Bhimbetka with over 700 rock shelters set in its environment known for its largest rock paintings complex in the country. Archaeological evidence at Bhimbetka show continuous sequence of cultures from Palaeolithic to the Historical periods. Paintings in over 400 caves and rock shelters depict the life of communities from the Mesolithic to the Mediaeval times.
Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, with themes taken from everyday events, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes. Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards, crocodiles, etc. have been depicted in some caves. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently.
Over the hill of Bhimbetka stands a series of craggy sandstone formations in the form of tall and massive rock shelters situated amidst the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. These are the painted rock-shelters, the largest repository of prehistoric art in India, and the only prehistoric site in the country to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. There are over 700 rock shelters in the region. Of these, more than 400 caves and rock shelters with paintings, distributed over five hills, have been protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Huge, imposing rocks in various natural shapes add to the scenic beauty and splendour of the area.
The rock paintings of Bhimbetka are among the earliest manifestations of human creative expression recorded in India, They are also a very important historical source regarding life and human occupations since Mesolithic times. The paintings are found on the walls, ceilings and small hollows or niches of the naturally formed rock shelters. Most of the paintings are in red or white, Superimposition of paintings over time is noticed in many of the shelters, which is a boon for the archaeologist as an aid to arranging the paintings in a relative chronology on the basis of their style and subject matter. Besides the rich treasure of rock paintings, the excavations carried out at Bhimbetka have yielded evidence of continuous human occupation from Lower Palaeolithic till Medieval times.
The Archaeological Survey of India is proud to be the custodian of these splendid artistic creations and to preserve them for future generations. The magic of Bhimbetka is timeless. I hope this guide book will help the visitors to appreciate the beauty and significance of this World Heritage Site.
A rare Primary prehistoric site, and one of the most ancient, Bhimbetka is a microcosm; a ‘living site’ set in its natural environment, as yet in its pristine state.
Bhimbetka’s uniqueness lies not only in the concentration of its antiquity and art and the wealth that it conceals, but that it has not remained frozen in time and space. Elements of this continuity are manifest in the creative expressions that show affinity to great Bhimbetka and the surrounding region.
Bhimbetka’s uniqueness lies not only in the concentration of its antiquity and art, and the wealth that it conceals, but that it has not remained frozen in time and space. Elements of this continuity are manifest in the creative expressions that show affinity to great antiquity in the traditional lifestyles of the adivasis of the area integral to Bhimbetka and the surrounding region.
The painted rock shelters at Bhimbetka were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2003.
Two of the criterion for selection were:
(a) Bhimbetka reflects a long interaction between people and the landscape, as demonstrated in the quantity and quality of its rock art.
(b) Bhimbetka is closely associated with a hunting and gathering economy as demonstrated in the rock art and in the relics of this tradition in the local adivasi villages on the periphery of this site.
(c) More than a dozen rock shelters on Bhimbetka Hill can be approached by the visitors where pathways have been constructed for easy access. Some of these shelters are guarded with railings to protect them from vandalism, but close enough to get a good view of the paintings. There is no regular pathway that leads to the other painted rock shelters on Bhimbetka and other hills. However, one has to explore the area to find these painted rock shelters.
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