India : the Bhil tribe

Bhil man. India.

Bhil man. India.

Bhils are the largest tribe in South Asia ( about 13.000.000 people). They live in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra and also in Pakistan. There was a time when they were known as fine archers hence their name ( vil = bow). Indeed, Bhil bowmen are mentioned in both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the two great epics of India. In the mediaeval times, they were highly regarded as warriors, and the Rajput rulers of Rajasthan relied heavily on them to thwart their enemies… and later the invading Mughals and Marathas. Some scholars even suggest that the Rajputs owe their warrior propensities to their exposure to the Bhil, whom they emulated. The British formed a corps in the 1820s in recognition of the Bhils’ martial tradition.

Although originally food gatherers, they have now taken up small-scale agriculture. They are very poor. To make ends meet, many have become daily workers, low wage earners in cities, in factories,… The literacy rate, particularly among the women, is one of the lowest of any group in India which make them prime targets for exploitation and bonded labour.

Witchcraft and magic are deeply rooted aspects of their culture.

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3 Responses to India : the Bhil tribe

  1. Anannya Deb says:

    In Udaipur, at Moti Magri, there is a park with a memorial to Rana Pratap, the founder of the Mewar kingdom. In that park there is this statue of the Bhil chief (http://www.flickr.com/photos/adzone/8189047496/) who was his ally in the battles against the Mughals. In the famous Battle of Haldighati in 1576, he and his troops used their knowledge of the hilly terrain to gain the higher ground and cause havoc on the Mughal armies. The Bhil tribe is honoured by being part of the Mewar state emblem.

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