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UNESCO World Heritage Rock Art Site of Bhimbetka

Friday August 2016
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Bhimbetka, located in the very middle of India in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, is the best-known rock art area in the sub-continent; it was placed on UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2003. 

Rock art of Bhimbetka

Mythical animal, enhanced by DStretch. Image: Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak

The Bhimbetka core area extends over almost 2000 hectares, incorporating five hills known collectively as the Vindhyan Hills - Vinayka, Bhonrawali, Bhimbetka, Lakhajuar and Lakhajuar. Only the Bhimbetka hill is easily accessible, and less than twenty painted shelters are opened daily to the public.

Hunting or battle scene from Bhimbetka. Image: Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak

Despite their obvious importance, the Bhimbetka rock art sites did not attract scientific attention before 1957. Dr Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar, their discoverer, used to say that when travelling along the hills on a train, he noticed the spectacular sandstone rock formations along the ridge. He became fascinated by them and by their surrounding landscape. He alighted from the train to explore the area and thus discovered Bhimbetka! From that momentous time, he began studying the numerous painted shelters, never stopping until his death in 1988. 

Bhimbetka rock art in India

Detail of Mythical animal. Image: Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak

The subject matter in Bhimbetka is particularly rich, representing many aspects of life from early times to later periods, from hunting scenes to religious folk symbols. The subjects of the rock art have been classified into different categories, such as human figures (man, woman, indeterminate), animals (different species), scenes (hunting, battle, music and dance, rituals and family), mythology, nature and material culture. The compositions in Bhimbetka rock art are numerous, such as dancing scenes, hunting, war etc. Inscriptions in caves and shelters are associated with monks and hermits living in isolation in early historic times.

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The most spectacular mythical animal (top) combines the characteristics of boar, ox and elephant. At the top of a spectacular shelter it seems to be chasing a small masked man and a large crab (above). The size of the boar is 1.26 meters in length and 0.87 meter in width. The animal is surrounded by armed men, quite small compared to it.

Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak
Ref: 2014 'The Rock Art of Bhimbetka Area In India', Scandinavian Society for Prehistoric Art (ISSN 0349-8808)  Sweden (pg. no.5-22). Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak.

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