintings are mostly around social activities such as hunting and group activities - dancing, day to day activity depiction. So one can say they emphasize community and the importance of group activities.
Animal figures are more prevalent than human figures stating the significant role of animals in the life people of those time. Early man was of a nomadic nature which meant moving from place to place in search of food thus they had to secure themselves from predator animals. At the same time animals were their main source of food besides wild fruits/ plants (agriculture was not a part of their lifestyle yet)
Colors used are mainly white, yellow, orange, red, ochre, purple, brown, green and black. White and red being the most used. These colors were made from various rock stone like red from haematite (known in India as Geru); green from chalcedony stone; white in all probability from limestone. The stone must have been ground into a powder and mixed with water and some sticky substance like animal fat, gum or resin from trees. Brushes would have been from twigs
At many rock painting sites there are layers of paintings one on top of the other. Either they were redrawn or people from different area, generation, time inhabited the same place
These prehistoric paintings help us to understand about early human beings -- their lifestyle, food habits, daily activities and thought process
Caves were used for ceremonial or magical rituals, which reflects in the art. It also might explain how religion originated
Understanding the Prehistoric Ages The drawings / paintings belong to 7 historical periods namely Period I or Upper Palaeolithic/Stone Age; Period II or Mesolithic; and Period III or Chalcolithic and thereafter Period IV & V of the Early historic and Period VI & VIl of the Medieval. Our focus will be on Prehistoric era art or rock paintings of Period I-III. (Also please remember that stone age is divided into 3 phases --- lower, middle and upper Palaeolithic age. Rock art came into existence only during the upper phase)
Upper Palaeolithic or Stone Age
In this phase of the stone age we get the first sign of artistic expressions
The three main art forms were cave painting, rock engraving and miniature figurative carvings
The drawings were mainly of human figures, their activities, some geometric designs & symbols
Paintings were in dark red of huge animal figures like bison, tiger, elephant, rhino and boar beside stick-like human figures
It also marks the acceptance of rituals and ceremonies which was shamanistic in nature
Is the transitional age between the ice affected hunter/gatherer culture of the Upper Paleolithic and the farming culture of the Neolithic
Largest number of paintings belongs to this period
Though the subjects in paintings increased the size became smaller
Hunting scenes predominate along with images of trap / snares they used to catch animals. Hunters are seen in groups armed with barbed spears, pointed sticks, arrows and bows. In some drawings animals are chasing men and in others they are being chased by hunters.
It is characterized by more advanced hunter-gathering, fishing and rudimentary forms of cultivation.
Many rock/cave sites in India belong to this period
Chalcolithic or Copper Age
The Copper age art begins
Paintings of this period reveal the communication between the cave dwellers with settled communities
Pottery and metal tools find a place in the drawings. Painted pottery is a mark of the Chalcolithic period.
A shaman is a person who can connect/communicate with the "spirit" world
They gain knowledge and the power to heal by entering into the spiritual world in a trance state
Most shamans get dreams or visions that convey certain messages in form of symbol and images
There is a growing belief that a high percentage of rock art is of a shamanic origin i.e. shamanic experiences led to the sudden development of art, symbolic thinking, and early civilization