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Thursday, March 29, 2018

55) Road Trip to Kerala: (Part III): Visiting the "Edakkal Caves" (Petroglyphs etched into rocks by the Neolithic and Mesolithic Man some 8,000 years ago onwards) on the Ambakutty Mala mountain at Wyanad:

About Edakkal Caves:

Edakkal Caves are two natural caves located some 1,000 metres high on Ambukutty Mala mountain in the Sultan Bathery Taluk of Wyanad district of Kerala. These caves are believed to have been formed as a result of an earthquake and the name of these caves is derived from the rock that is supported in between other larger rocks (Edai + Kal = "Rock in between").

As such, these are not "caves" in the real sense of the word, but rather a cleft, rift or rock shelter measuring about 96.0 feet (or 29.0 metres) x 22 feet (or 6.7 metres), in a 30 feet deep fissure (about 9.1 metres) caused by a piece of rock moving away from the main rock section.

On one side of the cleft is a rock weighing several tons that covers the cleft to form the "roof" of the cave. The carvings are of human and animal figures and the tools used by the humans, as well as, the symbols are open to much debate, nevertheless, the rock art seen here suggests the presence of a pre-historic settlement, which has carved out their "messages" for future generations.

The fascinating pre-historic rock etchings found on the walls of these caves have drawn the attention of archaeologists, historians and tourists world-wide. 

Etched inside these caves are some Old and New Stone Age pictorial writings or petroglyphs believed to have been made by Neolithic and Mesolithic man, evidence of an advanced pre-historic civilisation existing in this region.

The cave drawings/etchings are at least 8,000 years old and still older as they are from different periods and depict representations of ancient tribal kings, queens, other chieftains, elephants and other animals. There are carvings here from the Mesolithic Age also. 

A relatively more recent script dates back to the 4th - 3rd Century BC which is also seen in these caves. It is believed that a later King had taken shelter in these caves around this time and recorded a part of his history, without over-writing on the earlier inscriptions. It is believed that the scripts     used along with the pictorial carvings are Tamil and Brahmi.

What are petroglyphs: These are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, carving or abrading as a form of rock art. Petroglyphs are found world-wide and often associated with pre-historic civilisations. The word derives from the Greek "petra" meaning "stone" and "glyphein" - meaning "to carve" which was originally coined in French as "petroglyphe".

Three distinct sets of petro-glyphs are seen in the caves and some depictions which are about 8,000 years old. The carvings belonging to Neolithic and Mesolithic Age include ancient stone scripts, ancient weapons, symbols, animal figures and human beings. The rock surface is filled with motifs and one can see figures, crosses, triangles, tridents etc. Many of the human figures have raised hair, some have masked faces. Images of Kings, Queens, deer, elephant and tools that were used by earlier human beings are depicted.

Edakkal may have some links to the Indus Valley Civilisation, as some 400 signs were discovered which indicate a relationship to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. The most prominent connection was a "man with a jar cup".

It is believed that several sites which are 28,000 to 40,000 years old are located around the world. India is the third country in the world which has an immense collection of rock art heritage along with Australia and South Africa.

In India rock art sites are largely found in the Satpura Ranges of Madhya Pradesh and Vindhya Ranges of Uttar Pradesh, Chota Nagpur Plateau, Kaimur Hills and Southern India.

The Edakkal Stone Age carvings are extremely rare and these are the only known examples found in Southern India.

A few alarming features which I found at the Edakkal Caves was some water seepage leading to damage to the rock art/etchings, wedging, growth of fungi/algae on the surface, dust accumulation on the engravings and graffiti etched out by unscrupulous/uneducated visitors. There also seemed to be no Archeological Department appointed security staff to prevent anyone from etching their names etc around and over the Rock Art.  

Preservation of such heritage monuments which represent the planet's past civilisations and are the "invaluable" wealth of our nation, needs to be given topmost priority by the concerned departments.

On the one hand archaeologists and art historians are of the firm belief that the Edakkal Cave Rock Art fulfils all the criteria which qualifies it to be declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO and on the other carved names/Graffiti -  like "JOSEPH", "HABIB", "JAAN", "VIJENDRA", to name a few which we have identified,  act as dampeners.

