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25 years of Kushavati Labyrinth

Nandkumar Kamat

Twenty-five years have lapsed since the discovery of Kushavati riverbank rock art gallery spread over 3000 square meters comprising more than 150 petroglyphs at Pansaimal, Kevan Dhandode, Kolamb, Rivona. The team which discovered these petroglyphs on May 9, 1993 and identified the site as important archaeological treasure comprised besides myself, archaeologists Prakashchandra Shirodkar, Mangesh Deshpande, horticulturist Kalidas Sawaikar from Khandola, and architects Kamalakar and Abhijit Sadhale from Ponda.

Previously this gallery was known for centuries as “gorvarakhanyachim chitram’ or “art work by the pastorals”. This discovery showed that a river like Kushavati or Paroda, finally leading to open ocean by joining River Zuari could shelter hunter, food gatherer, stone tool wielding nomadic Mesolithic Homo sapiens. It was a typical shamanistic society which consumed hallucinogens to get “entoptic visions” under spell of the psychoactive phytochemicals, trapped and hunted wild game with stone spears and performed pre-religious ecospiritual practices and fertility rituals.

All the rock art forms, the petroglyphs at Kushavati match with similar forms found elsewhere in world and now known to be part of a universal cult of shamanistic practice of ‘sympathetic magic”. During our inspection, when I saw the deeply carved concentric circle, it was noticed that other half was buried under 75 centimetres layer of clay rich silt. The thickness of silt layer indicated the antiquity of the petroglyph. It takes 200 years in wet tropics to form one centimeter layer of soil. So the silt layer was at least 15000 years old.

However during past 25 years this rock art gallery has not been dated beyond 8500 years by any of the Indian or International experts. The sloping river bed was 14 meters away from the buried form. A tree was growing on the silt deposit. Subsequent removal of silt by archaeology department exposed the complete form. It was a seven-circuit labyrinth. It was wrong to dispose the overlying soil without subjecting it to dating techniques. The Kushavati labyrinth is considered to be one of the unique mesolithic petroglyph in India, Asia and world among similar forms and motifs. After discovery of the petroglyphs, subsequently assisted by Gurunath Pai, CIO, Field Publicity bureau and Digambar Singbal, faculty, Goa College of Art, I made a few trips to complete scientific study, morphometric measurements and documentation of the art gallery (see the original numbered photos when the site was not notified here and the published analysis of wild animals or zoomorphs can be seen here

The form was earlier wrongly identified as a Vedic ‘mandala’ and ‘triskelion’, but I showed that it was a seven circuit labyrinth petroglyph. The images of labyrinth were subjected to image analysis software and it was concluded that Kushavati labyrinth was typologically identical to world famous ‘Cretan labyrinth” (besides many other forms). These results were presented in local history seminar at Goa University in 2005 (see the paper here-

The Mediterranean island of Crete had a sophisticated Bronze Age civilization, from about 1850 to 1450 BC and predated the Greek Classical Age by a thousand years. In her book ‘The riddle of the labyrinth (2013) The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code and the Uncovering of a Lost Civilisation’, Margalit Fox informs us that “as Classical Greek myth told it afterward, King Minos had presided over a powerful maritime empire centered at Knossos. It was for Minos, legend held, that the architect Daedalus had built the Cretan labyrinth, which housed at its center the fearsome Minotaur—half-man, half-bull. And it was Minos’s daughter, Ariadne, with her ball of red thread, who helped her lover, Theseus, escape from the labyrinth, where he had been sent to be sacrificed. “The link between labyrinth and the cult of bull is clear. The shortest route to Goa from Crete via Persian Gulf is 5362 kilometres.

So in the course of Paleolithic human migrations certain entoptic ecospiritual symbols or motifs like labyrinth diffused out of Africa. Those who settled in Crete used it in a different manner than those who arrived in Goa. The people of pre Indus civilization, Kushavati hunters carved many bovids (gaur, zebu bulls) and cervids (deer, antelopes). They knew nothing about religion or philosophy. But they had visions, saw swirling forms under trance and carved those on the rock.

From centre to the perimeter, the Kushavati labyrinth measures 132 centimetres. The seven grooves are 3 to 6 centimetres wide, upto 2 centimetres deep and ridges are 7 to 19 centimetres wide – clearly indicating that the makers of the labyrinth were not employing any measuring tool or a metallic (bronze or Iron) implements. Its carving could have taken a very long period on the hard laterite platform with heavy stone chisel and hammer. The Kushavati river bed, full of quartz pebbles was an excellent source of readymade stone implements. Kushavati labyrinth has been interpreted by Ajit Kumar as gate to heaven for the deceased soul. For Goa however the Kushavati labyrinth would remain a priceless asset, one of world’s most ancient ecospiritual motif until eroded, disfigured or vandalized by irresponsible picnickers.

For a more complete understanding of ‘labyrinths’ in India, readers are advised to refer to the paper ‘Labyrinths in Rock Art: Morphology and Meaning with Special Reference to India’ by Ajit Kumar, Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala (

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