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Deer in Rock Art of India and Europe

Giacamo Camuri, Angelo Fossati, Yashodhar Mathpal (Eds.) Published by: IGNCA, Janpath, New Delhi, 1993, pp. 150. Rs. 450/-

Distributors: Sterling Publisher, Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi


Deer in Rock Art of India and Europe

The work on the ‘deer’, one of the packages of the Indo-Itlalian Deer Project, conceived by the IGNCA, is an attempt to focus on man’s comprehension of the primal sight and its manifestation in multiple textural elements in timeless creations. Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan conceptualises the very format of the book in her befitting Foreword. She writes: "Naturally no work of this nature could begin without first exploring the legacy of mankind as seen in prehistoric rock art of the world. This not only captures and arrests man’s experience of life phenomena but is also art on its own terms".


Moreover, the editors have certainly done a commendable job by accumulating information and visual texts on the rock art of India and Europe in one place around and pivotal point – the ‘deer’. Although the title of the book outlines the ‘deer’ motif in rock art, yet in both the sections, Indian and the European, the editors have gone beyond the parameter of the prehistory engulfing imagery of the deer in later periods and its representation in myths, legends, cosmic metaphors, poetics, oral traditions, so on and so forth. The conceptual frame work of the book is the understanding of art centering round the deer, however the book encompasses even the biological aspect of the animal to give the work a full dimension.

Dr. Mathpal’s documentation of different species of deer as depicted in the rock art in Bhimbetka and shelterwise distribution of deer images is really a commendable attempt. Another noteworthy contribution here lies in the enlisting of the rock art sites in India and its plotting on an accurate scale map. Dr. Mathpal has tactfully avoided the dilemma of absolute dating of the rock paintings in this work for obvious reasons. Probably this is the right kind of approach necessary at this stage.

At the outset, editors of the European Section, Giacamo Camuri and Angelo Fossati have outlined their approach in the following lines: "Delving into the strata of prehistory while the concentrating on reliable resources of oral tradition, one is guided by a figure that has shown alacrity and stubbornness in its resistance to cultural changes". They have treated their concept with deft approach supported by authentic materials of timeless art carefully selected from important as well as little known sites.

The rock art is a subject which is a conjunction or meeting point of art and science. The editors have highlighted both and points – science and aesthetics – rationally, while dealing with the subject. Their attempt to interpret the semiotic code of the rock art motifs through the elements of nature is unique. It is interesting to understand the process of transformation from the two-dimensional rock art to the formation of mythologies in oral text. In the languages of the editors, "the meaning announced in visual languages are compounded in narrative composition of myths and legends". Obviously, there remains some doubt on the hypothesis of so-called narrative context concealed in visual representation forming the required background to the production of a painting. In fact, artistic visualisation is more feasible on the basis of an existing oral text or narrative rather than the forming of a myth or legend on an incipient art form. The illustrations cited here from renowned sites such as Lascax, Val Camonica, Pena Del Cuco, etc. belonging to late Paleolithic period followed by the samples from the Iron age in Alpine region do not complements to the viewpoint held by the authors.

To sum up, this book would give an excellent direction in understanding rock art in an overall holistic situation. So far, the rock art was treated as a subject of chronology, form and style to some extent over the years. This is a maiden attempt to unravel the semiotic code, having taken into account the total structure of the art and interrelated issues in the timeless journey of man.

A.K. Das

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