Discovery of Painted Rockshelters from Satpura-Tapti Valley
Vijay Ingole,
Padmakar Lad, Manohar Khode, Dnyaneswar Damahe, Shirishkumar Patil, Pradeep Hirurkar

Abstract: A new rockshelter paintings site has been discovered recently. It is situated on the border of Vidarbha (Maharastra) and Madhya Pradesh, which is formed by Satpura range of mountains and the Tapti (Tapi) valley. So far only four rockshelters have been discovered. All these rockshelters have been found to have rock paintings. This region is likely to have many more rockshelters which are not yet explored. This paper reports and discusses the rockshelter topography, an enigma behind group of numerous animals together, intelligent use of a single colour in distinguishing skin patterns of different animals, mystery of face orientation of painted animals in particular direction, likely origin of lingam worship. From the similarity of its painting styles and pattern to that of Bhimbetka, it is likely to be from upper Paleolithic period.
Key words: Upper Paleolithic, rock painting, rockshelter painting, central India civilization

Introduction: The rationale behind rock painting art in the early stages of human settlement has been an enigma. It has been reported that immediately after the end of ice age there was a devastating explosion of a volcano in one of the inlands of present Indonesia. Million tons of ash covered most part of the world. This led to a famine like situation worldwide. It starved herbivores and subsequently carnivores for long duration. Number of species became extinct and others were on the brink of extinction. As regards human race a very small number known as Bushman survived in Kalahari (South Africa). Interestingly rockshelter painting from early ages have been reported from South Africa and other early human settlements throughout the world. It has been further reported that in the course of time the generations of surviving Bushman migrated to northern Africa and further to Europe then to North & South America. One of the branches migrated to Indian peninsula. In course of time they further migrated to Southeast Asia. They then migrated to Australia where they are known as Aborigines. The site, surface, the objects, colours and general style of painting etc indicate that this art might have one origin. It therefore can be postulated that the skill of art associated with the early surviving human race spread all over the world through the migrations. Little changes in object selection, colours and style appear to have taken place best suited to surrounding, environment, flora & fauna etc.
Few species including human are known to copy wild animal, birds call, their movement and dancing. Tattooing, skin cutting is still prevalent in certain races in Africa to imitate wild animals. Similarly the variety of colours and their stunning combination observed in the nature might have inspired them to take up painting for the expressions within. The creation of rock paintings may be attributed to similar instinct. A question emerges as to how the early settlers had so much free time for such creative work? Being omnivores they survived on seeds, fruits, insects, scavenging and hunting but there might be an uncertainly leading to a long gap between two sumptuous meals. On the other hand there might be plenty food. For whatever reasons there might be free time at their disposal, which they might have utilized, for creation of arts. Rockshelter painting might be one of them.
In the early days information was communicated by speech and stored in memory. Learning by heart and rehearsing have been a good practice but writing and painting were the only means to store and repeatedly communicate the information for a longer time though it involved certain skills. Development of spoken language and writing require coding and change from place to place. However a logographic script comprising pictures, figures, logo or icons does not have such limitations. The early settler might have opted for illustrative picture painting which is comparatively simple. Such logo played a very important role in the evolution of script as discovered in the pyramids of Egypt. The point is that the early migrants carried the art of painting logo or icons wherever they went. Many of such icons comprise simple but illustrative animal, bird pictures etc.
Rockshelter paintings comprising animal, bird and human figures in different style, colours have been reported from every continent wherever early human race migrated. As regards colours used it does not appear to have any resemblance to the natural colours of the subject. Colours were used to merely depict their silhouette, general shape and anatomy. Perhaps appropriate colours might not be available. As reported the colours were selected from the minerals such as iron oxide, lime etc. The pigments were prepared by mixing the available minerals in plant sap, animal fat etc.
In India rockshelter paintings are more or less reported from all its parts. However the most important discovery of the rockshelter paintings was reported from central India (Madhya Pradesh). Most famous site is Bhimbetka rockshelter painting reported by Dr. Wakankar in the late fifties. It is located near Bhopal in Vindya mountain range north to the Narmada valley. This part of tropical India still has a typical topology and ecology. The valley being in mountain ranges of Vindya and Satpura, westward flowing Narmada and Tapti rivers for perennial water sources, variety of flora and fauna and most importantly good shelters in formed caves, rock shelters. Such suitable habitat might have encouraged early settlers to choose this area. Further Indo-Gangetic-plain lies to the north of Vindya whereas; Deccan plateau lies to south of Satpura. These flat stretches might have been covered by dense forest in the past. From the discovery of plant fossils (Fossil Park) near Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) this region is believed to be below the sea level before thousand of millions year ago. During tectonic shift of Gondwana land, as per tectonic plate theory, it slowly emerged from the seabed. This might explain the reason for the existence of number of sedimentary rockshelters.
Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh has the largest collection of rockshelter painting right from upper Paleolithic era to medieval age. The upper Paleolithic paintings are mostly in the form of figures of animals like bison, bear etc and painted mostly in red colour. Paintings during Mesolithic era are also found showing human figures of different poses like dancing with musical instruments, hunting and fighting with weapons. The site, which is being reported in the present paper, is recently discovered and is about 150 km southeast of Bhimbetka. The first author and his associates discovered and studied four rockshelters located nearby in the Satpura range.
Observations: The mountain range of Satpura is to the south of Narmada river and parallel to Tapti river. It stretches from Chhatisgarh in the east to Gujrat in the west. The present rockshelters are situated in Madhya Pradesh at about 350 mtrs above MSL. The rocks are sedimentary consisting mainly of sandstone and limestone. The site is in hilly region and valleys. To the north of the rockshelters there are high mountains whereas to the south there are stretches of fertile land consisting of black cotton soil used for farming and cultivation of Orange orchards.                                        
During one of the trips to the forest in Satpura it was overheard from some shepherds that there were some pictures painted on walls of rockshelters in the mountain nearby. The Information about the whereabouts of the site was not disclosed on the pretext that those sites were inaccessible. It appeared that these people had been keeping those places a secret fearing the wrath of the Gods. This incident occurred six year back. Because of our determination the nearby Gond villages were visited every year but to no avail. Fortunately during our visit on 26th of January, 2007 to a village named Darul village in Morshi tahsil of Amravati district in Maharastra we could get a clue. This village is located on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The rockshelters are on the Madhya Pradesh side as shown in the site map (Figure-1) .  After long discussion

Figure 1
the village headman could be convinced and thereupon one senior villager agreed to take our group to the rockshelters with a promise of secrecy. Being a shepherd he was an expert trekker. Since there was no defined road to the rockshelters we followed a path used by domestic animals for grazing. The path went through steep sedimentary rocks, stones, fine sand and rubbles. There were wild shrubs and thorny grass all around. At few places we had to use rope for scaling sand stone cliffs. It took nearly three hours to trek few kilometres. Once the mountaintop was reached there appeared to be a change in tree pattern. On the south we could see dams, small villages and long stretch of vast cultivated land from Amravati district touching the horizon. On the west and north we saw mountain ranges. To the east we saw a single big rock nearly 20 metres high and about 100 metres across. The eastern portion of rock appeared to have been eroded to form a rockshelter formed (No. 1). Perhaps in the past this portion of the rock might have fallen and washed away due to nature’s vagaries. The rockshelter so formed was about 10 metres deep, 30 metres wide and 10 metres high (Figure-2). On the left side of the

Figure 2
rockshelter a deep and dark tunnel about a metre in diameter was found that was inhabited mostly by bats however, droppings of porcupine were also seen nearby.  Being dark inside we did not enter in it. The front wall of the rockshelter was of sand stone and somewhat weathered. Inside of the rockshelter the weathering was to a lesser extent perhaps because it was facing east. Moss was observed on the surface of upper portion of rockshelter which might be due to rainwater seepage. The roof made an angle of about 60 degrees to the ground. Immediately outside the rockshelter two smooth and deep cupules were seen which were carved in sand stone slab. These cupules were filled with forest waste. We removed the waste but did not find any thing. They admeasured about 10 cm in diameter and 15 cm in depth. They had a smooth rounded bottom. The purpose of carving these holes could not be ascertained but probably they might have been used as mortars for grinding, pulverizing either food or paint ingredients. An outline of a human eye was engraved on another rock nearby. On the right hand side of the rockshelter number of painted figures of animals (Figure-3) was seen. The group of figures appeared like an animal zoo.

