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India: Prehistoric cave art near Agra in peril
Unknown to most, around 45 km from Agra and at a height of 150 feet, there were until some years ago 40 sites of grand cave paintings and shelters that belonged to the Mesolithic period. Today, only a few of them remain. Most have been lost to illegal stone mining and the government's disregard for history and heritage.

Prehistoric cave art near Agra in peril
An aerial view of the cave situated 45 km off Agra 
[Credit: TOI]

When TOI visited the four villages — Rasoolpur, Patsal, Madanpura and Bandroli — where this ancient art is located, it found that almost 70% of the paintings had been destroyed, and only the efforts of a few persevering villagers had enabled the remaining specimens to somehow escape destruction. Dal Chand Dhuliya, an elderly resident of Madanpura, spoke for many villagers when he said, "We know that once these paintings are destroyed, they can't be recovered. We keep an eye on them at present, but for how long will they survive, and how long can we keep protecting them?"

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) amazingly has not done much to protect these paintings. When probed on why the agency has not initiated any action on preserving this heritage, ASI superintending archaeologist Bhuvan Vikrama said, "We will try and save the remaining works of art and are working on a proposal. It will be sent to the headquarters for approval."

Over 70% of the cave paintings have disappeared due to illegal mining.

Prehistoric cave art near Agra in peril
70% of the cave paintings have already been destroyed by
 illegal mining activities [Credit: TOI]

The remaining paintings, some still shining out in colours of maroon and ochre, show ancient men domesticating cattle as well as engaged in hunting. Some of them depict animals like elephant and bull. The best specimens, though, are at Patsal where there are two sites locally known as Sita ki Rasoi and Nai ki Gufa. Sita ki Rasoi is a natural cave situated at a height of 150 feet where ancient men probably lived. Inside it, there is a depiction of a character that looks like a bison. At Nai ki Gufa, deer and sambar can be seen in the paintings.

M K Pundhir, medieval archaeologist from the Centre of Advance Studies in History, Aligarh Muslim University, testifies to the antiquity of this art. "The paintings are definitely from the Mesolithic period as they depict animals of four legs with smaller size and linear decoration which is how they were portrayed at that time."

Meanwhile, an ASI official said that the caves were first discovered in 1967 in Rasoolpur at one site and later at adjoining places around 1976. When queried as to why they were not preserved by the archaeological body then, the official response was that it should have been done, but the agency's focus was more on the monuments of the area.

Author: Aditya Dev | Source: Times of India [June 08, 2015]