The Bhimbetka rock shelters compose an archaeological site and World Heritage Site located in Raisen District in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The Bhimbetka shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India; a number of analyses suggest that at least some of these shelters were inhabited by man for in excess of 100,000 years.Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 9,000 years old.
The name Bhimbetka comes from the mythological association of the place with Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.The word Bhimbetka is said to derive from Bhimbaithka, meaning sitting place of Bhima, a hero-deity renowned for his immense strength.
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetaka (or Bhim Baithaka) lie in Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh and is 45 km south of Bhopal at the southern edge of the Vindhyachal hills. South of these rock shelters are successive ranges of the Satpura hills. The entire area is covered by thick vegetation, has abundant natural resources in its perennial water supplies, natural shelters, rich forest flora and fauna, and bears a significant resemblance to similar rock art sites such as Kakadu National Park in Australia, the cave paintings of the Bushmen in Kalahari Desert, and the Upper Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.
Since then more than 700 such shelters have been identified, of which 243 are in the Bhimbetka group and 178 in the Lakha Juar group. Archeological studies revealed a continuous sequence of Stone Age cultures (from the late Acheulian to the late Mesolithic), as well as the world’s oldest stone walls and floors. The earliest paintings on the cave walls are believed to be of the Mesolithic period. A broad chronology of the finds has been done, but a detailed chronology is yet to be created.
The caves have evolved over time into excellent rock-shelters, ideal sites for aboriginal settlements. The smooth shape of the rocks has led some scientists to believe that the area was once under water. The rocks have taken on incredible shapes in several stunning hues and textures. Apart from the central place the aboriginal drawings have in human history, the caves themselves offer interesting material for a study of the earth’s history.
Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow with themes taken from the everyday events of aeons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders animal fighting, honey collection decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes. Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes dogs, lizards, crocodiles etc. have been abundantly depicted in some caves popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently