Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tribal Life of Chattisgarh

Chhattisgarh is home to the oldest and densest tribal populations in India that still remains largely unadulterated by the outside world. Thanks to the remoteness and the inaccessibility of the region, the tribes have managed to keep living in more or less the same manner as their ancestors have for centuries. Subsistence farming and foraging for forest produce continuous to be the mainstay of their livelihood.

Ageless Art of Chhattisgarh Tribes

The ancestral legacy of the various tribes on in their arts and handicrafts that are studied by design schools all over the world as examples of unadulterated design. The relative isolation of the region and its diverse tribes means that their crafts have remained unaffected by alien influences and are crafted in more or less the same fashion as they had been for centuries.

chhattisgarh tribal art
Traditional blow horn of Gonds

The region’s unique terracotta, bell metal and wrought iron sculptures are indeed distinct and could not possibly by mistaken for the work of any other region. A number of ‘Shilpagrams’, or artist villages in the district offer the perfect opportunity to witness the master craftsmen at work. These villages are not tourist traps set up with the specific purpose of lightening your pockets. They are real villages, where the artists have lived with their families for generations. The tradition traces its origins to the kings of Bastar, who recruited artists and gave them entire villages to live and work in.

Nagarnar, an hour’s drive from the district headquarters at Jagdalpur, is one such potter’s village. Near little houses with thatched roofs and walls freshly plastered with mud and decorated with colourful tribal motifs line the narrow streets. Konda Gaon, 90 km from Jagdalpur, is a sculptor’s village. Jaidev Baghel, a master craftsman whose passport would put most CEOs to shame, is somewhat of a local celebrity who has earned international acclaim for his exquisite bell metal sculptures. Individual threads of wax are placed for each strand of hair, each eyelas, each wrinkle on the smooth form made from clay. The clay mould with the wax detail is covered with another layer of clay mixed with straw and heated so that the wax melts, leaving behind a mould between the two clay surfaces. Molten metal is then poured into this cavity and allowed to cool. The mould has to be broken to reveal the metal sculpture, which means no two pieces can ever be the same.

Traditional fishing methods of tribes in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh

Photo Credit Spice Flair
Bastar, a region known for its tradition and cultural heritage of inclusive tribes of Chhattisgarh, is located at extreme southern parts of the state. There are many tribes living in that region from centuries including Gond, Maria, Bhatra, Muriya, Halba, Dhuruva and others. Almost all of them are still living on their indigenous way of livelihood and depend on natural available food habit. One important natural source of food is fish. Fishermen communities are an important part of the culture of this region. The art and science of fish harvesting has been passed on by generation to generation.
Mostly fishermen depend on the rainy season to catch plenty of fishes. There are also perennial rivers and ponds that are the primary source of fish cultivation. Traditional knowledge is the integral part of fishing harvesting, albeit with time there are certain existing modifications happened. During rainy season, fishermen and even non-fishermen are engaged in fishing with bamboo frames, fishing net, fishing gears etc. commonly used in staged and running water.


It is an improved form of bamboo structure made like a cylinder to catch maximum flow inside the cylinder. Experienced fishermen know well how to cover the side of bamboo cylinder with mud. It is sometimes proved dangerous when snakes come inside to eat fishes.


Pelna is specialization of tribal women when they use it to catch fishes with a triangular bamboo frame and woven nylon net is tied with it. The frame has long handle for holding the structure upright. Under waist height, they are moving forward with Pelna from the bottom of ponds of rivers.

Dhanu-Kand and Dhokna

Dhanu-Kand is probably the most difficult part of fish catching. The method is to kill fishes with bow and arrows into running or stable water. Bowmen stand on the bank of rivers or ponds with bows and arrows. When the fishes appear on the surface of water, they immediately leave the thread of the bow. It is an ancient fishing art, which is practiced by traditional fishermen.

Dhokna is similar to Dhanu Kand, only pebbles have been used in place of arrows. Their bows are a bit different where thread is a widened to hold the pebble comfortably.  It is used to hunt big fishes, and quite time consuming process.


