Cave art: Stories in stone

December 06, 2015


The dancing men
The dancing men

Anyone entering Balochistan province from any direction is sure to be caught by the eye-catching and magnetic natural beauty, as the entire area looks like a holiday resort with unique natural attractiveness. Its vast coastal area, wonderful mountainous valleys, arresting waterfalls, undefeatable high mountain ranges and hillocks, stunning springs and climate makes one feel like staying there forever.

Ancient remains of life and civilisation can be found in Balochistan, as water, being a basic necessity of life, existed in the vales and mountains, while some remains of archaeological sites and cave paintings have been found in Balochistan.

Several sites of cave paintings on rocks have been registered in upper Balochistan but the sites of cave paintings of lower Balochistan are still unexplored — for instance the cave paintings of Tharia cave in Pabu mountain near Qili (village) Chatoka Bhit (mound) in the valley of Pallimas, Tahseel Wadh, Khuzdar District, which I visited this year in March.

More parietal art in Balochistan awaits attention from experts

The cave of Tharia is located at a distance of 15km from Wadh town towards the east, where the hilly torrents such as Kunj and others flow from Pubu Mountain towards Pallimas valley. This stream of rainy water flows towards the Tuk and Wadh rainy streams.

About six historical and archaeological sites are situated in the surroundings of Wadh town and valley of Pallimas which are probably related to neighbouring civilisation of Nal hilly torrent near Khuzdar city towards the west. Sadly, the remains of this city have been destroyed by the treasure hunters. The Tharia Cave is located along a hill torrent and an ancient route which leads to the passes of Kirthar mountain range near Tahseel Johi, District Dadu, after crossing Pub Mountain range from Chatoka Bhit.

The humped bulls
The humped bulls

The cave paintings are illustrated on rock in five separate panels. In one panel, a dancing group is depicted in a circle; while dancing, the men are holding their hands, and their waists and hands look like a moving picture or animation. In the second panel, the men are dancing in a row. In the third panel, probably three men are dancing and their hands are raised. In the forth panel, deer like animal is presented. In the fifth panel, two humped bulls are festooned, while the colour of portrayed men beside the humped bulls is wiped out. The horns of the humped bulls are as large as the horns of bulls found in Thar Desert of Sindh. The cave is named Tharia by local people, probably because of this association. In Brahvi language, Tharia denotes “of Thar”. It is assumed that the earlier name of the site was different, and later it began to be called Tharia by the locals who might have recognised the bulls of Thar Desert due to depiction of humped bulls.

The paintings are mostly in red and black colours, which most probably were extracted from the coloured stones in the area. The pigment might have been made by artists mixing water with ground coloured stones. Such soft stones of different colours can still be found near the cave. The art of painting and usage of colours in the pictures show the expertise of the artisans.

As for the date of these cave paintings, it is believed that these were painted in the Paleolithic period — based on the fact that such cave paintings discovered elsewhere in the world have been mostly from 40,000 BC to 25,000 BC and later. However, this prehistoric site of cave paintings needs attention of expert archaeologists for preserving and presumption of its accurate period.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015