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 Today’s Topic-  Pre-Historic Rock Painting and Arts of Indus Valley Civilization


Pre Historic Rock Paintings


The prehistoric period in the early development of human beings is commonly known as the Old Stone Age or the Palaeolithic Age. Prehistoric paintings have been found in many parts of the world.

The subjects of their drawings were human figures, human activities, geometric designs and symbols. In India the earliest paintings have been reported from the Upper Palaeolithic times. Remnants of rock paintings have been found on the walls of the caves situated in several districts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar. Some paintings have been reported from the Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand also.


The rock shelters on banks of the River Suyal at Lakhudiyar, Uttarakhand bear these prehistoric paintings. Lakhudiyar literally means one lakh caves.



Features of Lakhudiyar paintings:


  • The paintings here can be divided into three categories: man, animal and geometric patterns in white, black and red ochre.
  • Humansare represented in stick-like forms. A long-snouted animal,a fox and a multiple legged lizard are the main animal motifs.
  • Wavy lines, rectangle-filled geometric designs, and groups of dots can also be seen here.
  • One of the interesting scenes depicted here is of hand-linked dancing human figures.
  • There is some superimposition of paintings. The earliest are in black; over these are red ochre paintings and the last group comprises white paintings.



Also, the granite rocks of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh provided suitable canvases to the Neolithic man for his paintings. Important sites are Kupgallu, Piklihal and Tekkalkota.

Features of paintings from the sites of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

  • Three types of paintings have been reported from here—paintings in white, paintings in red ochre over a white background and paintings in red ochre.
  • The subjects depicted are bulls, elephants, sambhars, gazelles, sheep, goats, horses, stylised humans, tridents, but rarely, vegetal motifs.


But the richest paintings are reported from the Vindhya ranges of Madhya Pradesh and their Kaimurean extensions into Uttar Pradesh. These hill ranges are full of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic remains

Forests, wild plants, fruits, streams and creeks in these regions provided a perfect place for Stone Age people to live.

Among these the largest and most spectacular rock-shelter is located in the Vindhya hills at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. Bhimbetka has about eight hundred rock shelters, five hundred of which bear paintings.


Features of Bhimbetka paintings


  • The themes of paintings found here are of great variety, ranging from mundane events of daily life in those times to sacred and royal images.
  • Images include hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animal fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, and other household scenes.

The rock art of Bhimbetka has been classified into various groups on the bases of style, technique and superimposition. The drawings and paintings can be categorized into seven historical periods.


  • Period I, Upper Palaeolithic;
  • Period II, Mesolithic; and
  • Period III,
  • After Period III there are four successive periods



Upper Palaeolithic Period

  • The paintings of the Upper Palaeolithic phase are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge animal figures, such as bisons, elephants, tigers, rhinos and boars besides stick-like human figures.
  • A few are wash paintings but mostly they are filled with geometric patterns.
  • The green paintings are of dancers and the red ones of hunters.


Mesolithic Period

  • The largest number of paintings belong this period.
  • During this period the themes multiply but the paintings are smaller in size.
  • Hunting scenes predominate. The hunting scenes depict people hunting in groups, armed with barbed spears, pointed sticks, arrows and bows.
  • In some paintings these primitive men are shown with traps and snares probably to catch animals. The hunters are shown wearing simple clothes and ornaments. Sometimes, men have been adorned with elaborate head-dresses, and sometimes painted with masks also.
  • Elephant, bison, tiger, boar, deer, antelope, leopard, panther, rhinoceros, fish, frog, lizard, squirrel and at times birds are also depicted. The Mesolithic artists loved to paint animals.
  • In some pictures, animals are chasing men. In others they are being chased and hunted by men. Some of the animal paintings, especially in the hunting scenes, show a fear of animals, but many others show a feeling of tenderness and love for them.
  • Women are painted both in the nude and clothed.
  • The young and the old equally find place in these paintings. Children are painted running, jumping and playing.
  • Community dances provide a common theme. There are paintings of people gathering fruit or honey from trees, and of women grinding and preparing food.
  • Some of the pictures of men, women and children seem to depict a sort of family life.
  • In many of the rock-shelters we find hand prints, fist prints, and dots made by the fingertips.


Chalcolithic Period

  • The paintings of this period reveal the association, contact, and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with settled agricultural communities of the Malwa plains. Many a time Chalcolithic ceramics and rock paintings bear common motifs, e.g., cross-hatched squares, lattices.
  • Pottery and metal tools are also shown. But the vividness and vitality of the earlier periods disappear from these paintings.



  • The artists of Bhimbetka used many colours, including various shades of white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green and black. But white and red were their favourite colours.
  • The paints were made by grinding various rocks and minerals. They got red from haematite (known as geru in India). The green came from a green variety of a stone called chalcedony. White might have been made out of limestone.

