Located on a high laterite plateau not far from Rajapur, Barsu Sada was the first petroglyph site we visited over the weekend. Some of the petroglyphs here are thought to potentially date back to 8,000 BC.
The first carving we saw came as a bit of a surprise considering the surrounding landscape.
Although the site is now many miles from the sea, Barsu Sada was once much closer to the coast. On this barren plateau with little vegetation and very few trees it’s a little difficult to imagine how the landscape may have once looked back in the mesolithic and neolithic periods. It would be immensely useful to take some soil samples from sealed contexts above these carvings to analyse for seed and pollen remains, although here there seemed to be very little soil left on top of the laterite.
The next petroglyph was an abstract design, it looks to be part of a much larger group of carvings that were obscured by thin scrub.
These two petroglyphs were merely the warm up acts to the main events at Barsu Sada. The next set of carvings were simply astonishing.
This set of petroglyphs has its own name, Tarawacha Sada. Once partially obscured by a thin layer of vegetation, local villagers thought the carvings depicted two boats (Tarawacha Sada means “boats plateau”).
The image is of a human appearing to hold two animals by the neck/throat or legs, the animals themselves appear to be possibly tigers. Complex geometric designs have been carved inside these two large animals with fishes also carved around the image of the person. The human image also seems to have potentially two heads, neither quite to scale in comparison to the body.
Even with my camera on a pole my lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the entire scene, but luckily Sudhir had a scale drawing that shows the complexity and symmetry of the carvings.
This imagery I find extremely interesting. It is a symbolic motif that can be found throughout ancient art and is commonly referred to as the “Master of Animals”.
This depiction is quite widespread in Egypt and the Near East, one of the earliest representations can be seen on the Gebel el-Arak knife from Egyption prehistory, dated to circa 3250 BC (now in the Louvre Museum, Paris). Also from Egypt is another example found in Tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis, dated to around the same period. Moving closer to India, this imagery also appears on Indus Valley seals, the example below dating from 2500 to 1900 BC.
Having now also seen a few other petroglyph sites in the Konkan, it is interesting that the animal depictions at Barsu Sada show the animals not as life size, but considerably enlarged. At other locations we were often commenting on how the carvings appear to be broadly life size.
The depiction of fish also appears quite frequently here, clearly the abundance of them around the human figure holds some significance.
The next set of carvings had a completely different feel to it. The previous “Master of Animals” panel felt very rigid and static, this one felt much more flowing.
Here we have the upper torso of a human, seemingly holding something above his head, possibly a fish. To the lower right and upper left of the body are fishes, all appearing to be swimming towards the figure, and these fish images are cleverly linked together by curved lines. We have another aquatic animal on the lower left, also facing the human which could also be interpreted as an abstract left leg. At the bottom, and somewhat at odds with the rest of the imagery here, is a bird.
I was struck by how this image has some correlation with how the constellation Aquarius is often depicted, with a human figure (the bearer of water) holding a water jar above his head. Early astronomers would often associate the star patterns with fishes swimming in a celestial sea. If the object being held above the head was a pot (not a fish) I’d be a little more confident about this thought.
Next to this scene is an isolated image of a human holding a staff in each hand.
Again, this is a very common ancient image that can been found across the globe.
On our way to the final petroglyph at Barsu Sada we came to two carvings, quite abstract but one of them could be interpreted as a turtle.
The final petroglyph we saw I can clearly recall being shown by various online news outlets when the recent discoveries in the Konkan were reported in October 2018.
Here we are back to the “Master of Animals” theme. The design is far more simplistic than the previous example, with the human now holding the animals each side of him by the legs.
Again, this is style of imagery goes back a very long way. There’s a good example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) from Mesopotamia, dating to around 800 BC.
The entire plateaux at Barsu Sada has over 200 carvings and spans across three different land boundaries (often defined by a simple pile of rocks). This of course adds an extra layer of complexity when it comes to recording and preserving the site, although thankfully unlike other petroglyph sites I was subsequently going to see, there did not appear to be significant mining occurring in the immediate vicinity.
Exact dating of the petroglyphs is of course difficult, but it is highly unlikely that all these carvings were laid down within the time span of a single generation.
This was one of seven petroglyph sites I visited in the Konkan during the course of a weekend. Here’s some quick links to the other sites :
- Introduction to the Konkan Petroglyphs
- Barsu Sada
- Devache Gothane
- Rundhe Tali
- Chave Dewood
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