Khursheed Dinshaw (India)
The River Rewa bifurcates into the Ghoda Pachad and Mangli Rivers while flowing through the region that is located 33km to the south of Bundi, in the state of Rajasthan, India.Probably the world’s largest rock paintings can be found in the rock shelters along the banks of the Mangli River here. They belong to the Mesolithic and Middle and Upper Palaeolithic periods, and depict hunting scenes – the life of gatherers, human stick figures, bulls, antelopes and wildlife (Fig. 1). Cultural scenes portray dancers, musicians and daily life. There are also inscriptions made from the plant Brahmi on the sandstone rocks lining the River. The rock shelters stretch across a distance of almost 35km.
Om Prakash Sharma, also known as Kukki, a local resident of Bundi is credited with discovering this site, as well as nearby sites. On 4 December 1993, he explored a Chalcolithic (Neolithic) mound in the village of Namana, where he found terracotta toys, an axe and chisel. While investigating these discoveries, a historian suggested that he try to locate rock paintings. As a result, for three years, he spent most of his time near rivers and boulders in the hope of locating rock paintings, but with no success.
Not one to give up, he continued looking. Even in his dreams, it was always mountains and rock paintings that he envisioned. In one of his dreams, he dreamt of a rock painting in a cavity near a stream. This led to a discovery 16km north of Bundi, in a place called Rameshwar Mahadev, which was his first rock painting discovery. His excitement knew no bounds and consequently his name was published in newspapers. Inspired he continued to look.
“If you have noble intentions and are passionate, nature supports and shows you the way. But it tests you first to be absolutely sure of your intentions. I was also tested and then nature embraced me,” opines Kukki, who is not educated but believes that he is blessed by nature who has saved him from being bitten by poisonous snakes and falling from rocks in his quest to find the rock paintings.
On 12 June 1998, he discovered the rock painting site of Gardhda, which is 35km from Bundi. Almost three dozen rock shelters are present here and it is Rajasthan’s biggest rock painting site. Kukki found the site at Rameshwar Mahadev by following the mountains after he dreamt of it. Next, he started following rivers and wherever there were cavities on their banks, he would step inside and search for rock paintings. This led him to find paintings in locations like Dharwa (Fig. 2) and Kewdiya.
As word spread, archaeologists came to visit the sites and Kukki gained knowledge from them. He also visited the National Museum in Delhi, watched the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and National Geographic on TV to educate himself about rock paintings.
Some of the rock shelters at Dharwa have much later inscriptions that are made from hematite. These are shell inscriptions providing evidence of Buddhists in this region. They were probably made during the reign of the Gupta Empire. However, they have yet to be deciphered.
A prominent image inside one of the rock shelters, which is part of the world’s largest rock painting site, is that of a bull with long horns and a hump. It dates back to the Mesolithic (Fig. 3).
In rock shelter 3, prehistoric artists have made dots and stick figures in white, using mineral colours (Fig. 4). While white-coloured rock paintings are common in India, in Rajasthan, they are rare. Most of the paintings are red in colour.
In rock shelter 4, a red-coloured sun can be seen (Fig. 5).
Rock shelter 5 is the highlight of Dharwa site, with a variety of human stick figures and bulls. A man with a raised spear is visible, while traps for capturing animals are also present (Fig. 6).
Hematite, which is easily available in the surrounding mountains, was ground on stone and animal fat or gum from trees were mixed into it to make the colours for the paintings, which are light and dark red. Bamboo sticks were then used to draw the figures.
At the Gardhda site, inside rock shelter 8, there is a panel depicting a herd of antelopes complete with their horns and tails. A wild goat and some deer can also be seen. Inside rock shelter 7, a wild animal with a long body and tail feeding on tree leaves has been depicted. Above the animal, there is a trap to catch animals (Fig. 7).
Inside different rock shelters, there are animals resembling a giraffe, a bull, cobra and a dancing scene. In rock shelter 5, there are hand imprints and animal figures. In rock shelters 3 and 4, there is a panel with a bull that is being held by a man using a rope.
All photographs by Khursheed Dinshaw.