Dr. V. S. Wakankar

Bhimbetka painted rock shelters

Art is a unique tool through which humans have always expressed their observations, emotions, aspirations and dreams. Humans have used various platforms / to exhibit art - rock art being one of them.

History of rock art is very interesting. Rock art has been found all over the world such as USA, South Africa, France, Spain, Australia, etc., Spain and France being very famous. Alta Mira in Northern Spain was discovered in 1880. In terms of antiquity they are dated about 25000 years before present. Similarly are the rock paintings of Lasco in France.

The first documented discovery rock art in India is in 1880 by J. Cockburn and A. C. L. Carlyle who discovered a rock shelter near Mirzapur. Here the rock painting reveals the hunting of a wild rhino by a group of people. Based on the style and since the people are shown carrying a spear, the painting is probably from the Copper Age (Chalcolithic) as per the discoverers.

Subsequently Hunter and Col. D. H. Gordon discovered rock paintings near Pachmadhi and Hoshangabad.

Post - independence several experts like Dr. V. S. Wakankar, Prof. K. D. Bajpai, Prof. Shankar Tiwari, Dr. S. K. Pandey contributed to the research of rock art in India.

Though rock art has been found all over India, the richest haul has been from Madhya Pradesh particularly Bhimbetka, Bhojpur, Bhopal, Budhni, Panguradia, Talpur, Hoshangabad, Raisen, Sanchi, Nagori, Vidisha, Hathitol, Kharvai, Pangava, etc.

This site is dedicated to "Bhimbetka" discovered by Dr. V. S. Wakankar

The world's largest cluster of rock shelters is at Bhimbetka. Located 55 km south of Bhopal (22o 40"; 77o 35') in district Raisen. Bhimbetka is near Village Bhiyanpur, between Obedullagunj and Barkheda railway stations on Bhopal - Itarsi line and by road on the Bhopal-Hoshangabad road.

Dr. Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar discovered Bhimbetka in 1957. In 1971 - 72 Dr. Wakankar, anticipating that this area should reveal remnants of pre-historic mankind, conducted intensive surveys and excavations. He first published a report on rock art at Bhimbetka in the Archaeological Survey of India's annual report (Indian Archaeology - A review 1971 - 72, pages 30 - 31). In 2003, Bhimbetka was declared a "World Heritage Site" by the UNESCO.

Though existence of pre - historic man in Bhimbetka appears to be since 6 to 8 lakh years ago (as indicated by excavations), the rock paintings are around 10,000 years old. The paintings are in red, white and green colours. The red coming from hematite (pieces of this ore have been found in the caves). The rock shelters are spread over 1850 hectares of area.

These rock shelters are in the Ratapani Wild Life Sanctuary which has natural beauty. There are several small, medium and big rock shelters of various shapes in this Vindhya range.

Uniqueness of Bhimbetka lies in the fact that this site reveals continuity from Paleolithic (Pebble tool culture - 150000 to 500000 years ago) to Historic (300 years ago) Gound kingdom period.

Bhimbetka World Heritage site of Rock shelters is divided into five groups. Additionally there are two groups on Renhatti Road which are not included in the heritage site.

Group Location No of Shelters Numbering Peculiarities
I Karitalai to Vinayaka (East of Railway line) 12 A - 7; B - 5 Some painted rock shelters. Around 20 stupa remains. A wall suggesting presence of a Vihara.
II Vinayaka to Choti Jamun jhiri (West of Railway line) 196 A - 17; B - 72; C - 18; D - 19; E - 42; F - 9; G - 4 and H - 15 Famous "Boar Rock". This is also known as Bhowra wali group. Here one finds paintings of Yaksha from the Mauryan period. Remnants of a wide fort wall and houses indicate dense settlement.
Tools of Mesolithic period (~10,000 years old) are found here.
III Choti Jamunjhiri to Badi Jamunjhiri 291 A - 41; B - 72; C - 95 : E - 26; F - 50 and G - 7 Here one finds the main shelters which have been named as "Auditorium", "Zoo Rock", Babaji's Hathi Cave", etc.
Inscriptions from Shunga period are also found here. Excavations were carried here by Vikram University Ujjain, Deccan College Pune and Folk Art Museum Switzerland.
IV Badi Jamunjhiri to Phuti Talai - Lakhajwar - East 175 A - 63; B - 70; C - 35 and D - 7 This area has some of the most beautiful rock paintings related to the Mesolithic period. Also found are the ruins of a temple from the Parmar period. One can also find buildings, dams etc.
V Phuti Talai to Renhati Road Colony - Lakhajwar - West 95 A - 15; B - 10 and C - 70. C group has not been numbered
VI Split hill near Renhati Road A12 Southern part of hill C12 both sides of the stream 32 A12; C12 -
VII Muni Baba's Hills near Jondra 10 A - 70 -

Thus in all in about 730 rock shelters containing around 500 rock paintings.

Excavations :

Main excavations have been done by Vikram University under the guidance of Dr. V. S. Wakankar.

Later on Deccan College - Dr. V. N. Mishra and Dr. Susan Haas from Folk Art Museum, Basle, Switzerland, carried out more excavations independently at different sites.

