THE BHILS OF MADHYA PRADESH
The rich cultural tradition of the Bhils of Madhya Pradesh is manifest in their rituals, their songs and dances, their community deities, tattoos, myths and lore. Their homes reveal an innate sense of aesthetics. Walls are plastered every year and decorated with clay relief work, mittichitra, and paintings. Their materials are simple, homemade – pigments extracted from the leaves and flowers of various plants, daubed on with brushes made of rag or a cotton swabs fastened to twigs of neem.
When a child is born, he or she is ceremonially inducted into the Bhil cultural fold. The baby is laid on a heap of maize. The paternal cousin picks her/him up and refuses to hand the baby back to the mother until she is presented with gifts. Touching grain soon after birth is auspicious, as is the sound of laughter in the newborn’s ears.
The Bhils also have several forms of marriage, which allow for freedom in the selection life partners. There is a bride price system which cuts across all forms of marriage, even elopement. At births and weddings, songs are sung to invoke the blessings of elders, ancestors, deities. During every festival, the Bhils dance the garba and through their songs, invite the goddesses to join them. Sometimes in the song, a devi replies that she cannot join the dance as her baby is crying. Bhil gods and goddesses are very much a part of daily life.
Among the Bhils of Jhabua, Pithora painting is a ritual held in great esteem. Pithora horses are painted by the lekhindra, the traditional painter and offered to the devas. As the story goes, in the kingdom of Dharmi Raja, people had forgotten how to laugh or sing and dance. Pithora, the prince, then undertakes a journey on horseback to the abode of the goddess Himali Harda, who gives them back their laughter, songs and dance. Pithora wall paintings depict the Bhil creation myth.
Everything connected with the Bhil life is painted – the Sun, the Moon, the animals, trees, insects, rivers, fields, mythological figures, the god, Bhilvat Deo Baramathya, who has twelve heads, Ektangya, who has only one leg.
The Bhils, like all adivasis, live close to nature. Their economy is based in agriculture and when the rains fail, they face great hardship. The sowing season is always preceded by anxiety. When the monsoon does not come, Bhils in their hundreds migrate to Bhopal, Kota and Delhi to work as construction labour. Some go to work in the cities between the sowing and harvesting seasons.
Bhuri Bai of Pitol came to work in Bhopal in the 80’s. Today she works as an artist in the Adivasi Lok Kala Academy and raised awareness about Bhil life through her paintings. Prema Fatya, the Bhil artist of Jhabua preferred to live in Jhabua. His work in Pithora houses adorn the walls of the Museum of Mankind at IGRMD, in Bhopal, where in the mythology trail, he has depicted the Bhil myth of Pithora Kunwar.