Rock Art in Kumaon Himalaya

by Yashodhar Mathpal.

Foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan;

IGNCA and Aryan Book International, New Delhi, 1995

pp. 92; 16 colour; 76 b/w photographs; Rs. 700.

Rock Art study in India has come a long way leaving its traditional linear approaches. The evolutionary concepts are gradually being replaced by the idea of universality governed by the primal vision of man, taking into account space, time, object, living world and beyond the living world. It is now interpreted by a method which B.N. Saraswati called “Diachronic hermeneutics” involving three stages – entering into the present context of traditional art-form, then moving backward in time to rock-art and subsequently, constructing a conceptual frame by juxtaposing visual texts with the traditional context. In her Foreword to this book, Kapila Vatsyayan has observed that the connection between the past and the present, making comparison across cultures of both prehistoric rock art as also creativity of so called original and tribal society has provided methodology to comprehend the primal and temporal, the universal and specific.

Yashodhar Mathpal’s present work on rock art in Kumaon Himalaya is the first step in the accumulation of an authentic presentation of interesting materials of an area which was hitherto unknown. Making theoretical propositions is obviously not the objective of this work. The author is content with accurate record of basic data and careful selection of material in the difficult terrain of the Himalayas. The most significant contribution is the recording of 50 important rock art sites revealing considerable material on petroglyphs, cup-marks and paintings. Mathpal has rightly pointed out his inability to re-construct the motivation for creation of the art, due to the absence of contemporary contextual situation in the Kumaon region, unlike Central India. In every society, there are some extraordinary artists, whether contemporary or ancient, who create art in their own style. He has rejected the magical overtone as well as the functional nature of this art. In his view, “man’s artistic sense is uppermost in enjoyment of beauty”. This is a safe position which neither goes against the cross-cultural nature of rock art nor contradicts the concept of universality of human approaches towards creative act.

The Kumaon rock art culture, assiduously recorded by the author in water colours and photographs, is comparatively different from that of the other Indian material, specially the petroglyphs of contiguous areas such as Himachal Pradesh and Laddakh.

Rock Art in Kumaon Himalaya, which is third in the IGNCA Rock Art Series, presents the elementary framework and simplistic representation of plants, animals and some abstract motifs which occured in the primal vision of man; they are the product of visual realism which is cross-cultural and universal.

A.K. Das