Thapa is the simplest form of catching fishes. It is a simple bamboo structure that is used is to catch fishes in knee height water by covering. The height of Thapa is not more than one meter and cone in shape. The bottom diameter is approximately 0.70m and upper mouth diameter is 0.45m. After covering the fishes, fishermen insert their hand inside Thapa and grap the fishes.

Processing & Storage of fishes

Salted fish at Bastar local market
Most tribes dry the fishes and use them for the whole year. Therefore, the processing and drying are important aspects of fish harvesting. The most common is sun drying, which is the simplest form of drying fishing by exposing them to sun light. The drying on sun takes place 3-4 days to complete. In rainy days, it depends on the sunlight.

Another common method of processing is half-burning of fishes. All fishes are laid over paddy straw and then cover it with the straw. Then they burn the straw for 10-15 minutes to dehydrate the fishes. They clean it and then dry it under the sun.

Jhanji is the method of drying fishes with the help of bamboo mat. The mat is hanged horizontally 2m above the stove and fishes are put over it. It automatically dries while doing all cooking work. This is a better method of drying than sun drying processing, and taste better.

Tribal life of Chattisgarh

Famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin has written comprehensively of cuisines of Muriya tribe and other Chattisgarh tribes. He says, “ Of things to the Murias has considered variety, much more than available to people of similar economic status in town.”

Chhattisgarh is nature’s paradise in a way to lure many travellers who are looking for exotic, something unique landscapes with rich culture. This is why the reason many researchers and discern travellers venture into unknown territories in the state and stay there for long. As far as nature is concerned, Chhattisgarh provides extraordinary blend of flora and fauna, some dense forests, marvellous waterfalls and others. Some ancient monuments and carved temples are some of the things that also attract lots of heritage enthusiasts.

The most illustrious is of course its rich tribal culture that attracts lots of anthropologists to study many unexplored and unspoilt regions. Chhattisgarh offers many travellers to explore an extraordinary diverse tribal population, culture and study inclusive tribal societies.

The most diverse tribal population is concentrated in the Bastar district with Gonds being the most populated tribes. These tribes are quite unique in a way to stay away from modern civilization and live in their own ways. They still hold ancient techniques of hunting, fishing, agriculture, attire and socio-cultural traditions. Gonds are generally recognized by their colourful attires and heavy jewellery made of beads and metals. Their entertainment is their own folk songs and dance and various festivals they celebrate throughout the year. Some of the notable festivals are Navakhana, Mati Puja, and Goncha.

Gond Tribes

Gond tribes are also known as Koytorias who are widely dispersed in the state. They generally live in the Bastar district, mainly predominate the dense forests in the southern region of the district. There are three principle sub-castes of Gonds – Dorla, Maria, and Muria races.

Abhuj Maria

The Abhuj Maria races are aborigines who are the most fascinating tribes in the whole state. They live in seclusion with their own ancient way of living in a dense forest in the enclaves of Narayanpur tehsil of Bastar District. They are not very welcoming to strangers, and their culture is too inclusive. They still follow the ancient techniques of living and age-old culture.

Halba Tribes

Halba tribes are mainly concentrated in the bucolic lands of Chhattisgarh in the districts of Durg, Bastar and Raipur. They are not only present in Chhattisgarh, but also in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesha and Odisha. Like Maria, they also have their distinctive culture, but they are not as much as staunch like Abhuj Maria sub caste.


Korva tribes are divided into two segments – Pahari Korva (Hills) and Plain Korva (Diharia). These tribals are sparsely populated in Bilaspur, Sarguja and Raigarh district. They are still hunting with bows and arrows, and practice ancient agricultural methodologies. They depend on forest products, and they livelihood is mainly based on hunting. Both men and women wear heavy ornaments, and they marry within blood relations.

Kamar Tribe

This ancient tribe worship forest deities and iron. One of their daily unique worship methods is to sprinkle liquor before consuming it. They pay homage to mother earth in this way. They are pagan worshipper, and their primary occupation is hunting.


Many tribes in Chhattisgarh worship the Anga Devs. This deity is made of a wooden hewn from a special tree. The deity has two legs and a plank joining in the middle to depict the body. The major role of this God is that of inquest.

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