Bhimbetka, quite a few kilometres from Bhopal was our first site seeing spot during our tour of few places of Madhya Pradesh.
Before leaving for Bhimbetka, we had not done previous researches on how Bhimbetka could be n neither we had any intentions of knowing!
When we physically came across the caves of Bhimbetka, we were literally awestruck!
The caves of Bhimbetka, today an archaeological site, were rock shelters 100,000 years ago!
100,000 years from now takes us back to the prehistoric period of human history, the Palaeolithic Era. Sculptures on the cave walls have mostly faded but some are still prominent.
Bhimbetka is also a UNSECO acknowledged World Heritage Site. It has earned that title by being home a set of extraordinary cave paintings made by Man in prehistoric times. These paintings are made on some unusually shaped rock formations that gave Man a magnificent canvas to express his creativity on.
Viewed from a distance, these rock formations resemble a small fortress, rising nearly 100 metres above the surrounding area on the hill upon which they stand. The one feature which makes Bhimbetka a most unusual archaeological site is that the paintings here constitute a repository of knowledge of how Man lived in a truly ancient era. And the repository has been a dynamic one since the paintings here are not from one period in history but were done over a period of thousands of years, capturing the changing environment Man discovered and created for himself. The timeline for the Bhimbetka paintings, as determined based on the tools found in the potholes of rocks, begins with the Lower Palaeolithic age (C. 100,000 to 40,000) and ranges through the Middle Palaeolithic (C. 40,000-20,000), Upper Palaeolithic (C. 20,000 – 10,000) to the Mesolithic (C. 10,000-2,500) and beyond into the period of documented history. As Man transformed over time from a hunter-gatherer to an agriculturist to living as part of an administered state, so did the paintings he made.
Most paintings here depict hunting scenes focusing on a variety of animals such as tigers, leopards, boars, elephants, horses, jackals, foxes etc showing them running, standing or grazing while Man is shown as the hunter, always armed and trapping animals. Humans, drawn in profile, are usually stick shaped while the animals are depicted in their natural form. As time went on, religious symbols also became subjects of paintings. As man began to master the environment around him, he was depicted as climbing trees, riding on the back of elephants or horses and even dancing as part of a group. Later paintings depicted him riding chariots. Man, it seems, documented his own evolution here. The caves also portray early evidence of dance.
Bhimbetka, when seen in its full perspective, makes for an awe-inspiring history tale told entirely in pictures. What is less known is that Bhimbetka is not an isolated spot. It forms the southern rim of an almost continuous belt of painted shelters that runs for nearly fifty kilometres till the edge of Bhopal, concluding in more painted rock shelters hidden in the folds of a high hill called Manua-bhan-ki-tekri. While Bhimbetka has been discovered and explored, there is more that awaits the adventurous traveller.
these caves claim a distinction as the largest treasure house of prehistoric art in the country. Dr V. S. Wakankar, one of the most renowned of Indian archaeologists, discovered these caves. It was by a fluke of luck that he noticed these caves dotting distant hills, while on his way to Nagpur, in 1958. The word ‘Bhimbetka’, derived from ‘Bhim Baitka’, has mythological connotation. These caves are named after ‘Bhima’, one of the five Pandavas of Mahabharata.
The discovery of Bhimbetka caves has indeed opened the floodgate of the immense popularity of the region of Bhimbetka. The entire region peppers with caves, more than 600 in number. Shaded in a thicket of teak and sal, amidst rock-strewn cliffs, they find enlistment as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Some of these caves also preserve paintings that traverse various eras. There are enchanting rock paintings that dates to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods adorning these caves.
Infect, these cave paintings are the prime attractions of Bhimbetka and show striking similarity to the aboriginal rock paintings of the Savanna regions of Australia, the paintings done by pygmies of the Kalahari Desert and the Palaeolithic Lascaux cave paintings of France. Since these caves formed dwellings for primitive people belonging to various ages, the paintings here demonstrate their lifestyle and mundane everyday activities. Inventive designs & deft handling of colours have brought to life the remote activities of our ancestors.
The colours are a combination of manganese, hematite, wooden coal, soft red stone, plant leaves and animal fats. These chemicals have, over the time, reacted with the rocks and contributed in preserving these precious artworks of Bhimbetka. Scrupulous observation shows differences in patterns, which are archetypal of various periods. Huge linear figures of animals are the trademark of Palaeolithic paintings. With the passage of time, paintings became smaller, precise and more delicate.
Slowly, religious images were interspersed, which delineates the change in psychological make-up of the people. The oldest of all the paintings dates to around 12,000 yrs. back, while the most recent is around 1000 yrs. old. Out of the many caves in Bhimbetka, only 12 caves are open for visitors. These caves are like the colourful shards of a broken mirror that unite to provide a rich glimpse to the lives of our predecessors.
If you plan a trip to Madhya Pradesh, Bhimbetka Caves merits a visit.
These rock shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent, and the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age.
Stone Age is something which we had probably read in the first chapter of social studies during our early primaries. It was an inexplicable feeling when we were seriously realizing that human beings literally existed 100,000 years back.
Though for years we are knowing the facts of early-man, mammoth elephants, early men used to paint on cave walls, that day we were visualizing the traces of our the then ancestors.
Though the paintings on the walls were done by stone scratches on the rocks, the number of paintings are huge.
But, we were wondering how can those paintings last this long! 21st century running! The paintings still visible!
It was quite unbelievable!
Surprise!! Secret revealed.
The colours used in the paintings were vegetable colours and the drawings were made deep inside or on inner walls of the caves.
Oh my Gosh! Early men were so intelligent! That’s why
Bhimbetka was just the first page of our tour to the few places of Madhya Pradesh.
The paintings on the walls of the rock shelter, the existence of an early rock-shelter culture surrounded by the civilized world yet unexplored, the primitive feel of Bhimbetka was a surprise to us! Rock shelters that were home to humans, millennia ago. And a rich flora and fauna surrounding these, indeed, make Bhimbetka a gift to us from our earliest ancestors.
An archaeological treasure, Bhimbetka has around 243 rock shelters. The paintings found in the rock shelters here have a striking resemblance to the ones discovered in Kakadu National Park in Australia; to the cave paintings of Bushmen in Kalahari Desert and Upper Palaeolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.
A walkthrough these ancient naturally carved rocks surrounded by dense forests of Bhimbetka will bring alive child-like wonder in you. Just as you will enter the caves, you will find a small illustration showing how early age man used to draw paintings.
All the important rock shelters are numbered and signposted. There are approximately 15 spots linked by a concrete path. And on the side of the paths you can find maps very frequently showing you where to go, so there is no chance of getting lost. One interesting spot is the ‘rock tortoise’. Just a little uphill from the Caves entry is a small temple. People who visit the caves usually visit the temple.