Rock Art is a new and emerging field of studies in Indian archaeology and therefore it is to be viewed in the aesthetic value of the pre-historic people. During primitive times, man was a nomad wanderer hunting animals for food, clothing and shelter.

The history of the art of painting in India can be traced back to pre-historic and proto-historic times. The earliest specimens are to be seen in the dark recesses of caves and rock-shelters found amidst rocky hills, some of them inaccessible in forest regions. There seems to be a large concentration of small rock cut paintings in the hilly tracts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. However, similar paintings have also been discovered at Bihar, Orissa, Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamilnadu. Thus, cave art has quite a wide distribution, though all the paintings do not belong to one period.

According to Adam “Primitive art is merely a general term covering a variety general of historical phenomena, the products of different races, mentalities, temperaments, historical events and influences of environment”. Paleo-lithic man in India indulged in artistic expression. The paintings prove that dance was a very primitive art form, and that models of dances were not a recent development. By the end of the Paleolithic age, when man settled in groups, dance was resorted to not only for amusement but also as a form of primitive ritual for some God or Goddess.

In 1833, the first Indian prehistoric painting was brought to light by Professor Carlleyle in U.P. After a long spell of sporadic discoveries, it was only in 1957 that Dr. Wakankar brought to light the amazing riches in Bhimbetka near Bhopal. Subsequently, D.H. Gordon and Dr. H.D. Sankalia in the north and Dr. K.V. Raman, Dr. Nagaswami and others in the south discovered more pre-historic rock paintings. In South India, paintings were discovered in 1983, at “Kizhavalai” in the South Arcot District of Tamilnadu.

Dancing was obviously a part of primitive life. In these rock paintings, the dancers are depicted either bare-headed or wearing an animal mask, indicating that the role of magic had increased in the life of pre-historic people. With the advancement of the human culture, it is noticed that the individual human figures are replaced by group activities. These groups of people are seen engaged either in hunting or in dancing. The dancing figures in rock painting depict the best representations of the emotion of joy. When a man is filled with joy, he starts singing or dancing. Almost all the painted areas have dancing groups.  Dancing was a collective phenomenon, and was performed by both male and female. A single type of dance is represented in the paintings where the dancers are shown hand in hand. This type of dance is still current among primitive tribes of Chhatisgarh, Bastar and other areas. The dynamic figures are shown with a vigorous type of dancing.

The caves and rock shelters which were the dwellings of the primitive people, located in the forest regions close to water resources. These dwellings, apart from serving their necessary function, served also as repositories for the creative expression of primitive man during his leisure.  The walls of these dwellings were used as canvas, and natural colours such as ochre, white, black, and green were applied either with brushes made of animal hair or finger tips or roots of trees. These paintings are considered to be the oldest specimens of art and it is very difficult to assign a precise date, as they cover a wide time span, from pre-historic times to the historic period. Since the art is primitive in nature, it should be valued aesthetically in the perspective of pre-historic people.

Pre-historic paintings are found, more correctly, in rock shelters, the majority of which are located in rocky mountains generally in a chain form, their sizes varying from huge, medium and small. These are found in Bhopal, Raisen and Kharwai. They can accommodate thousands of people at a time. Other paintings are found in river bank shelters like the Chambal valley, Abchand and other places, while those of the plateau shelters are found in Bhimbetka, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc.

Distribution Pattern

The painted rock shelters are widely distributed from the Himalayas to Kerala and from Gujarat to Assam. For empirical studies the entire area has been grouped into five zones 1) North 2) East 3) West 4) Central and 5) South. Most of the research has been done only in the central zone, which is rich in rock paintings.

The central region is sub-divided into (1) The Vindhya group (2) Satpura group (3) Aravalli group. These are further divided into many regions. But, we are concerned mainly with the Bhopal area since it consists of the maximum number of dancing figures.

Hathitol Raiseu area

This is the biggest area in the country and the number of rock shelters, both big and small, exceeds twenty. The paintings executed in the Hathitol rock shelters are excellent from the artistic point of view and are well preserved. They give us the impression that they have been recently painted.

Here, we have a few dancing images where human figures are drawn in “stick-shape” style. The body, hands and legs are shown elongated. Unlike other places, here too it is found that the painters were not keen to draw the anatomy of the human body, but were simply interested in catching the different curves of the body which they succeeded in doing skillfully. The heads of these human figures are circular or peculiarly drawn.


The village Kharwar is situated under a hill range, which has a large number of rock shelters numbering more than one hundred. These shelters throw ample light on the primitive cultures of that area and thus developed a new style which is missing in other areas. In one of the shelters, a group is seen engaged in circular dancing. These figures are stick shaped in style with their hands joined together.

It also consists of ten human figures including a child engaged in ceremonial dance. Their movements exhibit joy and natural exhilaration. We also find a figure playing musical instrument, and symbols akin to the Sun, plants, fishes and birds are also noticed.



It is the richest area for rock paintings and is peculiar in that it is the meeting place of different art styles of various paintings. In one of the rock shelters in the eastern wing, there is a painting drawn in thin white lines. Here a peacock is shown sitting on a tree, preening its tail and the vibrations in it are also indicated. The bird is in a dancing posture and so self-absorbed in its dance, that it could not see a hunter who was ready to throw an arrow towards it. This figure undoubtedly reveals the active imagination of the artist, and it can be counted among the masterpieces of Indian rock painting.

Gufamandvia shelter

It is situated in the Bhopal proper-area where eight hand-in-hand dancers and a double-lined cross figure are depicted.

S. Amarnath

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  1. Prema Seetharam says:

    This is a wonderful initiative. I would be nice if you could include a few photographs so that we could get visual information also and get a complete idea of the paintings.

  2. There’s certainly a lot to find out about this topic. I
    love all the points you made.