Bhimbetka is a natural art gallery and an archaeological treasure. For miles together, the footsteps of the prehistoric man can be easily discerned upon the sands of time, since the caves here house rock paintings, created by man from as early as about 15,000 years ago in vivid and panoramic detail.
The rock paintings have numerous layers belonging to various epochs of time, ranging from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic Age to the protohistoric, early historic and medieval periods. The most ancient scenes here believed to be commonly belonging to the Mesolithic Age. These magnificent paintings can be seen even on the ceiling of the rock shelters located at daunting heights.
The cover of the dense forest and vegetation protected these rocks painting from being lost to the vagaries of nature. Executed mainly in red and white, with the occasional use of green and yellow with themes taken from the everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, horse and elephant riders, animal fights, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masks and different type of animals etc. It depicts the detail of social life during the long period of time, when man used to frequent these rock shelters.
Animals such as bison, tiger, rhinoceros, wild boar, elephants, monkeys, antelopes, lizards, peacocks etc. have been abundantly depicted in the rock shelters. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently. The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden charcoal. Perhaps, animal fat and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture.
The rock art of Bhimbetka has been classified into various groups on the basis of the style and subject. The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods.
Bhimbetka is about 50 km from the city of Bhopal. It is a group of caves on a picturesque rocky hill.
Each cave is an art gallery of beautiful rock paintings. Some of the paintings belong to a period earlier than five thousand years
and may be as old as 10,000 years. But the changing style of paintings from that of simple line drawings in single colour to use of
different colours, depiction of human figures on horsebacks carrying swords and shields, horses and elephants indicate that the
rock art at Bhimbetka evolved over several millennium. The paintings at Bhimbetka depict animals, hunting and magical scenes
and scenes from everyday life. In some pictures the impact of motion has been strikingly created. There are pictures showing running
herd of animals and warriors attacking each other.
Period I (Upper Palaeolithic) :- These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals, such as bisons and boar beside stick like human figures.
Period II (Mesolithic) :- Comparatively smaller in size, the stylised figures in this group show linear decoration on the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes giving a clear picture of the weapons used in those times. These included barbed spears, pointed sticks, bows and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animal, drinking etc, are seen in this rock shelter range.
Period III (Chalcolithic):- Similar to the paintings of Chalcolithic pottery, these drawings reveal the association, contact, and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains.
Period IV (Early Historic):- The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style and are painted mainly in red, white and rarely green depicting riders, religious symbols, tunic-like dresses, and the scripts of different periods.
Period V (Medieval):- These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic but show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style. Now paintings of Brahmanical gods like Ganesh and Natraja appear for the first time in these rock shelters.