The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau. Within massive sandstone outcrops, above comparatively dense forest, are five clusters of natural rock shelters, displaying paintings that appear to date from the Mesolithic Period right through to the historical period. The cultural traditions of the inhabitants of the twenty-one villages adjacent to the site bear a strong resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings.
As reported in the UNESCO citation declaring the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka a World Heritage Site, Bhimbetka was first mentioned in Indian archaeological records in 1888 as a Buddhist site, based on information gathered from local adivasis. Later V. S. Wakankar, while travelling by train to Bhopal, saw some rock formations similar to those he had seen in Spain and France. He visited the area with a team of archaeologists and discovered several prehistoric rock shelters in 1957.
Since then more than 750 such shelters have been identified, of which 243 are in the Bhimbetka group and 178 in the Lakha Juar group. Archaeological studies revealed a continuous sequence of Stone Age cultures (from the late Acheulian to the late Mesolithic), as well as the world’s oldest stone walls and floors.
Barkheda has been identified as the source of the raw materials used in some of the monoliths discovered at Bhimbetka.
Rock Art and Paintings
The rock shelters and caves of Bhimbetka have a large number of paintings. The oldest paintings are considered to be 30,000 years old, but some of the geometric figures date to as recently as the medieval period. The colors used are vegetable colors which have endured through time because the drawings were generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods.
One rock, popularly referred to as “Zoo Rock”, depicts elephants, Barasingha, bison and deer. Paintings on another rock show a peacock, a snake, a deer and the sun. On another rock, two elephants with tusks are painted. Hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, swords and shields also find their place in the community of these pre-historic paintings. In one of the caves, a bison is shown in pursuit of a hunter while his two companions appear to stand helplessly nearby; in another, some horsemen are seen, along with archers.