Other important features

  • The artists here made their paintings on the walls and ceilings of the rock shelters. Some of the paintings are reported from the shelters where people lived. But some others were made in places which do not seem to have been living spaces at all. Perhaps these places had some religious importance.
  • The men shown in the paintings appear adventurous and rejoicing in their lives.
  • The animals are shown more youthful and majestic than perhaps they actually were.
  • The primitive artists seem to possess an intrinsic passion for storytelling. These pictures depict, in a dramatic way, both men and animals engaged in the struggle for survival. In one of the scenes, a group of people have been shown hunting a bison. In the process,some injured men are depicted lying scattered on the ground. In another scene, an animal is shown in the agony of death and the men are depicted dancing.
  • It is interesting to note that at many rock-art sites often a new painting is painted on top of an older painting.

At Bhimbetka, in some places, there are as many as 20 layers of paintings, one on top of another. Why did the artists paint in the same place again and again? Maybe, this was because the artist did not like his creation and painted another painting on the previous one, or some of the paintings and places were considered sacred or special or this was because the area may have been used by different generations of people at different times.


Arts of the Indus Valley Civilization


The arts of the Indus Valley Civilisation emerged during the second half of the third millennium BCE.

The forms of art found from various sites of the civilisation include sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewellery, terracotta figures, etc.

The two major sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation, along the Indus river—the cities of Harappa in the north and Mohenjodaro in the south—showcase one of earliest examples of civic planning.

Other markers were houses, markets, storage facilities, offices, public baths, etc., arranged in a grid-like pattern.

There was also a highly developed drainage system. While Harappa and Mohenjodaro are situated in Pakistan, the important sites excavated in India are Lothal and Dholavira in Gujarat, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Ropar in the Punjab, Kalibangan and Balathal in Rajasthan, etc.



Stone Statues

  • The stone statuaries found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro are excellent examples of handling three dimensional
  • In stone are two male figures—one is a torso in red sandstone and the other is a bust of a bearded man in steatite.
  • The figure of the bearded man interpreted as apriest, is draped in a shawl coming under the rightarm and covering the left shoulder. This shawl isdecorated with trefoil patterns. The eyes are a littleelongated, and half-closed as in meditative The nose is well formed and of mediumsize; the mouth is of average size with close-cut moustacheand a short beard and whiskers; the ears resemble doubleshells with a hole in the middle. The hair is parted in themiddle, and a plain woven fillet is passed round the head.An armlet is worn on the right hand and holes around theneck suggest a necklace.




  • In this red sandstone figure, there are socket holes in the neck and shoulders for the attachment of head and arms.
  • The frontal posture of the torso has been consciously adopted. The shoulders are well baked and the abdomen slightly prominent.


Bronze Casting

  • The art of bronze-casting was practised on a wide scale by the Harappans.
  • Their bronze statues were made using the‘lost wax’ technique.
  • In bronze we find human as well as animal figures, the best example of the former being the statue of a girl popularly titled ‘Dancing Girl’.




  • Found in Mohenjodaro, this exquisite casting depicts a girl whose long hair is tied in a bun.
  • Bangles cover her left arm, a bracelet and an amulet or bangle adorn her right arm, and a cowry shell necklace is seen around her neck.
  • Her right hand is on her hip and her left hand is clasped in a traditional Indian dance gesture.
  • She has large eyes and flat nose.
  • Amongst animal figures in bronze the buffalo with its uplifted head, back and sweeping horns and the goat are of artistic merit.
  • The copper dog and bird of Lothal and the bronze figure of a bull from Kalibangan are other examples.




  • The massiveness of the bull and the fury of the charge are eloquently
  • The animal is shown standing with his head turned to the right and with a cord around the
  • The late Harappan and Chalcolithic sites like Daimabad in Maharashtra yielded excellent examples of metal-cast They mainly consist of human and animal figures.



  • The Indus Valley people made terracotta images also but compared to the stone and bronze statues the terracotta representations of human form are crude in the Indus. They are more realistic in Gujarat sites and Kalibangan.
  • The most important among the Indus figures are those representing the mother goddess.




  • The mother goddess figures are usually crude standing female figures adorned with necklaces hanging over prominent breasts and wearing a loin cloth and a girdle.
  • The fan-shaped head-dress with a cup-like projection on each side is a distinct decorative feature of the mother goddess figures of the Indus Valley.
  • The pellet eyes and beaked nose of the figures are very crude, and the mouth is indicated by a slit.
  • In terracotta,we also find a few figurines of bearded males with coiled hair, their posture rigidly upright, legs slightly apart, and the arms parallel to the sides of the body. The repetition of this figure in exactly the same position would suggest that he was a deity.
  • A terracotta mask of a horned deity has also been found.
  • Toy carts with wheels, whistles, rattles,birds and animals, games men and discs were also rendered in terracotta.



