Saputara (Gujarat), Aug 9 (IANS) Among the Bhil tribal community in Gujarat’s Dang district, youths very often conduct the marriage of their parents! This is among the many quaint customs this broad-minded community has been following from age-old times.
According to Dayabhai Patel, a tribal from the area in southern Gujarat, the Bhils follow a tradition where if the parents of the bride are too poor to conduct the marriage, the girl is sent off with the boy after a formal engagement.
“It is a Bhil custom. The girl is sent to live in the husband’s house and they have kids. When the children grow up, they first marry off their parents before their own marriage,” Dayabhai, a driver with the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd (TCGL), told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Farooque Pathan, a tourist officer with TCGL, told IANS: “The tribals are very advanced people and very practical. Sometimes, parents conduct the wedding of their children a few years after the engagement. So, you could have the bride taking the marriage vows with her baby in her arms.”
Dayabhai, elaborating more on the tribal way of life, said: “People here were very poor. Hardly anyone possessed a radio, and a television was a novelty. If someone had a TV set, people would come from far off just to see it. But now things have changed. Some people are educated and hold jobs.”
Saputara is a hill station in Dang district, which has 311 villages and is about 164 km away from the state’s commercial capital of Surat. It is mostly inhabited by tribes like the Bhils, Gamits and Kunbis, who depend on the forest produce for their livelihood. The pretty countryside abounds with teak and bamboo trees. Along the way, very often one comes across small roadside shrines with figures of snakes, tigers or monkeys.
“They pray to five deities, the tiger, monkey, which is also associated with Hanuman, the peacock, the snake and the sun,” Dayabhai said.
Though Saputara literally means the abode of serpents, not many are found now. But with a rich array of medicinal herbs naturally available, the tribals have their own cures for many diseases as well as snake bites.
According to S.K. Nanda, the district in-charge who has spent many years in Dang, around 520 of the more than 1,000 medicinal plants mentioned in the list of medicinal drugs complied by the central government are found in Saputara.
Among the herbs found in Dang district is the prized safed muesli, widely used as a herbal medicine to boost male sexual vitality, said Dayabhai. “The muesli herb grows during the monsoon on the hills. The tribals pick it and sell it for more than Rs.1,200 a kg,” he said.
There is another herb that the tribals use to make instant curd. “Just a few drops of the plant juice is enough to turn a glass of milk into sweet tasting curd,” he said.
The tribals work hard on their fields, but sure know how to unwind.
“The tribal people are carefree and fun-loving. They follow the dictum ‘khowla, piyula, majula’ (eat, drink and be merry). They love food, drinks and love to celebrate,” Nanda said.
The locals love the brew made out of the mahua tree flower that abounds in the area and get drunk after a day’s work and on festive occasions.
Though they love to make merry, the tribals are careful of their diet. Their main food is big chapatis made of a millet called nangli. “Nangli is rich is calcium, vitamins and iron. It is a tonic food and has anti-ageing properties,” Nanda said. The people are slim and fit and walk for miles every day along the hilly roads.
As one drives past the fields, one can see the tribal people sowing rice and nangli saplings. A couple, Manu and Jeeva, covering themselves with a traditional raincoat made of bamboo frame with plastic sheet on top, smiled patiently as we took photographs. They were going to the local market three kilometres away to buy rice.
“They have finished working on the field and are going to buy rice and some other provisions,” said Dayabhai, translating what they said.
The smile is there on everyone’s face in Saputara. The ‘khowla, piyula, majula’ spirit is all-pervasive.