Rock art fan of a different kind

Last Updated 07 March 2019, 10:32 IST

Rock art hunting requires a lot of patience, intellectual curiosity, prodigious reading and the gumption to walk.

An astronomer is always looking up to the sky while an archaeologist is always looking down in the earth but both want to catch the ephemeral eddies, ebbs and ripples in the ever-flowing elusive rivulets of time. |

For an astronomer the dark depths of cosmos oozes the fearsome realisation of insignificance of puny human life, the feeling that envelopes an archaeologist is that of a whiff of an immortality of human lineage that continues to trundle on the curve of horizon.

It is probably this breeze blowing from the misty past that drives Maharashtra bureaucrat Satish Lalit to remote hills, mountains and caves to search for the visions of “Homo Erectus” in the Paleolithic Age carved out and engraved in stones.

His discovery of two major sites containing rock art that probably dates back 10,000 to 7,000 BC in Sindhudurg region just bordering north of Goa and runs parallel to the Arabian Sea has become a topic of discussion among archaeologists, anthropologists and ethnographers across the world.

An obsession

“The images found in the coastal region of Maharashtra-Konkan just amazes me… It is now an obsession with me to find more such sites. The first time when I saw the engravings were in the forests of Hiwale in Kudal taluka… I used to read a lot on rock art but watching in actuality suspended the time like a dew-drop hanging from a leaf… they entranced me for hours…I just sat watching them…wondering the greatness of Neanderthals… in today’s world we may condescendingly dismiss them as primitives but the vision and the art which they created with rudimentary tools surpasses the bazaar kitsch art of modern times by miles and light years,” says Lalit, who is Chief Minister’s Chief PRO.

An avid trekker of ruins and forts from college days his love for literature and poetry led him to graduate in Marathi literature and after a stint in journalism he cruised through the state public service commission and joined the information services.

Admitting that the rock art hunting requires a lot of patience, intellectual curiosity, prodigious reading and the gumption to walk in the forests of the night where every step taken awakens a ghost in the mind and venture inside caves where shadowy holograms play like terrorising phantoms dancing on the walls as the torch beam slivers the darkness into shards of silence, it is a hobby that is arcane, classy and exotic at the same time.

Lalit’s first discovery of rock art in Hiwale village sounds uncannily similar to the discovery of famous Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered by a shepherd boy who was out looking for his lost lamb; “I had heard of some carvings during one of my treks in Sindhudurg and thus my brother (Prof) Dr Balkrishna who is a semanticist specialising in Malvan dialect and myself decided to investigate the rumours.

While walking through the forests I came across some nomadic shepherds who frequent these regions… they took me to a plateau and my voyage to the beginnings of humankind started there and then at the plateau.” 

It took a full one day for the two brothers to clear the dry grass and sift out the mud and dust from the carvings.

“ It was a pleasant electric jolt to both of us to stand in front of an art… images of birds and animals created not 100 years ago… nor thousand years ago but a work of an artist who probably did 7,000 to 10,000 years ago BC,” Lalit says with an infectious enthusiasm.

In 1993, Dr Nandkumar Kamat, a well-known scientist and environmentalist had discovered a Petroglyph site at Usgalimal aka Paranasal near Sangeum on Kushavati river in south Goa; the findings of a pre-historic riverside nomadic fishing camp indicated that the carvings may have been a part of rituals relating to “Shamanism.”

Lalit’s second discovery in Kudopi village in Sindhudurg district, about 12 km from the coastline of the Arabian Sea, is considered to be an art that arose from the probable animistic rituals performed by our ancestors.

Astonishing findings

The findings of 50 Petroglyphs on a Laterite plateau above the hill called “Bawalyance Temb (Hill of Dolls) bordering Kudopi village shook the archaeological world. In a seminar of Rock Art Society of India (RASI) in Badami, eminent historian Dr Sundara Adiga expressed astonishment at the findings, describing them as ‘unique and beautiful pieces of art… in terms of variety, depiction… the art and sheer beauty is just incomparable… they provide us with an insight into the human development and it is important that they must be preserved carefully.”

The Petroglyphs found here are two human figuri­nes, circles, fish (two of them swimming in a row in a water body) probable bird paws, Mother Goddess with an infant and perfect geometrical images more in a free hand style.

However, Lalit admits that while the two fish with fins and the water body runs parallel to the rivulet that runs just near the hill can easily be interpreted as the a work of naturalism and that the pre-historic hunter knew fishing or had knowledge of marine life, the other figurines continue to “be an intellectual enigma.”

“My hypothesis is that the figures of males may be an after-death ritual, the huge figure which has pubis enjoined with a figure resembling that of an infant should be mother goddess; the clan was that of hunters and women were the tillers… thus the procreation and a sure provider of food invariably became central figures to be worshipped. And if you look at the western coastal region even today traces of matriarchal and matrilineal continues to persist in societies here. So this figure must be a part of a rite connected with Shamanism.”

The figure also resembles a phallus which played an important role not just in fertility rites but also in the very conception of art.

(Published 19 April 2014, 19:49 IST)

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