The sun and moon symbols that were tattooed on my right and left forearms at the Gond village.
I feel really fortunate having visited the Gond and Baiga tribal villages in Madhya Pradesh. These communities have been living in this area for thousands of years. The Baiga village was quite secluded from the other villages.....again up on a hill. A cluster of simple organic houses, sometimes painted in blues and others a natural clay and white.
When we headed to the end of a 3 days wedding celebration, we were welcomed immediately. Mats were spread on the floor for us to sit on and each male member of the community greeted us warmly by holding our hands and bowing low. There was the rhythmic beating of a drum ( like a pakhawaj) and periodic clinking on an instrument of metal discs on a wire. There was singing ofcourse, a sort of chant like conversation between men and women.
The women were all clustered together, sitting on the floor with their simple woven cloths wrapped around their bodies revealing their legs from mid thigh. Their legs were completely tattooed in the Baiga tribal symbols as were their arms and their forehead. They wore an ear ring on the top of the ear and a larger disc on the ear lobe. A profusion of beaded chains around their necks, beautiful bangles on their wrists and rings on their fingers.
The men were dressed quite simply. Some were clad in just a loin cloth, others in a simple lungi wrapped around their waist. Their chest was bared, their hair long and tied in a knot and some had turbans.
They had an exuberance for life, a simple way of living and a connection with the land that was organic, seemed sustainable with the least amount of waste produced. They had been drinking Mahua out of cups made from the Mahalain leaf, a simple fold that did the trick and we were offered the same. Sometimes a couple spontaneously broke out in song and dance and this continued all morning.
They smoked tobacco out of pipes made from leaves and also beedies that they rolled themselves which they offered to us too. The musical instruments were passed around and there was a festive spirit.
The Baigas brought out their bows and arrows for me to see. The arrow was made out of iron tied to a bamboo with the rope made ut of the same Mahalain leaf. The bow was completely made out of bamboo. They were beautifully made and still in use.
Children were part of the celebration too and did their own thing. We all joined in the dancing and there was much laughter and merriment. By mid day the main celebration died down and some of them retired to their homes where the music and singing still continued. Some men took naps while the women continued to have fun.
One Baiga woman started to create some mischief by pouring water on the others on the hot summer afternoon. ( It actually began with her picking up the pile of leaves swept to one side, and throwing them on her friends). All mayhem broke loose as the women tried to catch the prankster. Everyone got involved and there was such a beautifully innocent joy of life that exuded from all of them. A paste of turmeric powder and calcium was made which turned a gorgeous red and vessels of water were filled to douse on the mischief maker. By the time she was caught, many others were drenched in water and slapped on the back with red paste....which left a deep vermillion handprint. We got it too! There was such a light hearted frivolity to the experience which was so much fun!
We left soon after, but getting a glimpse of the life of these tribes was all too moving. It was heartbreaking to see that these simple, fun loving, forest dwelling, ecologically conscious, warm hearted, open, kind and hospitable people were being so badly exploited. They are forced to cut down their own forests by the government, for measly sums of money. Their land has been raped and pillaged and they've been suppressed by the masses and their way of life condemned as backward and lowly. The Gond village we visited in Lalpur has been asking the government for electricity for the last 10 years, and they still live in darkness.....while their villages are being submerged by the dams being built on the Narmada river which supplies electricity to all the big cities. Yet they embrace life with such fervour, welcome strangers with warm hearts and treat each other with peace, love and respect.