This Site Last Updated: Wednesday, December 31, 2003
This Page Last Updated: Tuesday December 16, 2003
[Map showing India]
Rock art has been made in India from paleolithic times up until modern times. The rock art of India depicts magical rites, dances, and hunting, which were practiced by primitive peoples.
Animals depicted are generally large, such as buffalo, bison, rhinoceros, antelope, deer, and tigers. Small animals, such as lizards and mongeese, do appear occasionally, however. Curiously enough, the only images of major Indian religions date to recent times and were likely made by hermits and similar solitary religious practitioners.
Introduction to Toolmaking
Tools were initially made from pebbles or flaked rock, with primitive chopping tools and axes being used. As time went by blades began to be used. The people lived in rock shelters, near low hills, and along river banks, with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Food was likely either eaten raw or roasted on hot coals or grilled over a fire.
Towards the end of the Paleolithic period clothing, spears, engraved bones, and rock painting of shelters began. Given migratory behavior, the rock shelters would have been occupied only during part of the year, with most of the time being spent in the open or in temporary shelters constructed from tree branches.
Migratory Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle
The artists were likely migratory to some extent, following food animals which moved according to the vagaries of water and vegetation. Assuming the vegetation was similar to modern Indian vegetation, and assuming their eating habits are similar to modern tribal peoples, the paleolithic peoples ate roots, tubers, bulbs, flower buds, wild grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, berries, honey, small fish, minnows, lizards, snakes, frogs, crawfish, beetle grubs, ant eggs, birds and their eggs, rabbits squirrels, monkeys, the newborn of the antelope, deer, and wild boar, and the occasional mongoose, turtle, peacock, and porcupine.
Larger Game Not Hunted
Given the prevalence of easily acquired food, there was no need to hunt larger, and significantly more dangerous, animals like the elephant or rhinoceros.
Improvements in Life
[Sculpture of Bull Showing Internal Organs (Mesolithic)]
[Sculpture of a Buffalo (Mesolithic)]
Stoneworking provides cutting tools, including inverted arrow points, spear points, blades, awls, and scrapers. Crude pottery is introduced, allowing food to be boiled instead of roasted on a fire. Fishing using harpoons begins. Dogs are domesticated. Population increases. Shelter paintings become more common.
Larger Animals Depicted For Veneration
[Sculpture of an Elephant (Mesolithic)]
Large animals like the rhinoceros and elephant were likely painted as objects of worship or fear. Elephants are quite dangerous during the mating season, and the rhinoceros have no fear of any creature. (Modern rhinoceros are known to attack four-wheel drive vehicles.)
Rock Art Depicts Hunting Scenes and Ritual Dancing
[Sculpture of a Bison (Mesolithic)]
A number of pictographs feature dance scenes, sometimes involving animals. These scenes may represent rituals designed to placate natural forces, or they may represent communal efforts to organize the large numbers required for the hunting of large animals. The dance may have been a way to convince fearful individuals that their power as a group was greater than that of the animals being hunted.
Food Supply Stabilizes, Tool Improvements Continue
Axes made of polished or ground stone being being used. Quality of pottery improves. Use of slash and burn agriculture, as well as agriculture on flood plains, coupled with domesticated goats, pigs, fowls, and cattle provides a steady food supply. Simple huts introduced.
Appearance of Decorated Pottery, Crop Cultivation, and Houses
Copper axes and ornaments introduced. Decorated pottery and terra cotta figures. Agriculture expands to include cultivated grains, legumes, and other seeds, including rice, lentils, wheat, linseed, and sesamun. Houses are made from wattle and mud.
Aryan Invasion Destroys Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization lasted from about 2500 B.C. to 1500 B.C., at which point it was destroyed by Indo-Aryans from Central Asia. The invasion began in the northwest of India where the invaders killed, evicted, or absorbed the primitive cultures encountered as the invasion moved east and south. Over the next 2,000 years the Aryans would install and refine a Brahmanic civilization -- notably with a caste system placing the invaders at the top -- which evolved into Hinduism.
Aryan Invasion Affects Native Languages
Sanskrit became commonly used after the invasion, and a number of modern Indian languages have Sanskrit roots. Another invasion, by an unknown people at an unknown time, introduced the Dravidian language to southern India. This language forms the basis for the four languages spoken today in southern India. And there are a number of languages which predate both the Aryan and Dravidian derived tongues.
