Being a scholar, presenting a paper in Oxford University was always I dreamt of and this dream came true on 6th May 2016. When I finally presented the paper entitle ” Contesting Antiquity & Development: Interdiscplinary insight into the rock art preservation in Spiti valley, Himachal Pradesh” co authored by Vijay k. Bodh, an Anthropology research scholar from Panjab university at First international conference on Spiti i.e., Spiti Valley: Recovering the past & exploring the future at Wolfson College, Oxford University.
The conference was started with the welcome speech by professor Ulrike Roelser then with a keynote address by Deborah Klimburg-Salter followed by the convener’s speech which was delivered by Yannick.
Our was the first paper in the first session chaired by Mark Aldenderfer. Our Paper was an output of the ten-day field visit to the various rock art sites in the Spiti valley during October 2015, organized by I.G.N.C.A. (Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts), New Delhi. Spiti valley in North Western Himalayan region falls under the administrative unit of Lahaul&Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. The paper was a
comprehension of the rock art sites identifying threat perspectives to ancient art
form to ensure better preservation and conservation efforts. The paper adds a
new dimension of hydro-electric projects and their direct consequences onto
rock art sites in Spiti valley. It enlists some of the important rock art
sites along with an inventory of potential threats challenging the overall integrity
of these sites and also enlists probable solutions that could effectively sustain
the tests of social and climatic change.
The term ‘petroglyph’ refers to an image created by removing part of a surface by incising, pecking, carving, or abrading. Scholars often use terms such as “carving”, “engraving”, while pictographs refers to paintings of early time usually painted in caves or rock shelters. The recent documentation in Spiti reveals rock shelter sites along with pictographs. While petroglyphs are rather found in open air galleries located along the banks of the River Spiti or hilltops.
Threats are perceived both natural as well as manmade. Natural threats are due to weathering process, exposure to sunlight, precipitation and dust. As such there are signs of flaking, cracking, blasting, and accumulation of microbiological growths etc could be seen on the surface of the boulders containing rock art. The man-made threats are basically the superimposition, graffiti making and destruction of the boulders for construction purposes without knowing significance of the rock art. In the last few years, numerous sites have been destroyed totally or partly. Vandalism and new construction habits using stones rather than mud-bricks are further threats. The sites are identified forms parallel trails along the river bank and on the ancient salt trade route. The Rock art Sites have probable culture links to those found in Tibet and Laddakh region
The construction of hydro projects in the valley would also pose threat to the existing rock art distribution in the valley. A recent survey reveals newer sites having petroglyphs and cave art in the valley. There is a great possibility of locating more findings in the valley. A majority of the rock art boulders are situated near the State highway while others are distributed in remote locations. The rock art boulders have been facing the challenges of expanding economic growth, broadening of roads, graffiti, weathering, defacement and destruction. The local administration along with nodal agencies is working on preservation and conservation works. But paradoxically the allotment of hydro-electric projects in the fragile and culture rich valley poses a serious threat to the existing and unidentified artifacts.
In case a hydro project overlaps a rock art site, it could lead to the immediate damage of the site. The heavy construction work and additional anthropogenic movements would amplify the negative consequences. These are often built-in the surroundings of raw material: virgin rocks or those bearing images are equally smashed to be used as building material. Hence, a large-scale destruction of rock art sites, old settlements is on the cards.
- Identification of Rock Art Sites in Spiti valley followed by an official inventory of the same.
- Scientific Numbering and Naming of the sites and rock boulders, invite intervention by Archaeological Survey of India.
- Ensure minimal transport and removal of rock art boulders from the original site; in-situ art forms carry more research value than the transported ones.
- Scrap Hydro-electric developments in the vicinity of art sites, if possible
Earmark no trespassing zones, in case hydro projects are to be commissioned somehow.
- Include Participatory Rural Appraisals methods to ensure local participation in preservation.
- A formulation of a “Rock Art Sanctuary” in Spiti shall be the last resort. Under circumstances that render it difficult to preserve them in – situ.
- Exhibition could be organized in nearby cities like in Manali, Reckongpeo and Shimla as well as in Delhi to spread awareness.
- If the rock images cannot be protected in situ or moved to a safe place because of their larger size or inaccessible location, the only answer is to reproduce them, using photography, plastic sheet reproduction or laser scanning and 3D Scanning.
Everybody appreciated our work and gave many kind of suggestions for the better preservation of the Rock art in the area. Over there Amy Heller, Carmen Auer, John Belezza, Dieter Schuh, Pascale Dollfus, Melodie Bonnat, Virendra Verma, Henri Namgyal, Patrick Sutherland, Tashi Tsering etc presented there papers on Spiti Valley. Lochen Tulku Rinpoche gave the closing speech followed with a diner along with a Mongolian throat singing performance by Bat-Erdene Nyamdavaa.
Bat-Erdene Nyamdavaa with his instrument
All delegates were concerned about spiti’s heritage. Monasteries like Tabo existed for 1000 yrs in that area but now the major question arises is that, will they be able to survive another 1000 yrs? as climate is changing which have a direct effect on the paintings as well as the exterior part of the monastery. other aspect of concern was lack of awareness among the people. suggestions have been put forward to organise awareness campaign in the region to make people aware of their unique heritage. which is not just limited to its monasteries but further extends to its culture as well as its environment.