Bhimbetka Caves and Rock Shelters are located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, approx. 45 km south of Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. Bhimbetka or Bhim Bhaitaka is believed to be named after one of the five Pandava Brothers (major characters to have fought the epic battle of Mahabharata against the Kauravas), Bhim, and literally translates to the sitting place of Bhim. It is an archaeological site which traces the earliest forms of human life in the Indian subcontinent dating back to the beginning of South Asian Stone Age. Evidences suggest that some part of the caves were inhabited by the Homo Erectus or the ‘upright men’ more than 100,000 years ago. Some of the many rock paintings in the shelters date back to more than 30,000 years ago. The Bhimbetka Caves and Rock Shelters were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
The surroundings of the rock shelters is covered in dense vegetation and forest due to their brilliant location at the southern edge of the Vindhya Hills. Additionally, to the south of the hills lies the Satpura Hills. The rock shelters are located within the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary which makes it all the more exciting to visit.
The earliest mention of Bhimbetka in the Indian Archaeological Records is from 1888 when the caves and shelters were considered as a Buddhist Site as reported by the locals of the region, however, it was in 1957 that V.S. Wakankar visited the area with a team of archaeologists and discovered the area, as a result of spotting the rock formations during his train journey to Bhopal and the vague similarities of the rock formation with those of France and Spain which he had seen earlier.
Since then, more than 750 such caves and shelters have been discovered of which 243 fall under the Bhimbetka group. Archaeological observations claim a serial sequence of Stone Age cultures, from the late Acheulian to the late Mesolithic, as well as the oldest stone walls and floors in the world.
The shape and built of the caves and shelters show obvious reasons for their use as shelter against heat and rain by the aboriginals. The rock paintings by the artists depict episodes from their daily lives such as cooking, hunting, drinking, and eating. There are also paintings of religious symbols and rituals, childbirth, animals, and even religious burials. The smooth surface of the caves have led some archaeologists to believe that the caves were submerged under water once upon a time. The paintings and drawings of Bhimbetka Rock Shelters have been skillfully classified into seven periods (as mentioned in Wikipedia). They are:
Period I – (Upper Paleolithic): These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bison, tigers, and rhinoceroses.
Period II – (Mesolithic): Comparatively smaller in size, the stylized figures in this group show linear decorations on the body. In addition to animals there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used: barbed spears, pointed sticks,bows and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mothers and children, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement.
Period III – (Chalcolithic) These drawings reveal that during this period the cave dwellers of this area were in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains, exchanging goods with them.
Period IV & V – (Early historic): The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots.
Period VI & VII – (Medieval) : These paintings are geometric linear and more schematic, but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style. The colors used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite and wooden coal.
One of the most notable things to observe is that even after all these years, the paintings and drawings on the rocks remain unspoiled. The reason for this is believed to be the natural sources of colors such as vegetable dyes, colored earth, and animal fat, however nothing has ever been proven.
Be sure to carry your smartphones and cameras as you do not want to miss some of the photography opportunity.
The nearest airport to the caves is Bhopal airport (approx. 46 km) which is well-connected to other major cities of India such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Indore.
The nearest rail head is Bhopal as well which is approx. 45 km from Bhimbetka.
You can also take a bus or a cab to Bhimbetka from Bhopal.