Where has all the love gone? One may well ask Rahul Banerjee, an environmental activist-turned-author of Recovering the Lost Tongue: The Saga of Environmental Struggles in Central India that was released in Delhi on Friday.
For, Banerjee has demolished the myth of Bhagoria that put the Bhils in the media limelight. Bhagoria, as any journalist who has worked in this part of the country will tell you, is the festival of elopement.
Bhils are the third largest group of tribals in India after the Gonds and Santhals. They are concentrated in Central India, especially in the districts of Jhabua, Alirajpur and Dhar in Madhya Pradesh.
In the Indian spring that brings Holi in its wake, Bhil boys and girls sing and dance and make merry and, should one from their lot catch their fancy, they elope and make their way to the forests.
The elopement leads to more exciting encounters as they explore their physical compatibility. If the girl gets pregnant, the boy marries her often after paying a hefty bride price to her parents.
But Banerjee claims in his book that Bhagoria is actually just a harvest festival of feasting and merry making for the tribals and elopement is just a by-product of the heady mix of the season and its surplus.
“Bhagoria comes from Bhagor that is a place in Jhabua that was once the capital of the Bhil kingdom. This is where the festival was traditionally celebrated. Now it is celebrated in different towns on the weekly market day but the name continues after the place of origin,” Banerjee told HT on the phone from Delhi.
Banerjee, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, said, “Elopement is just a marginal aspect of Bhagoria. The real reason is the celebration of a good harvest.”