MP Has The World's Most Interesting Rock Art Gallery That Dates Back To 10,000 Years

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Representative image. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of MP Has The World's Most Interesting Rock Art Gallery That Dates Back To 10,000 Years by Suprita Mitter

Not much can match the joy of discovering stories from a different era? A time, place and aesthetic, you know little about. Stories etched in stone that tell you about people of a long gone era; their life and times. The state of Madhya Pradesh is home to many historical gems including Bhimbetka and Panchmarhi that have some of the most gorgeous rock paintings. There's another one though, that has been hidden from plain sight and is the state’s best kept secret.

The Story So Far

The Chaturbhujnath Nala Rock Art Shelters are considered the longest rock art gallery in the world, situated in Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary near Bhanpura in Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh. About 30km away from Bhanpura, the nearest city, you will spot a faded sign that tells you that the rock shelters are 6.5 kilometers away.

Named after a small modern temple, Chaturbhujnath Mandir, this site was discovered in 1977 by three schoolteachers, Ramesh Kumar Pancholi, Abid Chaudhury and Satish Bhatnagar. The rock shelters are now looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The 800-metre-long rock art site is home to 2,510 paintings. In India, rock art, especially paintings and carvings, have been known to exist over centuries, starting from the Mesolithic Age and continuing to the Early Historic period. The Chaturbhujnath Nala rock shelter is a repository of rock art images in 12 different styles and time periods, starting from the Upper Palaeolithic period (50,000 – 12,000 years ago), and continuing through the Mesolithic period (12,000 – 6,000 years ago) then the Chalcolithic period with a simplified styles (6,000-4,000 years ago) and even the early Historic period.

These paintings created across centuries, offer a glimpse of the everyday life of the then native inhabitants of the area and how it progressed with time.

What you see

Unlike the caves of Bhimbetka, here, one has to stoop and bend low to get a proper view of the drawings. The paintings show men, women, boys, girls, infants, dancers, hunters, cattle herders, charioteers, weapons, board games and decorative motifs and offer insights into the way of life and the environment, of that era. There are various animals and hunting scenes depicting rhinos, bison, deer and even camels, some of which are no longer found in Madhya Pradesh.

Made in varying shades of red, the surface of the paintings is uneven in colour and texture. There are both stick figures as well as solid figures. There's a picture of a wild horse being hunted by men, in one of the shelters. This is believed to be the first of its kind in the history of Indian rock art. There are also many miniature paintings, less than 1cm in size, done on unprepared rock surface.

Traces of life

According to research done by scholars, historians and the Archeological Survey Of India, these paintings were done not at one go but over centuries and are representative of the evolving human ability to depict and document their lives through paintings. It is also believed that many paintings were made on the outer surface of the rock shelters as well, but they have been erased over the years by sunlight, wind and rain. None of the artists who created this work can be individually identified, since all of them are believed to have followed the distinct styles of their clans.

Top things to see and do:

Bhanpura, where the rock shelters are located is a beautiful place. 20km from here is the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary, the biggest dam in Madhya Pradesh. Crocodiles are still occasionally spotted in the river and on the numerous islands in the Gandhi Sagar reservoir. You can also visit the Circuit House overlooking the river.

The massive wilderness surrounding the Gandhi Sagar Dam and the reservoir has been designated as the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife sanctuary. It was notified in 1974 and further enlarged in 1983. The forest is home to leopards, sloth bear, various species of deer and antelope, hyenas, hare and monkeys.

The Hinglaj Fort is an ancient fort situated near village Navali in Bhanpura tehsil, 165km from Mandsaur town and 12km from Bhanpura town in Madhya Pradesh. This fort has been at its peak of grandeur during the Parmara rule. There are many artistic sculptures of various periods in this fort.

Yashwant Rao Holkar’s Chhatri

Though more recent, Yashwant Rao Holkar’s Chhatri, located in Bhanpura, took 30 years to complete and was designed to look like a temple. Built by his wife, Maharani Tulsibai, the memorial stands on a solid plinth over 2 m high. It has a square mandapa, where the ceiling is embellished with intricate sculptures. The compound walls have pillared cloisters, which have now been converted into a museum by the Archaeological Survey of India. The open-air Bhanpura Museum houses invaluable sculptures, mainly from the nearby fortress of Hinglajgarh.

When to go:

Weather wise, the best time to visit Madhya Pradesh is from October till March as the climate remains cool.

Getting there:

By air: Indore Airport is the nearest active airport with many connections to major Indian cities. From there, one would have to travel to Mandsaur via Betma and Ratlam (total distance 226 kms.). Bhanpura is another 84 kms away.

By train: Bhawani Mandi Railway station is the closest at a distance of 13km. It is connected to Kota, Chennai, Mysore, Jaipur, Hyderabad and many other cities. There are many buses that run from the station to Bhanpura, Private vehicles can also be hired.

Accommodation: There are eight small townships (numbered 1-8) around the Govind Sagar Dam, each of which has its own rest-house, and visitors may get permission to stay here from the Chambal Valley Project authorities.

If you've visited the rock shelters of Chaturbhujnath Nala, or know of any such hidden gems, write to us and share your experience with fellow travellers. To watch interesting travel videos, check out our YouTube channel. If you enjoy what you see, hit like and subscribe.

In Association With Madhya Pradesh Tourism

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