The climb/tour begins:

This sign-board placed at the beginning of the steep gradient which leads to the foot- of the Edakkal Caves gives detailed information about the Caves:

"Rock Engravings in the Edakkal Cave:

Edakkal Rock Engravings are invaluable treasures of world heritage. This site was first reported in the journal "Indian antiquary" in 1901 in an illustrated article written by F. Fawcett, the Superintendent of Police of the erstwhile Malabar District. 

Rock art in the form of paintings are there in plenty. But engravings in the Edakkal cave are unique. The Edakkal engravings represent various objects and cultural signs of the past societies. The drawings include figures of humans and animals, trees, wheels, carts and also symbols, letters and numeric signs. Human figures depicted in different styles are the lost important items among the drawings. Wheels, carts etc are also represented in different styles. Some of the newly found figures are comparable with signs and symbols reported from various Chalcolithic and Bronze Age sites of the sub-continent.

There are two caves one above the other. The engravings are all in the upper cave. The upper cave is evidently supported by the lower one. Carrying capacity of these caves is naturally limited. Therefore, the number of visitors to the monument at a time has to be restricted according to the capacity of the rock formation.

Impairment of any kind to this monument cannot be repaired. It is our earnest responsibility to preserve this most valuable world heritage without any damage."

Fred was on a hunting trip to Wyanad when he noticed a stone axe belonging to the Neolithic Celts at the coffee estate.

This Notice Board clearly informs the visitor that the "Edakkal Cave" is a Protected Monument and outlines the penalties for damaging and disfiguring the monument (read "Rock Art")

This Notice Board marks the last point after which no vehicular traffic is allowed, particularly as several visitors climb the steeply  inclined pathway to the foot of the natural and steel staircases which lead to the caves and the "trekkers" need to have a safe passage

Sumita negotiating the steep incline of the path-way with Amma's walking stick for support

Sumita, Anu and Ajit in front of a refreshment stall. All looking rather pleased with the "climb" so far

Waiting for refreshments along the climb - very welcome indeed !!

Along the way - I named this rock the "Shark" as it reminded me of the shark in the movie "Jaws". Anu & Ajit are way ahead of us

Along the Way- Saw this poster titled "Who was his man?". There isan image of a tribal chief/warrior/soldier wearing his official headdress, holding a spear in his hand.

The poster further adds - " Was he a King or a Warrior or could he have been a God. When were these pictures drawn? 3,000 years ago? 5,000 years ago? ...... or even more? What happened the people who drew them? Who were they? How were these pictures drawn? And why? Why did they draw just on one cave and not on the others? What about the pictures that look different? Who? Why? When?  - Try to find out some of the answers." (Don't miss the "Dog Patrol" poster at the back)

This challenging "poster" actually made me  find out all the answers and more importantly, spurred me on - up the steep incline, more determined than ever to actually reach the cave and find out more about our ancestors through their pictorial messages communicated to us over the centuries by our pre-historic ancestors.
            A hut on the way up the climb of about 4000 metres

          A view of a mountain, keeps the mind off the arduous route

A sooth-sayer looks at his own hands and predicts that we have a long and difficult route ahead and that there are no short cuts. His assistant looks at the astrological charts and confirms the same

After the steep almost two kilometres walk, this set of arduous stone steps and rocks are required to be negotiated for a climb up, before one gets to the 200+ narrow steel steps. I reflected that to find the answers one really has to have a determined frame of mind and negotiate all the hurdles set before you. Quite a few visitors gave up at this stage.

The view of the steps I have negotiated in the first leg of the climb - rocks & stone-steps

Resting along the difficult and treacherous climb

These rocks stand as guardians to the further route ahead. Ajit ponders. I felt like this was  the climb to "King Solomon's Mines"

  One comes out through these rocks at one point of the climb

Just when you thought that you had reached the top came the "good news" - there were another 200 odd steel steps to be negotiated before you reached the Caves. At this point, my bad leg was trembling/shaking  like a leaf, so I did the next best thing as our Neolithic ancestors would have done - negotiated the climb on all fours, wherever required to give respite to my bad leg.

