Humiliated and banished from their own kingdom for 12 years, the Pandavas of the Hindu epic Mahabharata–Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva–spent these years living in forests. Legend has it that one of their resting places was Bhimbetka (Bhim Baithaka, the place where Bhima sat).
About 50 km from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh lies the legendary rock shelters named after Bhima. With waterfalls, hills and valleys around, nestled in lush green forests, Bhimbetka was unwittingly discovered by Indian archaeologist V S Wakankar in 1958.
In 2003, the caves were declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Home to the prehistoric man and the ground of the earliest stone age paintings, Bhimbetka caves brim with historical richness. The rock paintings of animals and man–hunting and gathering–date back to almost 30,000 years. From the upper palaeolithic, mesolithic, chalcolithic and early historic all the way to the medieval period, art created across seven periods have been identified in the caves. Superimposed paintings show that the same canvas was used by people from different periods. Add to it the excavated stone tools, and Bhimbetka becomes an archaeological treasure trove for the modern man.
At this natural art gallery, time stands still as one traces the steps of the prehistoric man. From simple stick figures to much complex artwork in later periods–the gradual progression of man is etched on these walls. Even though water logging has damaged some of the paintings, for years, dense forests have kept the rock art safe from nature’s wrath. Paintings depicting animals, weapons, human warfare, group dance and even scenes from community life are strewn across the walls of the caves. Considering the early man did not have paintbrushes and oil pastels, he produced impeccable work using handmade feather brushes, wooden sticks and porcupine quills. For colours, he used extracts from leaves, wooden charcoal, animal fat, vegetables and even stone. These caves are steady proof that man has always been an artist.
The road leading to Bhimbetka has its own charm as it twists and winds towards the rock shelters, running endlessly along the hills in the thick of the forest. Perched on the hills are giant rocks–often in shapes of animals–balancing themselves atop smaller ones, adding silently to the beauty of the sight to come.
With its mythological name, archaeological significance and natural beauty, Bhimbetka reflect the rich heritage, vibrant culture and bountiful nature of the Indian subcontinent.