Figure 3
These paintings were in the form of silhouette except that of spotted deer. All animals were painted in red colour. The figures were drawn at a height, which was reachable, by a human. The paintings included herbivores and carnivores. The entire wall looked like an ancient art gallery. The size of each figure was about 10 to 20 cm long with proportional height with amazing painting skill. The figures, best to our judgment, looked like bear, wild boar, bison, nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), monkey, rhinoceros, wild dog, hyena, male & female of spotted deer (Axis axis), swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli), sambar (Cervus unicolor). There were other unrecognizable animal figures too. Each male deer figure was painted with appropriate size and shape of antelope. The wild dogs were shown in a pack perhaps to illustrate their social behavior (Figure-4).


Figure 4

Another figure of an animal had a comparatively long body, long upright ears and without horns. The spotted deer figure was painted in a very wise manner (Figure-5).

Figure 5

Figure 6
Its body was drawn by lines in red colour and red spots were painted inside whereas sambar and swamp deer figures were in the form of silhouette (Figure-6) with appropriate
size and shape. The technique appears to be an intelligent use of single colour to distinguish different deer/antelope species. Discovery of Rhinoceros figure was quite amazing. This animal is neither seen in this part of the forest, nor there is any record of its past existence (Figure-7).

Figure 6
One of the animal figures has a very long neck, short body and looked like a giraffe. It was quite surprising to see a figure like giraffe, which is reported only from African continent. However, past existence of Giraffe cannot be totally ruled out in India since animal species like leopard, chittah (now extinct), porcupine, rhinoceros, lions (Gir) etc. have been common to Africa and Indian peninsula. It is evident from the painted figures that in the past these animals might be dwelling in this area and many might have either got extinct or migrated elsewhere due to change in ecology. Interestingly we could not see any figure of horse or lion. It is worth noting that in this gallery heads of all animals were oriented to observer’s right (Figure-3). Similar observations were also made in nearby rockshelters painting. Whether this was by default or design is worth investigating. This peculiar aspect of typical mindset of the cave man is worth exploring. With limited skills at our disposal we failed to see any animal figure oriented to the right however, it is worth examining the entire site scrupulously for any variation.
The left side wall of rockshelter-1 we saw few more line drawing in red colour though weathered. Few crude line paintings depicting human figures, a warrior on a horseback were also seen. Those were painted in white colour, presumably by lime. They appeared to have been superimposed on other figures. The painting skill appeared to be poor as compared to other paintings. As compared to other rockshelters nearby this rockshelter was found to be in the better state. Some part of the wall was covered with geometrical figures and appeared to have made recently by locals as religious ritual. We also saw some writing in black colour by vandals. A rockshelter having its wall painted with numerous animal figures and having a ground in the front gave an appearance of an ancient school. Possibly the early settlers had a pragmatic outlook and vision behind such meaningful and beautiful paintings. It is known that pictograph or painting is long lasting. Since hieroglyph might not be in vogue the painted figures might be the beginning of a record keeping system by the early settlers to pass on the information from generation to generation and appears be a beginning of information technology. From these figures or icons the children and younger generation might have been given information about the herbivores and carnivores dwelling around. Further the animal figures might have been used to teach not only about their shape, habitant, and behavior but also about the danger perspective. Further they might have taught about hunting suitable animals and scavenging. Scavenging aspect could be corroborated from the painting of a vulture (Figure-8) seen in nearby rockshelter. Perhaps hovering or presence of vultures was related to the location of dead animals or carcasses somewhere nearby obscured by forest. Interestingly we could not see figure of any other bird.
A visit to other rockshelters ( No.2) was planned for exploration within a week. The village people had by then developed some confidence. With the help of two villagers a visit to other site was planned. This rockshelter site was located on the edge of a cliff to east of the first rockshelter. These rockshelter were separated by a deep valley. A perennial water source was found nearby. The path chosen by the guide appeared to be unused and extremely difficult to tread. It took nearly three hours to reach the second rockshelter. At places a rope had to be used to climb steep rock sides. It was found that the second rockshelter comprised two sections adjoining to each other. The first one was about ten metres long, ten metres high and two metres deep. The other one was about five metres long, two metres deep and three metres high. Both the sections were facing west. Most of the paintings and geometrical figures were weathered due to monsoon rains. All figures were in the form of silhouette and painted in red colour. Many of the figures on the front wall had become very faint barring few protected by crevices. An excellent

