Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bhils: The bow men of Rajasthan

The Bhils form an important group, which inhabits mainly the southern districts of Rajasthan and the surrounding regions of Udaipur and Chittaurgarh. The generic term, which describes their tribe apparently, derives its name from bil, meaning bow, which describes their original talent and strength.


History corroborates the legends, which tells about their superiority in archery. From the Mahabharata emerges Eklavya, a Bhil who surpassed the skill of Arjuna only to be repressed by the command of his guru. The Ramayana tells of Vail, the Bhil bandit who reformed with the blessings of the Saraswati, the goddess of learning, to become Valmiki, the renowned poet sage.

Even today, the accepted head of all the Rajput clan of Rajasthan, the Maharana of Udaipur is crowned by anointing his forehead with blood drawn from the palm of a Bhil chieftain, affirming the alliance and loyalty of his tribe.

The Bhils gained in strength by intermingling with rebellious, outcast Rajputs who sought shelter with them. Rajput rulers came to value the guerilla tactics of the Bhils, particularly since they were at ease in the hilly terrain. Various fierce invasions could not be repelled without their active support. Leading a camouflaged existence, the Bhils were unable to update their material techniques and this became the main cause of their relegation to the past where they stood as brave symbol rather than a real threat to an enemy.

For us these tribal people were a perceived threat as well as laughing stock. Though everyone was more than a little afraid in his/her mind while crossing the Bhil locality, jokes, overt discussions and mutual leg-pullings over Bhils entertained us and allowed us to exercise our creativity. It's only due to these excessive discussions and laughter, that we unknowingly traversed the badly terrained Udaipur-Mount Abu highway.

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