A New Approach to Rock Art

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts recently held a Global Conference and Exhibition on Rock Art, in which Rock Art specialists from several countries participated. Inaugurating the Seminar, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, Academic Director, IGNCA, spoke on the unique approach of IGNCA to the arts in general and to its Rock Art on IGNCA’s dynamic and integral approach to rock art, not only as a record of primeval man’s creative urge, but also as a continuous process of artistic manifestation, expressed in the existing traditions of indigenous art. Here are some excerpts from her lecture.

President of the Session Shri B.K. Thapar, Shri M.C. Joshi, Member Secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Prof. B.N. Saraswati and distinguished delegates – welcome again to India.

It is great privilege and pleasure for us to play host to all of you assembled from different parts of the world, extending from Australia and Argentina and Bolivia; China to Saudi Arabia, U.K., France, Italy, Kenya, Germany, Canada and India. There are others from Russia and USA. All of you are a global in one moment.

The IGNCA, a national institution of arts has been attempting to redefine the term ‘art’. For us art is not an objective category or product to be relished as a leisure-time activity. We have endeavored to see art as a process, a process and manifestation of an integral vision. Art then is an indicator of the inherent creativity of the universe in all forms of life, plant, animal, and especially the human; or let us say the ‘homo sapiens’. This creativity has manifested itself throughout the history of mankind in a variety of ways. Sometimes we recognise it as the creativity visible in excellence in many intellectual disciplines ranging from the scientific, technological, archaeological, anthropological, sociological and the artistic.

However, there is also the creativity which manifests itself in the seemingly unstructured but highly refined systems of living in daily, weekly, annual life and from birth to death, which is punctuated by acts and manifestation, which are of value to creator or creators and to others who participate or observe. Here the observer and observed, subject and object dichotomies are broken. This is the creativity of the anonymous, of the collective, of the immersion of the self and not individuality in modern times. Thus the products of this creativity become the fundamental foundation ground of human relationships, societal structures and great organisations.

It is the latter, the anonymous and the collective, born out of experience and feeling that becomes the art of the people in the past or the present. Its expressions and manifestations have efficacy and value, precisely because it has an ability and potential to communicate, to speak beyond the context in which it blossomed and the period to which it belongs. The value of this art lies neither as merely a piece of antiquity nor in its being modern or contemporary, its being whole and beautiful for itself, its function and utility as also its symbolic value.

The symbols so created are the vehicles of dialogues, amongst people at different levels of perceptions and consciousness. They are the date-less and perennial, the art that flows through time but is ageless.

At another level the interface of ‘Art’, qua ‘Art’ encompasses all fields in disciplines, at all levels of individual and collective living. The creator absorbs, assimilates the environment, the state of knowledge and awareness normally termed early tools and technology and through it gives form in a visual imagery of great power and vitality while the science and technology change, the art endures. What is this process? How does it work and what can we bring to focus which is universal and which transcends the boundaries of cultures and historical periods? Primary is the man’s ability to register and to express through his sense perceptions and the sense data. man’s faculty of absorption and expression go through a very complex process of the brain and the mind in this sphere of the unself-conscious art, which can be clearly distinguished from the process of intellection and verbalisation as theory.

The eye and the ear, the sight and sound are primary among the senses. This is not to undervalue the other three senses, namely – smell, touch and taste. Also, understandably the direct record of the latter three is impossible to capture beyond the moment of actual experience. It is narrated or known through inference in verbal record.

Little wonder therefore that whether it was the theoreticians in the East such as Bharata, or Plato or Aristotle in the West, or Confucius or Tao in China, all aesthetic theories have given importance to the two sense perceptions of sight and sound. While the theoretical formulations belong to the historical period, pre – or post – Christian era, the record of man’s creativity and sensitivity of these two sense perceptions pre-dates these theories by many millenium in the East or the West, North or the South.

IGNCA therefore with purpose and design began to explore the many dimensions of creative expressions of these sense perceptions. It called its programmes – Adi Drsya and Adi Srvya, i.e., primal sight and sound (or hearing). It played on the Sanskrit word adi which is both primal and perennial and is today also used for contemporary tribal societies. This exploration logically and understandably led the institution to investigate the whole field of pre-historic Rock Art which today is considered as sub-discipline of Archaeology.

