Bhimbetka: An archeological extravaganza of rock arts from the paleolithic era!

Updated: February 13, 2021 1:56 PM

There are widespread evidences of the presence of earliest human ancestor in the form of paleolithic tools from across India, some of which date back to 160000 years ago (from Didwana in Rajasthan).

BhimbetkaThe rock art content in Bhimbetka is filled with various aspects of life from prehistoric times to later periods, through depictions of hunting scenes and religious symbols. (Images by Priyank Gupta)

By Monidipa Dey,

Bhimbetka rock caves: There are widespread evidences of the presence of earliest human ancestor in the form of paleolithic tools from across India, some of which date back to 160000 years ago (from Didwana in Rajasthan). However, most of these sites are secondary in nature, wherein it cannot be verified correctly as to where the tools were made and used. It is only on rare occasions that one comes upon a primary site, and Bhimbetka is unique because it is one such primary site.

Located in the rocky Vindhyan range in Madhya Pradesh the site is spread across seven low hills of Bineka, Bhonrawali, Bhimbetka, Lakha Juar (East and West), Muni Baba ki Pahari, and Jaora. The caves here hold rock paintings and various archaeological evidences that start from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic eras and continue unbroken until the medieval period. Since these rock caves were in constant use many paintings show superimposition on older ones. There are also later period inscriptions from 2nd c. BCE and 7th c. CE, and paintings from the medieval era.

The first person to mention these caves was a British official named W. Kincaid in 1888, who had heard of them from the local tribes. However, the caves were discovered much later in 1957 by Dr Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar, an archaeologist who found the rock formations from a distance appearing similar to those he had seen in France and Spain, and he went to explore the place out of curiosity. After the discovery he published many research papers on it, and soon many other archaeologists along with Wakankar led numerous archaeological excavations in the rock shelters and caves. The rock art especially was researched in great details by Yashodar Mathpal.

The rock art content in Bhimbetka is filled with various aspects of life from prehistoric times to later periods, through depictions of hunting scenes and religious symbols. These paintings depict various figures of humans and animals, scenarios of wars, hunting, folk dancing and music, family scenes and ritualistic ones (ritual dancers and bull riders), mother goddesses, nature, ornamental motifs, and various mythological depictions, such as an animal with the combined features of elephant, ox, and boar. Interestingly nine of the hunting scenes depict women as hunters. The battle scenes of a late period include warriors on horses and elephants, and soldiers are shown armed with bows and arrows, daggers, swords, shields, spears, and battle-axes. Dancers (men and women) are seen dancing together either in circles or rows, or arm in arm often along with drummers and other musicians. Religious scenes depict Ganesh and Shiva and religious symbols are prominently seen in form of tridents, swastikas, and the sacred bull.

There are many inscriptions in the Bhimbetka rock caves and shelters which are associated with the sadhus that have lived here from the early historic times, with the script ranging from Ashoka Brahmi lipi, to Gupta and post Gupta scripts, and the early Nagri script.

Even today many of the rock shelters at Bhimbetka serve as functional temple sites for devi Durga, and some of the caves with paintings are held in great reverence by the neighbouring villagers, including the Gond and Korku tribes, who visit these places on special occasions to perform their pujas.

How to visit Bhimbetka: Bhimbetka, which is an UNESCO heritage site, is around 70 km from Bhopal and takes around an hour or so in a car or a bike. The rock shelters are 5 km away from the road and the ticket counter; hence it is advisable to go in a vehicle. Best time for travel is during the winter season (October to February).

(The author is a well-known travel and heritage writer. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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