Prehistoric Paintings of India

The prehistoric art helps us to find the gradual development of primitive man. This art shows symbolism and it shows that the primitive man took inspiration from the nature. At some places, we also find that a pinch of spirituality was added to the worldly things in some prehistoric paintings. The key features of Prehistoric paintings are depiction of limited and special subjects and impressionistic drawings. The expression of ideas through very few lines is the most important feature of the pre-historic art. For example, the human figure has been drawn only by four lines in many depictions.

To draw human figures, the diagonal and angular lines were used. We also find some geometrical patterns resembling to circle, triangle, swastika and trishul etc. The primitive man used whatever color he could gather from nature. The paintings are in black, red, yellow or in white colors. Most dominant scenes: Hunting, depiction of human figures with bows and arrows. Little depiction of birds, more depiction of mammals.

Bhimbetka Site

Bhimbetka rock shelters are located between Hoshangabad and Bhopal, in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau. The painted caves are more than 400 in number and spread over an area often square kilometers. Most credit to discover the caves goes to Shri V. S. Vakankar (Head of the dept. of Archaeological Museum and Excavations, Vikram University).

The site includes five clusters of rock shelters which display persistent traditions of rock painting, spanning periods from the Mesolithic to the Historic. They also display a profusion, richness and variety of mural subjects and, as a collection, form one of the densest known concentrations of rock art.

The Bhimbetka site includes:

  • 400 painted rock shelters in five clusters;
  • Palaeolithic evidence from excavations within shelters indicating antiquity of human settlement;
  • Stone and Iron Age walls and floors within the rock shelters;
  • Evidence of a very long cultural continuity within many of the painted rock shelters;
  • Indications of strong cultural links between the Bhimbetka paintings and the culture of local villages in the buffer zone;
  • Forest areas around the rock paintings.
  • Most paintings are from Mesolithic era.

Special Features of Bhimbetka Paintings

The Bhimbaitka complex is a magnificent repository of rock paintings within natural rock shelters’.  Largely in white and red, the paintings are essentially a record of the varied animal life of the surrounding forest and of various facets – economic and social- of peoples’ lives. Images include extinct fauna, mythical creatures; domesticated animals, carts and chariots; designs and patterns, inscriptions and also some symbols of the Historic period and along with pictorial narratives of events such as large processions of men on caparisoned horses and elephants, and battle scenes.

Some paintings contain a few images, while others have several hundred. Depictions vary from the realistic to the stylized, graphic, geometric or decorative. Sizes of the paintings range from five centimeters to an immense impression on a ceiling of an animal nearly five metres in length and two metres across. Stylistically, the paintings are closely linked to a distinctive, regional Central Indian style of rock paintings, which is well documented. Many features are also typical of significant bodies of rock art around the world.

A monument of long cultural continuity

In at least one of the excavated shelters, continued occupation is demonstrable from 100,000 BCE (Late Acheulian) to 1000 AD. At the same time, the Bhimbetka rock art has not been directly dated (using AMS dating techniques). Evidence of early dates therefore has to come from associative material such as the presence of art in rock shelters with Pleistocene deposits, art pigments identified in Mesolithic sequences, and images in paintings associated with hunter gatherer and pre-agricultural societies.

Evidence for a long continuity of tradition comes from the content of paintings and typological analyses, which have established broad cultural periods associated with pottery found elsewhere in the region. Added to this are superimpositions or overlapping of painting of different styles and periods, observed in many shelters. Up to fifteen layers have been recorded.

On the basis of present knowledge, it is believed that the rock art dates from the Mesolithic period (around 10,000 years ago), through the Chalcolithic (Microlithic) and right into the Historic, Medieval and recent Historic period.


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