Bhil people

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Bhils or Bheel
Total population
c. 17 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
          Madhya Pradesh5,993,921[1]
          Andhra Pradesh604[1]
 Pakistan (Sindh)1,200,000 to 1,700,000(2020)[3]
Bhil languagesMarathiGujaratiSindhiHindi
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Aryan peoples, Bhel (tribe), Warli, Halba

Bhils or Bheels are an Adivasi ethnic group in West India. They speak the Bhil languages, a subgroup of the Western Zone of the Indo-Aryan languages. As of 2013, Bhils were the largest tribal group in India.[4]

Bhils are listed as indigenous people of the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan—all in the western Deccan regions and central India—as well as in Tripura in far-eastern India, on the border with Bangladesh. Bhils are divided into a number of endogamous territorial divisions, which in turn have a number of clans and lineages. Most Bhils now speak the language of the region they reside in, such as Marathi, Gujarati or a Bhili language dialect.


A family of Bhil hunters

Some scholars suggest that the term Bhil is derived from the word billa or billu which means bow in the Dravidian lexis. The term Bhil is used to refer to "various ethnic communities" living in the forests and hills of Rajasthan's southern parts and surrounding regions of western India, highlighting the "popularity of the bow and arrow as a weapon among these groups". It is also used as a blanket term to refer to the autochthonous peoples of these areas.[5]


The Bhils of what is now the state of Gujarat rebelled on several occasions during the British colonial era, notably in 1846, 1857–58 and 1868.[6]

Along with a number of other Indian social groups, the Bhils were designated as a criminal tribe by the British colonial government under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, which meant that a Bhil could be "randomly picked up, tortured, maimed or even killed" by the colonial authorities. Susan Abraham notes that many of the tribes characterized as criminal under the Act had earlier rebelled against the East India Company and participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She claims that the British colonial government legislated the Act in 1871 in the wake of these autochthonic tribes' proclivity for rebellion.[7]

Mutiny against Mewar State[edit]

According to Ram Pande, in 1881, the Bhils protested against "the census classification, prohibition on alcohol manufacture, establishment of police and customs, and the ban on the killing of witches". Their campaigning was stepped up and given meaning by Govind Guru who was a social and political leader. Pande suggests that because of his long-term work among the tribe, Guru was able to talk them round to refrain from consuming meat and alcohol, and to pressurize the state for the formation of village councils which could administer their own affairs and for barring forced labor. In 1917, Mewar State's Girasias joined the Bhils in the struggle to get the petty taxes and forced labour quashed, and to get the land revenues decreased. Taking note of these protests, the jagirdars of Mewar had called on a British political agent to suppress the mutiny. Pande noted that 1,500 Bhils got shot in 1908. In 1921, the tribals and peasants united under the leadership of Motilal Tejawat in the struggle against "forced labour, petty taxes, the disparity in taxes, high taxes and the tyrannical ways of the jagirdars". Tejawat's thoughts drew followers from the Bhils and Girasias of the Danta, Idar, Palanpur and Sirohi regions of Gujarat; and he "became a notorious offender against the state".[8]


The Bhils are inhabitants of Dhar, Jhabua, Khargone and Ratlam districts of Madhya Pradesh. A large number of Bhils live in the neighbouring States of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. They constitute the third largest tribe of India; the first two being Gonds and Santhals [9] According to Victoria R. Williams, the Bhils are India's "most widely dispersed tribal group". A small population of Bhils also resides in Pakistan's Sindh.[10]

Present circumstances[edit]

The Bhil are classified as a Scheduled Tribe in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tripura under the Indian government's reservation program of positive discrimination.[2]


The Bhil are divided into a number of endogamous territorial divisions, which in turn have a number of clans and lineages. In Rajasthan, they exist as Meena, Bhil Garasia, Dholi Bhil, Dungri Bhil, Dungri Garasia, Mewasi Bhil, Rawal Bhil, Tadvi Bhil, Bhagalia, Bhilala, Pawra, Vasava and Vasave.[11][a]


Partial specimen of the Bhili language

The language commonly spoken by Bhils throughout their geographic distribution is Bhili.[12] Bhili has about up to 36 identified dialects and pronunciation differs by region.[12][13] Bhili is based on Gujarati, but dialects of Bhili gradually merge into more widely spoken languages such as Marathi in the southeast and Rajasthani in the northwest. Around 10 million people recorded themselves as speaking a Bhili dialect in the census.[14]

Estimates of individuals speaking the language are often inaccurate as speakers of minor languages like Bhili have sometimes been treated as having major languages (such as Marathi or Gujarati) as their mother tongue.[15]


Bhils have rich and unique culture. The Bhilala sub-division is known for its Pithora painting.[16] Ghoomar is a traditional folk dance of Bhil tribe.[17][18] Ghoomar is the symbol of womanhood. Young girls take part in this dance and declare that they are stepping into the shoes of women.