Excavation details are as follows

Vikram University - Ujjain (Dr. V. S. Wakankar) Deccan College Dr. V. N. Mishra Folk Art Museum Basle Switzerland Dr. Susan Haas
Group III F 24 - Trench I, IW, II and IIN Group III F - 23 Trench I Group III F - 22
Group III F - 14 - Trench IV - Group III C - 16
Group III F - 16 - Trench V - Group III C12
Group III A - 28 - Trench VII - -
Group III A - 29 - Trench VIII - -
Group III A - 30 - Trench VI - -
Group III A - 33 - Trench II - -

Significant findings during excavations

  • Acheulian tools in relatively good conditions
  • A wall in III A - 30 from the Acheulian period (This may be probably the oldest manmade structure in the world)
  • Old skeletons

Dr. V. S. Wakankar was assisted by Dr. S. K. Arya, Narayan Vyas, Daljit Kaur - Gill, A. S. Odhekar and Narayan Bhati.

Baba Shaligram from Durga Ashram also helped the group.

R. R. Brooks and his wife Mary Brooks from Massachusetts University also joined Dr. Wakankar.

Similarly Satyanarayan and Manohar Vyas from Ujjain, R. S. Garg, Dr. S. N. Yadav and Advocate Sharma from Indore also helped a lot.

Apart from this Dr. Wakankar continued his research and discovered following rock shelters around Bhimbetka

Shahganj ghat (11 Nos.) (77o 45" and 23o 54')
Amargadh near Naganpur (7 Nos.) (77o 47" and 23o 58')
Choti Badi Dant near Budhani (27 Nos.) (77o 47" and 23o 58')
Vajasnamita (2 km from the bridge on Narmada) (2 Nos.) (77o 40" and 23o 45')
Chunapani (10 km south of Bhimbetka) (2 Nos.) (77o 35" and 23o 50')

In order to understand and appreciate "Bhimbetka", one needs to first understand the time line and terminology used.

Prehistoric Time line

Period / Ages Years Description
Lower Paleolithic
आद्य पुराश्मकाल
Two parts
500,000 - 300,000 years ago
200,000 - 50 / 60,000 years ago
People of these times lived in groups. They were different than Apes, more developed brains but still inferior to Homo sapiens. Walked on two legs, communicated by speech, made pebble tools. First part pebble tools observed at Bhimbetka
Second part is when Neanderthals(?) existed in Europe - characterized by stone axes, stone spears, etc. Also found at Bhimbetka
Middle Paleolithic
मध्य पुराश्मकाल
60,000 - 30,000 years ago Discarded use of heavy stone weapons and used wood - stone combinations i.e. wooden rods with stone heads. Found in all trenches at Bhimbetka
Upper Paleolithic
उत्तर पुराश्मकाल
30,000 - 10,000 years ago Faster development. Started making tools from Flint, Jasper, Chert etc. Discovery of bow and arrow, Microliths developed for arrow tips and for tearing, cutting, making holes etc. Discovery of decorated ostrich egg shells
12,000 - 5,000 years ago Massive rock art creation. Topics of rock art varied covering different aspects of life. Bhimbetka is the world's unique site depicting all and maintaining continuity over ages.
4,200 Civilized settlement's like Kayatha. Beginning of agriculture. Beginning of copper ware, Geometric design seen on vessels &rock art etc. Domestication of animals, copper ornaments.
- -
Early Historic
आद्य अैतिहासिक
1,300 - 1,000 Beginning of Iron age. Agriculture, trade, transportation developed. Yagna started. Beginning of meditation by Buddhists, Jains and Vaishnava's in caves. Brahmi script usage. Punch marked coins
Midle Historic
मध्य अैतिहासिक
1,000 - 500 Ganapati, Durga, Shiva visible. Rock art simplified. Cave settlers abandoned caves and moved to plains.
500 B. C. - 300 A. D. Documented history of kings and kingdoms
300 A. D. to present -

Radio carbon dating of antiquities excavated from the caves put them in a period of 17,000 - 15,000 years before present.

The buried skeletal remains of Bhimbetka have been dated using Radiocarbon dating

Bones form III F - 14 PRL50 2045 ± 110 years before present
Bones from III F - 14 PRL50 5855 ± 110 years before present

Out of the burial sites excavated in Bhimbetka, 4 seem to be from historic period, 1 from early history period and 2 from Pre - historic period.

Skeletons from historic period have iron axes and pot of water buried along with the dead.

One skeleton from pre - historic period belongs to Mesolithic period. The skeletal remains include head, ribs, hands and feet buried very haphazardly.

Second one is older than this and is that of an 8 - 10 years child. Though the cause of death is not clear. It appears that his body was painted red (as hematite pieces were found along with his body along with a stone used to crush hematite). His body was surrounded with round stones and then buried. There was a pendant in his neck which was found intact.

In the same cave in still lower layers was found another skeleton. This is probably from Upper Paleolithic period. (15 - 20 thousand years old). He must be a Homo Sapiens. His skull bones are quite thick. Forehead slanting backward and jaw quite big as compared to current skulls. His teeth were blunt due to cutting or chewing roots etc. There was a stone pendant in his neck.

Two other significant findings of the excavations at Bhimbetka are

  1. Dr. V. N. Mishra during excavations in III F - 23 found base of a stone wall. A similar wall was found by Dr. Wakankar in III A - 30 from East to West and parallel to the shelter wall. This is one of the oldest man made wall from Acheulian period (1 lakh to 50 thousand years old)
  2. Coins : Two punch marked coins were found in III F - 24 and 8 coins from Bhopal kings in Vinayaka caves of Baba Shaligram. Two coins were found in III A - 30 and coins of Mandavgadh Sultan in III A - 28. Several shells of the Parmar period were found in III A - 28,29 and 30. A very old bone ornamental pendant was found in III A - 28 near the skeleton of the child mentioned above.
  3. Skeletal remains of deer, antelope, boar, peacock etc. from the Upper Paleolithic period have been found at Bhimbetka.