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Bhimbethka: The story of the primitive man

Inscribed as the world heritage site by UNESCO (2003), the rock-shelters of Bhimbetka are located about 45km northeast of Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh. The fringes of the ancient Vindhyachal range have been home to the primitive men who left their marks in extraordinary rock shelter as paintings. Its magnificent rocks are fortifying the ancient treasure within.

“Whether it was a mere creative expression of the prehistoric man or it had some other purpose: it is still debated,” said the Superintending Archaeologist Dr Bhuvan Vikrama, while explaining the idea behind the prehistoric art.

According to famous folklore, Bhimbetka owes its name to the longest epic in the world, the Mahabharata when the five brothers called Pandavas, were banished from their kingdom. They came and stayed in these caves, the massive rocks were used as a seat by the gigantic Bhima, the second Pandava.

These rock paintings are one of the earliest records of art in India and sources of the prehistoric life of different human occupations right from Mesolithic (C.8000-2500B.C.), Chalcolithic(C. 2500-500B.C.) to the historic period (500 B.C. onwards). Some of the paintings are made at considerable heights and inconvenient places.

"The paintings were made in different colors signifying different periods in which they were made. Most of the paintings were in red and white specifying them to be made earlier, than those of the ones made with lush green and yellowish colours, " said Krishna Kumar, the guide at Bhimbetka.

These colours were obtained from crushing the locally available stone nodules of different shades, which were further mixed with water or other substances like glue as binders before application.

The art found in the rock shelters is Mesolithic art which is characterized by its closeness to nature, the dominance of wild animal figures and hunting scenes representing a hunter-gathering way of life. Historians rely upon the superimposition of paintings in order to establish their relative chronology. Further, the style of painting and its subject matter becomes the basis for their cultural connection.

"The primitive artist, at times, took advantages of the natural features of the rock surface into the depiction as one can see the falling animals from the cliff which shows the imaginative creativity of the artist," said Dr Narayan Vyas, an expert on Bhimbetka.

Animals like deer, bison, tigers, wild boar, elephants, monkeys, antelope, lizards, peacocks, rhinoceros etc, have been abundantly depicted in the rock shelters including some composite animals.

But Bhimbetka is not the only rock shelter in this area, Bineka, Bhonrawali, Lakhajuar east and west are the other areas discovered by Dr V S Wakankar in 1957-58. He conducted archaeological excavations at Bhimbetka bringing to light remains from the lower palaeolithic age to the early medieval period.

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