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Stupendous project to document rock art

A dolmen at Mallachandiram in Tamil Nadu.

A dolmen at Mallachandiram in Tamil Nadu.  

T.S. Subramanian

It is “an ethno-archaeological project” with a multi-disciplinary approach, says Project Officer

The project has already been completed in Jharkhand and Orissa

There are over 80 sites in Tamil Nadu with paintings in rock-shelters

CHENNAI: A stupendous project to document rock art in several hundred sites in jungles, hills, caves and dolmens in 14 States is under way, courtesy the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) of the Union Department of Culture.

Bansi Lal Malla, Project Officer, IGNCA, called it “a special type of documentation” that involved archaeologists, artists, geographers, geologists, art historians, botanists, anthropologists and folklorists. It was “an ethno-archaeological project” with a multi-disciplinary approach, he said. K.K. Chakravarty, member-secretary, IGNCA, is the driving force behind the mission.

The IGNCA has built a special team to execute this “national mission” that aims at not only conserving the prehistoric paintings in rock shelters and dolmens but deciphering them.

The ravages wrought by nature and human vandalism of the paintings are under study. Dr. Malla said: “We are associating the local people in the project by telling them how important these sites are…We are studying the nature of rock on which these paintings were made [several thousand years ago]. The role of geologists is important in this.”

The project has already been completed in Jharkhand and Orissa. The first phase is over in Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Orissa. Rock art sites in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are also under study.

In Tamil Nadu, the project is being executed by the IGNCA in association with Pondicherry University. Dr. K. Rajan, Professor and Head, Department of History, Pondicherry University, is coordinating the programme.

In the first phase from March 16 to 24, 2008 in the State, a multi-disciplinary team covered the rock art sites in Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts.

The sites included Mallachandiram, Maharajakadai, Mayiladumparai, Oramanagunta, Paiyampalli, Mallapadi, Oppattavadi, Thallapallam and Gangavaram. The second phase of documentation is in progress now in the Palani hills and it will be completed on January 29.

“The earliest aesthetic expression of the world is rock art. It serves as an important source material to understand the mental world of the prehistoric people. It provides an insight into the bygone age,” said Dr. Rajan.

He estimated that there were more than 80 sites in Tamil Nadu, with paintings in rock-shelters (caverns) and Iron Age (about 1,000 B.C.) dolmens. Most of the sites are in northern Tamil Nadu.

“They are noticed in association with the Mesolithic Age (circa 10,000 B.C.), Neolithic Age (3,000 B.C) and Iron Age and to some extent in early historic phase,” he explained.

Some of the paintings are found in caves with Jaina beds sculpted on the floor and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions on the cave’s brow.

The subject of these paintings, said K.T. Gandhirajan, a team member to document the Tamil Nadu sites, were a varied lot: hunting scenes, battle scenes, men riding horses, men with bird-like masks with prominent beaks, deer, elephants, bisons, decorative motifs etc.. They have been done in solid form or outline, using red ochre or white kaolin.

Dr. Malla said all the rock art sites studied under the project would be photographed and filmed on video. There would be telecasts and a website. Compact discs and publications would be brought out.

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