Wall Carvings

wall_carningsThousands of years ago in a rock shelter at Edakkal, stone age people recorded their disquiet and anxiety at the social changes brought about by Iron Age technology. In 1910 an amateur archaeologist rediscovered their work and sought to bring it to the attention of professional colleagues and the general public. What makes the Edakkal caves important today.

For most visitors the opportunity to see for oneself something as rare and special as the Edakkal carvings is reason enough to visit the cave site. And these carvings are certainly noteworthy for their rarity alone as there are very few places in India at which prehistoric drawings in stone have been found. It is not only their rarity, however, that makes the Edakkal carvings so important, but their quality and quantity which is also quite remarkable.

The walls on both sides of the Edakkal rock shelter are embroidered up to a height of over four meters, and down below the present floor level of the cave with deeply carved motifs and signs which look particularly dramatic in the cool, mellow sheen of the damp interior. The rock surface is chock-full of linear motifs most of which form a vertically carved jumble of deep incisions so congested that they are uncountable, a baffling magic of lines in the midst of which many weird-shaped figures seem to be emerging and disappearing, their forms melding and changing in different lights. We can identify crosses, triangles and tridents; squares, some with inner crosses, and a rectangle divided into nine square-shaped chambers; stars, wheels and quatrefoils; spirals, whorls and volutes; plant motifs, pot-shaped items; various animals including ones resembling foxes, dogs and dear; and the unmistakable outline of an elephant.

There are many human figures. A good number of the men have raised hair, of these the most elegant is the figure of a man whose left hand is unnaturally long and reaching his feet. He holds an angular object in his right hand and seems to be wearing a tight garment that reveals an hour-glass torso. Another man has a square-shaped head and spiral belly. Some of the figures are wearing masks and heavy garments. The figure of a woman is easily recognizable, her head is simplified into a cross, and another cross is marked on her hips, there is another, nicely drawn figure of a woman shown standing on a platform. The most eye-catching and somewhat formidable human figure is a life-size male shown standing in frontal pose with raised arms and hair. His face, probably masked, is at a height of the eye-level of the viewer, thus it seems as if he is hindering the entry of outsiders. We know from photographs taken just 100 years ago that the present floor of the cave is some 40 centimetres higher it used to be, thus the man below his knees is today buried in the soil, and his face which is now at eye-level, once looked down on the viewer. These are just some examples of the many forms and figures that decorate the Edakkal cave. As far as we can tell, they were probably created during the Neolithic period of the Late Stone Age and date from about 1000BC. In addition to the pictorial carvings, five ancient inscriptions have been identified of which two have been deciphered.