Finally, I made it to the top!! Felt like I had climbed the South side of Mount Everest.

This gentleman shared that he was an athlete, now was around 65 years of age and showed me some photos he had taken on his mobile of the Rock art inside the Cave, to encourage me to go along and see the rock etchings for myself

The view from the top. Mountain ranges all around. Some of the Rock art inside the cave has this view etched by  Neolithic/Mesolithic rock artists. One can also see the board showing the "EXIT" route, which has about 350 steel steps to negotiate.

The first connect with the Neolithic Man: Rock Art from 6-8,000 years ago:

In this photo one can see six-seven tribal kings/warriors with their head-dresses and a few protective shields in front of their torsos. One of them holds a large half-body length shield and spears/tridents in their hands. To the right is the image of a person sitting with the cheeks cupped in the palms of the hand. Two large "As" or "AA" above the sitting person, seem to be representations of twin mountains. I also spot the name "HABIB" mentioned branded on an animal's side (probably a bullock) which is drawing a wheeled chariot with an armed warrior with a full length protective shield before him. 

Above this image I can spot the word "VIJENDRA", which clearly indicates that our Neolithic ancestor either was familiar with the English language, or both Habib, Vijendra are later day additions by Graffitti artists. Above Vijendra is another name which I am unable to decipher.

On the extreme left top, I spot the face of turbaned or helmeted person who is sitting with his shoulders hunched upwards. 

                               Some other views of the same section

Opinion among experts in our expert group is divided regarding this communication from the Neolithic man. To me it looks like the word "JAAN" (as in "Abba Jaan" - meaning "father" in Urdu or simply  as in "Begum Jaan" meaning "wife").

The other interpretation is that the word carved here is "JAIN" ( as we all know, Jainism is the oldest religion in the world, its origins having been lost in the mists of time. Could it be that Neo-lithic man had discovered Jainism? 

I noticed that this Rock art clearly mentions the word "JOSEPH" on the lower right at about 5.00 o'clock. There are several other faint impressions and writings which are lost to us. To Joseph's right is a faint impression of a lady wearing a knee length dress.

I wondered, as to how Neolithic man knew about Joseph. It did not take me long to clear the mystery.

It seems that Mr. K.C. Joseph is the Kerala Minister of Cultural affairs and is on record as having said that  it is the Government's Agenda to conserve all the monuments like the Edakkal Caves in a scientific way. He has even appointed a special officer for this purpose.

In this image, the mural shifts rightwards and one can see an authoritative figure wearing head-dress/crown in the centre represented by triangles (This figure is made in much the same fashion as Warli art seen around 70 Kilometres, North of Mumbai in the Indian State of Maharashtra. Is there a connection to the Warli Art forms ?). This is most probably the representation of a God, who is shown in the centre of this Rock Art around whom all activities are happening. This image is guarded by two warriors holding round shields. There is also the "hint" of a couple of snakes around him. Perhaps an early representation of the Hindu God Shiva ??

To the left of the viewer is the God-like image,  sitting with the cheeks cupped in the palm of his hand. Don't miss the "AA" inscription representing twin mountains and "HABIB" above this image. (Incidentally, "HABIB" is an Arabic male name which is very popular all over the Arabic world and literally means "beloved". What is its significance to this God-like figure "Beloved of the Gods?" or "Beloved God?" - Only the Neolithic/Mesolithic man could tell, but his interpretation is lost in the obscurity of time). 

In this photo, one can see the snake-like drawing to the right of the viewer

This image clearly shows a chariot drawn by a cat-like animal with an elongated neck. The drawing lines of the animal and the Chariot have got blurred, perhaps due to the "artist's" limitations of available tools and implements
This image seems to be  that of a Chieftain or a King, wearing his Headdress and holding a shield in front of his chest. To his left (viewer's right seems to be a female figure - perhaps the Queen - dressed in knee length garments.

