The petroglyphs of Ratnagiri

The colour of the setting sun matches the ferrous red of the porous laterite rock that dominates the terrain of Ratnagiri and Rajapur along Maharashtra’s Konkan coast. At a quarter past six in the evening, in the small village of Devache Gothane, when there is finally some respite from the heat, the two shades converge, casting a soft glow on the lush grass that covers the flat hilltops. The monsoon has evidently been generous to this region. A steep climb from the village ends in an endless expanse of such grass. But the sight that greets you in the middle of it, on a patch where the heat has baked the surface of the red laterite black, makes the climb worth it. An oval ring of stones frames an image carved into the laterite. It depicts a human form — a man standing feet akimbo, arms loose by his side. The carving is about eight feet long. It’s the head that is most striking, framed by a kind of aura or halo. Something about the vastness of that meadow, the rapidly fading light, and the eerie nature of that single carving in a desolate field evokes a strange excitement. A small window into another world. This carving is one of the over 1,000 such petroglyphs that have been discovered in and around the Ratnagiri and Rajapur districts over the last two or three years, making them one of the most significant archaeological finds of recent times. The carvings cover over 52 sites across the region. The 12 sites that The Hindu travelled to contained an incredible range of images, from basic depictions of human and animal forms to a stunning 50-ft carving of an elephant, within which a series of smaller animal and aquatic forms were drawn. From abstract patterns and fertility symbols carved rudimentarily on the rock surface to dizzyingly complex geometric reliefs cut deep into the rock, the etchings seem straight out of the movie Signs or the television series Lost . The term rock art usually brings to mind pictographs (paintings on rocks). But these are petroglyphs, and the fact that the images are carved into the flat, open rock surface gives them a scale and look that is unique.

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