Bhil tribals find soulmates during Holi season

Bhopal, Feb 28 (IANS) Marriages do not take place in the Holi season, according to Hindu traditions. But the Bhil tribals of central India spend the entire week before the festival matchmaking.

Love, romance and even marriage is in the air for the Bhil tribals of Madhya Pradesh as Holi approaches. For, just preceding the festival is the week-long event of Bhagoria Haat.

The Bhil tribals in the West Nimar region and the Jhabua belt of Madhya Pradesh organise the Bhagoria Haat, a week before Holi, the festival of colours that falls Monday.

The ‘haat’, or country fair, is special for the community because this is where young men and women look for soulmates.

Bhils constitute around 22 percent of the state’s 80-million population.

During the festival, men and women interact freely, dancing to the beats of ‘dhols’ (drums) and ‘thalis’ (plates), the melody of the bansuri (flute) and another musical instrument shehnai amid the fragrance of tadi and mahua – two types of locally-brewed liquor.

During the colourful tribal festival, which allows young people to choose their partners, boys and girls from far and near gather in large numbers. They eat, drink, dance and then elope as part of the wedding rituals.

Changing times, however, have caught up with this ritual. While earlier they would dress up in all their tribal finery, today Bhil men wear Western-style shirts and trousers and come to the ‘haat’. The women have started applying lipstick and talc.

And how do they woo each other?

‘The boy applies ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) on the face of the girl and if she reciprocates, they move towards a secluded place deep inside the forest to know each other better. Young men and women interested in each other may also exchange betel leaf as a declaration of love,’ said Bhil youth Rajesh, who chose his life partner in one such ‘haat’.

Couples who elope as per the ‘bhagoria’ custom (‘bhag’ means to run) are then accepted by society. ‘A woman and a man, who decide to elope, come back to a tumultuous welcome by the day Holi is celebrated and are pronounced wife and husband by their elated families,’ the Bhil youth said.

Nowadays, many villagers from this part of the country migrate in search of work. But this is one time of the year when they try their best to get back to their villages for one of the most important festivals on their calendar.

‘The festival provides an institutionalised framework to announce the alliance publicly, though in Hindu mythology the eight-day period preceding Holi, known as Holika Ashtak, is considered inauspicious for marriages or any good work,’ said Ganga Sagar, employed as a supervisor in Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) here.

‘The important thing is that unlike other cases, the boy here has to pay the price (dowry) for his would-be partner to her father. The price of a girl these days is Rs.50,000-75,000,’ his son Rahul Sagar, a prospective groom, said.

The Bhagoria Haat, which coincides with the end of the harvest season, is also a platform to resolve old disputes. The festival assumes additional splendour if the crops have been good.

Apart from eloping, it is a time to dance and to feast. Most men put on bells to dance to the tune of flutes and drums while the women sing. At the seasonal markets, set up in many villages, youngsters enjoy rides on swings and merry-go-rounds.

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