The prehistoric paintings reveals that the dance were the most important part of the ancient culture. Through these paintings the dance has recognized the most primitive and sophisticated in the world, as they were also the source of representing the Indian arts. This is part of syllabus of Art and culture in UPSC mains GS paper 1.


  • Prehistoric Paintings
  • Evolution of Prehistoric Paintings


  • The term ‘Prehistory’ refers to the distant past when there was no paper or language or the written word, and hence no books or written documents. Painting and drawing were the oldest art forms practised by human beings to express themselves, using the cave walls as their canvas.
  • Prehistoric paintings have been found in many parts of the world, by the Upper Palaeolithic times we see a proliferation of artistic activities. Around the world the walls of many caves of this time are full of finely carved and painted pictures of animals which the cave-dwellers hunted.
  • The subjects of their drawings were human figures, human activities, geometric designs and symbols. In India the earliest paintings have been reported from the Upper Palaeolithic times.
  • Significance of these paintings: These prehistoric paintings help us to understand about early human beings, their lifestyle, their food habits, their daily activities and, above all, they help us understand their mind—the way they thought.

Discovery of pre-historic rock paintings in India

  • The first discovery of rock paintings was made in India in 1867–68 by an archaeologist, Archibold Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain. Cockburn, Anderson, Mitra and Ghosh were the early archaeologists who discovered a large number of sites in the Indian sub-continent.
  • Remnants of rock paintings have been found on the walls of the caves situated in several districts of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar.
  • Some paintings have been reported from the Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand also. The rock shelters on banks of the River Suyal at Lakhudiyar, about twenty kilometres on the Almora– Barechina road, bear these prehistoric paintings. Lakhudiyar literally means one lakh caves
  • The paintings here can be divided into three categories: man, animal and geometric patterns in white, black and red ochre.
  • Humans are represented in stick-like forms. A long-snouted animal, a fox and a multiple legged lizard are the main animal motifs. Wavy lines, rectangle-filled geometric designs, and groups of dots can also be seen here
  • One of the interesting scenes depicted here is of hand-linked dancing human figures.
  • The granite rocks of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh provided suitable canvases to the Neolithic man for his paintings. There are several such sites but more famous among them are Kupgallu, Piklihal and Tekkalkota

Figure: Hand-linked dancing figure, Uttarakhand


Upper Paleolithic period:

  • The paintings of the Upper Palaeolithic phase are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge animal figures, such as bisons, elephants, tigers, rhinos and boars besides stick-like human figures
  • Most paintings consist of geometrical patterns. The green paintings are of dancers and the red ones of hunters
  • The richest paintings from this time period is reported from the Vindhya ranges of Madhya Pradesh and their Kaimurean extensions into Uttar Pradesh. These hill ranges are full of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic remains. Among these the largest and most spectacular rock-shelter is located in the Vindhya hills at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh
  • The caves of Bhimbetka were discovered in 1957–58 by eminent archaeologist S. Wakankar
  • The themes of paintings found here are of great variety, ranging from mundane events of daily life in those times to sacred and royal images

Figure: Bhimbetka caves, MP

Mesolithic paintings

  • The largest pre-historic paintings discovered in India belongs to this period
  • During this period the themes multiply but the paintings are smaller in size. Hunting scenes predominate
  • The hunting scenes depict people hunting in groups, armed with barbed spears, pointed sticks, arrows and bows
  • In some paintings these primitive men are shown with traps and snares probably to catch animals.
  • The hunters are shown wearing simple clothes and ornaments also
  • In some paintings, men have been adorned with elaborate head-dresses, and sometimes painted with head masks also
  • Elephant, bison, tiger, boar, deer, antelope, leopard, panther, rhinoceros, fish, frog, lizard, squirrel and at times birds are also depicted
  • Animals were painted in their naturalistic style, while human beings were depicted in a stylistic manner

  • Langhnaj in Gujarat, Bhimbetka and Adamagarh in Madhya Pradesh, SanganaKallu in Karnataka are prominent Mesolithic sites where paintings are found

Chalcolithic painting

  • The paintings of this period reveal the association, contact, and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with settled agricultural communities of the Malwa plains.
  • Many a time Chalcolithic ceramics and rock paintings bear common motifs. Ex: Cross-hatched squares, lattices, pottery and metal tools are also shown.
  • To be noted here is that vividness and vitality of the earlier periods disappear from these paintings.
  • The artists belonging to this period used many colours, including various shades of white, yellow, orange, red ochre, purple, brown, green and black.
  • They got red from haematite (known as geru in India). The green came from a green variety of a stone called chalcedony. White might have been made out of limestone
  • How the painting must have been done? The rock of mineral was first ground into a powder. This may then have been mixed with water and also with some thick or sticky substance such as animal fat or gum or resin from trees. Brushes were made of plant fibre. It is believed that the colors have remained intact because of the chemical reaction of the oxide present on the surface of the rocks
  • The primitive artists seem to possess an intrinsic passion for storytelling. These pictures depict, in a dramatic way, both men and animals engaged in the struggle for survival

The paintings of individual animals show the mastery of skill of the primitive artist in drawing these forms. Both, proportion and tonal effect have been realistically maintained in them.

Paintings Have been part of art and culture for a long time.and it is one of the most important topics for UPSC Prelims & Mains To read More articles on Art & Culture click here.