Destruction Of Ancient Rock Art At Karikiyoor Infuriates Members Of The Irula Tribe

Destruction Of Ancient Rock Art At Karikiyoor Infuriates Members Of The Irula Tribe
Tea Plantations at Kotagiri, a few miles away from Karikiyoor, Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Nilgiri tribals protest vandalism of ancient rock paintings, blame illegal tourists

OT Staff
June 04 , 2019
03 Min Read

Members of the Irula tribe, one of India’s oldest indigenous groups, are furious at the recent destruction of their ancient rock art at Karikiyoor in Kil Kotagiri village, Tamilnadu. Apathetic trekkers have defaced the paintingsan ancestral site for the tribalswith religious and political messages, etched out in chalk and whitener pens over 5,000-year-old imagery. Some couples have caused permanent damage by carving their names onto the rocks, further inflaming tensions.

Karikiyoor, located deep in the Nilgiri forest region, has acted as a sociological record for the Irula people for generations. M Bathran, a village elder, explains how the site remains an integral part of their heritage. “Till today, we rely on these drawings to teach us the customs we should follow, remind us of our ties to the land, and the need to protect the forest.” The rock art also serves ritualistic purposes.

Bathran alleges that the government has not been interested in shielding the site in the past few years, which has now prompted villagers to erect warning boards that restrict tourist entry. R Ranganathan, another local, plans to set up a group to regulate entry. Visitors will now be allowed only under ‘exceptional circumstances’, and in the presence of a guide. The community believes that a recent spurt in tourism, coupled with unauthorised treks deep into the reserve forest area that houses these sites, is the root of the problem.

C Maheswaran, former director of the Tribal Research Centre, Udhagamandalam, says that the ancient society responsible for Karikiyoor’s rock art were contemporaries of the Indus Valley civilisation; their script resembles those found at Indus sites in northern India, and could be used to unearth possible linguistic and technological links.The onus of preserving the paintings, he added, fell on the state archaeological and forest departments, as well as the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Irulas are a particularly vulnerable tribal group, numbering in about 25,000; their forests not only house these priceless paintings, but are a home to leopards, elephants and sloth bears. Unless powerful conservation efforts are implemented, the rock art site is unlikely to survive the wave of reckless tourism that has already been inflicted upon it.

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