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BAIGAS- THE PEOPLE OF BANDHAVGARH

This is a primitive Dravidian tribe though now more hinduised dominate the indigenous population in and around the villages in Bandhavgarh national park in the Vindhya range.They are further subdivided into 7subtribes namely- Binjwar, Barhotia, Nahar, Kathbaina, Raibaina, Gondwana, Kundi.From these the Binjwars are the best known.The term Binjwar is probably derived from Sanskrit for ‘Vindhya’ meaning hunter.

Language:

They speak “Gavahi Bhasha” and use the Devnagri script.

Lifecycle and related customs:

MARRIAGE- A Baiga maynot take a wife from his own sect or from another worshipping the same number of gods although he may marry in his mother’s sect and in some localities marriage between first cousins iis permitted. The proposal comes from the bride. A sum varying from five to twenty five is to be paid to the bride’s parents or in lieu of this the prospective husband may serve his father in law for a period of two years. The marriage being celebrated if his conduct is satisfactory. Three ceremonies precede the marriage, first which may take place at the irth of the two children, the second which is the continuation of the first the feast for which must be held by the boy’s parents and finally at the time of the children to be at marriageable age the final betrothal or “Barokhi” is held. It is essential that the groom be met by the bride’s party riding on an elephant but as this out of a baiga’s means two wooden bedsteads are lashed together covered by a blanket with a black cloth trunk. The elephant makes pretence to charge and trample the marriage procession until a rupee is paid. After which the bride and  the groom throw fried rice at each other till they tire and then walk three or seven times around the  marriage post with their clothes tied together. Earlier it was customary for the couple to spend the wedding night in the forest.

Remarriage of widows is permitted. She is expected though not obliged to marry her husband’s brother. While if she marries another man then he must pay her brother in law a sum of five rupees. The ceremony consists of presenting her with bangles and new clothes by the suitor. The widow of her acceptance then pours tepid water mixed with turmeric over his head. The couple affects divorce by  breaking a straw in the presence of the Caste Panchayat. If the woman does not remarry and lives in the  same village then the husband must provide for her maintenance and that of her children. However a  woman is not permitted to remarry if her husband remains single. Polygamy is permitted.

Among their past times dancing is one of the chief. Their favourite being the “Karma” dance in which the men and women dance by forming curved lines opposite each of the with the musicians between them.  One of the instruments a drum called mandar gives out a deep bass note which can be heard for mil;es.  When the dancers get in the full swing the pace increases and the drum beats furiously, the voices of the singers rise higher and higher and by the light of the bonfires which are kept burning the whole  scene is a wild extreme. No baiga celebration is complete without the Karma dance and the songs of the forest!

BIRTH-A woman is unclean for a month after child birth.At the ceremony of purification a feast is given  and the child is named often named after the month or day of their birth eg.chaitu,phagu,saoni for the  Indian months of chait, phagun and so on.If the child is deformed then names like langra(lame) or  baihira(deaf) are also given.

DEATH-The dead are often buried. The bodies of the old are burnt as a special honour as to not be  devoured by the wild animals. Bodies are laid naked with the head pointing south.In the case of  important persons two or three rupees are placed with some tobacco. In some places a rupee is thrust  in the mouth of the dying man and after the body has been burnt the coin is recoverd from the pyre by  his daughter or sister and worn as an amulet. On the grave a platform is made with a stone erected on it  called the “Bhiri”, this is worshipped by the deceased’s relatives. At the funeral the mourners take one  white and one black fowl eat and kill it there leaving a portion for the dead. Mourning is observed  between two to nine days during which all labour and household work is stopped food is supplied by  friends. When a Baiga is killed by a tiger, the village priest goes to the spot of death and makes a cone  out of the blood stained earth. He then goes down on his hands and knees doing a few antics which is to  represent the tiger killing the man and at the same time collecting a lump of the bloody earth in his  teeth till one of the deceased’s relatives runs over and taps him on his back with a stick which perhaps  means that either the tiger is killed or otherwise rendered harmless. Then the priest lets the cone land  in the hands of that relative and further places it on an anthill and a pig is sacrificed over it. The next day  a chicken is taken to the place with red ochre markings on his head and released into the forest by the priest who exclaims”take this and go home”. As suggested the ceremony is to lay the dead man’s spirit  and to prevent the tiger from doing any further damage. The Baigas believe that the victim’s ghost if not  charmed to rest then rides the head of the tiger and incites him to do further acts of blood and  rendering him secure from harm by his supernatural watchfulness.

