Surrounded by the northern fringe of the Vindhyan ranges, Bhimbetka lies 46 km South of Bhopal. In this rocky terrain of dense forest and craggy cliffs, over 600 rock shelters belonging to the Neolithic age were recently discovered. Here, in vivid panoramic detail, paintings in over 500 caves depict the life of the pre-historic cave-dwellers making the Bhimbetka group an archaeological treasure, an invaluable chronicle in the history of man.
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Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, with themes taken from everyday events of eons ago, the scenes usually depict hunting, dancing, music, horse and elephant riders, animals fighting, honey collection, decoration of bodies, disguises, masking and household scenes.
Animals such as bisons, tigers, lions, wild boar, elephants, antelopes, dogs, lizards, crocodiles, etc. have been depicted in some caves. Popular religious and ritual symbols also occur frequently.
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The colours used by the cave dwellers were prepared combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden coal. Sometimes the fat of animals and extracts of leaves were also used in the mixture. The colours have remained intact for many centuries due to the chemical reaction resulting from the oxide present on the surface of the rocks.
The superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods:
Period I - (Upper Paleolithic)
These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bisons, tigers and rhinoceros.
Period II - (Mesolithic)
Comparatively small in size, the stylized figures show linear decoration of the body. In addition to animals, there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used - barbed spears, pointed sticks, bow and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mother and child, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement.
Period III - (Chaleolithic)
Similar to the paintings of Chaleolithic pottery, these drawings reveal that during the period, the cave dwellers of this area had come in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains and started an exchange of their requirements with each other.
Period IV & V - (Early History)
The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style, and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures of yakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots.
Period VI & VII - (Medieval)
These paintings are geometric, linear and more schematic, but show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style.