DATE WITH PRE-HISTORY
The pre-historic past came vividly and vibrantly alive when in February 2011, we visited Bhim Betka, a cave complex in Madhya Pradesh, in the vicinity of the capital city of Bhopal. It is named for Bhima, the Mahabharat superhero who is said to have had his seat in this ruggedly enigmatic location.
But its natural history precedes even the mythological past. The intriguing rock structures are more than 100000 years old, providing a natural home to stone age man. The inhabitants in turn left their impress in the cave paintings that share details of the hunter-gatherer’s life. It is here that early man celebrates his triumphs over nature, and his mastery over the wild beasts that menaced his difficult existence. The zoo-rock is particularly remarkable for the collection of animals depicted, which no longer form part of the fauna of the place. The astounding thing about these paintings is their fresh and vivid quality, suggesting the lost technique of a mixture of coloured earth, vegetable dyes and animal pigment as pre-historic colouring material. Pre-historic man showed the beginnings of ingenuity.
Bhim Betka is a relatively lesser known location of cave art, compared to counterparts elsewhere on the globe with world heritage tags.
Sociological theories opine that the predominance of animal images in primitive cave art everywhere are the imaging of wishful thinking to facilitate hunters. Cave paintings are also linked to the trance like states achieved by magicians, the ” shamans.”
My own perception is simpler- that the artistic impulse of the human hand is a spontaneous and ancient phenomenon. Though life was primitive and precarious, the stirrings of individuality and the urge for articulation would illustrate the expansion of human consciousness. Perhaps in the hunter-gatherer’s day there were still those leisurely moments to muse on the times and convey onward its hard won victories.
” I am, therefore I leave my impressions in expressions,” is the tacit message of the homo- sapien. From those rudimentary early impresses have evolved over time art and multitudinous forms of self-expression in all their perfection and diversity.