World of Rock Art


UNESCO World Heritage site, Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh has some of the oldest art on rocks. The name “Bhimbetka” means the “sitting place of Bhima” which alludes to its connection with Mahabharata times.

When the World of Rock Art exhibition came to Chandigarh, I was naturally very excited. I had just finished a 3-day session with school students on Visual art history, and the exhibition timing couldn’t have been better.

Prehistoric art depicts hunt, animals, and human figures dancing. Colours were made using a combination of manganese, hematite and wooden coal. The colours have stood the test of time mainly because the drawings were generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls.

Here’s a round up of what I learnt at this very interesting, and simple exhibition by the IGNCA in collaboration with the Panjab University’s Ancient Art & Archaeology Department.

Southern Region [Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala]

The rock art traditions of the south appear to be quite different from each other, with some common features. Humped bull figures are found in good numbers; and the rock bruisings in Andhra and Karnataka start from the Neolithic period. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, painted figures are depicted on the walls of burials, and these are predominantly in white. Kerala is unique – in having underground caves decorated with deep engravings.











Western Region [Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa]

The common theme of the painted rock shelters are animals, human with the bull, hunting, battle and dancing scenes, geometric and decorative motifs. Paintings are mainly monochrome and red in colour.

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Central Region [ Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh ]

Together, these states account for the largest concentration of rock art sites in India. The rock paintings of Madhya Pradesh are mainly figurative and thematic and date back to the Palaeolithic period! The painted shelters are mostly concentrated in the Vindhyan ranges. In these paintings, human and animal figures are very rare and the use of red and white dominate the motifs.

Northern Region [ J&K, Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh]

In Ladakh, two thematically distinct rock art traditions are visible. The first is secular – predominantly hunting scenes and animal & human figures; while the second has Buddhist affiliation.


Each rock has a different story to tell – we just have to sit up, and listen!

Exhibition at: Panjab University Museum
Dates: August 10 – September 10, 2016
Open to all, Monday – Friday


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