Metalworking Prevalent
During this period tools and weapons begin to be made from iron. Use of other metals became more common, and ornaments were made from copper and silver coins were made were decorated with punched designs. Terra cotta and copper figures were made.
Warfare Images More Common
[Sculpture of Dancing Warrior (First of Four)] [Sculpture of Dancing Warrior (Second of Four)]
During this period images of warfare become more common. Some of the war pictographs depict mounted horsemen attacking warriors on foot, and these likely represent conflicts between the valley people and the shelter dwellers.
[Sculpture of Dancing Warrior (Third of Four)] [Sculpture of Dancing Warrior (Fourth of Four)]
Wars and Processions Depicted
Most of the pictographs made during medieval times are of wars and processions.
Recent Images of Soldiers
Most of the pictographs made during recent times are of soldiers, stylized geometric shapes, and names and signatures.
Indian rock art uses local materials: pigments from local rocks, coarse brushes from palmetto stems and fine brushes from porcupine quills, and water cups made from folded leaves.
Pictographs were painted on the sandstone walls of shelters. Sandstone is a porous rock, and the pigment bonds to the rock in a very durable fashion. Over time, however, the pictograph can be obscured by mineral deposits dissolved from the rock, by patination or by erosion.
Creators Were Non-Aryan, Non-Dravidian Peoples
The rock art was likely made by non-Aryan, non-Dravidian speaking ancestors of the tribal peoples of central India, and not by later cultures including the Hindu. There are several reasons why this is probably the case.
  • The pictographs show scenes involving magical rites, dances, and hunting, which were practiced by primitive peoples. As the practitioners lived in isolated areas -- such as jungles, swamps, deserts, and remote hills -- these rituals were undisturbed by the Aryan invasion and even by modern cultures. Up until a few hundred years ago these isolated peoples retained their cultures, adopting only metal arrowheads and pottery, while continuing to make simple pictographs on rock shelter walls.
  • The pictographs were made in rock shelters which were likely lived in by the people making the images, and who used the primitive weapons both depicted and found in the shelters. The Aryans, to contrast, lived in villages, towns, temples, or fortresses, and not in simple rock shelters. They also used sophisticated weaponry.
Depictions of Large Animals
The rock art usually depicts large animals, like buffalo, bison, rhinoceros, antelope, deer, and tigers. Small animals, such as lizards and mongeese, however, do appear occasionally.
No Depictions of Major Religions
What is particularly interesting about Indian rock art is what is not present: symbols from the major Indian religions, namely the Vedic cults, Saivism, Buddhism, and Vishnavism. There are no gods, no half-man half-animal figures representing gods, nor are there any cobras with spread hoods. When images of mainstream religions do appear, these are of modern origin and are likely made by hermits or recluses.
Depictions of Animals as Food or Source of Danger
The rock art typically depicts animals only as a source of food or danger, and humans either in conflict with each other or with animals. This is in direct contrast to some rock art made by other peoples.
The peoples in North America in the pacific northwest region, for example, clearly associated special spiritual powers with animals. These powers could conferred upon humans by guardian spirits during a vision quest. Unlike many other peoples, the primitive peoples in India seem to have not associated special powers with animals.
The modern day members of the Korku tribe create carved wooden death markers. While the Korku have no horses, and never raised them, the carvings depict the dead on horses. Those horses likely belonged to the Aryan warriors who defeated their ancestors.
The lack of copulating animals either indicates that there was no particular interest in fertility or that coitus itself was not seen as important. The lack of interest in fertility extends to a lack of genitalia or breasts, which is surprising given the importance in most Indian religions and the numerous depictions in Hindu religious sculpture.
Weapons depicted include stones, sticks, clubs, maces, axes, lances, harpoons, tridents, swords, boomerangs, bows, a variety of shields, and a number of different arrowheads. Some arrowheads are depicted in the traditional form, others have barbs on one or both sides, others have elaborate heads, and some have inverted heads.
Inverted Arrowhead as Weapon
The inverted arrowhead mounts the base at the front and the narrow point on the shaft. This was likely done to provide a large cutting edge which would make a large gash and thereby cause the prey to bleed extensively. Not only would blood loss quickly kill the animal, but the blood trail would simplify tracking.