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS-A Baiga may be known by his scanty clothing and tangled hair and his wife in  the way her single garment is placed as a safe sitting pouch for her child. Baiga women can be seen  working in rice fields with their babies seated comfortably in their cloth. A girl is tattooed on her  forehead at the age of five and her whole body at the time of he wedding both for the sake of ornament  and the fact that it is beneficial for health. The men wear a dhoti and a wisp of cloth on the head. Unlike  other head gears known to civilization which have four corners a Baiga’s head gear has nothing but  corners as a typical trip to the village market for him means he buys tobacco, salt and sundries perhaps  rice as he can afford with a trifle to spend on liquor before leaving for home. These purchases are tied  up around the various corners of the piece of rag twisted around his head. After the shopping is done this bundle might have numerous bundles in it.

FOOD-Baiga meal consists largely of fruits from the forests and rice and millets, which they grow. Pulses  are also a favoured crop. Meat of all kinds are eaten, although with the hinduised ways practiced today most don’t eat beef and monkeys. The Baigas love their country liquor made out of the Mahua fruit  which is an essential part of not just daily life but also every festivities, funerals or ceremonies. Sometimes if penalaties are inflicted upon an individual by the caste panchayat one punishment being that he can be asked to abstain from eating meat and drinking mahua for a fixed period.

TRADITIONAL OCCUPATION-The baigas traditionally only practiced shifting cultivation, burning down patches of forest by sowing seeds in the ground to be fertilized by the ashes after the breaking of the rains. Now that this method is prohibited by the government efforts have been made to train them to practise regular cultivation. However if unchecked some Baiga cultivators dig up the grains that they  have sown as seeds and eat them and the plough-cattle given to them catch diseases inspite of all  precautions and eventually make their way into the baiga’s cooking pot. But they have gradually  adopting settled habits and nowadays in the large part of forest was allotted to them to practise the  destructive method of shifting cultivation it is easy to see that they have turned to regular cultivation.  The explanation of their ancestors for the refusal to till the land was that they considered it a sin to lacerate the breast of mother earth with a ploughshare. They say that god made the jungle to provide everything needed for sustanence and made the Baigas kings of the forests to discover things provided for them. The men never become farmservants although nowadays some work on hire only for the cultivating season.Women usually do all the transplanting of rice and other harvests. Men make bamboo mats and baskets, which they sell at village weekly markets. They also collect and sell forests products. Baigas are experts with their axe making them excellent woodcutters. They are expert trackers and at setting up traps and snares. They fish by damming streams and throwing in some roots of leaves, which 
stupefies the fish. So even in a famine year they can collect a full basket of roots and if the bamboo seeds they are amply provided for.

PHYSICAL FEATURES-In stature the Baigas are slightly taller than most other tribes. They have a  tendency of having a flat nose like the gond but their foreheads and the general shape of their head are  of a better mould. They have wiry limbs unburdened by superfluous flesh. 

HOMESTYLE-The Baigas make huts 6 or 7 feet high at the ridge of split bamboo and mud with a neat verandah in front thatched with grass and leaves. If he is to abandon his home he can make another one in a space of only a few days. A rough earthen vessel to hold water, leaves for plates, gourds for drinking vessels and a piece of matting to sleep on an axe a sickle and a spear exhaust the inventory of a Baiga’s inventory. They never live close to other castes but have their huts at some distance from their fellow tribesmen.

RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTISES-Although most Baigas profess Hinduism they are traditionally  animistic.Their principle guru is “BuraDeo”. He is said to reside in a ”saj” tree, he is worshipped in the month of Jeth(May) when fowls, goats, coconuts and the liquour of the mahua crop. “Thakur Deo” is the  god of land and boundaries, he is propiatiated with a white goat.The Baigas who plough the fields have a ceremony called”Bhidri” this is performed before the monsoon. A handful of each grain to be sown  that season is sown beneath the tree that Thakur Deo resides in. The grains are taken back and sown in  the centre of their land.This is to ensure a successful harvest. Among various other gods worshipped  “Dharti Mata” (mother Earth is also revered. She is said to be married to Thakur Deo. Some hindu gods  are also worshipped but not in an orthodox fashion. The forests are believed to be haunted by spirits, so  shrines erected in their honour and occasional sacrifices are made too. Animals are widely worshipped  as well, like the “Nag Deo” or cobra is said to live in an ant hill and is offerings are made there. Among
common religious Beliefs, Demoniacal Possesion commonly exists and the remedy for it in Baigas is to burn human hair with red chillies and pig’s dung around the possesed’s head so that wth the foul smell  the spirit might go away. As an instance of Baiga’s pantheism, a Baiga was once observed making offerings to a train engine when it pulled up at a wayside forest station. They are great believers in omens like a single crow bathing in a stream is a sign of death, and if a cock crows in the night it should be thrown into the darkness. It is believed that the Baigas were the priests of the gond . They have a wide knowledge of he medicinal properties of roots and herbs from the forests. The village priest is considerd to be a skilled sorcerer , someone who can communicate with the unseen world. Their important festivals are Chaitra Naomi, Dushehra and other hindu festivals.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE- The Baigas are controlled by a Panchayat. This body can punish anyone who breaks the rules. Although now as elsewhere the panchayat falls under the state affairs. The government has made schools, provide drinking water and gives other subsidies for the welfare of the people.

BANDHAVGARH NATIONAL PARK

The reserve named after the highest hill Bandhavgarh (807 m) in the centre of it, falls between the Vindhyan hill range and the eastern flank of Satpura hill range and is located in Shahdol and Jabalpur districts of Madhya Pradesh. 
A chain of smaller hills, 32 in all, surrounds this hill, forming a number of valleys and spurs interspersed with low lying areas, such as Chakradhara, Rajbahera, Sehra-Dadra, Bhitri bah, Kolua bah etc. Since the main formation is of sandstone, water percolates through it forming a number of perennial streams and springs. The hills are mainly flat topped. The meadows in certain areas are marshy.
The Sal & bamboo covers plain tract and degenerates in growth and quality as it ascends the hill slopes, further giving place to mixed forest on upper slopes, mainly due to edaphic factors. Few rare species like insectivorous plants Drocera peltata and medicinal plant like Buch (Acorus  calamus) are found in some isolated patches of Tala ranges of the Reserve.
Rivers Johilla and Son flowing on the boundary on the eastern side, river Umrar passing through western  fringes and the Bandhavgarh hill, which is visible from as far as 30 km, are some of the landmarks of the  Reserve.

CONSERVATION HISTORY

After independence and abolition of the princely States, the process of degradation of forests started due to relaxed control. Maharaja Martand Singh of Rewa, was deeply moved by the destruction of forests. On his proposal an area of 105 sq. km. was declared as National Park in 1965. The area of the  park was increased to 448.84 sq. km. in 1982.
Bandhavgarh has been an excellent habitat of tiger and is known for the highest density of tigers in the world. Considering the importance and potentiality of the National park, it was included in the Project Tiger Network in 1993. The adjoining Panpatha Sanctuary too was declared as a part of the Reserve. The area of 105 sq. km. of old National Park was finally notified in 1968. The remaining part of the National Park i.e. 343.842 sq. km. is yet to be finally declared though State Government had made the
initial notification in 1982. Panpatha Sanctuary with an area of 245.847 sq. km. was declared in 1983.

GENERAL HISTORY

Is a legendary place with mythological significance. Bandhav meaning brother and Garh meaning a fort thus the forest reserve gets its name from the ancient fort situated on the Bandhavgarh hill. It has been believed to be gifted to laxman brother of lord Ram. There iis irrefutable evidence of human activity and  architectural techniques used in the fort. There are several man made caves with inscriptions and rock  paintings. Bandhavgarh is archeologically dated before Christ. Inside the fort there are written proofs of the Bharihas and Vakatak dynasties ruled the land in and around Bandhavgarh region. Some of the other maor dynasties that ruled here were the Sengars, the Kalchuris and the Baghels. The Baghels ruling for the longest period. In 1618 the Baghels decided that Bandhavgarh now was in the corner of the kingdom  rather than in the centre thus deeming it fit to shift the capital to Rewa. With this one stroke Baghels  were able to save ages of this marvelous land and this ended up saving the Tiger. With the pressure removed from the land the habitat responded well and a dense forest came up. Soon the Baghels
realized that there now roamed large fierce beasts in the deserted folds of this forest and declared it a game reserve only for the royal family. The number declared in terms of chivalry acknowledgements was 109 tigers, to be killed. Encouraging rajas and princes to shoot down 109 tigers. It is said that Raja Gulab Singh Baghel ended up killing 83 tigers during one single year in pursuit of reaching that magical figure.

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