T.B. Hospital Area

The paintings found here are the oldest in Bhopal. The human figures found here are linear having, circular or rectangular heads, sometimes wearing, an animal mask, busy either in hunting or dancing. The figures either hold a stick or a stone implement. In another rock shelter in the same place, eight human figures are seen dancing hand in hand. Besides, two other dancers with outstretched hands, one of them holding a weapon which has an axe-like fixture near the top end, are also identified.

Dharampuri (Pempura) shelters

This group consists of about twenty painted rock shelters. Three colour shades of red, yellow and pink are used here. The human figures are in stick-shape drawn in dark red. They are solely hunters engaged in hunting and dancing. Another figure belonging to this series has a circular head and a feathered headdress. The stick shaped-body is curved like the letter ‘S’. The lower part starting from the waist, is broader, and this figure is in a dancing posture. There is also another figure with circular head and feathered headdress involved in ritual dancing with legs crossed.

Shyamala Hill Shelters

There are about twenty rock-shelters in a row. The earliest paintings drawn in these shelters belong to the ‘S ‘stick ‘shape’ man style, drawn in dark red colour. These human figures are shown armed with bows and arrows, engaged in hunting or dancing, or sometimes just standing. The advanced technique in this series can be seen in rock shelter number 8. A figure is shown in a dance posture exhibiting technique and decoration. This figure has a circular head with horned headdress with four braids of hair at the back. The arms after making an angle of 40 degrees are stretched sideward from the elbows. The legs are shown in a dance posture and the hands and legs are tasseled. A cloth like object fixed to the waist flows back. This may be of bark leaves or leather and is drawn of dark red color and worked with thin brush.

There is another painting in this series engaged in ritual dancing. Eleven dancers are shown engaged in dancing around a circular fire pit. Two animals are shown lying on the ground, of which one is without its head which, is lying close to the animal. A dog like animal is also standing close to the fire. The ceremonial dance must have been performed after a successful hunt. Only one figure is shown with a weapon which has saw-like teeth.

Abchand Area

This village is situated on the banks of the river Gadheri, a tributary of the Sunar. This part of the river area is rocky and natural cliffs are formed on both the banks of the river due to water cutting. They provided suitable dwellings for the prehistoric people. Here, the paintings are drawn in different dwelling of red, yellow, pink, white, green and black. The temple shelter number 6 is the latest explored site in which five human figures are placed in the central part of the shelter engaged in dancing. These figures are bent forward and each is holding the waist of the figure in front of it.

Rabtaghat Shelter

It is 200 feet above the water level. There are two dancing groups and in one of these at least twelve persons are seen engaged in a traditional dance around the fire. The hands. of most of the figures are raised; one of the dancers has a drum hung in his neck. Some of them are having shield like objects in their hands. The dress as well as the shielded suggests that they belong to the warrior class.  In the second dancing group, out of four figures, two have half out stretched hands in a dancing posture, whereas the other two have kept their hands on their waist.

Pachmarhi Area

Apart from its prominence as the summer capital of Madhya Pradesh, Pachmarhi has its own special importance for students of prehistory because of its paintings. It is the highest peak of Mahadeo hills in one of the ranges of the Satpura Mountains. The name Pachmarhi is derived from those rock cut caves which are locally known as “Pandava Caves”.

Bazar Shelters

Two figures of musicians are depicted among which one musician is seen playing viva, the other musician is sitting on stool but the instrument on playing sitting which he is playing is not identified. This figure is just opposite to the viva player.

Nimbuboja shelters

Among the bright white coloured paintings, a harper with dancing female figures are depicted. All these figures definitely throw light on the domestic life of the pre-historic people. In one of paintings, a monkey is seen playing on a double fluted instrument and a man is seen lying on a cot. The music is so enchanting, that he had started clapping his hands to the rhythm of the music.

Dorothideep rock-shelters

This shelter consists of two white coloured dancing figures engaged in classical dancing.  In Innlikarar Rock shelters, there is a dancing figure, wearing a skirt made out of either skin or leaves. The graceful spread of the skirt is shown with great skill. There is also another dancing group, where two dancers are shown in dancing postures and beating the dholak (drums), which are seen hanging around their necks.