  • Archaeologists have discovered thousands of seals, usually made of steatite, and occasionally of agate, chert, copper,faience and terracotta, with beautiful figures of animals,such as unicorn bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, bison, goat, buffalo, etc.
  • The purpose of producing seals was mainly commercial. It appears that the seals were also used as amulets, carried on the persons of their owners, perhaps as modern-day identity cards.
  • The standard Harappan seal was a square plaque 2×2 square inches, usually made from the soft river stone, steatite. Every seal is engraved in a pictographic script which is yet to be deciphered.
  • Some seals have also been found ingold and ivory.
  • They all bear a great variety of motifs, most often of animals including those of the bull, with or without the hump, the elephant, tiger, goat and also monsters.
  • Sometimes trees or human figures were also depicted.
  • The most remarkable seal is the one depicted with a figure in the centre and animals around. This seal is generally identified as the Pashupati Seal by some scholars whereas some identify it as the female This seal depicts a human figure seated cross-legged. An elephant and a tiger are depicted to the right side of the seated figure, while on the left a rhinoceros and a buffalo are seen. In addition to these animals two antelopes are shown below the seat.
  • Seals such as these were found in considerable numbers in sites such as the ancient city of Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley. Figures and animals are carved in intaglio on their
  • Square or rectangular copper tablets, with an animal or a human figure on one side and an inscription on the other, or an inscription on both sides have also been found. These copper tablets appear to have been amulets.Unlike inscriptions on seals which vary in each case, inscriptions on the copper tablets seem to be associated with the animals portrayed on them.



  • TheIndus Valley pottery consists chiefly of very fine wheel made wares, very few being hand-made.
  • Plain pottery is more common than painted ware. Plain pottery is generally of red clay, with or without a fine red or grey slip. It includes knobbed ware, ornamented with rows of knobs.
  • The black painted ware has a fine coating of red slip on which geometric and animal designs are executed in glossy black
  • Poly chrome pottery is rare and mainly comprises small vases decorated with geometric patterns in red, black, and green, rarely white and yellow.
  • Incised ware is also rare and the incised decoration was confined to the bases of the pans, always inside and to the dishes of offering stands.
  • Perforated pottery includes a large hole at the bottom and small holes all over the wall, and was probably used for straining liquor.
  • Pottery for household purposes is found in many shapes and sizes.


Beads and Ornaments

  • The Harappan men and women decorated themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay.
  • While necklaces, fillets,armlets and finger-rings were commonly worn by both sexes, women wore girdles, earrings and anklets.
  • Hoards of jewellery found at Mohenjodaro and Lothal include necklaces of gold and semi-precious stones, copper bracelets and beads, gold earrings and head ornaments,faience pendants and buttons, and beads of steatite and
  • It may be noted that a cemetery has been found at Farmana in Haryana where dead bodies were buried with ornaments.
  • The bead industry seems to have been well developed as evident from the factories discovered at Chanhudaro and Lothal.
  • Beads were made of cornelian, amethyst,jasper, crystal, quartz, steatite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, etc.
  • Metals like copper, bronze and gold, and shell, faience and terracotta or burnt clay were also used for manufacturing
  • The beads are in varying shapes—disc-shaped,cylindrical, spherical, barrel-shaped, and segmented.
  • Some beads were made of two or more stones cemented together,some of stone with gold covers. Some were decorated by incising or painting and some had designs etched onto
  • The Harappan people also made brilliantly naturalistic models of animals, especially monkeys and squirrels, used as pin-heads and beads.


Fashion and other aspects

  • It is evident from the discovery of a large number of spindles and spindle whorls in the houses of the Indus Valley that spinning of cotton and wool was very common.
  • The fact that both the rich and the poor practised spinningis indicated by finds of whorls made of the expensive faience as also of the cheap pottery and shell.
  • Men and women wore two separate pieces of attire similar to the dhoti and The shawl covered the left shoulder passing below the right shoulder.
  • From archaeological finds it appears that the people ofthe Indus Valley were conscious of fashion. Different hairstyles were in vogue and wearing of a beard was popular among all.
  • Cinnabar was used as a cosmetic and face paint,lipstick and collyrium (eyeliner) were also known to
  • Many stone structural remains are also found at Dholavira which show how the Indus Valley people used stone in construction.
  • The artists and craftsmen of the Indus Valley were extremely skilled in a variety of crafts—metal casting, stone carving, making and painting pottery and making terracotta
  • images using simplified motifs of animals, plants and birds.



Tomorrow’s Topic- Mauryan Arts


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