Art from PreHistoric Era – Bhimbetka Cave Paintings

About 45 km from Bhopal lies the most excellent pre-historical site ever- Bhimbetka ! Maybe the direct descendants of Adam and Eve have lived and decided to draw their lives on the walls of the rocks! Over thousands of years have passed, and these paintings still seem as fresh as ever, thus leaving us a rich heritage to admire. We can learn a lot about the lifestyle of these cavemen. 

That brings me to a little story about the Bhimbetka caves— 

Though the caves are famous for their rock paintings, they derive their name from Bheema, one of the five Pandava brothers who lived here during exile. Walking through these intricate caves throws light on the evolution of humanity over the years.

Bhimbhetka cave
Bhimbhetka cave entrance

Archaeological Periods

This might sound like history class but believe me I knew only Ice Age and Stone age till I was here. Apparently there is more to these eras than I thought. It is actually not historic but pre-historic.. Once the Ice age was done starts the stone age. The stone age itself has three different times. Paleolithic aka Old Stone Age, Mesolithic aka Middle stone age and then comes the Neolithic aka New stone age. As we move from Old to New age so does our evolution, culture, domestication, etc.

During the Paleolithic age, it was the end of ice age and the stone age begins. The world is warmer, there are caves to live and it is also said that this is when modern homo sapiens evolved. Meaning we started to be like humans. We are still hunting animals, eating raw food, living in small communities, following herds of game animals to hunt them, use simple weapons like bow arrow or stone and lived a nomadic lifestyle.
Then we move into Mesolithic where we advance into living a community lifestyle. We start to domesticate animals, rear cattle, goats, pig, etc. We are still hunting animals but domestication of animals has begun. There is significant improvement in the tools we use. Climate has become warmer. This is basically a transition into the Neolithic era.
Neolithic is when we try to settle down at a place and build shelters. Community living has grown. We have learnt to dress. We start agriculture and farming has also become a source of food for us. Raising goats and cattle and using them for ourselves has become routine. The tools used show that we are heading towards civilization, there are cups, plates, ladles and hunting tools have become defined and not crude. We have started making clothes too.
At Bhimbetka we see human settlements as far as from the paleolithic age. Evidences show that Bhimbetka caves served as shelters for more than 1lakh years. From paleolithic to even medieval period humans have stayed here.

Scenic view bhimbhetka
Scenic view

Bhimbetka Paintings

These cave paintings are made with natural colours. The paintings and their colour have survived the test of time and weather. 

The colours were obtained from limestones, iron ore, burnt bones, blood, vegetable juices mixed with animal fat or spit that helped the paint stick to the rocks. 

Over the years, subsequent generations have also drawn the figurines, layers over layers, thereby making the paintings thick. The paintings were made using fingers, feathers, hairs, and brushes made of horsehair, depending upon their era. 

Guess what?! The paintings from the Paleolithic are cave paintings, whereas the ones from Mesolithic are rock paintings! Wondering what the difference is? 

Well, during the Mesolithic age, the world was warmer, and the paintings dried quicker. So the paintings were drawn on the walls of the rock. Whereas, during the Palaeolithic age, the painting is seen inside the caves (to protect them). 

The other way to identify the paintings from the Mesolithic era is to represent humans in the form of stick figures. 

Now that we know about our ancestors let’s walk through the bhimbetka cave.

The first painting we see. A man on top of what looks like an elephant. The tool in his hand is crude and not so well defined.

Man on elephants

Rough painting of animals from Paleolithic era – Cattle, deer, peacock (the squares you see on right top)

paleolithic bhimbhetka
From the Paleolithic age

Cattle Breeding. Below is a row of not so clear set of paintings that can be noticed in red color. This shows super imposing of paintings from different eras.

bhimbhetka cattle breeding
Cattle Breeding

A very good representation of the Mesolithic era. The figurines are like stick figures. It is a war or battle or fight scene. It also shows community is more defined, we can see a chief sitting on top of decorated horse.

mesolithic bhimbhetka
War scene from Mesolithic

This one could be from Medieval era. Colors like yellow and green are used. Also check how the curves of the horse are beautifully drawn. It is more well defined.

colors bhimbhetka
Different Colors

Another area of the cave where we can see paintings from two different era.

From two eras

The old stone age, the painting has kind of worn out. The weapon on the hand of the man on horse is made of stone.

From the paleolithic era
From the paleolithic era

Hunting scene where men are trying to bringing down a Boar.

Bhimbhetka Boar
Bringing down a Boar

Community living – on top is a guy playing an instrument. In the middle are group of dancers and in the down again we can see people playing instrument.

Community living bhimbhetka
Community living

The caves are pretty isolated. It seemed as if having your vehicle is the only choice of reaching the place. 

The content of this blog is based on the information boards placed in the caves and from the guide whom we had hired. If there are more stories to add behind these paintings or any corrections, add them in the comment section. 

How to Reach Bhimbetka Rock shelters

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