Bhil painting is characterised by the use of multi-coloured dots as in-filling. Bhuri Bai was the first Bhil artist to paint using readymade colours and paper. Other known Bhil artists include Lado Bai, Sher Singh, Ram Singh and Dubu Bariya.[19]


Main foods of Bhils are maize, onion, garlic and chili which they cultivate in their small fields. They collect fruits and vegetables from the local forests. Wheat and rice are used at time of festivals and other special occasions only. They keep self-made bows and arrows, swords, knives, axes etc with them as weapons for self-defense and hunting the wild fauna which also form the major part of their diet. They profusely use alcohol distilled by them from the flower of Mahua (Madhuca longifolia). On festive occasions, various special preparation from the dish rich, i.e. maize, wheat, barley, malt and rice. Bhils are traditionally non-vegetarian.[20]


A Bhil woman in gala dress

The traditional dresses of men are Pagri, Angarkha, Dhoti and Gamchha. Traditionally women wear Sari and Ghagra Choli.

There are many traditional ornaments of Bhils. Men wear Kada, Bajuband, Chain, ear rings, Kardhani. Women wear variety of ornaments including hansli, ring, Zele-zumke, earring, narniyan[what language is this?] (bangle), nathni (nose-jewel) etc. Tattooing is traditional custom among them. Women folks do tattooing generally before marriage.[20]

Faith and worship[edit]

Every village has its own local deity (Gramdev) and families too have their Jatidev, Kuldev and Kuldevi (house hold deity) which is symbolised by stones. 'Bhati dev' and 'Bhilat dev' are their serpent-god. 'Baba dev' is their village god. Karkulia dev is their crop god, Gopal dev is their pastoral god, Bag dev is their Lion god, Bhairav dev is their dog god. Some of their other gods are Indel dev, Bada dev, Mahadevel, Tejaji, Lotha mai, Techma, Orka Chichma and Kajal dev.

They have extreme and staunch faith in superstitious beliefs and Bhopas for their physical, mental and psychological treatments.[20]

According to Victoria R. Williams, the Bhils "identify largely as Hindu". The Dang Bhils follow Christianity, and the Nirdhi and Tadivi Bhils follow Islam. A number of other Bhils follow Sonatan which is their "own religion". Williams states that Sonatan "blends Hindu beliefs and animistic philosophies".[10]


There are a number of festivals, viz. Rakhi, Navratri, Dashera, Diwali, Holi which are celebrated by the Bhils. They also celebrate some traditional festivals viz. Akhatij, Navmi, Howan Mata ki Chalavani, Sawan Mata ki jatar, Diwasa, Nawai, Bhagoria, Gal, Gar, Dhobi, Sanja, Indel, Doha etc. with ceremonious zeal and enthusiasm.

During some festivals there are a number of tribal fairs held at different places of districts. Navratri mela, Bhagoria mela (during Holi festival) etc.[20] Bhil community of Udaipur celebrate Gavari festival each year after Holi.[21]

Communal dance and festivities[edit]

A performance by Bhil dancers in Delhi

The chief means of their recreation is folk songs and dances. Women dance at birth celebrations, marriage functions t on a few festivals in traditional Bhili style accompanied by a drum beat. Their dances include the Lathi (staff) dance, Dhol dance, marriage dance, Holi dance, Battle dance, Bhagoria dance, Deepawal dance and hunting dance. Musical instruments include the Harmonium, Sarangi, Kundi, Bansuri, Apang, Khajria, Tabla, Jhanjh, Mandal and Thali. They are usually made from local products.[20]

Local political structure[edit]

