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TBI Travel: A Journey To The Hidden Shelters Of The Stone Age

History is always fascinating, and to discover that which has been hidden for a long time adds to the uniqueness of a place. Bhimbetka is sign of existence of people in the stone age, and some of the shelters show signs of being inhabited nearly 100,000 years ago! It is believed that the Pandavas from the Mahabharata also stayed here. Visit Bhimbetka to go back to the past and learn all about the lifestyle and culture of ancient times.

There are many wonders of the ancient times which are right under our nose, but we aren’t even aware of them. Do you know where we find the earliest traces of human life in India?

Entrance of Bhimbetka by Tanuj Deshmukh / Wikimedia Commons

Bhimbetka rock shelters, located in Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, exhibit traces of the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age. It is believed that the interesting name Bhimbetka has been derived from the deity Bhima of Mahabharata, and is literally translated as “the sitting place of Bhima”. It is also believed that when Pandavas, the five brothers from the epic Mahabharata were banished from their kingdom, they came here and stayed in these caves.

Bhimbetka first finds mention in 1888 as a Buddhist site, as per information obtained from local adivasis (tribals). Located 45 kms from Bhopal, the southern edge of the rock shelters are the successive ranges of the Satpura hills and the entire region is covered with thick vegetation, with an abundance of natural resources.

Bhimbetka rock painting showing man riding on a horse. (Picture Source: LRBurdak/ Wikimedia Commons)

The site, over 10 km in length and about 3 km in width, has more than 700 rock shelters, of which over 400 have paintings. The region has a prominent resemblance with Kakadu National Park in Australia which has similar rock sites. The paintings in these shelters are also strikingly similar to the Upper Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.

The shelters were first identified back in 1957 when V.S. Wakankar saw some rock formations while travelling to Bhopal. He later visited the place with his team and discovered a series of such ancient rock shelters in the area.

Rock tortoise – a view just outside the rock shelters. (Picture Source: Tanuj Deshmujh / Wikimedia Commons)

After this, 750 more such shelters were discovered which revealed a continuous trail of stone age culture and oldest stone walls and doors.

The uniqueness of these shelters is the colored paintings which are considered to be as old as 30,000 years and are classified under seven periods. Vegetable colours were used to paint them which have endured through time. The colours used are mostly red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow.

Did You Know?

The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. These colours have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction resulting from the oxide present on the surface of the rocks.

A painting of flowers and a horse. (Picture Source: Bernard Gagnon/ Wikimedia Commons)

The paintings depict various patterns like hunters, deer, tiger, cattle, stylized peacocks, etc. They demonstrate the relationship between people and landscapes. They also show that hunting was an important part of their lifestyle. A huge number of stone tools found in this area depict how man evolved and started using weapons to hunt and find food.  The cultures and traditions of the nearby villages have a striking resemblance to those shown in the paintings. These shelters were declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.

Apart from the shelters, Bhimbetka has many other remains from ancient times. Walls of a ruined citadel, mini stupas and rock cut beds indicate a Buddhist influence in the Maurya/Sunga periods of this area. There are various inscriptions, which date back to the Sunga, Kushan and Gupta periods.

Photo Courtesy: "Rock Shelter 8, Bhimbetka 02" by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Courtesy: “Rock Shelter 8, Bhimbetka 02” by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Bhimbetka is not just stone shelters but a journey that will take you on a trip into ancient time. From their lifestyles to their lives, there are many hidden and fascinating stories to be discovered in these caves. Visit the place to experience prehistoric life for yourself.

How to reach there?

Bhimbetka is not very well connected with trains or public transport. The nearest railway station is Bhopal which is around 40 Kms from Bhimbetka. You can book a personal cab from there. The nearest airport is the Bhopal Airport.

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