Figure 7
painting of vulture (Figure-8) was discovered. In the nearby wall figures of monkey and hyena were seen. A third rockshelter (No.3) was located on the same plateau at about five hundred metres distance to the east and was facing the south. Here many weathered out figures coloured in red and few coloured in white were seen. A figure of female spotted deer was in better condition. This rockshelter is near a worship place and is vandalized.
We were informed about one more rockshelter (No. 4) by the villagers. When we visited the site we found the rockshelter located at a height of about 200 metres. It was behind the first rockshelter (No. 1) to its west and situated at the start of a valley. The valley is formed by streams. The location of the rockshelter is very typical. It is surrounded by dry bed of streams perhaps a perennial water source in the past. The rockshelter was ‘S’ shaped. The height of this rockshelter varied from one metre to about ten metres. In some part of the rockshelter there was hardly any room for movement. Inside we found an old mound nearly two metres long, one metre wide and one metre high made by stones from the nearby streambed. An iron spear was placed vertically nearby. Its handle was thick near the blade and tapered down to the end. The tip of its spade was bent and imparted a cobra snake like appearance. It was told by the villagers that it found to be buried inside the stone mound (grave?) and discovered very recently.  The locals worshiped it as Snake God. From the surrounding of the old mound it appeared to be a grave of a warrior who might have died in some encounter and then buried in the stone heap with his weapon. In front of this opening there was bed of a stream full of smooth stones of various shapes and size. A yellow scale was formed on them. Here few stones with typical artifact like profile were discovered. Perhaps they were stone implements and due to abrasion by turbulences in water flow of the stream all sharp edges appeared to have been worn out. At few places the stream was covered with large sand stones creating a typical configuration. Just above the streambed a typical rock shape was noticed, which was about a metre long and appeared to have been formed by water vortex. It was formed horizontally having a conical shape. It was told that that stone was worshiped as Shiva-Lingam. Its tip was covered with red colour (Figure-9). The main rock shelter was located immediately on the next bend facing south. It was about ten metres long, four metres wide and ten metres high. The floor was covered with fine sand and dust of about 15 cm thick and appeared to be undisturbed. The rockshelter had a unique topography. On its either side there were streambeds, which met in the front. The combined stream flows in southerly direction over a steep slope. One could observe vast landscape up to the horizon. Perhaps due to good view of the area, perennial water source (then), ample of food and security this place it might have been chosen by the early settlers. The inclined wall of the rockshelter had many figures painted in red colour lines but most of them are now weathered. The figures were in the form of line drawing. A mysterious semicircular line was observed on low roof. Its purpose could not be ascertained. Perhaps it might be a part of some ritual. A figure of wild boar painted in red colour was discovered. A prominent line drawing of tortoise (turtle?) painted in red colour of approximately 0.3 mtr by 0.3 mtr size was also discovered. Its back portion was painted by lines and dots. It was painted approximately at height of 2 metres.  It was the only figure of tortoise we could find (Figure-10). On one side of wall there was a mystifying human figure of about 1.5 metres tall, painted in red lines with weird anatomy having headgear, prominent conical penis and small scrotums (Figure-11). The shape of its penis and the shape of conical rock formation (Figure-9), discussed earlier, had a close resemblance. The human reproductive organs have had a paramount importance for the continuance of the race. Could such similarity be taken as a mere coincidence? If one presumes this painting to be from upper Paleolithic period by the very early settlers then an analogy can be drawn to illustrate the commencement of lingam worship and its subsequent dissemination in the Indian peninsula. It might appear to be a far fetch hypothesis but it is worth investigating whether such ritual originated in this particular rockshelter by the early settlers or otherwise.
