Bhimbetka caves of Madhya Pradesh, located 46 km south of Bhopal, is a valuable repository that acts like a sentinel to the prehistoric art and architecture of India. Infact, these caves claim a distinction as the largest treasure house of prehistoric art in the country. Dr V. S. Wakankar, one of the most renowned of Indian archeologists, discovered these caves. It was by a fluke of luck that he noticed these caves dotting distant hills, while on his way to Nagpur, in 1958. The word 'Bhimbetka', derived from 'Bhim Baitka', has mythological connotation. These caves are named after 'Bhima', one of the five Pandavas of Mahabharata.
The discovery of Bhimbetka caves has indeed opened the floodgate of the
immense popularity of the region of Bhimbetka. The entire region peppers
with caves, more than 600 in number. Shaded in a thicket of teak and
sal, amidst rock-strewn cliffs, they find enlistment as a World Heritage
Site by UNESCO. Some of these caves also preserve paintings that
traverse various eras. There are enchanting rock paintings that dates
back to the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods adorning these
Infact, these cave paintings are the prime attractions of Bhimbetka and
show striking similarity to the aboriginal rock paintings of the Savanna
regions of Australia, the paintings done by pygmies of the Kalahari
Desert and the Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings of France. Since these
caves actually formed dwellings for primitive people belonging to
various ages, the paintings here demonstrate their lifestyle and mundane
everyday activities. Inventive designs & deft handling of colors
have brought to life the remote activities of our ancestors.
Various community activities, like birth, burial, dancing, religious
rites, hunting scenes, animal fighting and merrymaking, find a place in
these paintings. Pictures of animals like rhinoceros, tigers, wild
buffalo, bears, antelopes, boars, lions, elephants, lizards etc also
find intense depiction. It is quite a marvel that the colors of the
paintings at Bhimbetka have skillfully avoided the vagaries of time.
Natural red and white pigments are common colors used in these
paintings. Often green and yellow are also used.
The colors are a combination of manganese, hematite, wooden coal, soft
red stone, plant leaves and animal fats. These chemicals have, over the
time, reacted with the rocks and contributed in preserving these
precious artworks of Bhimbetka. Scrupulous observation shows differences
in patterns, which are archetypal of various periods. Huge linear
figures of animals are the trademark of Paleolithic paintings. With the
passage of time, paintings became smaller, precise and more delicate.
Slowly, religious images were interspersed, which delineates the change
in psychological make-up of the people. The oldest of all the paintings
dates back to around 12,000 yrs back, while the most recent is around
1000 yrs old. Out of the many caves in Bhimbetka, only 12 caves are open
for visitors. These caves are like the colorful shards of a broken
mirror that unite to provide a rich glimpse to the lives of our
predecessors. If you plan a trip to Madhya Pradesh, Bhimbetka Caves
definitely merits a visit.