A Vanishing Heritage: Prehistoric rock shelter at Naraj

Cave arts and old inscriptions are fascinating. Makes us wonder what will people of the future think about the graffiti we leave behind. We don’t know whether these were graphic communication among themselves or the inclination to conserve beyond a single moment in time, it’s certain humans have always had an innate drive towards art. Much of what we need to know is lost forever, underwater, hidden on purpose, or lost in translation. But it’s pity that there is no concern for the little we are left forthwith.

Yesterday I had been to one of such lesser-known sites housing ancient rock sheds at the foothill of Sidheswar Mundia (a small cliff) that comes around two kilometers away from Naraj Village in Cuttack district. Locally that site is recognized as AdheiAkhyara (Two and half letters) or Sadhe-Tini Akhyara (Three and half letters) due to a strange inscription on one side which has almost weathered away with time. The absence of any trace of pigmentation explains the antiquity of these engravings. The protruding trace on top is still there, albeit the ceiling of the shelter is now entirely eroded away.

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A huge rock panel with two anthropomorphic and several zoomorphic motifs is found at the base. The first anthropomorphic figure holds a crossbar while some round block (depicted as dots within a circle) in another. The second figure seems peculiar with an unusual body structure, mainly legs and holds the same tools as the earlier one in alternative hands. Both the figures are properly attired and have hair twisted into low buns. The large circle over them could be the sun.

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Mollusk with coils

Except these two, there are schematic diagrams of a swan meditating over a fish (or can be a boat with fish swimming in front), a ladder and a mollusk.

Also, pottery remains of different shapes and sizes are obtained in sites as per historian during the minimum excavation done without any government assistance.

It is claimed to be a depiction of fishing activity, The figures may be holding fishing equipments and fodders in hand. There are two horizontal parallel lines where one is standing about the upper line and another figure is standing in between the two lines. This may suggest scene of waterbody like stream in its immediate vicinity.

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Brahmi alphabets with a little clarity left due to erosion of sandstone

The rock shelter has a folklore on the name of the place Sadhe-Tini Akhyara. Locals believe once seven vessels carrying gold submerged in the river Mahanadi. Anyone who can decipher the three and a half letters can win that wealth.

More than a dozen locations located all over this early historic site on the Mahanadi delta left neglected by the State. Topsoil washed by rainfall getting accumulated over the slab is a potential threat to these partly buried petroglyphs. Also, excessive blasting and crushing of hard rock in remote areas making the age-old shelter more fragile. A few years ago a monastery has come on the top of the bluff resulting in graffiti vandalism on the site by painting with lime and spray paint. Before the heritage vanishes altogether, Archeological institutions should take up the responsibility for further research and preserve these endangered rock arts for generations to come.

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