An undisturbed crevice on the floor of the rockshelter was selected. The thick layer of dust and sand was slowly removed. It was quite surprising to see the presence of charcoal particles at the bottom on the hard rock surface of the floor. With the help of a sieve the charcoal sample was separated and stored for further investigation. We could not find any antiquities. Next to the rockshelter there was a sharp ‘U’ bend. There we saw a dark deep tunnel with porcupine droppings and pugmarks. Nearby there was a hallow rockshaft about two metres in diameter. It opened up in the plateau above. The shape of the rock formation was typical and appeared to have been shaped by erosion of turbulent waterfall. The last part of the shelter had large number of wild beehives and hence could not be approached. However we observed it through binoculars. Many animal figures and geometrical patterns coloured in red were noticed.
The day was very hot being the last week of March and water stock was exhausted. It was informed by the local that the nearest perennial water source was about four kilometers to the west. Though skeptical about perennial water source there was no alternative but to proceed. On our way at some distance we saw many rocks with typical rockshelter formation spread all over the mountain  slope. Due to immediate need of water and shortage of time those could not be explored however from the topography we had a notion of more hidden treasures therein needing exploration. The journey was concluded near a perennial water source flowing through a hole about 10 cm in diameter in the rock. The source had a continuous stream of cold, fresh and sweet water making it an ideal location for habitation. The villagers were then thanked for there guidance.
Conclusion: From the general style of painted figures, category of wild animals and proximity to Bhimbetka rockshelters it appears that these rockshelter paintings might be from upper Paleolithic period however, for conformation it requires further investigations. From the type of wild animals depicted the rationale behind the painted animal figures might be for sharing and carrying forward the information. The rationale behind the orientation of faces of figures appears to be worth studying. The origin of Lingam worship is worth investigating. The site being the only discovered place on the border of  Satpura and deccan plateau bears a distinctive importance. Looking at the fragile appearance and historic importance of these rockshelters and paintings there is an urgent need for their protection therefore we strongly recommend it to be taken over by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It certainly deserves for world heritage site by the UNESCO. The rockshelters under discussion need more in depth study. The nearby area needs exploration by experts in the field.
Postscript: We are a freelance group of six hobbyists interested in nature excursions, which include forest & river tours, bird watching and wild animal expedition. We humbly admit that we are neither rockshelter art explorers nor expert in this field. From our little knowledge and Net surfing we have tried to gather relevant information and tried to present the present discovery logically before the world community to the best of our ability. Most of the photographs shown in the figures have been processed for clarity. We do not claim the presented deductions and views to be concluding. We do not claim to be the first visitor to these rockshelters but do claim to be the first to have studied and photographed them. However, there is likely to be much more information which we had missed or understood. These sites being a world heritage we are ready to help any expert in the field for further studies to the best of our capacity with prior understanding. We appeal to the fraternity and experts in the field to help in exploring and protecting these sites.
Acknowledgement: Authors wish to sincerely thank Dr. Giriraj Kumar for his encouragement, help in identification of figures and advice right from the beginning. Authors would like to put on record their sincere gratitude to the village Sarpanch Shri Ashok Kumare and the villagers of Darul for their kind help and guidance without which this exploration would not have been possible.
Dr. Vijay Ingole, 104 Manas, Ganediwal layout, Camp, Amravati-444602 Maharashtra, India.  Email address:
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Figure-1: Site Map
Figure-2: Rock shelter & Cupules
Figure-3: Silhouette Figures of animals
Figure-4: Pack of Wild Dog
Figure-5: Male Spotted Deer (Axis axis)
Figure-6: Male Sambar (Cervus unicolor)
Figure-7: Rhinoceros
Figure-8: Vulture
Figure-9: Typical natural stone formation
Figure-10: Tortoise & Wild boar
Figure-11: Mystical human figur