For Bhil tribals, Holi is time to find soul mates

March 22nd, 2008 - 10:17 am ICT by admin  

Bhopal, March 22 (IANS) Marriages and the Holi season are not compatible according to Hindu traditions. But the Bhil tribals of central India spend the entire week before the festival matchmaking. 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 fell on Saturday.

The haat, or country fair, is special for the community because this is where young men and women look for soul mates. Bhils constitute around 22 percent of the state’s 60 million population.

During the festival men and women interact freely, dancing to the beats of dhols and thalis, the melody of the shehnai and bansuri 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 strange 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 in a show of modernity.

And how do they woo each other?

“The boy applies ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) on the face of the girl and if she reciprocates then they move towards a secluded place deep inside the forest to know each other better,” said Bhil youth Digraskar, who chose his life partner in one such haat.

Young men and women interested in each other also exchange betel leaf as a declaration of love.

Couples who elope according to 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 and are pronounced wife and husband by their elated families,” the Bhil youth said.

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 Kunwar Shah, employed as a supervisor in Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) here.

“The important thing is that unlike in 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 Babu Shah, 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.

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