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Situating Rock Art in the Archaeology of Garhwal Himalaya: A

Fresh Look
Akshay Verma, Pradeep M. Saklani, Vinod Nautiyal*, R. C. Bhatt, Sudhir Nautiyal, Bhagat
Pawar, Manmatya Mishra and Nagendra Rawat
*Department of History and Archaeology, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar - Garhwal 246174,
Uttarakhand, India (Email: vinod.nautiyal@gmail.com)
Abstract: This paper, reports the rock paintings from the site of Dungri and Bainoli in Chamoli district of
Garhwal and also highlights the geomorphological and environmental background of the region during prehistoric
period when people might have settled around Dungri and made these paintings.
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Introduction
Uttarakhand is the northernmost state of India in the Central Himalayan region. The state is
administratively divided into two viz. Garhwal and Kumaon. Geographically, it lies between latitudes
29 51 N to 31 25 N and longitudes 77 45 E to 81 11 E. The state shares its borders with Tibet
(Chinese autonomous region) towards north and Nepal in east, while it shares domestic borders with
Himachal Pradesh in northwest and Uttar Pradesh in south. The region is very well known as Adobe
of Gods (Devbhoomi) and, therefore, since ages it has been a major pilgrimage destination for Hindus.
The archaeology of Garhwal Himalaya has been very well investigated during the last three decades as
a large number of sites have been excavated in the region, thereby pushing the antiquity of the region
to first millennium BCE (Nautiyal and Khanduri 1981; Nautiyal et.al 1981; Bhatt and Nautiyal 1987-88;
Nautiyal et.al 1990). On the other hand, the region of Kumaon has also yielded the important
archaeological evidence of the earliest iron metallurgy associated with the cist burial culture which
evolved during the same time (Agarwal and Tripathi 1999; and (Nautiyal et.al 1993; Agarwal et al 1995;
Mathpal 1995).
So far as the prehistory of the region is concerned, it is very ambiguous as no primary Stone Age sites
have been found from this region. Some tools were reported from secondary context at Dang village,
near Srinagar town and have been designated as middle Palaeolithic tools (Nautiyal et. al, 1981). The
most convincing evidence of prehistoric tools however, comes from the Siwalik region (Mohapatra
1976; Chauhan 2004; Soni and Soni 2011) and the Dun valley near Kalsi (A valley between Himalayan
foothills and Siwaliks) (IAR 1961-62:103; Joshi et al 2012). The higher Tibetan plateau bordering
Uttarakhand has revealed the presence of upper Palaeolithic tools dated to 15,000 BP (Brantingham et al
2013).
The above mentioned prehistoric evidences conclusively proves the presence of early man in the
peripheral margin of lesser and Upper Himalaya. Therefore, it is matter of concern as to why evidenced

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Rock Art: Recent Researches and New Perspectives (Festschrift to Yashodhar Mathpal)

of early man were not forthcoming from Garhwal region. Certainly, it is the matter that needs further
investigation but in the present stage of research on prehistory of the region, it appears that the high
energy fluvial system combined with flooding and other recurrent natural disasters in Uttarakhand
Himalayas might have completely eroded the prehistoric sites present in the river valleys. In the virtual
vacuum of prehistoric stone tools from Garhwal Himalaya, the discovered rock paintings assume
special significance.
The present paper, reports the rock paintings from the site of Dungri and Bainoli in Chamoli district of
Garhwal and also highlights the geomorphological and environmental background of the region
during prehistoric period when people might have settled around Dungri and made these paintings. It
also highlights the other important archaeological finds from the area which have not been reported
earlier.

Rock Art
So far as rock art in the mountainous region of India is concerned, it is found that these are not
distributed as extensively and widespread as in Central India (Wakankar 1984) and other parts of the
country (Badam 1979). In Uttarakhand, the largest concentration of rock paintings have been found and
investigated from Almora district (290 62N; 790 67E) (Fig.1). The most notable rock painted sites of
Lakhu Udyar and Barechinna have been extensively studied. These rock paintings are stylized in
nature and mostly depict anthropomorphic figures engaged in hunting and dancing (Mathpal 1995).
The rock paintings have been associated with the people who practiced megalithic culture in Kumaon
Himalayas dating back to first millennium BCE (Mathpal 1995). While other workers have associated
the rock painting with Mesolithic period on the basis of the close stylistic similarities with the major
groups of Mesolithic rock art in India (Bhatt and Nautiyal 1987-88; Agarwal 1978).
As far as rock painting in Garhwal Himalaya is concerned, not many rock art sites have been found, as
compared to large number of sites from Kumaon Himalaya. Largely confined in the central region of
Garhwal Himalaya in Chamoli district, rock art has been reported from the sites of Dungri, Kimni and
recently from a village named Bainoli in Chamoli district, which is about 105 km southwest of Dungri
in Chamoli.

