Every year, people from all over the world pour in huge numbers to visit the Bhimbetka Caves in Madhya Pradesh, India. Its immense and enriching historical significance makes the rock shelters important to Madhya Pradesh Tourism.
The greatest thing about the Bhimbetka caves is that it is both an archaeological site and an art gallery at the same time, attracting both history enthusiasts and beauty admirers.
The Bhimbetka Caves site was discovered long ago and has existed for even longer, having witnessed critical pre-historic and historical times. The paintings and the art present inside the caves also bear testimony to this fact.
The caves and the art have survived the challenges of time and stand quite intact even today.
So it is clear that there is history, there is beauty, and there are some interesting facts about Bhimbetka Caves!
Here are 11 things you need to know about Bhimbetka Caves
1. Location of the Bhimbetka rock shelters
Bhimbetka rock shelters or caves are located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, about 45Km southeast of the city of Bhopal. These caves are situated in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau.
The rock shelters sit inside the Ratapani wildlife sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh. Their area is covered by these caves spanning seven hills, namely Bhimbetka, Vinayaka, Bhonrawali, Lakha Juar East, Lakha Juar West, Jhondra, and Muni Babaki Pahari.
The naturally carved sandstone caves span over a large area of 10kms, and there are about 750 rock shelters, out of which Bhimbetka houses 243. However, only some of them are open to the public.
The Bhimbetka Rock Shelters in 1990 was declared as protected by the Indian Law and it fell under the management of the Archeological Survey of India.
2. Discovery of Bhimbetka Caves
The exciting thing about the Bhimbetka caves is that they were discovered accidentally by an archaeologist in 1957.
Dr. Vishnu Wakankar, an archaeologist, spotted these rock structures through his train window while traveling to Nagpur. He was quick to notice the similarities these structures had with those he had studied in Spain and France.
Curious, he took his team to that area and started investigating and discovering the historical significance of the Bhimbetka rock shelters.
3. History and significance of Bhimbetka Caves
The Bhimbetka caves have great historical significance, especially for the Indian subcontinent. They provide a rare glimpse into human history and settlement during the stone age, especially the paleolithic and mesolithic periods, also known as the old stone age and the middle stone age, respectively.
The history of the Bhimbetka Caves can be dated back to at least 100,000 years ago, and they are believed to be one of the oldest cave systems in India.
The site serves as one of the earliest traces of human settlement in India during pre-historic life and is one of the largest pre-historic complexes of India.
They also provide an insight into the cultural evolution of the early humans, especially in aspects of hunting and gathering and religious motifs.
Bhimbetka caves are also popularly considered India’s oldest art gallery, and the paintings on the rock are of great significance.
This archaeological site also discovered the 550 million Dickinsonian fossils of an extinct genus of basal animals.
4. Legend about the name Bhimbetka
Along with having historical significance, the Bhimbetka Caves also have mythological beliefs associated with them.
An interesting mythological belief is associated with the name of the place itself.
Bhimbetka, in local languages, means ‘Bhim’s lounge’ or ‘Bhim’s resting place’ as Bhimbetka, upon breakup up becomes ‘Bhim’ and ‘baithak,’ which means a seating place.
This led to the belief that during the time of the Mahabharat, Bhim, the second brother of the Pandavas, took shelter in these caves during their exile and thus became his resting place.
5. Bhimbetka Cave Paintings
The cave paintings at Bhimbetka date back to the Mesolithic periods, which was 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest paintings of India. These paintings are present in almost 500 of the 750 caves.
These rock paintings are also one of the oldest petroglyphs globally and thus show similarities to the aboriginal rock art paintings found in Savanna regions of Australia, along with the Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, France.
Themes such as the lifestyle and daily activities of the people are showcased through these rock paintings that cover the cave walls at Bhimbetka.
Events like birth, death, burials, animal fights, hunting scenes, and religious ceremonies are depicted in these paintings. Communal dances, musical instruments, birds, cave dwellers, and various other drawings are also present in the caves.
Along with human figures, you can also spot animals like rhinoceroses, tigers, bears, lizards, elephants, antelopes, in these rock paintings.
Religious beliefs of that time have also been represented in these paintings through drawings of tree gods, yakshas, and magical sky chariots.
Being India’s oldest known rock art, these rock cave paintings provide archaeologists and visitors with a rare glimpse of human life during the pre-historic times and help understand human evolution as the paintings also evolve with time.
The colors used in these paintings are surprisingly still intact, making one wonder what these colors were made of. It is believed that the colors used were natural vegetable dyes.
A combination of manganese, hematite, wooden coal, soft red stone, plant leaves, and animal fats was also used in these colors. Red, white, black, yellow, and green were the most used colors in these paintings.
6. UNESCO world heritage site
An archaeological world heritage site is believed to have immense historical or cultural significance.
