Rock Cut Caves & Cave Paintings of India – NCERT Notes

Rock cut caves and Cave paintings are important part of Indian Culture. In following article, we have covered history of Rock cut caves and Cave paintings in India and few important sites in brief. 


Prehistoric paintings have been found in many parts of the world. We do not really know if Lower Palaeolithic people ever produced any art objects. But by the Upper Palaeolithic times we see a proliferation of artistic activities. Around the world the walls of many caves of this time are full of finely carved and painted pictures of animals which the cave-dwellers hunted. The subjects of their drawings were human figures, human activities, geometric designs and symbols. In India the earliest paintings have been reported from the Upper Palaeolithic times.

It is interesting to know that the first discovery of rock paintings was made in India in 1867–68 by an archaeologist, Archibold Carlleyle, twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain. Cockburn, Anderson, Mitra and Ghosh were the early archaeologists who discovered a large number of sites in the Indian sub-continent. Remnants of rock paintings have been found on the walls of the caves situated in several parts of India. 

In later times, the caves were also used by Buddhist and Jain monks as places of worship and dwelling. In the beginning, the caves were unearthed in western India.

rock cut caves paintings
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Bhimbetka Cave

  • Largest and the most spectacular rock shelter in Vindhyas hills.
  • Located at about 45 km South- east of Bhopal in Raisen district of M.P.
  • Due to availability of shelter, food and raw material for tools, this site has been continuously occupied since Stone age times as evident through early stone age tools.
  • Period– from upper- Palaeolithic to Mesolithic to Chalcolithic and four successive period afterwards.
  • Bhimbetka rock cave paintings which are of age from 100000 years age to Medieval period is one of the most important historical sources.
  • Themes– events of daily life, hunting, dancing, horse and elephant riders etc.
  • Also layer of painting, one on top of another at the same site is often encountered.

Ajanta Cave

  • Period – 200 B.C to 650 A.D.
  • Situated on the northern fringe of the Maharashtra Plateau, in district of Aurangabad. 
  • The (30) caves of Ajanta are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.
  • The caves are a very fine combination of architectural and rock cut sculptural works and painting and were carved out for Buddhist monks to live a monastic life.
  • Two phases of rock-cut activity (pre- Buddhist and Buddhist) paintings belonging mostly to the Gupta Period.
  • Painting gives glimpse of the tradition of early Indian mural painting. Example – painting of Padmapani Boddhisatva in Cave number 1.
  • Hieun-Tsang visited in 7th century A.D. 

Ellora Cave

  • Ellora caves situated near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
  • Are finest specimens of cave architecture belonging to the period A.D. 350-1000 A.D.
  • There are 34 caves (Buddhist, Hindu, Jain).
  • The site figures on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
  • The Kailash temple in cave 16 is an architectural marvel, built by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Krishna I.
  • Also famous for its fresco painting which have Brahminical and Jain themes.
  • Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism – all themes are seen here.
  • Ellora was an important historic commercial centre in Deccan.
  • Vishwakarma caves, Kailash temple, Dashavatara caves and Rameshwar temple are important caves of this site.

Barabar Cave

  • Location – Jehanabad District, Bihar
  • One of the oldest surviving rock cut cave in India, dating back to Mauryan age, some with Ashokan inscription.
  • Situated on twin hills of Barabar (four caves) and Nagarjuni (three caves).
  • Lomus rishi cave, which imitates the contemporary timber architecture and Sudama cave are the major attraction.
  • These caves acted as Buddhist chaiyas and viharas.
  • Also, one cave was given to Ajvika sect.


  • The rock shelters on banks of river Suyal in Kumaon hills, Uttarakhand.
  • A pre-historic rock- painting site.
  • Painting can be divided into three categoriesman, animal and geometric pattern in white, black and red ochre.
  • Humans are represented in stick like form.
  • Long snouted animal, a fox, and multi legged lizard are animal motifs.
  • Wavy lines and rectangles and dots were geometric designs.
  • Interesting find is a hand linked dancing human figure.

Piklihal, Raichur, Karnataka.

  • Three types of paintings–painting in white, red ochre over a white background and painting in red ochre.
  • They belonged to late historical, early historical and Neolithic period.
  • Subjects depicted are–bulls, elephants, sambhars, sheep, goat, horses, stylized humans but rarely vegetable motifs.


  • Three types of paintings–painting in white,red ochre over a white background and painting in red ochre.
  • They belonged to late historical, early historical and Neolithic period.
  • Subjects depicted are– bulls, elephants, sambhars, sheep, goat, horses, stylized humans but rarely vegetable motifs.

Kondane Cave, Raigarh district, Maharastra.

  • 40 rock paintings of late historical period of second century B.C found.
  • Theme– hunting scenes, events of daily life, footprints, palm impression, trees.
  • A striking image found was that of a mythical figure, perhaps a demon.

Nasik/Pandavleni caves

  • These are a group of 24 caves carved between second century B.C.E and second century C.E representing the Hinyana Buddhist caves.
  • Located about 8 km south of Nashik.
  • All the caves were Viharas except cave number 18 which was a chaitya.
  • Also known as Trirashmi Buddhist caves.

Bagh caves

  • Located on the banks of Baghani river, in Dhar district, M.P.
  • Is a group of nine Buddhist caves which is famous for their mural paintings.
  • Legends say that these caves were established by Buddhist monk Dataka.
  • Period– 4th century AD to 6th century AD.
  • Jataka stories and Buddha life are painted on the rocks through a new technique called Tempera technique.


  • Constitute a group of rock-cut monuments that are located in western outskirts of Mumbai. Located within the forests of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
  • These caves were used as Buddhist viharas and chaityas and have beautiful Buddhist sculptures of which one of Avalokiteshwara is most distinctive.
  • Many inscriptions are found.The one mentioning the marriage of Satavahana ruler Vashistaputra Satkarni and daughter of Rudraman-I.
  • Period–First century BCE to tenth century CE.

Karle Caves

  • Near Lonavala, Pune.
  • Built during Satavahana rule.
  • Period–Second century BCE to fifth century CE.
  • It has world’s largest rock-cut chaitya.
  • The caves are historically associated with Mahasamghika sect of Buddhism and later with Hinduism.
  • Special feature is arched entrances and vaulted interiors.

Sittanavasal Cave Painting

  • Located in northwest of Pudukottai town in Tamil Nadu.
  • Is a Jain cave complex which flourished between 7th and 9th century AD under Pallava and Pandya rulers.
  • Famous for their Fresco paintings on walls and ceilings of the cave where animals, flowers, ponds and a dancing woman are gracefully painted.

Armamalai Cave

  • In Vellore district, Tamil Nadu.
  • A natural cave which is converted to Jain temple in eighth century CE during Pallava reign.
  • It contains cave paintings, petroglyphs, rock art and remains of Jain saints.
  • The mural paintings at the wall and roof of the caves are very beautiful.

Porivarai Cave Paintings

  • In the Nilgiri region of Tamil Nadu.
  • Largest Pre-historic cave paintings in South India.
  • There are about 500 cave paintings, created with white and red ochre and kaolin.
  • Theme– animal figures, archers in training, a battle scene, strange spiral shapes.
  • Masterpiece here is herd of bison.


  • In Wayanad district, Kerala.
  • The pre-historic caves, on Ambukuthi mala hills.
  • There are Stone Age pictorial writings on the wall of these natural caves.
  • Older group of paintings and engravings are more than 7000 years old and depict pre-historic tribal chieftains, queen, animals etc

Also read-

Major Rock Edicts of Ashoka


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