A world heritage site and an archaeological treasure, the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters is the place of human life’s genesis in the Indian subcontinent. The name Bhimbetka has a mythological connection with one of the characters of Mahabharata, Bhim. It is believed to have been derived from the word Bhimbaithaka which means the sitting place of Bhim. These shelters are situated in the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. In the archaeological records of India, Bhimbetka was first referred as a Buddhist site in the year 1888. It was Dr. Vishnu S. Wakankar who visited the area with his team in 1957 and discovered prehistoric rock shelters.
The caves here, have many rock paintings dating back right from the upper Paleolithic age to the medieval times. These paintings enlighten us about the various facets of everyday life of man who lived thousands of years ago in different ages. From the panoramic details about the prevalent social life to the depiction of the most common practices like honey collection, the rock art in these caves is a wonderful journey to the past. Since there is superimposition of paintings, it is believed that the same walls were coated again and again. Animals such as bison, tiger, boar, antelope and elephant are some of the foremost features in the paintings. Archaeologists opine that the cave dwellers used vegetable dyes and colored earth as paint and used brushes made from plant fibers. The paintings serve as an evidence to trace the development of man from age to age.
These artworks are sorted into five different ages, each depicting diverse scenes. It all commenced in the Upper Paleolithic age with linear illustrations of huge animal figures colored in red and green. In the Mesolithic age, the figures became comparatively small. It was the age when humans started featuring in the paintings. Hunting scenes were drawn, giving us a clear idea of the weapons used at the time. The Chalcolithic age witnessed sketches of group dances, childbirth, burials and drinking. It revealed the cavemen’s association and mutual exchange with nature and agricultural communities. The style of painting completely transformed in the Early Historic period. Religious symbols and tree Gods painted in red, yellow and white appeared. Man’s interaction with the adjacent cultures also became evident. The Medieval times show deterioration of their artistic style. The paintings of Ganesha and other Brahmanical Gods made their first appearance in the caves. The paintings provide us an idea of the yesteryears and present the continuity in the ways man survived and evolved.
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters are a route to the past and its distinctiveness. Along with the art it houses, there are also remains of the walls of the citadel, inscriptions and mini stupas. The unearthing of numerous tools during its excavations also suggests that the rock shelters served as the habitation areas for man since the very beginning.
On the whole, the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters can be depicted as an indispensable part of human history, giving an insight into the lifestyle of prehistoric man and his evolution into the present.