Monday, 7 June 2010

Bhill's Holi Festival in Satpura Ranges, India

Holi Festival with Difference In The Fourth World India

 Bhill tribe's Holi Festival goes for five days from the full Moon day. There are fairs at various villages near rivers and lakes. The atmosphere is charge with dances and singing. 

Holi and Tree worship are originally the tribal - aborigine - traditions, says Coomaraswamy. Later Aryans and Buddhist adopted them.

In the Vindhya and Satpura ranges run the Narmada River and its subsidiaries. The rivers and forest here are the lifeline of the tribal. For thousands of years they live in harmony with nature. As the civilized societies invaded the land the tribal retreated in the forests. Now the civilized societies have destroyed the forests there and assaulted their very sustenance.

Bhill culture is so rich that it should be understood as World Heritage and should be preserved. For more than ten thousand years, or perhaps from unknown time, they have been living in tune with nature. But now in the hurricane of development on western model it is doubtful how long the will last! 

From the time the Aryans came to India the exploitation that started continues. Aryans assimilated the tribal but as a "service class" or Shudra caste, that received a stigma of untouchable people, of course, by superior caste of Brahmans. Now the ruling class of India wants to bring the tribal in the dragnet of market economy. 

 Bhill communities are cohesive collectives. They don't have division of labour like so-called cultured civilized societies. Every a member of the community represents the community.

A tribal is complete person in Work - Leisure - Learning - Health -Propagation, who has no split personality like civilized man. There is no parallel to quality of their way of life in modern advance societies.  

On the night of Holi, the young-old, women and men from various hamlets gather at the place of lighting the Holi fire. They bring toddy pots, maze rotis and eggs of chickens along.

When the Full Moon is over the head, they fire the Holi. All the people in a row dance and sing around the Holi fire. Drinking toddy goes on in between. The night gets over in dancing and singing and drinking toddy. 
 As the Sun comes up, everyone gathers around the Holi fire; the leader collects all the rotis, breaks them in pieces, breaks and pours the raw eggs in a large bamboo basket, and mixes them together. This offering to Holi is then distributed to all; thus by eating the mixture they end the fast observed till then. 
  The glass bead ornaments which the Bhill youths are wearing in the picture above, are prepared by the Bhill women of the families, for themselves. The youth have painted their bodies with patterns of panther. Their flutes have only five tones. 

Girls / women tattoo peacocks on their hands or legs. Bhills too have 'tiger-god' like Warli and other tribes.

 During the five-day festival young men and women, who are usually 16 to 18 age, choose their spouses, and run away from the fair usually on the fifth day. Later the man's parents go to the girl's family requests for her in marriage. The boy's parents pay the dowry; for this occasion a day is fixed.

There is also a day fixed for fishing during this festival.

During the five days there are fairs at various places Bhills meet their relatives and friends from several villages. Their close ties and kinship are thus maintained.

Bhill House and Habitat

 In the background is natural forest preserved 
by the Bhills
On the hill in the background is monoculture plantation 
initiated by the government 

 There are two kinds of poverty:
One is the way of life to live sustainably withou exploitation of resorces; 
Other is inflicted by the powerful section of society on others.

In this region there are Flurospar mines. It gives quality of 75% Flurospar of mineral content. When I visited (in the late 1960s), mostly Bhill girls were working at the mines as laborers. They received daily wages, while the ruling minority monopolized the resources: land and minerals, both. The exploitation of tribal continues even now. The world is certainly watching the growing Maoist or Naxalite movement in parts of India, mostly the tribal areas.

The story Bhills is not complete here. There is no need to romanticize Bhills. During lean periods when food-stocks (maze is their stapple food) vanish, many live on toddy, which is known to kill hunger.  

  When my classmates, schoolmates and colleagues were leaving India for Europe and America, and most, or some of them opted to settle abroad, I was wandering in the hills and valleys and deserts, particularly among the tribal - aborigines - communities. I was never a tourist nor I wrote any travelogues. I was looking for the people who have been existing before "civilized societies" came, that they are still here; I was hoping that my roots certainly have reached there.  

And my whole way of living totally changed, transformed: Say, without any rites and rituals or ceremonies I was converted. A religious conversion? No. Religion, like soul, love, work, fxxk is a much abused, and decadent. My wanderings fulfilled my life.

I publish these pictures for the first time. I have an uneasy feeling. I have a dreary feeling, if am I making a mistake? Because even though I believe in humans, but my belief in the so-called cultured civilized societies is dwindling. 

My papers 1: "Tribal housing: Buddha and the art and science of Karavi hut", and 2: "Tribal housing and Habitat-2", though they refer in particular to Warli Tribe, are applicable in general to other tribes, of course, with variations.

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© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.


  1. I am fascinated by your story of Bhills. I know so little about them, almost nothing.
    Being a young homemaker I am curious to know how do the girls and boys choose their spouses on thei own?

  2. Kinship among Bhill community is very strong, though there are several families living in far and wide region. Obviously they know each other well. A girl sends her friend with “Tambul” or “Pan” to a boy, similarly a boy sends his friend to a girl. If she / he accepts the gift, it is understood that other one is interested in relationship. Then they meet in person, and elope.

  3. Remi, I am touched. And sad that the civilized society does not think of these people. Why could not the so called developers allow these tribes to preserve their faith and create " Amish" like habitats for them?

    I am baffled, how generations of rulers did not even think of these humble people who are part of their environment, and who in a way preserve it.

    I feel disturbed and wonder whether we are really "civilised?".
    By knowing about Adivasis, I feel part of knowing about our land and country.

    Thanks a lot for sharing those photographs. And a "Jai" to you.

    1. Thank you Pattuji, for you kind concern for my tribal friends. Please tell others about them.
      They have blessed me by teaching me by example, without words...
      What more could I say!
      I am slowly recovering their photos by scanning etc. taken over decades. I hope to share them with others.