Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

Brief
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a recognized world heritage site by UNESCO, are in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau in the State of Madhya Pradesh. Bhimbetka is also known as Bhima's Lounge (Bhima was the second of the five Pandava princes in the Hindu epic Mahabharata). 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 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.

History & Nomenclature
Bhimbetka owes its name to the characters of the longest epic in the world, the Mahabharata. It is believed that when the five brothers, called Pandavas, were banished from their kingdom, they came here and stayed in these caves, the massive rocks seating the gigantic frame of Bhima, the second Pandava. Further evidence, cited in support of this theory, is the resemblance in names of the nearby places with the names of the Pandavas. Thus, one of the villages is known as Pandapur. While Bhiyapura itself is believed to be a distortion of Bhimpura. As regards the surrounding Lakhajuhar forest, it is said that it was the Pandava’s palace, built of lakh (was). However, the veracity of these claims still remains to be corroborated with concrete evidence.The paintings in the caves were categorized and belong to seven different periods: Upper Paleolithic: green and dark red, linear paintings of huge figures of animals such as bisons, bears, tigers, and rhinoceroses. Mesolithic: smaller, stylized figures with linear decoration on the body, hunting scenes showing weapons, dances, and musical instruments give an idea of Mesolithic life. Chaleolithic: these drawings reveal that the cave dwellers had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains. Early Historic: pictures of Yaksha, tree gods and magical sky chariots. Medieval: geometric, linear and more schematic but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style.

Discovery & Rockart
The caves of Bhimbetka were discovered in 1957-58 by one of the great accidents of history. An intrepid archaeologist from Vikram University, Ujjain, Dr. Vishnu Wakankar, strayed too far from the beaten path and found himself amidst this prehistoric treasure trove. In due course of time, the archaeological excavations yielded remains, serially from the Lower Palaeolithic Age to the Early medieval Ages. Bhimbetka is a natural art gallery and an archaeological treasure. For miles together, the footsteps of the prehistoric man can be easily discerned upon the sands of time, since the caves here house rock paintings, created by man from as early as about 15,000 years ago in vivid and panoramic detail. The rock paintings have numerous layers belonging to various epochs of time, ranging from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic Age to the protohistoric, early historic and medieval periods. The most ancient scenes here believed to be commonly belonging to the Mesolithic Age. These magnificent paintings can be seen even on the ceiling of the rock shelters located at daunting heights. The cover of the dense forest and vegetation protected these rocks painting from being lost to the vagaries of nature. Executed mainly in red and white, with the occasional use of green and yellow with themes taken from the everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, horse and elephant riders, animal fights, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masks and different type of animals etc. It depicts the detail of social life during the long period of time, when man used to frequent these rock shelters. Animals such as bison, tiger, rhinoceros, wild boar, elephants, monkeys, antelopes, lizards, peacocks etc. have been abundantly depicted in the rock shelters. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently. The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden charcoal. Perhaps, animal fat and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The rock art of Bhimbetka has been classified into various groups on the basis of the style and subject. The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods.