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Pre historic art in Karnataka
By Dr. A Sundara
How old is rock art and when did man give expression to his strong emotions. How did he conceive and how did he execute? What was the purpose? We know that traditional knowledge, practice and experience evolved and crystalysed over a period of time into a shastra, whichever the field may be.
The history of development of human culture has a long past.Scholars in prehistory earlier thought that it goes back to 200,000 years. But in the 1990s tremendous progress was made in the study of the human past. In Isampur, a small insignificant village in Surpur taluk in Gulbarga district, excavations have been conducted by Dr. K.Paddaiah, a very well known prehistorian of international repute, from the Deccan college, for the past 20 years. In his recent investigation some fossilsof animals were found and they have been dated using the ESR technique. The dates obtained shows that the early Paleolithic cultural stage in that part of the country is as old as 1.5 million years. In Ethiopia, Northeastern Africa many important discoveries have been made. Fossil remains of almost a complete skeleton of a woman, fondly named Lucy by the discoverer were found . More astounding is the discovery of a human skull, surprisingly having modern features as well, which is puzzling, in Chad area of western-central Africa. It is dated by an international team at 6 to 7 million years !. Of course the identification of its features, are questioned and the study is in progress. Further, the present human form ( Homo Sapiens ) and brain are said to have evolved some 50,000 years ago. But today this stage of human evolution is pushed back to 150,000 years.
Researchers and amateur archaeologists did not know rock art as late as 1890s or slightly earlier, say the middle part of the 19th century. As is the case with many of the science fields, two chance discoveries at Altamira ( Spain ) and Lascaux ( France ) ultimately laid the foundation for a distinct branch called Rock-art archaeology. Rock art today occupies an important place and has become a separate discipline.
In India the first discoveries of rock art were perhaps in the last decades of 19th century. Hubert Knox in Karnataka at Kigali, Archibald Carlyle and John Cocksure in Aimer ranges, Madhya Pradesh, found the rock engravings and cave paintings. Later, in Karnataka, in 1915, Leonard Munn, an English officer was moving about in Hire Benkal ( Gangavati taluk., Raichur district, now in Koppal district) forested hill ranges, he happened to discover three caves with paintings. He published a note on them in the annual reports of the archaeological department of the former Nizamís Dominion of Hyderabad. Occasional discoveries were being made and no further studies were carried on as late as 1960s. It was the late Vishnu Wakankar of Ujjain, who found about 700 natural caves, most of them with Prehistoric paintings, in the sand stone belt in Bhimbetka near Bhopal. His Ph. D. thesis on these paintings was the first of its kind on rock art and in view of his service to rock art he was awarded Padmashree by the Government of India. Since then numerous discoveries were made in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal. Orissa and eastern part of Punjab, etc.
To have access to the painted rock-shelters and caves, one must be determined and physically strong. In a single shelter/cave there may be one or two or even 50-100 pictures of animals, humans, geometrical designs and scenes of some significant social performances such as hunting, group dance, burying the dead, etc. which are less frequent. The pictures are executed in mineral colours like red, green, white , the first being the most common. It is said that it was mixed with pigís blood since it would not dry up fast. The pictures are in either outline or silhouette.
three categories of rock art. bruising
caused with a stone, the engraving with a sharp stone or metal
tool and then the paintings. Almost
monochrome. In southern Karnataka, we find mostly engravings.
Very rarely there are paintings in white ochre and red ochre. In eastern part of North Karnataka there are bruisings,
engravings and paintings dating back to the Neolithic period (4000-2000-800
B.C.) In Badami-Hosa Mahakuta-Pattadakal-Aihole-Kutakankei area there
are very interesting
mostly with animals
of wild species and
humans drawn in a peculiar
way besides some unusual geometrical
designs datable to Mesolithic
The variations in the form of rock art are mainly due to the prevailing rock conditions. Yet another aspect of the rock art to be considered are the contents or the designs. In the Ghat-coastal region, cattle such as bulls, cows and infrequently geometrical designs are strikingly common. Human representation is scarcely in evidence. In Badami area, paintings only of wild animals such as pigs, animals with stripes on the body, to be identified and depictions of stick like humans with an exaggerated trunk with a end, have no parallels in the other parts of Karnataka and the South. In the Eastern part of North Karnataka all three forms of the art i.e. bruisings, engravings and paintings and some traditions of society such as group dance, burial hunting ritual etc occur frequently.
With regard to painted humans in the eastern part, there are varieties of singles, large and small, in pairs or multiples hand in hand etc. The largest depiction of a nude human standing with squat legs and with geometrical designs painted all over the body obviously engaged in some ritual is in Narayanapur near Hampi. It is appreciably proportionate. How the artist managed to draw the figure from the tip of the surface about four meters high from the ground level, is to be admired.
In geometrical designs, certain types of what are known as mandalas prepared in rangavalli even today in religious performances are found in the paintings and engravings. Double lined two squares, obliquely intersecting with loops at the corners is the most common as found at Hire Benkal, Chik Rampur in painting, Sonda (Uttara Kannada dt.) and Gavali near Kundapura (Dakshina Kannada) in engraving. What is interesting is that such a design is attached to the bullís legs, at the last two places. Also endless six knot design attached to three bullsí legs in a row, a similar design in exclusion of bull/s is found on a loosely lying stone slab at Hire-Madapura, (Hire Kerur tk. Haveri dt.) And enigmatically it is used by villagers to cure horn diseases of cattle even today. Thus it appears that such designs were believed to have some magical powers by rural folk especially the pastoralists even in the past.
Thus rock art are the most effective visual evidences giving an insight into the beliefs and practices of the peoples of the past dating at least from the Upper Palaeolithic. It is needless to say that they are the only source of knowing the visual art of the Prehistoric communities.
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