Bhil Tribe: Society Then And Now[Part 1]

Posted on August 24, 2012 in Culture-Vulture

By Sanjukta Krishnagopal:

When it comes to tribes and their varied cultures, our country has a large and diverse platter to offer. Tribes, as third-world as the term might sound, it’s simply a bunch of like-minded people who share the same culture and follow a certain system of conduct, not unlike our own. It’s an oft misconstrued term that basically is just seen as an archaic way of saying caste.

A tribe that has held an honourable and much respected post in the past and continues to salvage what remains of its wonderful culture is the Bhil tribe of Mewar. Their USP, so to speak, is archery, as the name itself indicates. The Bhils or the archers are descendants of the original inhabitants of India. Hence, naturally they have been bearers of the original culture and tradition of India. They have been witnesses to the changing ethos, the fall of empires, the rise of some others, and sometimes lent a hand in these too. Some Bhils, in fact, are renowned for their involvement in the historic movements.

The word Bhil is derived from Bil or Vil, which means Bow. In olden times, when caste-ism was prevalent, and hierarchies prevailed, society was classified by job description. Bhils used to furnish the needs of Princes of Mewar with bowmen, supplies or by guarding their families. They were generally perceived as valiant and faithful people. Some famous Bhils who have carved a niche in the history of ancient India are Bhim, Bhim Singh Maharana, Bhimisi and Bhindar.

Bhils exist as small tribes and communities even today. In ancient times, they were employed by the kings of Mewar as warriors, or ‘protectors of freedom’. In colonial times they were employed by the Rajputs as Shikaris, who guided people along dangerous and rocky terrain with astounding precision and courage. Today there is a Mewar Bhil Corps – the acclaimed Corps of Mewars. The Bhils gradually developed excellent knowledge of geography and weather conditions, as their profession demanded that of them. Over time, as society progressed, and communities got dismantled, the Bhils too, found it hard to protect their tribe. They were warriors and shikharis, jobs whose importance decreased over time. In the current day and age, their services are outweighed by modern technology.

Let’s be honest, any of us, would much rather rely on a GPS system to guide us around town, than a tribal however proficient. So, over the course of time, the Bhils lost not only their means of livelihood but also their skill to a small extent. Thus it became imperative for them to form communities such as the Mewar Bhil Corps to keep their tribe and their tradition alive. Presently, most Bhils are farmers, and a small portion of them are labourers. This tribe has witnessed a great many changes, and contributed to a large number of them too. Thus, its position in history and society is something no one can dare to question.