Ambadevi rock shelters

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 27 January 2007[1] and was named the Ambadevi rock shelters because of their proximity to the ancient Ambadevi cave temple. The site has also been referred to as the Satpura-Tapti valley and Gavilgarh-Betul rock shelters. 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.

Ambadevi rock shelters
Rupestral art known as animal zoo
Shown within Madhya Pradesh
Ambadevi rock shelters (India)
Alternative nameSatpura-Tapti valley, Gavilgarh-Betul rock shelters
LocationDharul, Betul District, Madhya Pradesh, India
Length6 km (3.7 mi)
Width10 km (6.2 mi)
PeriodsUpper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Chalcolithic, Iron Age


The site of the rock shelters is 60 km (37 mi) 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 450 m (1,480 ft) above mean sea level (location: 20° 47’ N and 77° 53’ E). It is 6 km (3.7 mi) west of the pilgrimage destination known as Salbardi, near the Morshi town of Amravati District. To date, a region of 10 km (6.2 mi) by 6 km (3.7 mi) 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 found in India, Australia, South Africa, and France.


The site was discovered by Dr. Vijay Ingole and his colleagues (Padmakar Lad, Dr. Manohar Khode, Shirish Kumar Patil, Dnyaneshwar Damahe, and Pradeep Hirurkar) on the 27th of January 2007. The site was not previously recorded until that time.[1][2][3] Nature explorers and bird watchers 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 of the site ranges from Upper Paleolithic (Stone Age 25,000 to 15,000 BCE) to Mesolithic (10,000 to 5,000 BCE) to Chalcolithic (Copper-Bronze Age 5,000 BCE) to Iron Age (1,200 to 600 BCE). The archaeological study revealed a continuous sequence of human cultural history over that period.

In 2011, further exploration was undertaken by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under Dr. Sahu and her team.[4][5] More than 225 rock shelters were identified that contained paintings, engravings, and stone tools. Stone tools[5] fashioned out of a cryptocrystalline material like chert, chalcedony, or jasper were discovered around a few shelters.

Rock art and paintings

The rock shelters of Ambadevi have hundreds of paintings. The oldest paintings are considered to be between 15,000 and 20,000 years old. The rock art is 80% pictographs, 60% petroglyphs, and 40% pictographs and petroglyphs.[4][5] The high number of pictographs and petroglyphs on walls and boulders within the shelters make this site unique.


Most of these paintings are red in color and the pigment appears to have been prepared from hematite, red blood, fat, and vegetable plants. 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, war scenes, and abstract geometrical figures. Pictographs are painted on vertical wall surfaces, roofs, and rock hollow cavities. The oldest pictograph, known as animal zoo, depicts carnivorous animals—tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals, aardvark (an ant-eater-now extinct) and wild dogs; omnivorous animals—bears; and herbivorous animals—blue bulls, spotted deer, barasingha, sambar, 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 projections and protected from monsoon rains because they face northeast. In another shelter, wild boar, tortoise, fish, honeycomb, porcupine, monkey, and vulture are depicted by line drawings. One shelter includes a strange human figure with a long phallus and testicles (Bhairao-an incarnation of Lord Shiva) and in the nearby stream, a naturally-created stone projection that looks like a phallus was identified 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 included a painting of a human figure riding an elephant. Few figures in the Indian Warli style (war scene of warriors with a sphere, mane, riding on horse, elephant, or camel) were identified. A number of geometric figures and motifs colored in red and white were found. Many animals paintings are filled with geometric lines.


Many rock shelters have carvings in the form of animals, trees, and the human figure. In one of the shelters on the same face of the shelter, an engraved herd of four bulls was identified. Many cave shelters depict engraved female vulvae. A figure of a lotus flower with petals painted in a way to mimic the vulva was found. Round and elliptical couples were identified. Other petroglyphs found include standalone humans, elephants with riders, tree, deer, and a flying squirrel.


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


  1. 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. 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. 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

Coordinates: 20° 47’ N and 77° 53’ E

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