Bhil tribe is an indigenous non-Aryan tribal group mainly settled in the central region of the country. The name Bhil is derived from Dravidian word bhilawar, which means archer. There is a variation in opinion about the word from which the name of the Bhil tribe came. Some say that Bhil is derived from `billee` meaning bow; some say that `Bhil is derived from the Dravidian word bil or vil. The members of Bhil community are believed to be the oldest inhabitants of southern Rajasthan
, which comprises the districts of Dungarpur
. The Bhils are traditionally hunters and gatherers and follow a rudimentary lifestyle. In the past, Bhil people used to reside in dense forests. The position of Bhils as the earliest residents of the central province was also recognised by their employment as village watchmen. Bhil tribe is also reckoned as the third largest tribe in India after the Gond tribe
and the Santhal tribe
. Bhils mostly speak Bhil languages and they are scheduled tribes.
Society of Bhil Tribe
The Bhils are the inhabitants of Madhya Pradesh
and are more prominent in Dhar District
, Jhabua District
, and West Nimar region. The Bhil tribes have two sub-divisions namely central Bhils, and the eastern or part Rajput Bhils. In their society, marriage within the same clan is prohibited. Marriage within first cousins is also not allowed. Sacrifices are also made during several occasions. Widow-remarriage is allowed in their society. They also allow polygamy. The eastern Bhils reside in the mountains of central western India particularly in northern Gujarat
, southern Rajasthan and northern Maharashtra
. The gallantry of the Bhils has also been mentioned in the Indian legends like Mahabharata
. The previous history of the Bhils is unknown but according to some scholars they inhabited India before the arrival of the Dravidians. It has also been assumed that they are amongst the earliest group of people in the sub-continent.
The Bhil people are generally medium-sized with dark skin and thick hair. The Bhils are strong and brave people maintaining simple lifestyle and habits. Though they are excellent warriors, to earn their livelihood they mainly work as peasant farmers, field labourers, and village watchmen. Bhili is their dialect which is an Indo-Aryan language
. Their dialect also includes Rajasthani, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi words, and also some unique words without any non-Sanskrit elements in it. They are the worshippers of numerous Hindu deities, chiefly a deity by the name of Raja Pantha. Bhils also worship crops, fields, water, the forest and the mountains. The Bhils are highly religious by nature and they worship several Hindu deities. They are superstitious too and wear charms and amulets for keeping off all kinds of evil spirits. They usually bury the dead and also observe some funeral rites. Bhils do not accept any outsider into their community. They eat all kinds of flesh and drink liquor. They are mainly engaged in farming and cultivation.
Culture of Bhil Tribe
The Bhil people have a rich indigenous culture. Ghoomar dance is one of the popular aspects of Bhil culture. Sawang is a popular form of entertainment among the Bhil tribes. This form consists of story telling combined with dancing and music with an abundance of drinking. They celebrate their festivals in honour of their departed ancestors. One of the most famous and important festival of the Bhils is the Gavri. This is considered as an honour and a duty to participate in a roving group of performers who enact Hindu stories in village squares throughout their district. Gavri is enjoyed by the participants and audience alike. As this festival restricts the female participation in the dramas and programmes enacted in the festival, so the part of the females is played by the men. The performers are dressed in colourful and showy costumes. Moreover, a series of acts based on the Hindu epics, tales of the heroes and villains of Hindu scriptures are played in Gavri and due to this reason this festival is considered as a religious, even holy event to the people of Bhil tribe. Popular enactments include the legends of the great goddess Amba Mata, the story of one of the aspects of Lord Shiva
and his wife Parvati
. Apart from these they celebrate births, betrothals, marriages, Holi
, Baneshwar fair and hunting expeditions with great fervour.
The costumes of the Bhil tribes display a distinct characteristic that goes well with the rustic but ethnic lifestyle. The Bhil woman wears an upper garment called the kapada, a ghaghra and an odhna. The kapada is a short-sleeved cotton blouse, which is held by cloth ties at the back around the neck and the waist. The ghaghra is ankle-length and is ingeniously turned into a pair of trousers, while working in the fields. A string attached at the centre back of the hem is passed between the legs through a loop in the centre front hem and is then tucked in at the back waist, to look somewhat like a man`s dhoti. The fabric used has a resist-dyed print called `nandana`, often greenish-blue, dark-blue or black. To the same end, an ornament called the `pejania` was worn on the hands, arms and legs offering protection from thorns and animals. The women cover their torso and head with an `odhna` or `lugda`, made of hand-spun fabric that may be block-printed, resist-dyed or screen-printed. The typical Bhil bride wears a yellow `ghaghra` called a `piliya`, the colour of turmeric
, which is a symbol of purity. The ghaghra is worn by married Bhil-women in printed designs.
Bhil women also prefer to wear the bor and jhela on their forehead. Ornaments are a part of their dressing. Their ear-ornaments include the dhimmna and oganiya. The hansli, haar and tagli are the neck-ornaments that the Bhil women wear. The muthia are a set of bangles worn on the forearms and comprise the kasla and the kamkada. Kaslas are bangles made of coconut shells embellished with silver bands and the latter are plain bands of brass or lacquer worn around the wrist. Finger rings called beenti, and bidi are made of brass or copper. Married women wear brass anklets called `pejania`. Toe rings are called `bichiya` and are made of silver, brass or white metal. Tattoos are very popular and have acquired a certain social and religious significance. The people of Bhil community use patterns like birds, flowers and scorpions for tattooing. The usual areas tattooed are the forearms, wrists, forehead, chin, calves and feet. The women of this community wear an intricate and complicated hairstyle. Their hair is combed forward, to hang on the forehead and is pleated into an ornamental network that falls over the eyebrows. Another style is a centre parting with small plaits on either side of the forehead. These are intertwined with thick red-and-black cords called `lasa` and are joined to the main braid at the back of the head.
The costume of a Bhil man comprises a turban or `feto`, an angi, tunic and a lower garment called `potario`. The turban is made of a white handspun, hand-woven fabric. The tunic is made of coarse, hand spun, unbleached cotton. It is a full-sleeved, hip-length garment and has an asymmetrical front with a yoke. It is fastened with cloth ties at the shoulder and centre front. It has slits on the sides, with a bias edging. The lower garment is knotted around the waist and the entire length is drawn between the legs and tucked in at the back. Bhil men also keep a pacheri or shawl on their person. The dresses of the young Bhil boys are different from the mature men of this community. At the time of marriage, the groom wears an `ango`, a shin length tunic, which is worn with a turban and a dhoti.
Like the women, the Bhil men are also fond of ornaments. They wear murki in their ears, silver bracelets called bhoriya and a necklace called hansli, anklets or kada and silver belts around the waist called kandora. The men are fond of tattooing and their tattoos are different from that of women. They do not prick in the design, but rather brand their forearms with three to nine circular motifs called damla. There is a religious significance to this procedure, in that tattoos are believed to help the soul enter the gates of heaven.
The Bhil tribes are considered as a jovial and entertaining community who maintain their social and cultural echelon in a perfect level by enjoying different festivals with a persistence of religious beliefs.