South India

Rock engravings were discovered at Kuppagal near Bellary in the 1930s. Most paintings are found in pockets of Tamilnadu. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala and were discovered only recently. The maximum concentration of rock paintings in South India have been reported from the Karnataka region. However, the richness of the rock-shelter paintings of the Central zone is not seen here. The shelters are scattered at a considerable distance from each other and the number of paintings in each shelter is very few and sometimes only one painting is found. The superimpositions are rare and the range of the colour is minimal.  The dominant colour is, as usual, red ochre in three shades of dark red, brownish red and bright red. The use of ivory, black, yellow -and white colours have also been found.  Both human and animal paintings are available here, but after going through details, it becomes clear that the South Indian paintings do not match, their counterpart in central India, in respect of colour, decoration, sophistication or details of the subject-matter.

As far as Tamilnadu is concerned so for eighteen sites have been discovered, the first site being Mallappadi discovered by the department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras followed by the famous “Kizhvalai” rock paintings, which were brought to light by a team of archaeologists from Pondicherry. Later Thirumalai, Sirumalai, Vettaikaranmalai, etc, were discovered.


Kizhvalai in Tamilnadu is the richest in rock paintings. Here, we find a ceremonial dance scene in which six people are seen joining hands and engaged in dancing. These paintings are so perfect that they could be compared to European rock paintings. In one of the rock shelters at Vettaikaranmalai, seven figures are seen hand in hand. They were first identified to be the seven sisters, but closer inspection found them to be turbaned.

The prehistoric paintings were probably associated with the primitive magic, beliefs and rituals, as were the music and dance. Traditions of contemporary tribes, many just emerging from an extended life in this period, confirm this theory. In this regard, the following observations of Zimmer are noteworthy:  “Dancing is an ancient form of magic. The dance becomes amplified into a being endowed with supernatural powers and the personality is transformed. Like yoga, the dance induces trance, ecstasy, the experience of the divine, the realization of one’s own secret nature and finally merges into divine essence”. The real assessment of the position of dance in prehistoric times is very difficult. But, from the available data, it is quite clear that the painters lived in a society which had developed a sense of creativity and were interested in its manifold aspects, one of. which was painting.

According to Burkitt “It is probable that prehistoric man indulged in ceremonial dances when game was scarce and the struggle for existence became acute. This statement may be correct in regard to the people of Europe, but not of India, because there was no scarcity of animals, and the struggle for existence was not so acute”.

Hence, the scenario probably was that, after a successful hunt, prehistoric people engaged in music and dance as an expression of joy. A large number of such hunting groups are depicted, where the hunters are seen dancing. These paintings depict either simple dancers or sometimes dancers associated with musical instruments.

Almost all the rock paintings have dancing figures but the earliest painting have only a few, covered with animal masks. Here, no individual dancers are seen in the early series which indicates that dancing was an only a group activity. In the later series of these rock paintings, individual dancers are depicted with musical instruments.

Individual Dancers

The representation of individual dancers is less in number and these figures are further divided into male and female dancers. But, in the- earliest series, these human figures are seen as sexual and hence it is difficult to distinguish them according to sex. This might be due to the fact that the earliest painters had no idea of how to represent the different sexes. And only in the later paintings, females were represented by the addition of breasts.

Group Dancers

Dance of this nature is very common in Indian rock paintings. The dancers are hand in hand, as seen at Abchand, Raiseu, Kharwai, Bhopal and Pachmarhi. Generally, there are seven dancers though occasionally there are six or eight. Interestingly, this form of dance is still practiced in Baster even today, in which both men women participate. In this type of dance, the participants join their hands and form one or two rows and then dance to the beat of the drums. Then, gradually when the drum beat increases, the tempo of the dance also increases. The use of intoxicating drinks helps the dancers to continue the dance throughout the night.

Musical Instruments

Besides different types of drums (dholaks), we find flutes and instruments resembling the horn, bugles, and clarion played by the dancing figures. The history and development of all forms of art, in short, is the story of human endeavor to catch up with the transcendental beauty. Sometimes, these paintings are over simplified and some exaggerated, and sometimes, ambiguous or allegorical. It is all a question of how the artist visualizes a situation, or how a particular technique has influenced him. A couple of scenes seem to be simple, but, meaningful strokes, with brush dipped in a colour, show the primitive painter’s skill.

These artists and craftsmen were not priests, but men who used the material around them and the life they lived in it as their model. It is this, which gives Indian art -its variety. To quote from a Marshall Cavendish publication, “The story of painting”, “What is important in art is not the painting itself, but the state of mind it reveals, the images that effect a reconciliation between instinct and reason, between the unconscious and the conscious…..”

Thus, primitive art is an important source of study of the primitive cultures of different races and of the development of the creative impulses of man.

S. Amarnath

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