The rock shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are a testimony to the prehistoric times and lives of humans. These caves are a detailed documentation of the early civilization that inhabited the area and were first discovered by archeologist V.S Wakankar in the year 1957.
The rock shelters of Bhimbetka comprise of over 350 caves that contain paintings dating back thousands of years. It is believed that people from these pre-historic civilizations used these paintings to communicate with one another. The walls of the Bhimbetka caves contain paintings that belong to the Paleolithic period and the medieval period.
The Bhimbetka caves are located in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh. These caves are present along the foothills of the Vindhya Mountains towards the southern edge of the central Indian plateau.
History of the caves
These caves were used as shelters by the Homo erectus close to 100,000 years ago. Some paintings found in these caves are over 30,000 years old. The earliest evidence of dance as an important part of human civilization can be found in the painting on the walls of these caves.
The first ever mention of the Bhimbetka caves was in the Indian archeological records as early as 1888. Back then; they were considered a Buddhist site. It was not until 1957 when V.S Wakankar was drawn to these caves that detailed records were made. The caves reminded him of the ones that he had seen in Spain and France. They were then named after one of the five pandavas, Bhima. The name Bhimbetka means “Bhima’s sitting place”.
Research and excavations led to the discovery of close to 750 caves of which 243 are found in Bhimbetka and 178 are found in Lakha Juar. The paintings closely resemble the ones that have been found in the caves of Lascaux in France, The Kakadu National Park in Australia and the cave paintings in the Kalahari Desert created by the Bushmen.
Paintings from different era
Each era presented a unique style of drawing and painting on the walls. While some paintings date back to over 30,000 years ago, some of them are recent and may have been made in the medieval period.
The paintings from the Upper Paleolithic Era contain green and red images of animals such as rhinoceroses, tigers, and bisons. These paintings are mostly linear in their representation.
Paintings belonging to the Chalcolithic age show evidences of agriculture. They showcase trade of goods between people from these caves and the agriculturists from the Malwa Plains.
Colors began to appear in the early historic period. Most of the paintings are red, yellow and white in colors. They depict spirituality and religion. Images of yakshas, magic chariots, tree Gods and other spiritual symbols can be seen here.
Towards the medieval period, more complex dyes were used to create the paintings. Colors were prepared by mixing wooden coal with hematite and manganese. These paintings were much cruder and did not have the same artistic appeal. They are mostly geometric or linear.
One of the most famous rocks in the Bhimbetka group is the Zoo rock. Here, you can find images of bison, deer, elephants and even Barasinghas. A famous image is that of a snake, the sun, a peacock and a deer. You will also find a picture of two tuskers on one of the stones.
How to get there
Air: The nearest airport is in Bhopal which is 46 kms away from these caves.
Rail: Reach Bhopal via the Delhi-Mumbai or Delhi-Chennai mainline.
Road: You can find buses to Bhimbetka that is located on the Bhopal-Hoshangabad National Highway 69.
The best time to visit these caves is between July and March.