Cave Paintings Near Fatehpur Sikri


Mesolithic caves near Fatehpur Sikri
Animal painted in a cave called Nai ki Bhoot

Many of us have heard of the famous rock shelters and elaborate cave paintings from the Mesolithic period in Bhimbetka near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. However, you will be surprised to know that there is a similar network of rock shelters scattered across the last remaining sandstone hillocks near the villages in the vicinity of Fatehpur Sikri, an hour from Agra. 

Most of these hillocks have been mined for the stone but the few remaining are being protected after an order issued by the Supreme Court in India. These hillocks have open air caves that have paintings claimed to be from the Mesolthic period (+3,000 BC). I believe these pre-historic cave paintings were discovered in the 1970s, however, no work was (and has been to date) undertaken to protect and conserve them. Some caves have been vandalised and/or the art has faded over time.

Cave Painting near Agra
Cave Painting in Cheel Ki Gufa (the Eagle's Cave)

I jumped on the opportunity to visit these cave paintings on a recent visit organized by some friends from Agra. We visited three villages that are off the highway between Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. It is believed that there are several other locations where these paintings still exist. 

Ancient Cave Paintings near Fatehpur Sikri
Ancient Cave Paintings near Fatehpur Sikri

Let me caution you before some of you take it upon yourself to visit these places. Approaching these locations is tricky as the roads are through farmland, very narrow and not cemented. Post rains would be the worst time to visit. Villagers don't know the origin of these paintings so don't expect an elaborate and intelligent narrative from them. It is also not recommended to be in this area on your own once it gets dark. 

Rock paintings India
Steep access to one of the caves

For those of you with mobility issues, the steep climb up these hillocks will be a challenge. For those of you with vertigo, you will not be able to access some of the caves as you will have to walk on narrow rocky ledges with a drop of approximately 100-150 feet. In one of the caves you have to crawl or hunker down on your belly to get inside. 

Ancient cave paintings near Agra
Nai ki Bhoot Cave

Sounds like mission impossible but when you think of it, the humans who inhabited these caves handpicked these locations primarily for their inaccessibility. They wanted to ensure their safety was not compromised by wild animals and their enemies. They had a vantage point from where they could see far beyond and the caves were deep enough to hide them should they sense danger approaching. If the unwanted did make it up the hill, the entrance to the caves were narrow enough to allow only one individual to enter giving the resident cave men/women enough time to strike that individual down.

Mesolithic period cave paintings India
Paintings in a cave called Rani ka Khatola

The paintings we saw primarily depicted wild animals, people, bullock carts, mystical figures (looks like a bulls eye but could also be the circle of life) and a procession. One of the caves even depicted a bird in a cage, perhaps this was painted much later than the others. The colors used are red and black. When asked, the locals knew nothing of these cave paintings. An elderly man who was from the village said that the paintings were drawn several hundreds of years ago by a bride who languished the death of her family that perished when a huge piece of rock fell on them. They were apparently on their way to the groom's house. 

Ancient rock art in India
Paintings in a cave called Rani ka Khatola

There is lack of credible documentation on the origin, meaning and symbolism of these cave paintings. The cave paintings are also not protected and their existence is threatened as more and more hands will touch them. The area is used by cattle herders and local kids use the caves for their amusement. If no serious effort is undertaken by the government to protect and conserve these historical sites, I have no doubt that they will be lost in the sands of time. 

Caves from mesolithic period
This cave is named Cheel ki Gufa

I would like to thank Erum and Dheeraj who organized the walk. Mr. Jitendra and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for leading us to the location of these paintings. Please leave a comment below if you have more information about these paintings, have studied and provided credible commentary or have older photographs. Thank you.

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