Cave Paintings – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Cave Paintings in the Prehistoric Period

Prehistory: The period in the past when there was no paper or the written word and hence no books or written accounts of events. Information about such an age is obtained from excavations which reveal paintings, pottery, habitat, etc.

  • Drawings and paintings were the oldest form of artistic expression practiced by humans. Reasons for such drawings: To decorate their homes or/and keep a journal of life events.
  • Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods have not shown any evidence of artworks so far. The Upper Palaeolithic Age shows a lot of artistic activities.
  • Earliest paintings in India are from the Upper Palaeolithic Age.
  • The first discovery of rock paintings in the world was made in India by archaeologist Archibald Carlleyle in 1867 – 68 (in Sohagighat, Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh).
  • Rock paintings have been found in the walls of caves at Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, some in the Kumaon Hills of Uttarakhand.
  • Paintings at the rock shelters at Lakhudiyar on the banks of the Suyal River (Uttarakhand)
    • 3 categories of paintings: man, animal and geometric patterns in black, white and red ochre.
    • Humans in stick-like forms, a long-snouted animal, a fox, a multiple-legged lizard, wavy lines, groups of dots and rectangle-filled geometric designs, hand-linked dancing humans.
  • Cave Paintings in Kupgallu (Telangana), Piklihal, and Tekkalkota (both in Karnataka)
    • Mostly in white and red ochre.
    • Subjects are bulls, sambhars, elephants, sheep, gazelles, goats, horses, stylized humans and tridents.
  • Cave Paintings in the Vindhya ranges at Madhya Pradesh extending into Uttar Pradesh
    • About 500 rock shelters at Bhimbetka in the Vindhya Hills in Madhya Pradesh.
    • Images of hunting, dancing, music, elephant and horse riders, honey collection, animal fighting, decoration of bodies, household scenes, etc.
    • Bhimbetka drawings can be categorized into 7 Periods.
      • Period I: Upper Palaeolithic
      • Period II: Mesolithic
      • Period III: Chalcolithic
  • Two major sites of prehistoric rock/cave paintings in India: Bhimbetka Caves and Jogimara Caves (Amarnath, Madhya Pradesh).

Cave Paintings – Bhimbetka Paintings

  • Continuous occupation of these caves from 100,000 BC to 1000 AD.
  • Discovered by archaeologist V S Wakankar in 1957 – 58.
  • One of the oldest paintings in India and the world.

Period I (Upper Palaeolithic)

  • Linear representations of animals like bison, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and boars; stick-like human figures.
  • Paintings in green and dark red.
  • Green paintings are of dancers, and red ones are of hunters.

Period II (Mesolithic)

  • The largest number of paintings in this period.
  • More themes but paintings reduce in size.
  • Mostly hunting scenes – people hunting in groups with barbed spears, arrows and bows, and pointed sticks.
  • Show traps and snares to catch animals.
  • Hunters wear simple clothes; some men are shown with headdresses and masks. Women have been shown both clothed and in the nude.
  • Animals seen – elephants, bisons, bears, tigers, deer, antelopes, leopards, panthers, rhinos, frogs, lizards, fish, squirrels, and birds.
  • Children are seen playing and jumping. Some scenes depict family life.

Period III (Chalcolithic)

  • Paintings indicate an association of these cave-dwellers with the agricultural communities settled at Malwa.
  • Cross-hatched squares, lattices, pottery, and metal tools are depicted.
  • Colours used in Bhimbetka paintings – white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green, and black. Most common colours – white and red.
  • Red obtained from haematite (geru); green from chalcedony; white probably from limestone.
  • Brushes were made from plant fibre.
  • In some places, there are many layers of paintings, sometimes 20.
  • Paintings can be seen in caves that were used as dwelling places and also in caves that had some other purpose, perhaps religious.
  • The colours of the paintings have remained intact thousands of years perhaps due to the chemical reaction of the oxide present on the rock surface.

Related Posts:

Chapter 1Indus Civilization Sculpture
Chapter 2Buddhist Sculpture
Chapter 3Gupta Sculpture
Sculpture in India – UPSC

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FAQs on Cave Paintings

  1. What is cave painting in history?
    • Cave paintings, also known as rock paintings or cave art, are illustrations created on the walls of caves during the Paleolithic Era. These Stone Age paintings were often sophisticated portrayals of animals, drawn with natural materials like charcoal and ochre.
  2. What are four facts about cave paintings?
    • Most often, the paintings show animals or hunting scenes. Sometimes they depict hands. Rarely, there are also more abstract patterns. The paintings were drawn with red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide, and charcoal.
  3. Who made cave paintings?
    • In 2018, researchers announced the discovery of the oldest known cave paintings, made by Neanderthals at least 64,000 years ago in the Spanish caves of La Pasiega, Maltravieso, and Ardales.
  4. What are cave paintings called?
    • Cave wall paintings are known as pictographs and are found all over the world alongside petroglyphs (incised, pecked, or cut designs on rock surfaces).
  5. What are cave paintings made of?
    • The predominant colors used in cave art are black (often from charcoal, soot, or manganese oxide), yellow ochre (often from limonite), red ochre (haematite or baked limonite), and white (kaolin clay, burnt shells, calcite, powdered gypsum, or powdered calcium carbonate).

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