Staff Reporter

Survey being undertaken to locate sites

Much of this art is situated inside forestsIt is getting destroyed because of development work

NEW DELHI: While contemporary Indian art has come into the limelight recently, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has decided to go back into the past to take stock of man's first real brush with creativity -- rock art. Having written letters to the authorities concerned where rock art is located, the idea is to get more information on this valuable heritage that is fighting a battle against rapid development.

"India is said to be the third largest repository in rock art in the world. But the problem is that there is very little documentation. IGNCA is now attempting not only to locate sites for recognition, but also for conservation. This is also the first time a survey is being attempted at an interdisciplinary level with geologists, archaeologists and other experts so that we can evolve an indigenous system of dating,'' said IGNCA member secretary K.K. Chakravarty.

The first of its kind comprehensive survey done in modern times to find new undiscovered sites, it will help in ensuring that these pre-historic sites are `protected' in some way.

"For almost a century, survey of rock art has been going on in India in fits and starts, but conservation has received very little attention. Rock art is one of the most valuable clues to the cognitive beginnings of humanity. However, it is important to stop its immediate extinction,'' IGNCA has written to the authorities concerned.

Threatened by different development activities from mining to road building, rock art sites across the country are vanishing. While there has been some work done by various institutions in the field, most of the research has been done in isolation, without much co-ordination between institutions. IGNCA hopes to be able to correct that. An attempt to find sites that are unlisted, un-surveyed, unprotected and seriously endangered, IGNCA has started this survey in Orissa.

While an important rock art site Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh has been recently included in the World Heritage List, there is a whole area with interesting paintings which falls out of the protected zone, say experts. And it is IGNCA's endeavour to find such sites and landscape, so that they can be identified and documented at least.

"Some of the people living around these sites have lost memory, but their art surfaces in their mud walls or pottery. We hope to be able to identify this landscape,'' stated Dr.Chakravarty.

With much of rock art situated inside forests, IGNCA officials have written to forest officials asking them to send information where the concentration of rock art is largest.

"Most of the rock art is adjacent to localities and is getting destroyed because of development work. In most cases, this happens because of lack of awareness of the organisations that undertake these development activities,'' IGNCA has written. It has also asked for the names of officials so that it can get in touch with them to take necessary action.

Apart from locating sites, IGNCA also hopes to be able to identify development activities in areas, which are posing a threat to rock art sites.

"There are large-scale development activities that might endanger sites but there are also small-scale mining in areas near these sites which can cause the same problem. We hope to be able to find out where these activities are taking place,'' an official stated.

Linking tangible heritage with the intangible, IGNCA officials have requested the authorities to recommend local resource people who could undertake an `interdisciplinary survey' so that the `context' of the art can be understood better.

"Ultimately, protection of rock art sites in the country cannot be undertaken by the government alone. It has to be the responsibility of local bodies and communities,'' the letter states, asking for the names of the people concerned so that IGNCA can partner with them to form networks.