Home > Kalākośa > Kalāsamālocana Series > List of Books > Rock Art in Kumaon Himalaya




images/images/bullet1.gif (122 bytes)   Rock Art Research : A Review
images/images/bullet1.gif (122 bytes)   Area of Study
images/images/bullet1.gif (122 bytes)   Rock Art in Kumaon Himalaya
images/images/bullet1.gif (122 bytes)   The Outer and the Inner




The term 'Rock Art' may be used for all types of artistic activities found on rocks, and has been classified into two main forms; Pictographs and Petroglyphs.  Pictographs refer to painted figures that are also termed as rock paintings, and petroglyphs refer to abraded drawings. Technically, Pictographs may be further divided into four groups, viz., transparent-coloured, opaque-coloured, dry coloured and stencilled-pictographs.  Similarly, Petroglyphs may be grouped, on stylistic ground, into five categories, viz., engraving, carving, bruising, dotting and cup-marking.  Pictographs are found on the walls and ceilings of naturally formed caves and rock shelters while Petroglyphs are confined to open rock and boulders.   Rock paintings were executed in mineral colours without any preparation of background such as dressing or chiselling of natural rock, i.e. no background colour was applied before painting and the rock surface was not smoothened with plaster.
Among petroglyphs, engravings occur in the form of line drawings incised on rock; carvings are carved out forms; and bruisings are those figures that are produced by rubbing the upper surface of a coarse-grained rock.  For instance, in making a 'bruising' the desired figure is first outlined on rock, then the inner portion of the outlined drawing is rubbed-out with a hard stone to reveal the light tone of the rock.  Dots and cup-marks are made by hammering the surface gently, and some of the cup-marks are as deep as 50 centimetres with an equal diameter throughtout its depth.  These big holes, on hard rocks certainly indicate that the help of metallic instruments was taken, and probably a drilling technique was utilized.

The figures on rocks, both Pictographs and petroglyphs which are found in many superimposed layers, suggest that a single surface was used several times for different artistic activities, i.e., later drawings were made on older ones without eliminating the earlier ones...




The Kumaon Himalaya is that mountainous area of the Himalayas which is one-sixth part of the present day Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.   It lies approximately between 28º 44' and 31º 28'  North Latitude and 77º and 81º East longitude.  It may be demarcated easily by its natural boundary lines; while river kali separates it from Nepal on the east and the Tons. a feeder of the Yamuna, on the west; the high table-land of Tibet is a clear-cut international demarcation line on the north and the descending foothills and adjoining Bhabar-Tarai are the obvious boundaries with the plains of western Uttar Pradesh.  Kumaon Himalaya encompasses the three districts of Kumaon (i.e. Chamoli, Dehradun, Pauri, Tehri and Uttarkashi).   Excluding Dehradun which was a part of Saharanpur district and Tehri, the entire region until 1969 was known as Kumaon.  Touching international boundaries on its north and east make this a strategic location for the country.  Moreover, the snow-clad peaks of the Great Himalaya do not demarcate everywhere the northern boundry of our country, since some area of Kumaon Himalaya (i.e. old revenue pattis of danpur, Vyans, Chaudans, Johar and Darma) do extend beyond the Great Himalaya.  Even the highest peak of the region, the Nandadevi, lies south of that area.  Kumaon Himalaya is connected by road to all the major cities of Uttar Pradesh and other states of Northern India.  The nearest rail-heads are Tanakpur, kathgodam, Ramnagar, Kotdwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun, and the nearest airports are Dehradun, Rishikesh and Pantnagar.

Geology and Geography of the Region

The entire montane mass of Kumaon Himalaya may be divided into three belts - the sub-Himalaya or Sialiks, and the great Himalaya.  The first belt is mainly composed of the tertiary sandstones, conglomerates, pebbles and crystalline boulders; the second belt of limestones, slates and phyllites; and the third belt of granite, gneiss and schist rocks.  Thus, the rocks forming the Sivaliks and the Lesser Himalaya may be said to be stratified ones, whereas those forming the Great Himalaya are crystalline ones.  (Atkinston, 1980:101)...