Dungri (Rock Paintings: Archaeology and Status of Preservation)


Dungri (30o 2429.77N, 790 1924.02E) is a small village situated at an altitude of 1500 m from main sea
level (MSL) in Chamoli district of Garhwal Himalayas and is known for its prehistoric rock shelter on
the right bank of Alaknanda river (Khanduri, 1994). The site of Dungri is about 12 km north of the town
of Gopeshwar and about 3 km uphill towards north-west from the small village of Chinnka, on
Chamoli-Badrinath main highway. The rock painting was discovered by one of the authors of the
paper, R.C Bhatt in 1985. Another important rock shelter discovered by him is at Kimni in Pinder
valley, located around 40 km east of Karanprayag.

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The Dungri Rock shelter is located on the steep ridge of the hill and can be approached from Chhinka
after climbing 3 km up the hill (Fig.2). It is known as Gorkhya-Udyar in Garhwali dialect suggesting
that Gorkhas who invaded Garhwal during historical period occupied the Udyar (Cave) to protect
themselves. Since then it is known by that name to the local villagers.

Figure 1: Map showing Rock Shelter Sites in Chamoli districts of Garhwal Himalaya
The rock paintings of Dungri were found in a semi-open rock shelter which is about 16 m long and 8 m
high (Nautiyal and Bhatt 1986-87; Mathpal 1995) but the painting is drawn in crimson colour or red
ochre on an open rock surface in an area about 6x4 meter. The painting depicts a group of 14 humans in
linear form. Interestingly, these paintings are not minute or small in size at all. The biggest figure, on
the right side of rock surface is 55 cm long while the figure on the left side in 38 cm long and the other
figures measures around 12-13 cm in length. Mathpal (1995) altogether recorded 41 figures which
constituted 30 human figures in schematized form, 8 animal figures and 3 rosettes. The human figures
are shown in group with raised hand surrounding a group of 7 goats depicted with small horns and
raised tails moving in different directions and being surrounded from three sides. This typical hunting
scene has its parallel in the traditional practice of hunting animals known as Haka and was prevalent in
the region till recent times (Nautiyal and Bhatt 1988). In this context, it is interesting to point out that
Dungri, which lies in the Kedarnath national wild life sanctuary is one of the richest bio- reserve and
abounds in wildlife and also famous for a threatened species of Himalayan musk deer(Moschus
leucogaster) ( Negi 1992). It is in this environmental background the rock shelter must have been
occupied by man during prehistoric times but interestingly no other animal, excepting a goat and an

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Rock Art: Recent Researches and New Perspectives (Festschrift to Yashodhar Mathpal)

animal with a long neck which is unidentifiable occurs along the cluster of the human and animal
figures drawn.
The site of Dungri was revisited in 2013 to assess the condition of the rock painting. Close observation
of the rock shelter show that it has undergone many changes during the course of time after it was
found in 1985 and later examined by Mathpal in 1995. The Dungri rock shelter seems to have collapsed
substantially, since its original shape observed some 30 years back has changed. The main surface of
the rock measuring 6x4 meter is largely damaged. Since the major portion of the rock has undergone
extreme weathering, the paintings which were clearly visible earlier when discovered in 1985, have
undergone further damage due to rapid environmental degradation due to the dam construction at
Vishnugad-Pipalkoti, and effects of exposure to direct sunlight and rainfall. During our survey in 2013,
the rock painting on the right hand side was observed partially faded or blurred and the rock paintings
on the left hand side has completely disappeared (Fig 3).
Besides the study of rock painting, the area closer to Dungri was surveyed for archaeological remains.
During the course of exploration, an interesting geomorphological feature was observed at Devar
which is about 6 km north of Gopeshwar on way to Dungri rock shelter. Here, a small hillock created
by huge rock boulders and debris was found in the middle of an agricultural field (Fig 4). On
examining the area, it was found to be a marshy. The preliminary geological investigations indicate
that this marshy land may be the remnant of an ancient lake, created due to tectonic movements in the
region and which might preserve record of Palaeoclimatic changes of thousands of years (Kotlia, 2013
personal communication).
The survey around this area revealed the presence of large number of fragments of red ware pottery of
different shapes belonging to early historical phase but the most interesting find was a large quantity of
iron slag found in situ with pottery (Fig. 5, 6). Based on the preliminary observations, it may be said
that the prehistoric lake must have been served as a good source of water to man and animals and the
rock paintings confirm that people had occupied the region possibly during prehistoric period. The
pottery and slag found indicates that the area must have been in occupation during historical period.
The area seems to be important from not only the archaeological point of view of studying the different
cultural phases but also for studying Palaeoclimatic changes in Uttarakhand Himalaya, which is sadly
lacking as of now.

