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AGRA || A large number of rock paintings of the pre-historic era are under threat due to negligence and care, in the Aravali hills bordering the deserted capital of Mughal emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri.
Conservationists in Agra have demanded that the Archaeological Survey of India (AS) take over the whole area and initiate measures for their conservation, as these were valuable heritage assets.
The whole area around Fatehpur Sikri was once a thriving and prosperous urban cluster, inhabited by Kshatriyas and Jains who built numerous structures that unfortunately succumbed to planned negligence by secular dispensations.
History lovers have in the past voiced their concern and demanded large-scale excavations in the vicinity of the world heritage site Fatehpur Sikri.
Now, a group of heritage conservationists, led by Dr Devashish Bhattacharya have petitioned prime minister Narendra Modi to help protect the precious pre-historic cave paintings in the hills around half a dozen villages.
According to the conservationists, several sites of the rich Mesolithic period containing rock shelters of the pre-historic era are exposed to the vagaries of nature. Repeated demands by conservationists to the Archaeological Survey of India have fallen on deaf ears, says the memorandum.
The villages where these paintings are still visible include Jajauli, Bandrauli, Patsal, Madanpura, Rasulpur, and Churyari. Researchers and conservationists say these rock shelters (rock art) are dated more than 3000 years back and can in fact be older up to 5000 years old. As they lay as unprotected relics of the past in the Aravali ranges, infamous for illegal stone mining, the threat of major destruction and losses looms large.
The memorandum has been signed by among others" Shravan Kumar Singh, vice president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, Ranjan Sharma, Pandit Jugal Kishor, activists Padmini Iyer, Deepak Rajput, Shahtosh Gautam, Rahul Raj, Shailendra Singh Narwar, Jyoti and Vishal Jha, Naresh Paras, and 20 others.
They said “We have approached the local ASI circle at Agra but they simply refuse to conduct a conservation drive as there are no directives from the head office or the concerned ministry. We have also approached the local state tourism office and though the UP state tourism authority is well aware of the importance of these rock art paintings they too have shown scant interest so far. We have now approached the prime minister requesting him to initiate action from his end and direct the union ministry of culture to take appropriate steps for the conservation of these priceless paintings of the prehistoric age.”
Dr Devashish Bhattacharya, eminent environmentalist, and conservationist said “These six identified villages in the Fatehpur Sikri area are most backward since there is hardly any infrastructural growth, as funds and focus had been on the world heritage site Fatehpur Sikri, barely four centuries old. The fort of Fatehpur Sikri is itself built upon an ancient Jain temple which ASI has approved and needs further excavation. When excavation work began some 20 years ago, the secularists raised a hue and cry and got the work stalled.”
Bhattacharya added that the more worrisome aspect was the continued neglect, resulting in large scale damage to the pre-historic rock art sites in the hills of the Aravalis. The GOI should immediately take notice of and start conservation, restoration and protection of these threatened sites. Once restoration work starts, the whole area will attract a large number of tourists as happened in the famous Bhimbetaka caves in the Pachmarhi hills in MP.
It may be mentioned here that numerous scholars and conservationists have in the past highlighted the importance of these sites. From ACL Carlleyle (1871-73) to SC Chandra (1958-59) to the discovery of rock shelters by JP Gupta (1959-60) have all given detailed accounts of their findings that collectively add an interesting dimension to the pre-historic archaeology of the Braj region.
Vinay Kumar Gupta in his research paper (2019) titled “Shelters near Fatehpur Sikri” demands “there is a need to declare all these painted rock shelters as monuments of national importance by the ASI and to preserve and protect them. These may be developed as an important tourist centre too.”