Ambadevi rock shelters

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Rupestral art from Ambadevi

The Ambadevi Rock Shelters is an archaeological site exhibiting the earliest traces of human life in the central province of the Indian subcontinent. The site is located near the Dharul village in the Betul District of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, on the border of the Amravati district of Maharashtra. According to studies of various rock paintings and petroglyphs, the Ambadevi Rock Shelters were inhabited over 20,000 years ago by early human settlers. The cluster of rock shelters was first discovered by Dr. Vijay Ingole and his colleagues on January 27, 2007[1] and was named the Ambadevi Rock Shelters because of its vicinity to the ancient Ambadevi cave temple. It has also been referred to as the Satpura-Tapti Valley and Gavilgarh-Betul Rock Shelters.


The site of the rock shelters is 60 km north of the city of Amravati, in the state of Maharashtra in the Vidarbha region, located on the Southern slope of the Satpura-Gawilgarh hill ranges, at about 1500 feet (450 meters) above MSL (Location: 200 47’ N and 770 53’ E). It is 6km west of the famous pilgrimage destination known as Salbardi, near the Morshi town of Amravati District. To date, a region of 10km (E-W) and 6km (N-S) has been explored. The area is covered by vegetation and natural sandstone rocks. The shelters bear a striking resemblance to other similar rock art sites viewed in India, Australia, South Africa, and France. It is one of the most important discoveries of the 21st Century in India, following the discovery of Bhimbetka rock shelters during the 20th Century.


The site was first discovered by Dr. Vijay Ingole and his colleagues (Mr. Padmakar Lad, Dr. Manohar Khode, Mr. Shirish Kumar Patil, Mr. Dnyaneshwar Damahe, and Mr. Pradeep Hirurkar) on the 27th of January, 2007. The site was not previously recorded until that time.[1][2][3] The discoverers were primarily nature explorers and bird watchers who explored the area until 2012. More than 100 rock shelters were identified, and 30 were found to have hundreds of pictographs, petroglyphs and stone artifacts. The chronological period was reported to range from Upper Paleolithic (Stone Age 25000 to 15,000 BCE), Mesolithic (10,000 to 5000 BCE), Chalcolithic (Copper-Bronze Age 5000 BCE), Iron Age (1200 to 600 BCE). The archaeological study revealed a continuous sequence of human cultural history over that period.

Further exploration was undertaken by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under Dr. Mrs. Sahu and her team[4][5] from 2011. More than 225 rock shelters have been identified and found to have paintings, engravings, and stone tools.

Rock art and paintings[edit]

The rock shelters of Ambadevi have hundreds of paintings. The oldest paintings are considered to be 15,000 to 20,000 years old from the Upper Paleolithic period. The rock art comprises 80% Pictograph, 60% Petroglyph and 40% Pictograph and Petroglyph.[4][5] The higher number of Pictograph, Petroglyph, and couples on walls, boulders within the shelters make this site unique.


Most of these paintings are in red in color and the pigment appears to have been prepared from hematite, red blood, fat, and vegetable plant. In a few places, green, white, black and yellow pigments have been used. The paintings are mainly of wild animals, tortoise, fish, birds, humans, palm impressions, geometric figures, hunting scenes and war scenes, as well as many abstract geometrical figures painted on vertical shelter wall surfaces, roofs, and rock hollow cavities. The oldest pictograph, known as animal zoo, depicts carnivorous animals such as tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals, aardvark (an ant-eater-now extinct) and wild dogs; omnivorous animals such as bears; and herbivorous animals such as blue bulls, Spotted deer (Axis axis), Barasingha(Rucervus duvaucelii), Sambar (Rusa unicolour), Indian rhinoceros (now extinct in the region), Sivatherium (animal similar to Giraffe, now extinct) and many unidentifiable creatures.

All the animals are pictured facing right, and carnivorous and omnivorous animals have been depicted with thick foot pads, whereas herbivorous animals have no foot pads. All paintings are red with colorful bodies. The paintings are well preserved by shelter projection and protected from monsoon rains as they are facing North-East. In another shelter, pictures like wild boar, tortoise, fish, honeycomb, porcupine, monkey, and unique vulture paintings are depicted by line drawings. One shelter includes a strange human figure with a long phallus (male organ) with testicles (Bhairao-an incarnation of Lord Shiva) and in the nearby stream, a naturally-created stone projection like a phallus was identified and observed to have been worshiped. This appears to be one of the oldest evidences of idolatry of linga (Shiva-Linga). A nearby tomb-like entity covered with stones was also identified, as well as a human figure riding an elephant. Few figures in the infamous Indian Warli style, war scene of warriors with a sphere, mane, riding on horse, elephant, and camel were identified. A number of geometric figures and motifs colored in red and white were identified. Interiors of many animals such as tortoises are filled with geometric lines.


Many rock shelters have petroglyphs in the form of animals, trees, and the human figure. In one of the shelters, an engraved herd of four bulls on the same face of a shelter was identified. Many cave shelters depict engraved female vulvae. A figure of a lotus flower depicted by petals looking like vulvae was also identified. Round and elliptical couples were identified. Standalone humans and elephants with riders are engraved. A tree, deer, flying squirrel (edit) are recorded. Stone tools[5] fashioned on crypto-crystalline material like chert, chalcedony, and Jasper were discovered around a few shelters.


One site was found to have been vandalized. State and Central agencies urgently need to preserve this world heritage site.


  1. ^ a b Ingole Vijay, Padmakar Lad, Manohar Khode, Dnyaneswar Damahe, Shirishkumar Patil, and Pradeep Hirurkar: 2007, Discovery of Painted Rock-Shelters from Satpura-Tapti Valley, 153–158, Purakala 17.
  2. ^ Ingole Vijay, Padmakar Lad, Manohar Khode, Dnyaneswar Damahe, Shirishkumar Patil, and Pradeep Hirurkar: 2012, Distinctive Features of the Art of Ambadevi Rock Shelters in Satpura-Tapti Valley. Presented in Rock art Society of India Conference (RASI) in Badami (Karnataka).
  3. ^ Vineet Godhal, Ashish S. Shende: 2011, Reflection of the Ecological Aspect of Animal depicted in Rock Art of Satpura-Tapti Valley and nearby Region, pp 216=223, Puratattva 41 (Indian Archeological Society, New Delhi), November 2011.
  4. ^ a b Bhattacharya-Sahu Nandini and Prabash Sahu 2012: Decorated Rock Shelters of Gawilgarh Hills, Madhya Pradesh, Session Paper on International Conference on Rock Art- Understanding Rock Art in Context, IGNCA, New Delhi.
  5. ^ a b c Nandini Bhattacharya-Sahu and Prabhash Sahu: 2014, pp 63–78, Artistry in the Rock Shelters of Gawilgarh Hills: Recent Discoveries, Puratattva 44 (Indian Archeological Society, New Delhi), 2014.

General references[edit]

Coordinates: 200 47’ N and 770 53’ E