Some interpretations suggest that the King's hair is "raised" much like the Johnny Bravo cartoon character which I am giving below. Nevertheless, I am of the firm view that it is a head-dress probably made of feathers:

                      The Johnny Bravo cartoon character image

I found this section of the Rock art extremely interesting. There seems to be a 10 rung ladder/stone-steps, on which there is a faint outline of a person/being reaching out towards what appears to be the "rocket boosters" of a "alien space-ship" standing vertically (much like today's space rockets).  In front of the "Space-ship", there is a clear image of an alien being one eye closed and the other wide open (much like the beings from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" or "Star-Wars Series") holding a weapon pointed towards the onlookers, which looks like a drawn sword (or a precursor of the "Light-Saber") which  he keeps "Earthlings" at bay. Some interpretations suggest that he is wearing a mask, which does not appear to be correct at all.

Is my imagination running wild or is it a Neolithic artist's impression of visitations from outer space?
In this image one can clearly see another "alien being" on a ledge about to turn on its "light saber" while the third attempts to "repair/restart his space-ship

More images of mighty Kings/warriors holding body length shields,  wheels and what we know today as the Roman numerals "IX" and "III" and two arrow-heads  "><" crossing each other. Below the numerals is what appears to be a sturdy round table. The numerals perhaps indicate the influence of "trade" with the Roman occupied territories around 6,000 BC? There is also a "+" and a "-" figure.

These inscriptions in straight lines represent games like dice, Knots and crosses and perhaps windows to the Neolithic man's dwellings. Also is this a symbolic representation of the letter "H" 

This set of images perhaps represents mountain ranges. Notice the "AA" carvings along with several other similar impressions

In this image one can see a couple of deer-like animals hitched to a chariot in which one human figure  looking towards us and wearing the headdress of a Chief/King/Warrior is about to step on. Behind him appears to be a trailer in which two children are sitting, or is it a boat? This group seems to have posed with the Rock artist to have their images carved out in stone for posterity
This portion of the rock is impaired beyond repair/retrieval, what with algae growth, water seepage etc. The Rock Art here is completely obliterated. Nevertheless, on stricter scrutiny one can clearly spot the letter "Z" and the faint outline of a "B". What message the Neolithic sculptor is trying to communicate here is not clear at all.

Another totally obliterated section of the rock face with blue algae growing on it. One can still see a "+" sign on the centre left periphery and an obscure script on the lower left margin

        This rock art script seems to be from the later period

This Rock Art carving clearly shows two wheels of a carriage/cart/chariot, with two cat-like animals unhitched from it and resting on their haunches. Next to it is an image of two persons embracing. Perhaps the cart owner is visiting someone and his carriage animals are resting after a long haul

                        Another image of the same scene

These images show small ladders, crops , trees growing in the fields. Some impressions show that the ladders are used to pluck fruits from the trees. Some impressions could also be interpreted as tree-top dwellings accessed with ladders

The size of the Edakkal Caves can be gauged by these photos. The entrance stair-case dwarfs in comparison

              Another side of the cave leads to a blocked section
                            A few other images inside the cave

Anu at one end of the Cave. The gate is barred with a steel-gate.

I let my imagination run wild and visualised that the narrow opening between the rocks is a tear in the "fabric of time" which lets us communicate to the Neolithic man, who inhabited the Earth eons ago.

               The tear in the fabric of time from another angle

Our Neolithic ancestors send this gift to us through this "tear in the fabric of time" - From one of the plants grown by them

Some more images of the view from outside the Edakkal caves. This is the height to which we have climbed

Posted on 01.04.2018:

A curios shop managed by local ladies insisted that  Amma (who is all of 92 years of age and very enthusiastically wanted to negotiate the steep climb up to the Caves) should not go under any circumstances and gave her a comfortable chair to sit on, while we went sight-seeing.

On her return , Sumita couldn't help buying this little fellow carved out of a coconut shell whom we named "Manny" after the Wooly Mammoth in the animation movie Series ""Ice-Age":

(Post researched and written by Rajeev Prasad. Photos contributed by Sumita, Anuradha, Rajeev and Ajit)

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