15 tie knot this year in tribal districts of Jhabua
Love was in air tribal parts of central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Cupid strikes in an unusual way - single boys and girls elope to find their life partners in a colourful festival of the Bhils and Bhilalas. This is particular in Jhabua district of the state.
This is actually of the nature of a ‘mass svayamvara’, or a marriage market, usually held on the various market days falling before the Holi festival in March. As the name of the festival indicates, (bhag, to run), after choosing their partners, the young people elope and are subsequently accepted as husband and wife by society through predetermined customs.
It is not always that boys and girls intending to marry each other meet in the festival for the first time. In a large number of cases the alliance is already made between the two, the festival provides the institutionalised framework for announcing the alliance publicly.
The tradition is that the boy applies gulal, red powder, on the face of the girl whom he selects as his wife. The girl, if willing, also applies gulal on the boy's face. This may not happen immediately but the boy may pursue her and succeed eventually. The Bhagoria haat also coincides with the completion of harvesting, adding to it the dimension of being an agricultural festival as well. If the crops have been good, the festival assumes an additional air of gaiety. In the life of the Bhils and Bhilalas, Bhagoria is not merely one festival but in fact a series of fairs held one by one at various villages on their specific market days, commencing eight days before Holi.
Earlier men, wearing turbans and jewellery with cummerbunds, go all out to woo the girls in their colourful skirts, blouses and scarves. But changing times may have caught up with this quaint festival. Today Bhil males wear shirts and trousers to the mela and women too apply lipstick and talc.
At the heart of the mela is the uninhibited mingling of men and women and they celebrate it by dancing to the beat of dhols and thalis and the sweet melody of the shehnai and bansuri (flutes). Bhagordev or the god of Dance is worshipped on this occasion. With drum beats and flute tunes filling the air, they scout for prospective partners. They dance, sing and being together on the fairs' rickety merry-go-rounds. Sex is not a taboo during the period.
This time round, the Government tried to make things simpler for these seven days of tribal valentine bliss (am not sure one should use words like valentine in this part of India !!! ). For the first time mariages were registered on-the-spot and certificates issued immediately. Many did not like this too as they felt it works against the tribal culture but some did not bother, were too busy in something else..
- anil gulati
(These are personal opinions of the writer)