As I moved from one cave to another, I was gradually transported to the times of cave dwellers from the Mesolithic and Paleolithic ages, which left me flabbergasted. All that I did was to gaze in oblivion at the wonderful rock paintings. From the present days of photoshops, adobes and canvases, it was a quick jump to the age of rock paintings using natural colours. Conjuring up images of people in cave shelters living their nomadic life was the only way I could envisage those days. 'Those days' relate to many thousand years back with some records stating it as old as 30,000 BCE. The rock paintings are a major source of evidence to confirm the habitation of pre historic men in these caves for ages.
Located an hour away from Bhopal in the Vindhya hills, the rock shelters of Bhimbetka are spread over a few hills and inside Ratapani Wildlife sanctuary. A narrow road scrambles its way from the highway to the top of the hill, where numerous cave shelters open up the world of a bygone age. The place gets its name from Mahabharata, as it is believed that Bhima (One of the Pandava princes) took rest and sat here during their exile (Bhimbetka- The place where Bhima sat). It was in 1957-58 that Dr. V.S. Wakankar, an Indian archaeologist discovered these rock paintings during a visit to Ratapani wildlife sanctuary. More research and excavations in the region were held which led to more revelations of such paintings in the surroundings. The rock shelters of Bhimbetka were conferred UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003. Though there are more than 600 cave shelters here, only 15 of them are open for visitors.
The rock paintings in general depict the lives of humans during those ages, interaction with the land, encounters with animals, elephant rides, animal fights, and scenes of hunting, battles, dancing and music. This also reflects the interaction between humans and landscape, apart from the evolution of the humans as a hunting and gathering community.
The excavations have revealed that these rock shelters had human habituation from the Paleolithic age until medieval period. This is evident from the various drawings as the hunting and gathering depicts the Paleolithic and Mesolithic age, while battle scenes are from medieval period. The Paleolithic age drawings have linear representation. Researchers have also discerned the paintings as per Paleolithic age, Mesolithic age, Chalcolithic age, early history and medieval period.
The colours used are from vegetables, and due to the chemical reaction from the oxide on the rocks these paintings have endured over the years. Another probable reason for the paintings to have remained fairly intact is that they were made on inner walls or inside a niche. The colours in later periods were derived from local minerals such as hematite and lime. Plant extract such as gum, animal fats and water were used as a binding medium. Hairs, fingers and fibres must have been used as a brush to paint on the rocky surfaces. There are also paintings which have been drawn over existing paintings from earlier periods, superimposing the creations.
One of the prominent cave shelters is called the auditorium cave, since it looks like a auditorium and is also the largest shelter at this heritage site. Another popular cave is known as Zoo rock shelter due to the numerous figures of animals and humans that have been drawn on it. Shaped like a mushroom, Boar rock has a large red coloured painting of a wild boar chasing a human and is quite an attraction.
There is also a vantage point amidst these rock cave shelters which offer views of the Betwa river plains. A rock which looks similar to a tortoise is another attraction near this point.
- The entry charges are INR 100 per person.
- Photography is allowed, but try to avoid flash.
- Make sure not to touch the paintings. Let them endure a few thousand years more.
How to reach Bhimbetka:
Bhimbetka is 45 Kms away from Bhopal. Bhopal is well connected to other parts of the country by air, rail and roads. One can hire a taxi from Bhopal to reach Bhimbetka.
Food and Accommodation:
It is recommended to carry water and short eats as there are no restaurants or cafes near the site. Bhopal has numerous options to stay for all types of travellers.