Odisha’s oldest rock art site in peril

Bhubaneswar: The Bhima Mandali site near Naktideul in Sambalpur District is among the oldest Rock Art site of the State. The rock art is spread over an overhang open cave with a length of around 100 metres in two stretches, separated by 300 metres of thick forests. There are sixteen cave shelters, of which four have rock art. The place can be reached after traversing a four kms forest road, 10 kms away from Naktideul on the Deogarh-Rairakhol highway, amidst a thick forest.

An INTACH team led by Dr. Biswajit Mohanty had gone to the site last week and reported on the sad state of affairs of this ancient site. They found that most of the rock art is indecipherable and faded, with graffiti scrawled on the rock face. Mohanty expressed concern on the damage being caused by tourists and vandals. There is an illegal ashram with a Yagna Kund built in the vicinity, apparently regular religious congregations of bhaktas are held at the spot.

The spot draws a lot of picnickers, as it is in an extremely scenic area with a good view from the hill slope of the surrounding dense forests. Three small hill streams flow at the bottom. Thermocole plates and trash litter the stream banks. The local forest officials confirm that the area is part of Landimal R.F. which is spread over 150 sq.kms and adjoins Hatidhara R.F. of Athmalik Forest Division with abundant wildlife which includes leopards, wild boar, spotted deer, sambhars and elephants.

According to Anil Dhir, Odisha has the richest repository of rock art in Eastern India with more than a hundred rock shelters with rock paintings and engravings spread all over the State. He had earlier discovered the rock art at Tilori in Kandhamal District. This 12000 years old site has numerous geometric symbols, dots, lines along with animals and human figures dating from the late Pleistocene period. Many of these geometric shape and patterns are enigmatic in nature.

Ramesh Prasad Swain, a local with good knowledge about the site, says that several researchers from Sambalpur and Utkal University, including a team from the Archaeological Survey of India have visited the spot which can only be reached after crossing a dry forest stream by foot. The place is inaccessible during the monsoon due to the fast flowing stream. The massive rocks have been scoured by the water and are geological wonders.

According to Biswajit Mohanty, the site is not a protected monument either by the ASI or State Archeology. He has written to the authorities for proper preservation and conservation of this place and to install proper signage. A guard needs to be posted there to prevent visitors from defacing the paintings. No vehicle should be allowed in the forest road and no picnics should be permitted at the site. There are at least another four cave painting sites in the vicinity which are difficult to access. It truly deserves to be declared a Conservation Heritage site.