It will be clear from the above that the genesis growth of this programme from a point of view different one adopted by intellectual disciplines over the last 100 or 150 years. Nevertheless, it was refreshing and reassuring for us to know that three was a renewed resurgence of interest in the first evidence of man’s creativity spread throughout the globe. International Conferences have been held. There is a dialogue amongst Specialists and a new kind of a global convergence, different from the global village on account of electronic media communication etc. It would be well to remember that many millenniums ago, man was communicating with nature and environment around him but also communicating with his own species spread throughout the globe.

Of great interest have been the similarities and affinities of artistic expression in different pre-historic rock art shelters at a given moment of time. This we may consider age-old and perennial global dialogue whether of the Paleolithic or the Neolithic man. Here was a universal language of creative expression. No doubt its products can be and have to be excavated, dated, conserved, documented, categorised and classified, interpreted, analysed as both content and form but its intrinsic efficacy lies in its universality of appeal and its ability to endure and be sustained in a manner which can be discerned by all. The proximity of this art and its affinity with the art of many living communities of this world today termed by different appellations such as the indigenous people, the aboriginal, the tribal, the nomads makes it all the more significant and valuable.

So although linear historical developments are in actuality, there is a deeper reality which is embodied in this expression of man’s sense perceptions of sight and the organ eye working through his hand.

It goes without saying that while the experience whether in the past or in the present is totally unclassifiable, its expression can be comprehended and understood in many ways, through many windows, through difference disciplines and different systems of classification and categorisation. This is the intellectual skill of analysis and of breaking down the whole into the parts, never forgetting the importance of the original whole. Understandably, a Conference of this kind dealing with such a foundational strata of mankind, artistic expressions had to be broken down into diverse themes and categories covering both the physical material aspects of this art as also its emotive and experimental levels.

Many countries in the world have been thinking of the establishment of Rock Art Museums or Galleries; how an extensive art movement can be captured or reconstructed within the walls of a museum is a daunting task. Nevertheless I am hopeful that something equally creative will result through our dialogues.

I have spoken more than I had planned to. Thank you for your patience and forgive me if I have taxed it too much.

Welcome again.

Rock Art in ‘PRESS’


“Mrs. Kapila Vatsyayan, noted historian, spoke on men’s urge to create to express his emotions and how this is being lost. Speaking on creativity and the relationship between art and day-to-day life of mankind she made an emotional appeal to the delegates to highlight the relevance and essence of rock art”.

The Hindustan Times, Ist Dec. 1993

“The Specialists who are in Delhi to attend the Global Conference on Rock Art organized by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts give an insight into the lifestyle and culture of the ancient people..”.

National Herald, 3rd Dec. 1993

“Academic Director of IGNCA, Ms. Kapila Vatsyayan, said that pre-historic rock art was an area considered to be a small part of archaeology, but they had focussed on it as man’s manifestation of his creativity and brought in experts in the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, ethnology together to look on this art in which a “global communication” was taking place”.

The Hindustan Times, 3rd Dec. 1993

“In keeping with the concept of the proposed gallery “Adi Drsya”, the IGNCA has, as a prelude, already setup an exhibition of prehistoric rock art designed to focus on the dimension and comprehension of nature and life through line and colour in time and space”.

The Statesman, 6th Dec. 1993

“Hopping around like a deer, the Academic Director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the arts (IGNCA) Dr. (Mrs.) Kapila Vatsyayan, endeared herself to one and all when she insisted on imitating the animal while presenting the book “Deer in the Rock Art of India and Europe” to the country’s oldest master painter B.C. Sanyal to release”.

The Hindu, 8th Dec. 1993

“The Adi Sravya gallery, say the IGNCA official, aims to present “an unique experience in the manifestations of sound” and will be designed to facilitate an exposition of both musical and non-musical sound. The Adi Drsya gallery, on the other hand, will serve as a repository of pre-historical rock art from India as well as representative samples from other countries”.

The Times of India, 13th Dec. 1993

“As a befitting sequel to the global conference on rock art, held in the capital recently, an exhibition on pre-historic rock art titled Deer was organised”.

Sunday Mail, 19-25th Dec. 1993

“The idea of housing the exhibition in an earth-like construction on the IGNCA premises is an excellent one. At first glance, it looks as if it is made of mud, but a closer examination reveals that it has been made to look like a cave to go with the rock-art section, which forms the most significant pat of this exhibition”.

Indian Express, 26th Dec. 1993

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