Figure 2: Location of rock shelter at Dungri

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Figure 3: Picture of paintings (a) as seen in 1985 (b) and seen in 2013 (see extent of damage)

Figure 4: The possible area of relict lake near Devar on route to Dungri rock shelter

Figure 5: Devar: Iron slag shown in inset

Figure 6: Devar: early historic pottery

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Rock Art: Recent Researches and New Perspectives (Festschrift to Yashodhar Mathpal)

Bainoli
Another rock shelter has been found recently by Mr. Kalyan Singh Rawat near the remote village of
Bainoli (301128.23N, 791229.18E) which is located at an altitude of 1396 m from MSL and about 50
Km south-west of Karanprayag in Chamoli district and around 105 km from the rock shelter site of
Dungri.
Locally, the place where the rock shelter is located is known as Fadik Udyar and is the most recent
finds of rock shelter in Central Himalayan region. The rock shelter is about 270 m long and 200 m high
and it projects out for about 1.5 m from its top to give shelter to some part of the rock paintings (Fig. 7).
The rock shelter is located in the area with a huge rock massif near the village boundary. The rock
shelter at Bainoli as it is located on a steep hill, it is difficult to reach like the Dungri rock shelter. The
area is full of thick forest and there is a perennial water stream about 500 m below the rock shelter.

Figure 7: Rock massif showing the location of Rock shelter near Bainoli village
A close examination of the site shows the presence of two types of rocks, totally different from each
other. The rock on which the paintings were made had a lustrous look while the upper portion was
rough in nature and was separated from each other. A closer examination of the rock shelter site
revealed the presence of about 31 human figures in two distinct clusters. One cluster has 12 human
figures while the other 6 figures. Out of this, seven figurines painted in red ochre are anthropomorphic
in nature and the remaining twenty four figures are linear drawings with no specific shapes discernible
in them. The remaining figures were located randomly on the face of the rock. The largest figure in the
cluster is about 19.8 cm long and 6.3 cm wide (Fig.8) while the smallest figure is 6.6 cm long and 2 cm
wide (fig.9). Among the discovered caves, this is the only painted cave site in central Himalayas which

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has no picture depicting animal or hunting sequence. The excavation of the deposit inside the cave up
to a depth of 30 cm did not yield any archaeological material.

Figure 8: Largest figure in Bainoli rock shelter (second from left)

Figure 9: closer view of the smallest


figure at Bainoli

Conclusions
The present study undertaken reveals how, important rock paintings found at Dungri in 1985 has
undergone deterioration during the last three decades. It highlights the apathy and neglect on the part
of Department of Culture of Uttarakhand in preserving such rich cultural heritage of the region. The
geomorphological expression of the landscape between Devar and Dungri is an eye-opener as it
indicates a presence of tectonically induced lake in this part of Chamoli which must have been a
suitable habitat for human habitation and wild life. The discovery of iron slag and pottery also confirm
the area had rich in mineral resources for the development of iron metallurgy in the region. The rock
paintings which have been made using the red ochre must have been obtained from this area which is
rich in hematite rocks. On the other hand, the Bainoli Rock paintings, southwest of Dungri does
suggest the spread of rock art culture in this area. The chronology of the rock painting from Kumaun or
Garhwal Himalaya is still not clear due to the unavailability of datable material or archaeological
artifacts associated with such rock paintings. Therefore, a much concerted effort needs to be made in
finding some Stone Age site associated with rock paintings, which might have remained preserved in
deeper strata in Himalayan region of Garhwal or Kumaun (Uttarakhand).

Acknowledgement
The rock paintings were discovered by Mr. Kalyan Singh Rawat along with his brother Mr. Gabbar
Singh Rawat who informed us about such important finds in Garhwal Himalaya. We are highly

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Rock Art: Recent Researches and New Perspectives (Festschrift to Yashodhar Mathpal)

thankful to Mr. Rawat for providing logistic support during our field trip to Bainoli. Moreover, we are
grateful to the inhabitants of Bainoli village who supported the exploration of the area. We are also
thankful to Mr. Badar Singh for helping us in the exploration. The first author is grateful to Head of
the Department for encouraging the students of Masters Program in archaeology to undertake the
exploration and a part of this paper.

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