In 1958, Dr Wakankar discovered an archaeological marvel. The oldest Indian cave paintings at Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. These primitive drawings tell a story of an eon some 20,000 years ago. When men and women were still discovering themselves and the world around them.
This was a period of minimal communication, if any at all. There are no oral or written records that tell the tale of our pre-historic ancestors. All we have are their cave paintings. With Dr Wakankar's discovery, an age that had previously been considered lost in time, was revealed. And with it, a wealth of information.
Other Indian cave paintings have been found in Chhattisgarh, Ajanta, Ellora, Bagh and Sitanvasal.
Bhimabetka : Indian Cave Paintings
According to legend, the Bhimabetka caves got their name from Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers. He is said to have rested in these caves. Bhimabetka literally means, the seat of Bhima. There are over 600 such caves that have been discovered, and paintings have been found in over 500 of them.
The cave paintings of Bhimabetka are mainly in red and white, with an occasional use of yellow and green. The paints were made of colored earth, vegetable dyes, roots, charcoal and animal fat. Fibrous plants served as brushes. Scientists are of the opinion that these cave paintings are still intact because of the chemical reaction taking place in the surface of the rocks.
These immortal specimens of prehistoric Indian art depict scenes from everyday life. Hunting is perhaps the most popular theme. There are images of tigers, bisons, lions, elephants, wild boar, lizards, antelopes, crocodiles and dogs. There are also scenes of animals fighting, elephant riders, and people hunting. Household scenes, dancing and music, and religious and ritual images are also present.
It has been found that there are paintings superimposed on each other, suggesting that they are the works of several successive ages. The cave paintings of Bhimbetka have been classified as belonging to seven distinctive historical periods: the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Chaleolithic, Early Historic and Medieval.
The Cave Paintings of Ajanta and Ellora
The caves of Ajanta and Ellora are a series of Buddhist monasteries and prayer halls carved out of living rock.
The digging of the Ajanta caves was initiated in the 4 th century AD. Over the centuries, 29 such caves were dug by Buddhist monks, and used as cells and monasteries. These caves are adorned with sculptures of animals, guards and deities, and paintings of courtly life and Buddhist tales. Amidst these are several sculptures of Buddha.
The caves of Ellora are replete with carvings inspired by Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. These date back to the 7 th century AD. The Kailasa Temple in Ellora is a magnificent structure carved out of solid rock. It is a full sized temple, flanked by elephants on either side.
The rock art of the Ajanta and Ellora caves is a tribute to the mastery of the artisans of yore.
Other cave paintings in India have been discovered in the Ramgarh hill caves in Chhattisgarh.