The largest repository of prehistoric art in India (or possibly all of Asia) was lost to the world until 1957 when it was discovered accidentally by Dr V.S. Wakankar, the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters are an incredible site of ancient art!
The rock shelters were carved by the natural forces such as the wind and rain, formed out of hills and boulders in this forested region, about 30 miles from the capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal. There is evidence of people inhabiting these shelters and caves as far back the Lower Paleolithic period, more than 200,000 years ago.
There are about 760 rock shelters, out of which about 500 are painted with scenes that depict local birds and animals, mythological figures, and everyday scenes of people hunting, playing, and carrying weapons such as swords, spears, and bows-and-arrows.
An assorted set of colours like white, red, green and yellow have been used on the rock paintings. They date from between the Upper Paleolithic Period, about 30,000 years ago, through to the medieval era in India, about 1,000 years ago. The paintings in white are the oldest, while the ones in red are the newer paintings. The paintings have become more sophisticated over time. Elements such as religious figures, movement, and perspective can be seen in the later paintings as they change from linear to more advanced shapes.
One of the specialities of Bhimbetka Rock Shelters is “zoo rock”. A large rock face is covered with paintings of a variety of local animals, and in some cases, many have been superimposed on one another as the artists who created these paintings used the same rock face as their ancestors. The rock paintings age back to the Mesolithic Period to the Medieval.
The Bhimbetka Rock Shelters helps visitors understand the prehistoric past of mankind, and changing technology, clothing, culture, and lifestyle over a long period of time— from a nomadic to a settled agricultural lifestyle. They serve as a living document in expressive colours on a surface that is also changing due to wind and weather. The name “Bhimbetka” has been derived from the mythological script “Mahabharata”, the longest epic in the world. Bhim, who was one of the Pandava brothers, was said to have stayed in these caves after he and his brothers were banished from their kingdom. ‘Bhim Betka’ means ‘where Bhim sat’!