Usgalimal Rock Carvings

Discover a whole other side of this state and experience a true piece of Goan art history

I have always felt that we, as humans, grossly underestimate the longevity of our environment. We don’t realize that our life spans are actually miniscule in terms of the age of the earth we live upon. And even if we do, it is almost impossible for us to visualize the colossal span of time that has gone by since the advent of the human civilization.

Usgalimal, in South Goa, is a testament to this fact, and a place you must visit if you are looking for something deeper the next time you are in Goa. Usgalimal is one of the most important pre-historic sites in India, and is situated about 30 km to the south of Margao, in the Sanguem district of South Goa, on the banks of the river Kushawati. The ride is beautiful and filled with dense forests, winding roads and the occasional stream. In the last stretch, Google Maps gives up, and you have to make your way by asking the extremely helpful locals. The destination is a river bed practically in the jungle, with an unhelpful little sign board proclaiming ‘Rock Art’, if you look closely. But once you travel through these minor obstacles, you are in for a treat. The river bed is one giant basaltic rock face that contains about 150 carvings done by humans around 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.JpegThe carvings are exquisite in nature, and it is truly astonishing that they have been preserved the way they have. The approximately 30 meter rock face is covered with drawings and renderings of different animals and birds including bulls, horses, elephants, deer, peacocks and dogs. The animals interact with each other and with the humans. There is a hunting scene where a large spear is shown to be pierced into a bull. And then there is a wonderful ‘x-ray bull’ sequence, where the internal bone structure of a bull has been carved into the rock face. There are human figures too – arguably the most interesting being a woman and a child connected with an umbilical cord. But the greatest work in my opinion is the huge oculus or a circular labyrinth carved into the stone. It might just be a blueprint of an actual labyrinth or a conceptual representation, but that, and a few other abstract forms really amaze you. All the carvings show man’s curiosity, his need to express and his first steps into communication.JpegJpegWhat archeologists deduce from these specimens in the existence of a hunter-gatherer community on the banks of the river Kushawati. It is assumed to be a shamanistic cult, practicing paganism and nature worship. When you stand on the Usgalimal rock face and look around, you suddenly realize that nothing around you is as old as the carvings and the river. Even the tallest trees are woefully young as compared to the carvings.

And thus, going to Usgalimal becomes a sort of a pilgrimage. As an artist, I observe the enchanting work of another artist from 10,000 years ago. As a human, I look at the marks left behind by our forefathers – and appreciate the triviality of human life. There is great profundity in insignificance.

The Usgalimal rock carvings will be inaccessible from June to September due to the monsoons. So these are the last few days of the season when you can go and look at these beautiful works. The caretaker, Ramakant, is the most helpful guide you will ever encounter, and the experience will be unforgettable. So, get up from your beach shack and get on the road!

Location | Usagalimal Village | Roughly 16 km south of Rivona in the Sanguem Taluka in South Goa district

Photos and article by Kaushal Sapre