• The Indian tradition of sequential pictorial narratives
• Narratives among the Bhimbetka rock paintings
• Narratives in the Ajanta caves
Both Eisner (1985) and McCloud (1992) define comics as pictures arranged in a specific sequence in order to tell a story. These may or may not be accompanied by text. Although the modern comic book form appeared in India only fairly recently, India has had a longstanding tradition of sequential pictorial narratives, dating back thousands of years. The earliest evidence of such pictorial narratives in India can be traced right back to the Paleolithic Age, based on cave drawings found at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. A UNESCO report on Bhimbetka shows evidence of human presence and cultural continuity at that spot from at least 100,000 BCE. The caves there contain paintings of various types, from different periods, and hence some of them are thought to date back to 30,000 years ago, while others may have been relatively recent paintings from about 7000 years ago. The themes of the rock paintings at Bhimbetka are mostly animals and hunting, although some of them also show evidence of other activities like music, trade and agriculture. The Rock Shelters at Bhimbetka are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are not only of great archeological interest, but also bear valuable information they bear about prehistoric pictorial narratives in India.
Another important piece of evidence, related to the continuity of the tradition of pictorial narratives in India, can be seen through the art in the Ajanta caves in the Aurangabad district in Maharashtra. While there may be some confusion about the narrative element in the cave paintings of Bhimbetka, there can be no such doubt about those at Ajanta: many of the frescoes there exhibit a clear narrative, showing episodes from the life of the Buddha, or some which depict stories from the Jataka tales. Both Dehejia (1991) and Schingloff (1999) talk at length about the narrative elements of the paintings at Ajanta. Dehejia even classifies the narratives into monoscenic narratives, episodic continuous narratives, and so on (Dehejia 1991). Hence, both Bhimbetka and Ajanta provide ample proof of a longstanding and durable tradition of narrative paintings in India. And as we shall see in the following section, this tradition is not just restricted to cave paintings.