Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

Useful Information

Location: Near Bhimbetka, state of Madhya Pradesh. 45 km south of Bhopal.
(22.938415, 77.613085)
Open: All year daily 7-18.
Fee: Indians: Adults INR 10, Car INR 50, Mini Bus INR 100.
Foreigners: Adults INR 100, Car INR 200, Mini Bus INR 400.
Classification: ArchaeologyPainted Cave SpeleologyErosional Cave
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Bhimbetka Caves, Bhojpur Raisen, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, 464990, Tel: +91-755-2746827.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1888. first mentioned by W. Kincaid, a British India era official, as a Buddhist site.
1957 discovered by Dr. V S Wakankar.
1970s the scale and true significance of the Bhimbetka rock shelters discovered.
1990 declared a protected site under Indian laws and under the management of the Archaeological Survey of India.
2003 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Bhimbetka is the largest collection of prehistoric art in India. It was discovered and explored by Dr. V. S. Wakankar, one of India's greatest archaeologists. After unearthing rock shelters in the Chambal region, he was on his way to Nagpur. From the train he noticed caves dotting the hills in the distance. With a team of archaeologists, he cut through the deep forests of teak and tendu and climbed up to the caves. They reported several prehistoric rock shelters. The name Bhimbetka is derived from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, Bhim-bait-ka meaning Bheem who sat upon these rocks.

The area of Bhimbetka is riddled with caves, most of them containing paintings. The rocks are quartzite which forms towers weathered along clefts, forming overhanging cliffs, abris and also small caves. More than 750 sites are distributed over 10 km at the southern edge of the Vindhya hills on the seven hills Vinayaka, Bhonrawali, Bhimbetka, Lakha Juar (east and west), Jhondra and Muni Babaki Pahari. The caves were used for many thousands of years, so paintings of all eras can be found, Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The oldest remains are 100,000 years old and are the oldest traces of humans on the Indian subcontinent. The earliest paintings are about 10,000 years old, which is the Indian Mesolithic, and are the oldest-known rock art in the Indian subcontinent. Bhimbetka is also one of the largest prehistoric complexes in India.

The most impressive cave is Auditorium Cave, the largest shelter at Bhimbetka with a cathedral-like form, two large passages with "gothic" vaults. The passages formed along cracks in the rock which form the top of the pointed vault. As the cracks are running north-south and east-west, so do the passages, forming a right-angled cross. This and several other shelters are developed with trails and railings. The caves can be visited self-guided.

Most of the paintings were painted with red and white colours, rather seldom green and yellow was used. The drawings show hunting, dancing, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes. The identified animals include bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes, dogs, and lizards.

The paintings in the caves were categorized and belong to seven different periods:
Period I - Upper Paleolithic: green and dark red, linear paintings of huge figures of animals such as bisons, bears, tigers, and rhinoceroses.
Period II - Mesolithic: smaller, stylized figures with linear decoration on the body, hunting scenes showing weapons, dances, and musical instruments give an idea of Mesolithic life.
Period III -Chaleolithic: these drawings reveal that the cave dwellers had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains.
Period IV & V - Early Historic: pictures of Yaksha, tree gods and magical sky chariots.
Period VI & VII - Medieval: geometric, linear and more schematic but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style.