Rock Painting in Uttar Pradesh dates to pre- historic times. The paintings in the caves and rock shelter sites across UP depicts scenes of battles, hunting, celebrations, dances, trees and animals. The rock art sites in Mirzapur, Chandauli and Sonbhadra districts are major tourist attractions. Located close to Varanasi and Allahbad, a detour to these sites is a treat for the rock art enthusiasts. Robertsganj in Sonbhadra district, 90 km from Varanasi, is an ideal place to visit these rocks and caves as well as the Fossil Park in Salkhan and the Kaimur wildlife Sanctuary. The paintings of Mathura, Gokul, Vrindavan and Govardhan depict scenes from the life of Lord Krishna.
The rock-cut caves of Mirzapur are decorated with primitive paintings and line-drawing scenes. The paintings have a connection with the famous rock-cut paintings of Cogul (Spain). These caves affirm that Mirzapur was a hub for the earliest cultural development in the East. Around 250 rock art sites are spread across the Vindhya and Kaimur ranges. The Panchmukhi Rock shelters, located at a distance of 8 kms from Robertsganj, Lakhania Rock Shelters, 22 kms from Robertsganj and Lakhma caves near Baghma are some of the main Rock art sites. Apart from these, Ghurhupur rock shelters are about 60 km to the east of Chakia in the northern side of Kaimur hills on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Here one can find ancient paintings and inscriptions on the walls and ceilings. Some of which are related with Buddhist motifs.
The vibrant images on rock surfaces were created by the unknown artists of history. The impulse behind rock art is still unknown. The artist could be a great hunter, a chieftain or just the prehistoric man. These rock arts are blend of aesthetics, documentation and philosophy. In the study of mankind’s evolution, these pictures, symbols and images offer vital but puzzling clues. Rock art is a universal heritage. In the context of traditional arts of present times, one can move backward in time to understand and construct a dialogical frame in which the pre historic arts and the traditional arts can be compared.
These rock paintings date back to times when the ancient man domesticated animals and expanded his activities. The rock art found in UP are of three kinds, rock paintings, rock engravings and rock brushings. Around 157 rock shelters are found in the Betwa region. In Mrizapur there are around 250 rock shelters. Primarily mineral and vegetable colours are used in the rock paintings. Various pigments like hematite and other oxide are used to derive red, yellow orange and brown colors. In some rock arts one can find deeper colours which were obtained from oxides of magnesium.
The cultural significance of the ancient rock art sites is that it influences the modern traditions. The art traditions continue through contemporary folk ways. In these rock arts, Moon, Sun and planetary circles are depicted. The symbols of mother or Shakti are also found in the Paleolithic shelters of 10000 year old. One can look at the symbolism of cosmic life in the inscriptions of fish, lotus stems, flying birds etc.
Deer is one of the dominating motifs of the rock arts. The most accurate depiction is in Kathoti where the deer’s digestive tract contains fodder in the stomach. The beautiful geometrical decorations of deer are also abundant. Rock art in Mirzapur, depicts the deer in a non-naturalistic style, in different postures and scenes. Several animal motifs of different kinds are found like rhino in the Rock Art sites of Sonbhadra. Hunting masks, head gears and weapons are found across major rock art sites. These depict various aesthetic endeavours and are drawn in varied colour temperatures. Motifs also seem to overlap with drawings of other era. Thus finding and accurately dating each motif or symbol is not possible. But they remain a vibrant collage of the then era.
Rock art in Uttar Pradesh is one major tourist attractions. The contribution of people for the restorations and preservation of these sites is commendable.