Madhya Pradesh Caves

Bhimbetka rock shelter

The Bhimbetka rock shelter  is an archaeological site in central India spanning the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods as well as the historical period. It exhibits early traces of human life in India and evidence of the Stone Age of the Acheulean period.

  It is located 45 kilometers (28 mi) south-east of Bhopal in the Raisen district of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of seven hills and more than 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 km (6.2 mi).

  At least some shelters were inhabited as early as 100,000 years ago. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, rock shelters and caves provide “rare glimpses” of human settlement and evidence of a cultural evolution of hunting, agriculture, and expressions of prehistoric spirituality. 

Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters contain prehistoric cave paintings, and the oldest are about 10,000 years old (8,000 BCE), belonging to the Indian Mesolithic. 

 These cave paintings show themes such as animals, Paleolithic dance and early evidence of hunting, as well as later (probably Bronze Age) horse warriors. ). The Bhimbetka site contains the oldest-known rock art in India, as well as one of the largest prehistoric complexes. 

Bhimbetka rock art is considered to be the world’s oldest petroglyphs, some of which are similar to Aboriginal rock art in Australia and Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France. Only 12 to 15 of the 750 rock shelters are open to visitors. 

The Bhimbetka shelters also contain fossils from the Precambrian, hundreds of millions of years before the human era, including the enigmatic basal animal Dickinsonia. 


The rock shelter of Bhimbetka is 45 km south-east of Bhopal and 9 km from Obedullaganj town in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, south of the Vindhya Range.

 To the south of these rock shelters are the successive ranges of the Satpura Hills. It  lies within the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary  , embedded in sandstone cliffs at the foothills of the Vindhya Range. The place consists of seven hills: Vinayak, Bhonravali, Bhimbetka, Lakha Juar (East and West), Zondra and Muni Babaki Pahari. 



Bhimbetaka means  “resting place of Bhima”  or  “resting place of Bhima”, a compound word made up of Bhima  (the second brother of the five Pandavas in the Mahabharata) and  Bhikta  (seat or resting place). According to local belief, Bhima used to rest here during his exile to interact with the locals. 


Bhimbetka place

One of about 750 rock shelter caves at Bhimbetka.

W. Bhimbetka was first mentioned in a scholarly paper in 1888 by Kincaid, a British India-era official. He trusted information gathered from local adivasis (tribals) about Bhojpur Lake in the area and mentioned Bhimbetka as a Buddhist site. 

 The first archaeologist to visit some of the caves at the site and discover their prehistoric significance was V.S. It was Wakankar, who saw the formation of these rocks and thought they were similar to those seen in Spain and France. He visited the area with a team of archaeologists and reported several prehistoric rock shelters in 1957. 

It was only in the 1970s that the scale and true significance of the Bhimbetka rock shelters was discovered. Since then, more than 750 rock shelters have been identified. Bhimbetka group has 243 of these, while Lakha Juar group has around 178 shelters. 

According to the Archaeological Survey of India, evidence suggests that these caves were inhabited continuously from the Stone Age to the late Acheulean to the late Mesolithic, up to the 2nd century AD. It is based on site excavations, artefacts and objects found, pigments from deposits, as well as rock paintings. 

The site has the oldest stone walls and floors in the world. 

Barkheda is known as the source of the raw material used in some of the monoliths found at Bhimbetka. 

Covering an area of ​​1,892 hectares, the site was declared protected under Indian law and came under the management of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1990. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003. 

dickinsonia fossil 

See also: 

Fossil Sites in India

The Dickinsonia fossil found at Bhimbetka, the first discovery of a  Late Late (c. 635–541 mya) fossil  Dickinsonia in India, is similar to Dickinsonia tenuis from the Ediacara Member of the Ediacara Hills of South Australia.

 Sandstones of the Bhander Group of the Vindhyan Supergroup contain fossils mixed with sand deposits (eolian processes, tsunami deposits (tsunamite), and intertidal facies (rock deposits in the intertidal zone). Research findings support this conclusion.

550 Ma, but does not support true polar wandering (movement of the Earth’s magnetic poles relative to the Earth’s axis of rotation) because Cloudina lived in a tropical to subtropical climate, while Dickinsonia lived in a temperate to subtropical climate. 

auditorium cavity 

Bhimbetka Quartzite Towers

Among the numerous shelters, Auditorium Cave is one of the notable features of this site. Surrounded by quartzite towers visible from several kilometers away, Auditorium Khadak is the largest shelter in Bhimbetka. Robert G.

Bednarik described the prehistoric auditorium cave as having a “cathedral-like” atmosphere, “with its Gothic arches and lofty spaces”.

 Its plan resembles a “right-angled cross” with four branches aligned to the four cardinal directions. The main entrance points to the east. At the end of this eastern passage, at the entrance to the cave, is a boulder with a near-vertical panel that is distinctive, one visible from a distance and in all directions.

 In the archaeological literature, this stone has been referred to as the “Chief’s Rock” or “King’s Rock”, although there is no evidence of any ritual or role.  

A rock wall with an auditorium cave is the central feature of Bhimbetka, among the 754 shelters spread over several kilometers on either side, and nearly 500 sites where rock paintings are found, Bednarik says. 

Rock art and paintings 

The rock shelters and caves of Bhimbetka contain a large number of paintings. The oldest paintings have been found to be 10,000 years old, but some geometric figures date back to the medieval period. The colors used are vegetable colors which have survived over time as the drawings were generally made deep into niches or interior walls. Drawings and paintings can be classified into seven different periods.

Period I  – ( Upper Paleolithic ): These are linear representations of humans dancing and hunting in green. 

Period II  – (Mesolithic): Stylized figures of this group of relatively small size show linear decoration on the body. Besides the animals there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used: barbed spears, pointed clubs, bows and arrows.

  Some scenes are interpreted as depicting tribal warfare between three tribes symbolized by their animal totems. Depictions 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 show that during this period the cave dwellers of the region were in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and exchanged goods with them.

Periods IV and V  – (Early Historic): The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style and are mainly painted in red, white and yellow. Association riders, depictions of religious symbols, tunic-like clothing and scripts from different eras exist. Religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, ​​tree deities and magical sky chariots. 

Periods VI and VII  – (Middle Ages): These paintings are geometrically linear and more schematic, but show decadence and vulgarity in their artistic style. The colors used by the cave dwellers were made by combining black manganese oxide, red hematite and charcoal.

One rock, referred to as “Zoo Rock”, depicts elephants, barasing (swamp deer), bison and deer. Another rock painting shows peacocks, snakes, deer and the sun. On another rock are two elephants with tusks. Scenes of hunters with bows, arrows, swords and shields also find their place in this community of prehistoric paintings. 

In one cave, a bison is shown chasing prey while its two companions stand helplessly nearby; In another, some horsemen with archers are seen. In one painting, a large wild bovine (possibly a gaur or bison) is seen. 

The paintings are mainly classified into two groups, one depicting hunters and food gatherers and others depicting warriors, riding horses and elephants carrying metal weapons.

 The first group of paintings is from the prehistoric period while the second group is from the historical period. Most paintings from the historical period depict battles between rulers with swords, spears, bows and arrows. 

In a deserted rock shelter, a picture of a dancing man holding a trident-like stick was discovered by archaeologist V.S. Wakankar has given the nickname “Nataraj”. It is estimated that at least 100 rock shelter paintings may have been destroyed. 

Madhya Pradesh Caves

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