Arriving at Bhimbetka I think I am in Bedrock . Not that I knew where I was.
As usual, Advity had not told me where we are going. Sure she told me we were visiting a closed tiger Reserve to see if it could be used for conferences. That I might – an avid lover of archaeology might want to first check out the details of one of man ealiest known haunts, where the oldest known symbolic religious art has been dated to 800,000 BP, seems to have slipped her mind.
Bhopal is only 40 kilometres away – and well, locals don’t often appreciate the masterpieces on their door step.
So as soon as Khan Bhai, beard flowing from under his white knitted topi, parks the car with those ancient penetrating eyes I skip up the path to the Bedrock like frontage. But unlike the above ground homes of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Bhimbetka peopled 754 rock shelters. Fortunately, they were discovered by VS Wakender in 1957.
Now, I could tell you about how Verdanas Shiva’s theories of feminine matristic culture influence on environmentalism. (Dont worry, Idid. Check it out here.) Or I could contrast it with the invading Aryan patriarchy.
Afterall, the British had a vested interest in the belief of a racially “superior”, monotheistic civilization conquering inferior effeminate polytheists. Apparently a Brit named Cunningham traipsed north to south and discovering the pervasive goddess worship saw proof superior masculinity conquered the weaker nature worshipping creative types.
Now the idea of Aryan invasion, though discredited by the extremist misuse in 20th century Europe, has its support. The discoveries of 6000 year old Mohenjaro and Harrapa suggest Aryans moved down the Gangetic valley and assimilated the deities,
So when the Universalist god that is in and though all things met a local elephant god they could say he is like our god too. He is part of the infintite whole. The symbolic qualities soon became a pantheon of deities.
In the 19th century responding to the colonialists, monotheistic reformers like the Bhramo Samaj and Arya Samaj, called a return to Aryan monotheism and for the British to ban practise like suttee and child marriage that had corrupted Aryan teachings found in the Vedas.
It took art historian Coomarswami to recognise the “mother earth goddess” importance in the Indian psyche was no weakness. feminine creativity and artistry, under masculine Vedic tutorage was a strength. A masculine people in touch with their feminine side and deeper unconscious.
“The mutter of humanity calmly bleeds in a dark cave” said George Tralk. However, the publicly accessed caves I visited (with impatient locals not seeking Freudian introspection) did not seep to a subterranean lake that mirrored darkly my deep amorphous fears.
Instead they offer a more open geological chronology of air, rock and water; a dank glittering reminder in ochre and quartz of human vulnerability.
500 times the painted colours of manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wood coal blended with fat have aged into rock oxide as bison’s, tigers, lions, wild boars, elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards and crocodiles. Their bold fluid lines compare to the art of Lascaux, France.
Rather than deep nothingness, Jung reminds us that caves are a maternal archetype and these figures are not androgynous. From the Upper Paleolithic, back some 12,000 years, Bhimbetka tracks the sinuous feminine agricultural community over run by warriors and tribal conflict.
With more recent hints of green and yellow, mesolithic men hunt, ride horses and elephants, collect honey, and decorate their bodies. A bone harpoon dated 25k-19 BP was discovered. Within the same state of Madhya Pradesh, Namada Man’s fossilized calvaria, dated 300,000 to 150,000bP was discovered in 1982.
Aryan invaders supplanted a “Matistic” society (a term Marija Gimbutas uses to describe Palaeolithic and Neolithic world – avoiding the term matriarchal that implies a hierarchy that did not exist). In the same way that Industrialisation has replaced natural rhythms of faith.
Science positivist masculinity – like modern media – simplifies life in terms of black and white. That which is not understood is all too easily dismissed as myth. Narratives don’t like complexity and conquerors usually recreate the past.
I was reminded of Colonial politics of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas shaped the public narrative: metaphysical Meru, or Tise were believed manifest on earth as Kalais (the crystal), or Kang Rinpoche (Jewel of Snows). Claimed the navel of the earth ( a term used by Jews of Jerusalem, and Olympus by the Greeks), axis of the universe, and source of Asia’s four great rivers, the hidden source of the Ganga, Sutler, Indus and Brahmaputra were revealed behind the ramparts of the Himalayas.
The conquest of science is fuelled by positivist masculinity, as well as creativity which to many seems feminine. Aren’t we both masculine and feminine, right and left brained?