Sunday, 21 August 2016

Around and About

Over the last forty four years, nature, environment, wildlife, bird-watching, folk and tribal music and culture have been the principal interests in my life. Over these years  I managed to  travel from Kashmir to Kerala and from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh in pursuit of these interests. To this was added photography as the means  to record my impressions and experiences over so many years. Finally, a brush with Indology in 2008 got me interested in ancient Indian history, with particular reference to Harappan Civilisation sites in India and pre-historical cave paintings.
Also over these years I felt like sharing my experiences and impressions with a wider circle of people who may be interested in such or similar topics and I would be giving the details shortly.

The Harappan Sites  - As mentioned earlier, the course in Indology done in 2008 interested me to visit some of the Harappan sites located in India. Although Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are the best known sites of this civilisation going back to about 2500 BC, they are in Pakistan and difficult to approach. The next best thing was to try and see some of the Harappan sites in India (in fact such sites extended at one time up to about 1500 BC to Punjab, Rajasthan  and Western Uttar Pradesh). So in 2010 I visited the Kalibangan site near Bikaner in Rajasthan and in January 2016 managed to visit Lothal (near Ahmedabad) and the Dholavira site in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. It is certainly a strange sensation to be able to walk about in a place that has stood the test of time for more than three thousand years and get an impression as to how the people of that civilisation (that once traded even with the Middle East some three thousand years ago!) lived within their walled townships that stretched (in Dholavira) to about 200 metres X 200 metres. Worth visiting any time!
Each of the Harappan sites has its own features: Kalibangan near Bikaner is relatively small, just about 60/70 metres square and apparently still being worked by  the Archaeological Survey of India and comprising 6 or 8 trenches, each about 6 feet deep. On the other hand, Lothal about 70 kms south of Ahmedabad is about 100-120 mtr. square and has fairly thoroughly worked with the main constructions such as the boat quay or slipway and the citadel of the chieftain as also the market place quite accessible to visitors. Dholavira is yet larger and better restored, with the successive stages and developments clearly to be seen. Apparently, three waves of migrants had settled at the site over time. Some of their fire-places and stones on which they prepared their food may be seen. Of particular note is the rain-water harvesting system with drains and sluice-gates, and "baoli" type water tanks at the bottom of the hillock on which Dholavira stands. This was long before the Iron Age (said to begun in India around 1000 BC), and so the tanks apparently were excavated by hand, not with iron implements but  with hard, flint-like or basaltic stones.

The precise, straight lines in Lothal seem to have been drawn with a T-square. The dried bricks with which the constructions were made are of several sizes, some quite large and some smaller and thinner.

In Dholavira, the constructions are more of stone that have been sized and used.
The top picture is of Lothal, and the bottom two relate to Dholavira (the upper one showing a settlement site and the lower one a "baoli" type step-well).

The chance picking up of a book "The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin", the autobiography of that well-known anthropologist, in the college library really turned my world quite upside-down. From 1970 to 1984 this led me to travel to and see for myself the fascinating world of the the tribals, or "adivasis" or the original population of India. This was mostly in Bastar, which in those days was one huge district, the size of the state of Kerala, watered by the Indravati River that runs down its centre, and lesser river like the Sankini-Dankini, the Nubra and the Baordig.  Here lived amidst the hills and forests the Muria and Maria, together with their brethren the Gharwa, the Bhattra and others.

Shown here are two pictures taken some time in 1977-78 in Bastar. The top picture shows the "Hulki" dance usually performed in the late spring or early summer by the young boys and girls, or the "chelik" and the "motiari" as they call themselves. The lower picture shows the local musician, one playing a "sehnai" sort of instrument, called locally as "muhuri" and others playing drums. This is usually played during festivals ad fairs as also at marriage ceremonies.

I had been Ajanta for the first time in 1967. But I have only vague memories of that and I did not have a camera then. Subsequently I went back in 1992, 1996 and 2011, firstly with a Rollei Compact 35 mm camera, then a Pentax K1000 and finally, a Canon compact digital.  I went back because once was not enough to "take in" the grandeur of the visualisation and the art of India between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD when the Ajanta Caves were built and the fresco paintings were made. The lives of king and commoner are depicted in these paintings in a manner that few other works of art have been able to do.

They tell the story of Gautama Buddha as Avaloketswara Padmapani (as shown above) who will bring salvation to the people in future, as also the Bodhisattvas of previous births (such as the "Chhadanta elephant in the "Jatakas") who showered compassion equally on kings and queens  and common creatures of the earth.  The panel above shows two celestial beings appearing as king and queen, with their dresses, hair styles and ornaments typical of those times. The level of sophistication in styles leaves one amazed.

Rock-Cave Paintings at Bhimbhetka

The desire to see places in India that are of pre-historic or ancient historical interest  took me in October 2008 to Bhimbhetka (via Obeidullaganj) near Bhopal to see its well-known cave-painting sites. These caves had been discovered in 1957 by  V.S. Wakankar by chance when  he was travelling by train close by the site and thought that the rocky outcrops would be interesting to explore.
Explorations by Wakankar and by others later revealed more than 100 such caves at Bhimbhetka ranging from stone-age man dating back to more than 20,000 years to those of the Copper Age that are about 5000 to 7000 years ago to later ones about 3000 years old. 
The Archaeological Survey of India that supervises the site, has opened 8  of  the rock caves near the entrance of the walkabout that connects them. They are certainly some of the oldest and finest in the site.
The pictures below show part of the Auditorium Cave or the Chieftain's Cave (as some have it - top picture) and another with with typical white figures that is alongside (bottom picture).

Experts hold that the paintings in white are older, being about 10,000 to 12,000 years BP (or, "Before Present") while those in reddish ochre are about 5000 years BP. The Auditorium Cave holds another very interesting item - the "cupules", to be seen at the bottom left of the picture on top. Cupules are shallow, round cup-like excavations in the rock, about 2-3 mm in depth and about 20-25 mm across, which was gouged out by pre-historic man on the rock-face with a harder piece of rock in what may be called the first attempts at art by man. These, together with the shallow, curving scrapes about 2 mm high, that run close to the cupules, are called "pteroglyphs" that some experts hold to be more than 200,000 years BP. In that sense, the Auditorium Cave has seen successive generations of man from those distant times when the Earth itself was undergoing  change 250,000 years ago to "relatively modern" times just about 5000 years ago. This sometimes becomes mind-boggling. It holds the mirror up to what we were and what we have made of ourselves.
In the lower picture one can see the figures of animals that ancient man saw all around him:  buffaloes, spotted deer, etc. that he possibly killed and ate.  

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