Bhimbetka rock art is considered oldest petroglyphs in the world, Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings and the earliest are about 10,000 years old (c. 8,000 BCE), corresponding to the Indian Mesolithic.These cave paintings show themes such as animals, early evidence of dance and hunting. The Bhimbetka site has the oldest-known rock art in India, as well as is one of the largest prehistoric complexes.
550 million years old Dickinsonia fossils of extinct genus of basal animal has been found at Bhimbetka.
Bhimbetka meaning "Bhim's resting place" or "Bhim's lounge", is compound word made of Bhim (second brother among the five pandavas of mahabharata) and Baithak (seat or lounge). According to the native belief, Bhima during his exile used to rest here to interact with the locals.
Archaeological Survey of India monument number N-MP-225
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka is 45 kilometres south-east of Bhopal and 9 km from Obedullaganj city in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh at the southern edge of the Vindhya Range. South of these rock shelters are successive ranges of the Satpura hills.
It is inside the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, embedded in sandstone rocks, in the foothills of the Vindhya Range. The site consists of seven hills: Vinayaka, Bhonrawali, Bhimbetka, Lakha Juar (east and west), Jhondra and Muni Babaki Pahari.Of the 750 rock shelters,just 12 to 15 are open to visitors.
Rock art and paintings
The rock shelters and caves of Bhimbetka have a large number of paintings. The oldest paintings are found to be 10,000 years old, but some of the geometric figures date to as recently as the medieval period. The colours used are vegetable colours which have endured through time because the drawings were generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods.
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 small in size the stylised 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.
Some scenes are interpreted as depicting tribal war between three tribes symbolised by their animal totems. 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) Similar to the paintings of the Mesolithic, 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 black manganese oxides, red hematite and charcoal.
One 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; in another, some horsemen are seen, along with archers. In one painting, a large wild bovine (possibly a gaur or bison) is seen.
The paintings are classified largely in two groups, one as depictions of hunters and food gatherers, and in others as fighters, riding on horses and elephant carrying metal weapons. The first group of paintings date to prehistoric times while second one dates to historic times. Most of the paintings from the historic period depict battles between 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 nicknamed "Nataraj" by archaeologist V. S. Wakankar.