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Aboriginal Tribes of India and Pakistan

Hawabai Mustafa Shah

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Tags: Asia » India » Anthropology

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Aboriginal Tribes Of India And Pakistan, The Bhils and Kolhis, covers all aspects of the lives of these tribes, including their religious festivals, family festivals, folk thoughts, social life, cosmology, customs and manners, Ancestry, History, Occupation, General Characteristics, and cultural identity.

This book has 62 pages in the PDF version.

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Excerpt from Aboriginal Tribes of India and Pakistan

The Bhils belong to the so-called aboriginals of India. This is practically all that is known about their ancestry. There was a time when they were regarded as Dravidians, closely related to the Gonds. But this opinion has been discarded. The physiognomy and the nature of the Bhils and those of the Dravidians differ too much to allow us to place them in the same racial fold. The Bhils are more primitive, more original, simply children of nature. In this respect they differ considerably even from the least developed of the Dravidians, namely the Gonds, which are their neighbours.

It is noteworthy that the Bhils also, from a linguistic point of view, differ widely from the Dravidians, their language being of Aryan origin.

Another theory has been advanced, namely that the Bhils are a Munda people, that is to say, they are closely related to the so-called Kols and Santals in Bengal, Bihar and Assam. This theory is more probable. The one who has had an opportunity to see and associate with these people cannot fail to observe a certain similarity between them and the Bhils. Here is the same primitive nature, and partly at least, the same physiognomy. But this does not settle the question, however, we are not yet in a position to make a positive and definite statement in this respect. The language may or may not be a guiding star. If, however, due regard is paid to the language it will lead us in another direction. The Munda and the Bhil dialects have very little or no organic relations. Nor does history provide us with a solution of the problem,

The question of the origin of the Bhils is thus still left unsettled. All that we can say is that they seem to belong to the aboriginals which do not seem to be so very closely related to the Dravidians. They are probably still older, pre-Dravidians.

Many attempts have been made to discover from the name of the tribe, their original status and cultural conditions if not their racial origin at the time of the Aryan invasion of their country.

Different theories have been advanced. Bhil is thus said to have been derived from the Dravidian word 'billa’, a bow. In that case the name would mean a bowman. This derivation is, however, not very likely. It is true that the Bhils are skilful archers, and were more so in days gone by, but other Indian aborigines have not been inferior to them when it comes to this skill. Thus there is no reason why they should just be called bowmen above all others. Others have derived the word Bhil from the Sanskrit word ‘billa’, meaning, hole, cave, etc. Should this derivation be right, the Bhil would originally have been a cave dweller. I think this conjecture, too, is wrong.

A third theory is more plausible. According to this, the word Bhil is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘abhira’, a cowherd. Via Prakrit, bhilla, the word has arrived at its present form, bhil. One does not require much linguistic experience to realize the possibility of a word undergoing changes in this way. In Hindi and other North Indian languages, a cowherd is still called ahir. In Cutch there lives a comparatively large group of ahirs, whose mother tongue is so closely related to the Bhili dialects that is Grierson’s Linguistic survey they have been treated as one of them. And further: in Khandesh there is a Bhili dialect called Airani, which is the same as ahirani, i.e. the language of the ahirs or cowherds.

At the stage of our present knowledge there are reasons to interpret the word Bhil as a cowherd. Thus the Bhils may be supposed to have been cowherds originally, i.e. at the time of the Aryan invasion. If this interpretation is right, the Bhils must have reached a fairly high standard of civilization at that time.

In the annals of history the Bhils figure very rarely. It is, however, believed that they can be traced as far back as 2000years ago, if not further. The great Alexandrinian geographer, Klauditos Ptlomaios, who flourished in the beginning and middle of the second century mentions an Indian people called Phyllitas. There is reason to believe that this refers to the Bhils, who then, more than now, had their abode on the west coast.

In Mahabharata, the longest epic the world has ever seen and written about 200 B.C. the Bhils are referred to under the name of Pulinda as participants in the great war described in the epic. Valmiki’s Ramayana which is believed to have been composed about 500 B.C. is also acquainted with the Bhils. They fought in Rama’s army against Rawan, the despotic demon from lanka (Ceylon), And Rama the seventh avatar of vishnu, is said to have eaten berries from the hand of a Bhil woman, Sabari. If, as is generally supposed, Rama should have lived and reigned about 1600 B.C., the Bhils must have been a people known in India since the time of Moses’ appearance in Egypt. Besides these two epics, other holy books of the Hindus, e.g. Panch Tantra mention the Bhils.

When we draw closer to modern times we find the Bhils mentioned more frequently on the pages of history. During the long wars waged by the Muhammedan kings and their rule over India the Bhils play a rather important role. About 1000 A.D. they were in possession of large tracts of Gujerath and Central India. By and by they were, however, expelled from their ancestral land both by the Muslims and the Rajputs and their land was occupied. But this did not take place without bloody fighting. And the Bhils were never completely subdued. In the unapproachable backwoods they continued to live an independent life.

By the Moghul rulers they are praised as a diligent and law abiding people. And previous to that time, in the eleventh century, their villages are held up as models, where industriousness and cleanliness are prevailing, law being administered, and discipline strictly applied.

In mythology the Bhil woman is glorified as being plucky, pretty and chaste. Thus, for instance, when Pravati wanted to charm Mahadev in order to make him forgo his ascetic life, she adopted the shape of a bhildi (bhil woman). Most wonderful of all that tradition has to tell is that Valmiki, the great author of Ramayana, was a Bhil. This goes to prove that the Bhils, thousands of years ago, occupied a prominent place among the various peoples of India, and that their culture at that time had reached a high standard.

End of excerpt.

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