Early Deccan Rock Art
Found across the plateau, early Deccan rock art includes rock bruisings, drawings, paintings, and petroglyphs and is generally associated with Neolithic settlements.
Most of these examples are rendered over protected surfaces in caves and rock shelters. They are commonly in shades of red, made using haematite rock or earth; some are executed in shades of white or use both white and red colours. The predominant motif represented is the humped bull, while wild and domestic animals such as the antelope, tiger, and sheep are also occasionally depicted. Large amorphous male figures, groups of men engaged in hunting or dancing, and men on foot, horseback, and elephants have also been identified.
The Hiregudda hills in Kupgal, Karnataka are a significant site of early rock art, bearing hundreds of images rendered through bruising. They depict long-horned humped cattle, occasionally in pairs or with anthropomorphic figures riding them. Many individual anthropomorphic figures that accompany these scenes are ithyphallic. In a few instances, heterosexual couples are depicted in heterosexual intercourse. People arranged in chain-like formations are also portrayed.
The depiction of wild and domestic animals in rock art is understood to mark the Neolithic period, whereas the portrayal of groups of hunters and armed men are believed to be associated with the advent of the Iron Age in the Deccan. The shift towards religious symbology may mark the transition towards an organised society in the late second – early first millennium BCE. The frequent use of cattle motifs suggests that cattle were highly significant in daily life, and may be indicative of a pastoral society where cattle was the primary means of wealth and community organisation.
Beyond this, little is known about what function rock art served. At a few places it may have been produced by cattle-herders. In other sites such as Piklihal in Raichur, Karnataka, art was made in small secluded caves, suggesting the worship of a local goddess. It was probably produced by a wide variety of communities in the region, for reasons ranging from sport to ritual use.
Allchin, Bridget. “SOUTH ASIAN ROCK ART.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 135, no. 5366(1987): 138–56. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41374267.
Blinkhorn, James, Nicole Boivin, Paul Tacon, and Michael D. Petraglia. “Rock Art Research in India: Historical Approaches and Recent Theoretical Directions.” In A Companion to Rock Art, edited by Jo McDonald and Peter Veth. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118253892.ch11.
Singh, Upinder. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson India, 2016.