Bastar. The very
name spells magic, conjuring up images of perhaps the most exotic
tribals of India. The track nestled amidst the hallowed land of
Dandakaranya through which Lord Rama is supposed to have passed.
Scholars have also identified Valmikis (author of the epic
Ramayana) asharam here.
Bastar has largely bee,
as one historian put it, the backwater of the river of Indian
history. It has the largest concentration of tribals anywhere
in the world. This land is richly endowed with mineral wealth and
also with enormous forest resources.
On the mountains of
Abujmarh spread over the tehsils of Narainpur, Bijapur and Dantewara
live the Maria tribals of Bastar. This 3900 square kilometre tract
of dark closed region shelters about 6000people in some 190 villages.
According to the anthropologist, Grigson, the Marias have mongoloid
blood in them. They have a coppery complexion with straight black
hair, wide mouth and thick lips. The women are graceful, light in
complexion and pretty. The jewellery the Maria women wear is even
more exotic. Most of it is hand-made necklaces made of cane,
grass or beads. They decorate their hair with combs made of bamboo
and fillets. On their wrists they wear a number of loose cylindrical
bracelets of aluminium and brass. The men mostly carry a knife
called kaseyeq which tucked into the loin cloth they wear
around their waist. The men also wear a small turban sometimes. The
women on the other hand tie a skirt around their waist which hangs
down to the knees, they have tattoos on their faces, foreheads, arms
Like most tribals the
Marias have few inhibitions. The women enjoy a considerably amount
of freedom. Both boys and girls are allowed to spend a nigh out in
the ghotul (king of rest-house) every week. Cases of
pregnancy are few, if there are the boys are fined and the
girls are married off to the boy of the parents choice. The
girls husband always accepts the child as his own. Widow
remarriages are common. Girls have the freedom to seek divorce.
Divorce is permitted on the grounds of adultery, incompatible temper,
inefficient house-keeping and barrenness. A wifes fidelity is
however a sensitive issue.
Ghotuls have generated a
considerable amount of curiosity in the world outside Bastar. Among
the Marias these are regarded as a shrine built and protected by
Lingo Pen, a Gond cult hero. Here the unmarried boys of the village
learn songs and dance from their leader. They also sleep in the
ghotuls. Once a week there is a dance when girls also participate.
It is treated like a pilgrimage. The Marias believe that conception
cannot take place within its walls.
Weddings are a simple
affair. The boys father goes with gifts to the girls
house. The ceremony is simple. The boys father says, We
have heard there is a flower growing in your garden. We have come to
pluck it and put it in our hair. The bride and bridegroom are
then locked in a room and water is poured from the roof of the house
onto the bridal pair. There is general merriment all over.
Goddess Danteswari is the
reigning deity of the Marias. They also deify the spirit of the
forests, hills, trees and soil. Marias are steeped in superstition.
They have immense faith in magic and sorcery. In one village where
Elwin, the anthrographs it was declared that he had made all the
women barren. The Marias believe that one reason why the crops are
so poor is that officials defile mother earth by trampling on her
with their shoes.
Rice is the principal
crop of the area. Maize and millet-like cereal are also grown. The
Maria also ekes out his food supplies from mahuwa and yams,
another jungle product. Marias are mostly omnivorous and are known
to eat squirrels. They supplement their diet with roots and tubers.
Red ants are special delicacies as are flying ants, mushrooms, crabs
They are addicted to the
use of liquor brewed from the mahuwa and tari. They are fond of
fish. Pork is a major item in their diet and almost every major
ceremony commences with the sacrifice of a pig.
Bastar often resounds and
reverberates with the beats of the drum. The days strains and
worries are dissolved into evening dance and song. Country dances
are the chief source of amusement and cockfighting, a favourite
pastime. The dancers wear gay colours, the drummers wear a headdress
of bison horn and shells with tall cock and peacock feathers.
Otherwise simple and austere they appear at the dances in psychedelic
clothes and accessories
The Bastar tribals
kingdom of happy laughter, gay abandon, dance and song, of limited
wants, a small world of peace and freedom, is today jutted against
avarice and clamour of the modern world. They are the most cheerful,
light-hearted people, with a great sense of humour. Freedom they
value as their most precious possession. In spite of the travails of
existence the Maria retains a happy cheer. The sufferings of a
tribal can be well gauged, when he sleeps outside by the fire-side
and amidst the roar of wild animals. He lives totally in the
present, knowing nothing of the past or the future. When a village
site is changed, almost everything is abandoned. When he dies, his
clothes, his tangia, utensils, everything belonging to him, is
buried with him.
Today change is the word
which the sylvan gods of Bastar whisper all around fake
imitation jewellery has flooded the weekly markets with all its hues
and glamour; bells and brass ornaments: plastics and mirrors hold out
a big attraction for the simple folk; plumes and bindis are
bought with glee. The change in other basic values in many cases is
fast whipping the countryside. The Bastar tribals has been ushered
into the crucial social milieu where articulate fissures in his
traditional life have emerged on the surface. His expectation is
exploding. Lets hope the small world of his aspirations is not