Personally speaking, until now, Madhya Pradesh for me has remained limited to either exploring its heritage or wildlife as a tourist destination. Infact, it is one of my favourite states for safari and wild cat spotting in the jungle. A tribal trial here is seldom heard off, in fact, it never crossed my mind that Madhya Pradesh could be abundant in tribal culture, which has remained cut off from the world for centuries and preserved their ancient traditions as it is, ignorant of the outer world. Only recently, has the government been making an effort to open them up and making it accessible to others. Therefore, when I got an opportunity to be on one with Times Passion trails in association with the Madhya Pradesh Tourism board, I instantly grabbed it and I must tell you what an incredible revelation it was
Meeting the Medicinal Bharia Tribe of Madhya Pradesh
It was our second day of the trail when we left early morning from Bhopal to cover a distance of 260+ kms for Patalkot, for a face-to-face meeting with the Bharia tribe, who have been living here for over 600 years now. Until a few years ago, the Bharia tribe remained in their own sweet shallow and had no communication with the outside world. The reason why they aren’t very habitual of seeing visitors in their villages and clearly showed the apprehension as well. One set of my mind clearly wasn’t liking it and thought that we might be intruding on their privacy. Therefore, I always advise my readers to be a little vigilant of their behaviour, whenever, they are going to such places.
Who is a Bharia?
Bharia is one of the Dravidian-speaking tribes of Madhya Pradesh in India but in northern India, they are known to be a mixed tribe with Gond. The reason is that Bharia’s consider themselves the younger brothers of the Gond tribe and therefore they also consider it to be a duty to marry their widow. Though there is another reason why they marry a widow. A local told me that they are considered to be a scheduled tribe and their location is so offbeat that seldom any family agrees to give their daughter here, fearing that they might just not be able to meet her. Though with the recent developments, there are roads that have been laid here and small vehicles can comply on them easily. Initially, the Bharia tribe was away from modernization and education but with the road connectivity and creating new sources of earning, the villagers are sending their children to the cities to study and earn
Their origination is linked with Mahabharat
There have been numerous researches conducted on the lives of this Bharia tribal community. The tribe is also known as Bharia Bhumia meaning Lord of the soil and the name is linked with the epic tale of Mahabharata. It is said that during the Kurukshetra war, the Pandavas felt the need for more warriors to fight against the Kauravas and this is when Arjuna took hold of a type of grass called, “Bharru Grass”, chanted, and out of the grass sprung warriors who fought by the side of the Pandavas. Bharia folklore suggests that the warriors who sprung from the “Bharru grass,” were the ancestors of the Bharia tribe and hence the name. Bharia Tribe is further categorized into clans like Thakaria, Angaria, Bapothia, Bhardia, among others
Patalkot Valley: Where the Bharia lives
The state of Madhya Pradesh houses a number of Bharia tribal communities but it is at Patalkot valley where you will spot the maximum of the tribe living. Patal meaning a deep hole in Sanskrit is a completely isolated valley, 400 meters below Tamia in Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. This valley is the source of the Dudhi River. Earlier, it wasn’t much easy to reach Patalkot as it remained inaccessible by road and the villagers usually entered by walking. But recently, the Madhya Pradesh government established a good road inside the Patalkot valley.
I was introduced to Patalkot as a valley that is habitant in a deep hole, so much that the sun rises here at 9 AM and sets at 4 PM. But I must tell you that while I was in the Kareyam village to meet the tribals in Patalkot valley, I was mesmerized seeing its raw wild beauty, a nature’s wonder, surrounded by gorgeous hills.
It is said that approximately 600 years ago, there were few families from the Bharia tribe who came here and settled in Patalkot. At that time, Patalkot didn’t have anything except the forests. This was the time when the Bharia tribe set up around 24 villages here, which are still said to exist, and started their own farming. Right now, there are only 11 villages where people live and the rest 13 are in ruins but during the monsoons, they go to the farms and live there for 4 months for the produce. Also, it is said that Patalkot is rich in herbs and has hundreds of medicinal plant species, and the reason why Bharia possesses the knowledge of Ayurveda and can heal almost anything.
The Origin of Patalkot Valley
Over the years of research on the valley, there have been multiple stories that have been linked with the origination of Patalkot Valley. One story says that Bharmasur, a demon was granted the power to burn anyone whose head he touches with his hands. It is said that Bharmasur once set his eyes on the wife of Lord Shiva once and in order to get Parvati, Bharmasur got after Shiva to kill him. Since Lord Shiva knew about his powers, he ran to save himself and came towards the Satpura ranges of Madhya Pradesh. It is from here that Shiva jumped, which formed a deep hole in the valley, hence, came the Patalkot. Another legend story says that Sita, the wife of Lord Rama immersed herself here and hence the name Patalkot
Dance and Music of Bharia Tribe
Later in the day, we were given a glimpse into the local Bharia dance performance where a group of people came together and performed on local sung songs, indicative of some story. Upon questioning, I learnt that dance is an integral part of the culture of the Bharias and their main dance form are called Setaam, Sela, and Ahirai, among others.
As the performance of Bharias were ending at our camp in Tamia, I couldn’t ignore to notice the fact that how simple living can also be joyful. Bare minimum resources and living at a place which isn’t much connected but still Bharia Tribe of Madhya Pradesh had a satisfactory smile on their faces, just when they were welcoming us in their paradise
Pro Travel Tips
There are not very good accommodations available in this belt, therefore please do not go by a very high expectation
Please wear sports shoes as the path requires a good walk
Please do carry water and some eatables along because chances are you wouldn’t spot good eating joints here. It’s still a little raw
For ladies, there wouldn’t be washrooms, so hold to drinking much water 🙂
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8 thoughts on “The Medicinal Bharia Tribe of Madhya Pradesh in Patalkot Valley”
Interesting to read about the culture of Bharia. To be honest, I haven’t come across them and from you say, it isn’t unusual given their erstwhile remote location. I loved reading about the legend behind how the valley was formed – the mythological roots that go back to Shiva
I was not at all about Bharia tribe and the fact that it even existed in India. The tribe’s relevance, it’s interrelation with Mahabharata and their possession of knowledge in Ayurveda are things I found extremely interesting. Glad you shared this.
This must have been a really interesting trip: a first hand encounter with a 600 year old tribe that until recently had no communication with the outside world. Very interesting culture. The custom of marrying your brother’s widow was common to people in other parts of the world as well. Were you able to communicate with them easily? From what I understand they speak a dialect that is not common in other parts of India.
Always wanted to visit Madhya Pradesh but haven’t been able to do so till now I am assuming that your interaction with the tribal people was a very humbling experience. Keep at it
This sounds amazing. Never view Madhya Pradesh from this angle, despite traveling to India often. You caught my eye girl !
Extremely informative article and looks like a wonderful journey for you. Interacting with Bharia tribals would be a completely different trip all together and sounds exciting. Good learning on Patalkot and the way of life there in the villages.
What a great read Swati. Thanks for sharing
Really love your pictures and this stunning landscape. This is really helpful information about the local area and true cultural experience for those wishing to visit.