There are 68 sites of rock art in Kumaon Himalaya.  Of these, on ten sites paintings or impressions of colour are found, while on the remaining sites rock art is mainly in the form of different compositions of pits of small or big sizes.  Most of the sites (60 per cent) are located in the district of Almora.   The source region of the Suyal, a tributary or the Kosi, is rich both in Pictograph and Petroglyphs.  It is here that the famous site of Lakhu-Udyar is situated.   The literal meaning of 'Lakhu-Udyar' is 'the hundred thousand caves'.   Although as memorial to an ancient tragedy the main painted shelter at Lakhu-Udyar has been known to the local people for a long time, yet no archaeological importance was given to the site until 1968.

Madan Chandra Bhatt (1981:11) in his Ph.D. thesis submitted to the Agra University, has given a brief introduction to the site, acknowledging that he was introduced to the rock paintings by Tara Chandra Tripathi, the famous historian of Kumaon, who informed me also about their existence in the year 1973, when I met him in Nainital.  According to hearsay of local inhabitants, the paintings on rocks were created by members of two marriage parties with their own blood, shed during a fight between them long time ago.  It is popular belief that it was, unfortunately, at lakhu-Udyar while returning to their destinations that the two parties met.  Since the meeting of two marriage processions is considered as a bad omen for both bride and her groom, a fierce fight took place.  To mark the event and to make the people aware of such meetings, figures with blood were drawn after the fight was over...




The subject matter of rock art of Kumaon Himalaya may be classified under the following headings:

  1. Anthropomorphic Figures,
  2. Animals,
  3. Plants,
  4. Material culture,
  5. Symbols, design and other motifs,
  6. Cup-marks and other holes, and
  7. Inscriptions.


Anthropomorphic figures : Human figures constitute the main body of painted motifs.  Unlike the cave art of Europe, which is, as a whole, zoomorphic, and the rock art of Spanish-Levant, Southern Africa and Central India, which has more or less, an equal percentage of human and animal figures, the rock art in Kumaon Himalaya may be called as 'anthropomorphic' so far as the Pictographs are concerned.   The human figures painted are of dancers, drummers, hunters and common men performing different day-to-day activities.  The long rows of dancers with their hands interlocked and feet moving in rhythm towards a single direction, are found at Lakhu-Udyar, Lwetham, Petsal and Phadakanauli.  Although most of the figures are schematic in style and reduced to simple sticks, each having two pairs of forks (to indicate the arms and legs), yet the use of dress, headgear and mask is not ruled out.   The dancers at lakhu-Udyar and petsal wear long aprons and headgears with protruding objects (Plates 1A, 1B, 3A).  This is similar to dancers seen today during festivals and fairs in interior parts of the region.  In the Jhora dance, for instance, men and women of equal number dance and sing together in a circular motion with their arms interlocked.


Artistic Merit

The main theme of rock paintings in Kumaon Himalaya is the successful depiction of cultural activities.  Long rows of dancers, nicely dressed and masked are recorded on rock surfaces (Plates 1A, 1B, 3A).  These are the visual records of prehistoric past which encompasses the then life-styles and the world around.   Naturalistic shadow-graphs of men are seen in the paintings of Gwarkhya-Udyar (Plate 5A).  Schematic figures also very gracefully depict movement and action (Plates 5A, 6B).  Animal drawings are made with minimum possible body contours (Plate 3B)...


The motivation behind the creation of rock art in the Indian context, is still an enigma.  It is not possible to opine clearly about the early intentions of aboriginal rock artists as today noen of their descendants exist.   Nor there are any ethnographic parallels as found in Australia or elsewhere to answer the questions associated with rock art.  One may make probable guesses, and speculate about their motivations with the limitation of our own contemporary viewpoints. In this context, there are mainly two schools of though: one stresses upon practical-functional-value of artistic activity; and the other, regard these as pure aesthetic creation or 'art for the sake of art only'. According to the first school, are in a early hunting-gathering societies could not survive without a practical value and a part of religious rites.  According to the second school, rituals do not necessarily have to be 'masterpieces' and, had art been merely a part of religious rites, it could not have developed into a fine art.  In every society, there are some extraordinary artists; this appears true even for prehistoric societies as well.

Whatever may be the reasons, rock paintings in Kumaon Himalaya do not seem to have been created for any 'hunting magic', 'sympathetic magic' or 'love magic' to help in hunting or to cast a spell.  I feel that man's aesthetic sense is uppermost in his enjoyment of beauty, natural or otherwise...


[ Main Page | Forward Page ]

HomeSearchContact usIndex

[ Home | Search  |  Contact UsIndex ]

[ List of Books | Kalatattvakosa | Kalamulasastra | Kalasamalocana ]

Copyright IGNCA© 1995