Most rock paintings belong to the pre-historic era and could be anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 years old or more if you go by the opinion of certain scholars. How did paintings of such antiquity withstand the vagaries of nature? What goes into the making of such paintings?
Vijayakumar says such paintings are located in dense forests. “Almost all such rock art, cave paintings are in jungles and are not easily accessible. Even for the tribals, it is quite difficult to access. They venture into such interiors only during certain seasons to procure forest produce.” The ‘security blanket’ in the form of jungle and wild animals has definitely gone a long way in safeguarding these ancient treasures.
As regards the material used for the paintings, he says it is ancient wisdom handed down from generation to generation by the inhabitants of forests. “After painstaking research for many years in Anamalai region involving intense discussions with tribals and field studies I understood the raw material for the ancient paint,” he claims and adds that no one else had unraveled the ingredients of the paint to date.
According to him, the white ochre is a semisolid mixture of milk extracted from Arali (Sapium insigne) and Kalli trees (Euphorbia antiquorum). Also, it contains the ash of kumizh tree (Gmelina aroporea). “Only if you burn the Kumizh tree, you will get pure white ash. Any other burnt tree will produce shades of gray or black ash. The Kumizh ash is mixed with limestone (calcium carbonate or Sunnambu Kal in Tamil) and the milk obtained from Arali and Kalli plants. Finally, all this is mixed with water to produce a semi-solid paste.”
Asked about the ingredients used in red-ochre, he says he is yet to decode it. “It might have been an organic material that is not available now due to climate changes over several millenniums.”