The Mystery of the World Famous Bhimbetka Paintings

Author : Odisha Today Bureau | Posted on: 2019-01-15

The Bhimbetka rock shelters in the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary have more than six hundred pre-historic rock caves. It is located in the Raisen District in Madhya Pradesh about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of Bhopal. It is a UNESCO world heritage site that consists of seven hills and over 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi). At least some of the shelters were inhabited more than 100,000 years ago. The rock shelters and caves provide evidence of, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a "rare glimpse" into human settlement and cultural evolution from hunter-gatherers, to agriculture, and many expressions of spirituality as well.


Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings and the earliest are about 30,000 years old. These cave paintings show themes such as animals, early evidence of dance and hunting. The Bhimbetka site has the oldest known rock art in the Indian subcontinent, as well as is one of the largest prehistoric complexes.


In 1957, a daring archaeologist, V.S. Wakarkar discovered the Bhimbetka caves. The walls of around 350 caves had such paintings on them. These painting were thousands of years old. Painting on the walls of caves? But why? All the researchers give various justifications. But lot of them believe that our ancestors communicated with each other through these paintings and drawings. Here are the paintings from the Palaeolithic period to the medieval period. These paintings depict wild animals and pictures of people hunting them. The ones who drew these pictures painted their lifestyles, some of their daily routines, various festivals celebrated, various faces of the agricultural life and a lot of things related to their society, economy, rituals and culture. The animals that were part and parcel of their life have also got presence in the paintings like elephant, sambar and deer.


One particular rock, popularly referred to as “Zoo Rock”, depicts elephants, barasingha (swamp deer), bison and deer. Paintings on another rock show a peacock, a snake, a deer and the sun. On another rock, two elephants with tusks are painted. Hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, swords and shields also find their place in the community of these pre-historic paintings. In one of the caves, a bison is shown in pursuit of a hunter while his two companions appear to stand helplessly nearby; yet in another, some horsemen are seen, along with archers. In one painting, a large wild boar is seen.


The paintings are classified largely in two groups, one as depiction of hunters and food gatherers, while other one as fighters, riding on horses and elephant carrying metal weapons. the first group of paintings dates to prehistoric times while second one dates to historic times. Most of the paintings from historic period depict battles between the rulers carrying swords, spears, bows and arrows.


In one of the desolate rock shelters, the painting of a man holding a trident-like staff and dancing has been named "Nataraj" by archaeologist V. S. Wakanka. It is estimated that paintings in at least 100 rockshelters might have been eroded away.


But what are these paintings made up of and what kind of brushes were used that the paintings remained intact even after millennia? As of now it is historically believed that, the Palaeolithic Age was an era when people started making weapons by using stones. This era lasted from about twenty six lakh years ago.  And by the end of this era human beings had started to use advance stone tools. Agriculture had already started during this period. They might have mixed the powered colours with oil that was extracted from animal skin or trees. There is a reason for the colours to remain intact for so many years. And brushes were never used for painting. They used thorns of porcupine’s stems and nails from the fingers.



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Monika Sharma
Unique type of painting... I liked it.
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