THE ROCK ART SITE OF BHIMBETKA
One of the shelters in the main
complex open to the public
The Bhimbetka rock art sites that we saw next, about 45 kilometres south-east of Bhopal, have become famous: they are the ones that are always mentioned whenever Indian rock art is alluded to. They were discovered and revealed to the world by V.-S. Wakankar from 1957 onwards. Bhimbetka, set in the Vindhyan range of central India, is about ten kilometres by two. On seven hills more than 500 painted sandstone shelters are known in an environment of forests, nowadays threatened by population increase and pressure. Some of the painted sites are very minor, with a few images only whereas there will be hundreds in others. They were put on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 2003. Fifteen or so of the most spectacular ones, in an environment of convoluted cliffs on the top of a hill with a large vista, are open to the public. They have been skilfully fitted up with unobtrusive but efficient passageways and protections, so that visitors can view the paintings at leisure but are kept sufficiently away not to cause any damage. Guards provide information whenever necessary and see to it that the regulations are not broken.
Painted shelter on the top of a hill
Visitors in one of the painted shelters
Excavations carried out at Bhimbetka have revealed occupational deposits ranging from the Acheulian to Historical times. As to the art, the three main periods recognized by most Indian researchers (Mesolithic roughly 12,000 to 5,000 BP, Chalcolithic (rougly 5,000 to 2,500 BP) and Historical, from 2,500 BP onwards) are present on the shelter walls. The first impressions one has of the art have been graphically described:
"If one visits a painted shelter, one is confronted with two types of drawings - one very clear, bright and fresh looking, while the others, underlying them are faded, fragmented and hardly visible. The fresh ones feature mainly bands of marching and fighting soldiers, cavaliers being chased and aimed at by masked hunters equipped with bows and arrows and barbed spears. In between these two types of figures sometimes we find a third category … These are of long-horned cattle, other domesticated animals and men engaged in activities which can be associated with a primary stage of civilization - the beginning of sedentary life
" (Mathpal 1998: 10).
Dual of red warriors with swords
shields and daggers
Scene of red archers superimposed
on white figures
Sketchy white warriors riding on horses
Fantastic animal seeming to chasing a man