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Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh, India   


In Aug 2005, I visited a remarkable site in Madhya Pradesh: the prehistoric rock shelters and paintings at Bhimbetka, discovered in 1957-58 by Dr. Vishnu S. Wakankar. Of the nearly 750 rock shelters, 500 or so are adorned with paintings; about 15 are open to the public, though few come due to the site's relative remoteness and lack of public transportation. It lies 45 km from Bhopal in the foothills of the Vindhya mountains, surrounded by forests of teak and sal that had grown lush green in the monsoon season.

Bhimbetka remained a center of human activity from the lower Paleolithic times-the oldest paintings are believed to be 12,000 years old (a disputed estimate); the more recent ones date from the first millennium BCE. One can plainly see that the same surface was often used by different peoples at different times. The paintings depict scenes from the everyday life of ancient hunter-gatherers: hunting, riding, communal dances, warfare, drinking, childbirth, religious rites, initiation ceremonies, burials, etc. Animals depicted include elephants, horses, bisons, deer, sambhars, peacock, snake, etc. The mineral colors used are green, red, ochre, and white and are still remarkably vibrant.

The artistic traditions of many local villagers (adivasis) bear strikingly affinities to these rock paintings (see my covertly clicked museum displays of adivasi art down this Bhopal page). UNESCO declared Bhimbetka a World Heritage Site in 2003.

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