The enigma of India’s geography is it decides where to rain excess and where to keep the land parch. If you are in the west coast of Karnataka you see all around lush green vegetation, thanks to the Western Ghats that blocks the flow of monsoon to the hinterland and allow the maximum shower within the narrow strip of the plain and the ghats itself. Once you cross the Western Ghats and move into the interiors of Deccan Plateau, you see a sudden change in the landscape with dry scrubs as far as the eyes stretch. But within this vast plateau is an oasis irrigated by the life giving Tungabhadra River. Today this patch of narrow land of 30/40 km width has become Karnataka’s rice bowl, thanks to the 20th century Tungabhadra River dam project. Here lies Hampi, the vast medieval city and the capital of Vijayanagar Empire.
Hampi is more than Vijayanagar architectural ruins. The landscape is shrouded in mysteries from the mythical age of the Ramayana. It was Kiskindhya, the homeland of Bali and Hanuman. This means its antiquity is as remote as the beginning of Neolithic. True, further back in time Tungabhadra Valley had attracted neolithic settlers to its curious looking granite hills, roughly 4,000 years before. The life in neolithic time was a combination of complex foraging, pearl millet farming and bull cult. As time passed, the early beginnings led to formation of more complex society, yet far from any sign of urbansation and organized religion. In contrast, North India had witnessed a continuous growth of urbansation, trade, state formation and organized religions, such as Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Rice cultivation was intensified in Tungabhadra Valley. They built megaliths (mortuary chambers) and painted on walls. Rice cultivation became widespread with the introduction of iron tools for the first time in South India’s history.
One of these sites is Kadebakle or Kade Bagilu on the top of a granite hill near Anegundi on the other bank of Tungabhadra (from Hampi). The Iron Age site (mid 1st millennium BCE) that spreads on a bluff overlooks Vijayanagar ruins in one direction and the river on the other.
It was 4 PM on the day of Diwali I reached at the foothill of Kadebakale with my friend Mohana, a PhD from Deccan College and an expert on prehistoric rock art of the region. The site was excavated by a team of international archaeologists in mid-2000-2010. We gathered two local youth for support and guide us to the excavated site and the rock art shelter through a steep climb.
To access the rock art shelter was the most difficult trek but we made it. The painting in red ochre on the granite boulder that depicts two rows of women all standing holding each other’s hands. They resemble closely Warli and Saura paintings. One can interpret them as a scene of merriment after a successful harvest ritual. A two horned animal, perhaps a buffalo is also part of the frame.
The view from the hill of the surrounding countryside is spectacular.
One can also see abandoned trenches on the flat below the boulders surrounded by potsherds, broken carnelian beads and animal bones all belonging to the Iron Age – Early Historic period. The descent was equally challenging.
While returning back to Gangawati, my camping site the journey was equally dramatic with the setting sun over the fertile Tungabhadra Valley.