A Mukherjee World View



The caves were first discovered fairly recently, by V S Wakankar in 1958. According to the guides, the paintings are about 2000 to 10,000 years old, but my text book (Prehistoric Indians: Testimony of Stone Vol. 1 by Subinoy Gangopadhyay, Published by SDDS Publication, April 2002) dates many of them to the Mesolithic period and some of them to the Upper Paleolithic period, which makes them 20,000 or more likely 40,000 years old – and more (though evidently further research is needed to reach a consensus on this).

The rock shelters have been in continuous occupation from an even earlier era, the early Paleolithic period (anywhere from about 500,000 to 100,000years ago, give or take a few). Archaeological evidence indicates that in those days Bhimbetka was an important centre in the stone tool manufacturing industry. An export business seems to have flourished here thousands of years ago! By the time the Indus Valley civilization came into being and flourished, the Bhimbetkans were trading pottery and copper tools with people in neighbouring areas.

I perched on a rock outside the so-called Zoo Rock and nibbled at my lunch – biscuits and cake. The area was completely deserted. The only sounds that startled me were the rustles of the big, dry leaves falling to the ground, or being brushed aside by lizards or squirrels. There were no birds. After a while I shifted to a vantage point near Cave 8, whence I could stare out over the plains, all the way down to the railway track and the road that ran parallel close to it. From those lonely bastions of modern civilization only very little sound rolled across the 3 km and up the hillside to reach me.

I wondered how it would have been in those prehistoric days when men and women lived and died here. Much more noisy, I suppose, with people shouting, hunting, cooking, babies crying. And more wildlife too. No trains though.

I spent several hours there, absorbing the atmosphere, allowing my mind to fill with unanswerable questions about life in those bygone days. It was mid-afternoon when I started to leave, walking down to the main road to wait for a bus to Bhopal. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back here, but, though I had to leave Bhimbetka so soon, I had the feeling that Bhimbetka would not leave me for quite a while.

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