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31 January 2009
Extensive project to document rock art of India

An extensive project to document rock art in several hundred sites in jungles, hills, caves and dolmens in 14 States of India is under way, courtesy the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) of the Union Department of Culture. 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. Bansi Lal Malla, Project Officer, said: "We are involving local people in the project by telling them how important these sites areā€¦ We are studying the nature of rock on which these paintings were made."
     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. "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. K. Rajan, Professor and Head, Department of History, Pondicherry University. He estimated that there were more than 80 sites in Tamil Nadu, with paintings in rock-shelters (caverns) and Iron Age (about 1,000 BCE) dolmens. Most of the sites are in northern Tamil Nadu. "They are noticed in association with the Mesolithic Age, Neolithic Age 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; DVDs and books will also be published.

Source: The Hindu (26 January 2009)

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