Traditional Bhil villages are led by a headman (gameti). The gameti has authority and decision-making powers over most local disputes or issues.[22]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Vasava and Vasave in Rajasthan may be alternate transliterations of the name for a single community. The sources are unclear regarding this.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Census of India 2011. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner,used India. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b "List of notified Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census India. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  3. ^ Bhil of Pakistan, Hussain Ghulam (2020) Bielefeld University,million%20(as%20of%202020)
  4. ^ Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India (PDF). New Delhi: Ministry of Tribal Affairs. 2013. p. 10.
  5. ^ Gall, Timothy L.; Hobby, Jeneen, eds. (2009). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. 3 (2, illustrated ed.). Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale. p. 131. ISBN 9781414448916. OCLC 1112785346. The name Bhil identifies various ethnic communities inhabiting the hills and forests of southern Rajasthan and neighboring areas of western India. Some scholars argue that "Bhil" comes from the Dravidian word for bow (billa or billu) and reflects the popularity of the bow and arrow as a weapon among these groups. The term is also used in a broader sense to refer to the aboriginal peoples of this region.
  6. ^ Ghosh, S. K. (1987). Law Enforcement in Tribal Areas. Ashish Publishing House. p. 124. ISBN 9788170241003.
  7. ^ Abraham, Susan (July 1999). "Steal or I'll Call You a Thief: 'Criminal' Tribes of India". Economic and Political Weekly. Economic and Political Weekly. 34 (27): 1751–1753. JSTOR 4408149.
  8. ^ Unnithan-Kumar, Maya (1997). "Class Resistance and Identity". Identity, Gender, and Poverty: New Perspectives on Caste and Tribe in Rajasthan (illustrated ed.). Oxford; Providence: Berghahn. p. 240. ISBN 978-1571819185. OCLC 1043247151.
  9. ^ Maheshwari, J. K.; Kalakoti, B. S.; Lal, Brij (1986). "Ethnomedicine of bhil tribe of jhabua district, m. P". Ancient Science of Life. 5 (4): 255–261. ISSN 0257-7941. PMC 3331472. PMID 22557535.
  10. ^ a b Williams, Victoria R. (2020). "Bhil". Indigenous Peoples: An Encyclopedia of Culture, History, and Threats to Survival [4 Volumes] (illustrated ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio. p. 179. ISBN 978-1440861185. OCLC 1107833866.
  11. ^ "List of Scheduled Tribes". Census of India: Government of India. 7 March 2007. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  12. ^ a b Mehta, Sonu (2004). "Bhils - I". In Mehta, Prakash Chandra (ed.). Ethnographic Atlas of Indian Tribes. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House. p. 191. ISBN 9788171418527.
  13. ^ Phillips, Maxwell P. (2012). Dialect Continuum in the Bhil Tribal Belt: Grammatical Aspects (phd). University of London. p. 23.
  14. ^ Ratnagar, Shereen (2010). Being Tribal. Delhi: Primus Books. ISBN 9789380607023.
  15. ^ "Paper No. I - Languages". Census of India 1951. 1954. pp. 61.
  16. ^ Pachauri, Swasti (26 June 2014). "Pithora art depicts different hues of tribal life". Indian Express. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  17. ^ Kumar, Ashok Kiran (2014). Inquisitive Social Sciences. Republic of India: S. Chand Publishing. p. 93. ISBN 9789352831098.
  18. ^ Danver, Steven L. (28 June 2014). Native People of The World. United States of America: Routledge. p. 522. ISBN 978-0765682949.
  19. ^ "Bhil Art - How A Tribe Uses Dots To Make Their Story Come Alive". Artisera. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d e Singh, V. P.; Jadhav, Dinesh (January 2011). Ethnobotany of Bhil Tribe. ISBN 9789387307360.
  21. ^ "GAVARI: A tribal dance drama by the Bhil community of Udaipur". Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  22. ^ Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 439. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  23. ^ "Bhuri Bai | Paintings by Bhuri Bai | Bhuri Bai Painting -". Saffronart.
  24. ^ "Lado Bai". Bhil Art.
  25. ^ Ramaṇikā Guptā; Anup Beniwal (1 January 2007). Tribal Contemporary Issues: Appraisal and Intervention. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-81-8069-475-2.
  26. ^ "Ahmed Patel saviour Chhotubhai Vasava puts Congress in bind". dnaindia.

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