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Comparative traditions in village painting and prehistoric rock-art of Jharkhand

In certain unspoiled parts of India such as Jharkhand in eastern India the continuing artistic traditions from the Mesolithic to the present is evidenced in Meso-Chalcolithic rockart and continued in the present ritual tribal village murals of non-literate societies painted by the tribal (Adivasi) women during certain seasons such as the marriage season and harvest season (Khovar and Sohrai) tell of a unique cultural continuity. It bears the stamp of the “dependence of human cognition on the natural environment”, or communication between the human and natural worlds. It remains an un-believably rare example of palaeolithic perception of the natural environment which, inevitably, in the culturally more developed tribal societies shows the first signs of evolving into folkart while in the less developed tribal groups it retains the flavor of the prehistoric rock paintings of the region. This paper examines the contemporary tribal harvest and marriage wall murals and a dozen painted rockart sites in the watershed of the Upper Damodar river in North Karanpura, Jharkhand and examines its cultural and palaeo-archaeological background going back over 100,000 years. The paper examines in detail the ritual mural art forms of the region today of several ethnic groups with different forms of artistic, symbolic, and material expression visibly connected with the pre-historic rock paintings and folklore of the region first made by the ancestors of these Dravidian and Proto-austroloid tribes. Art and communication in this world is still between a non-literate people and the tribal world of nature around them, the human returning to animal form and vice versa.

Composite view of the Isco rockart shelter

The cave paintings have shown motifs and animal art similar to those still being produced in the community art of the villages in the valley. The village people believe the art was painted by their ancestors. The two major artistic traditions are the painting of the house walls during the Sohrai harvest festival during the autumn, and the comb-cut painting of the marriage rooms called Khovar, during the spring. It must also be noted that the painted rock shelters are also called Khovar and believed by the villagers to be ancient marriage rooms.

The rockart motifs found in Hazaribagh belong to a transitional phase between the Mesolithic and the Chalcolithic having motifs common to both periods. The oldest forms in the contemporary tribal paintings of the Hazaribagh villages are similar to the earlier period and are practiced by our most primitive tribes such as the nomadic hunting and gathering Birhor tribe who live in leaf houses, trap small animals, gather honey, and make string nets and ropes. In their sand paintings they commonly depict honey bags and monkeys in trees and draw nets and traps of different kinds and some of the oldest motifs such as the circle in the cross and the tree of life, and concentric circle, yam figures and other motifs less found in our rockart. Similar types of art but not so primitive appear in the Bhuiya tribe who finger paint the mud walls of their houses. Among the old motifs such as the zig-zag, and lines of circles appear in the metal casters art of the Malhars. It has been noted that many forms common to rockart appear in the wall paintings and also that many forms may be found in the rockart of the Vindhiyas as well as other areas of west India. Many of these forms find their way into the paintings of the tribals of Hazaribagh on their village houses during the marriage season and which is called Khovar and again in the winter harvest festival called Sohrai.

Read full paper published in Valcamonica Symposium, Italy, 2011

2011_Valcamonica_Comparative traditions in village painting and prehistoric rockart of Jha
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