Being one of the essential pre-historic discoveries in Asia due to having the earliest traces of human settlements of pre-historic times in India and housing the oldest paintings of the country.
The Bhimbetka rock shelters were declared as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003 for their significance in the history of Indian civilization.
7. What to do at Bhimbetka Rock Shelters?
Out of the hundreds of rock caves at Bhimbetka, you can only visit the 12-15 caves open to the public.
While exploring these caves, apart from admiring the cave paintings and trying to figure out how they are still visible and clear, there are many things at the Bhimbetka caves that you should have a look at.
You can either hire a professional guide for your tour of the caves, or you could use a map and other resources and do a self-guided tour.
Either way, here are a few certain things that you should do while at the historical place.
Take a tour of the auditorium cave –
The entire complex of Bhimbetka is amazing, but this one cave is the highlight of the site. The auditorium cave is the biggest rock shelter at Bhimbetka and is surrounded by quartzite towers. It is called the auditorium cave due to its shape.
The cave also seems to be very cathedral-like because of its huge size and the design of its arches.
At the entrance of the auditorium cave, there sits a huge boulder in the center, which archaeological literature has been dubbed as the ‘Chief’s Rock’ or ‘King’s Rock.’ This marks the central point of the Bhimbetka caves.
If you are willing to go on a short trek, there is a small hill with a temple at the top which you can visit.
Also, make sure to see the ‘turtle rock.’
Visit the zoo rock shelter –
The zoo rock shelter has paintings depicting 453 252 animals from 16 different species. These animals include elephants, deers, snakes, peacocks. Due to having a variety of drawings depicting animals, the rock shelter is called the ‘Zoo Rock Shelter.’
Apart from animal figures, 90 human figures are also there, and these drawings include hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, shields, scenes of humans fighting against animals.
The paintings at these rock shelters have been made using lime, vegetable colors, and iron.
8. When to visit Bhimbetka Caves?
If you are planning a visit to the Bhimbetka rock shelters, the best time to do so would be between October to March.
The winter weather during these months would be most suitable and comfortable for those traveling as the rough weather during summer can get extreme.
9. How to reach Bhimbetka Rock Shelters?
Bhimbetka is located slightly off the grid and at a distance from the state’s main cities; thus, reaching the Bhimbetka caves would require some effort on your part.
If you are traveling by air, the nearest airport to Bhimbetka would be Bhopal, from where you would probably have to take a cab or the bus to reach the location.
The same situation would arise if you are traveling by train as the Bhimbetka region does not have a railway station, and you would again have to get off at Bhopal itself and then travel by road.
Considering the popularity of the Bhimbetka rock shelters, regular buses travel from Bhopal to Bhimbetka, and finding a cab is also not difficult.
10. Where to stay?
One of the first thoughts that come to a person’s mind while making traveling plans is deciding upon a suitable location for their stay.
So, for those visiting Bhimbetka, the following are the popular places where you can reside during your trip.
- Madhuban Resort by Somaiya
- Narmade River View Resort and Restauarnt
- Naman Narmada
Keep in mind that these places are at least 15-20km away from the Bhimbetka caves, so make your itinerary accordingly.
11. Nearby Attractions
When traveling to Madhya Pradesh to visit Bhimbetka, it makes sense also to visit nearby places.
So, here are a few places you must visit before or after your excursion at the Bhimbetka caves.
Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary-
The Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary or the Ratapani Tiger Reserve (as of 2013) is a famous wildlife sanctuary located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh that attracts visitors worldwide.
The sanctuary has a beautiful landscape with hills, valleys, plains, and plateaus, along with water bodies located inside and adjacent to the sanctuary.
It is also one of the finest teak forests in Madhya Pradesh and is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna.
Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary is located at a short distance of 8kms from the Bhimbetka rock shelters making the trip very convenient.
Bhopal City –
The capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, is a historical town that houses plenty of monuments and sites from the Mughal era including mosques and palaces. The most famous of which are Moti Masjid and the Taj-Ul-Masjid.
The city is also best known for its twin man-made lakes and its happening markets.
Bhopal is about 45Kms away from the Bhimbetka Caves.
Bhojpur Temple –
The Bhojpur temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and inside the temple, there is a 7.5 feet lingam.
The site is famous for its architecture that reminds you of ancient times, and it has been designated as a Monument of National Importance by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The temple is located approximately 30 km from the Bhimbetka location.
Important things to note-
Most of these points have already been discussed, but it is necessary to keep them in mind when planning a trip to Bhimbetka Caves.
Location – Bhimbetka rock shelters, Bhojpur Raisen, Madhya Pradesh, India
Nearest airport – Bhopal
Timings – 7 am to 6 pm
Entry fee – Rs 25 for Indians, Rs 500 for foreigners
I hope that this article helped increase your knowledge about the Bhimbetka Caves!
I tried to cover everything related to the site, but feel free to add to it in case I missed something!
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