Bastar, the tribal district, before being split into three districts, was one of the largest districts in India. It remained a district of the state Madhya Pradesh till 2000, with an area of 39171 sq. k.ms, which was even greater than the state of Kerala and some other countries like Belgium, Israel etc. Bastar region is situated between 17° 46' and 20° 34' North latitude and 80° 15' and 82° 15' East longitude and at an altitude of 2000 ft . In the early centuries, during the British rule and even today Bastar is a misterious and very attractive land because of its primitive culture. It was a vast kingdom inclusive of the present Kotpad and Malkangiri in Orissa, Upper Godavari district in Andhrapradesh and Sihava in Damtari district of Cahttisgarh. As the history shows, soon after the independence, just before the merger of the kingdom of Bastar in Indian union it was reduced to about 13,000 sq kms. The present Bastar region, which covers an area of 39,171-sq. kms., was constituted after the independence attaching the Kingdom of Kanker, which was a separate kingdom with its own history. As per the recent political developments Bastar division consists of five southern most districts of the newly formed state of Cahattisgarh: Bastar, Kanker, Dantewada, Bijapur and Narayanpur. Bastar region has four boarders: that of Andhraparadesh, Maharastra, Orissa and of Chattisgarh itself. Though these boarder cultures make much impact on Bastar, she keeps the uniqueness of her culture in many respects.
The Name Bastar
Bastar is a small village situated 20 kms away to the north of Jagdalpur. The etymology of the name "Bastar" is a matter of dispute among scholars. According to a mythical tradition the family deity, goddess "Danteswari," of Chalukya (Kakatiya) dynasty helped Annam Dev, the brother of King Purushottam Dev of Warangal to establish a new kingdom by spreading her garment (vastra) over a vast area. This mythical story tells that the name Bastar originated from the word "Vastra" (garment) of goddess Denteswari. According to some scholars the name Bastar is originated from the word "Bansthari" (Land of bamboo) because bamboo is seen all over Bastar in abundance, and some others attribute its origin to the word "vistrit" (vast) since it is a vast area. The name of a small village Bastar happens to be applied to the whole district because of its historical importance. From the time of Raja Annam Dev (13th Century) who was the first "Kakathia" King in Bastar, the king's palace went on being shifted from Barsoor to Dantewada, then to Madhotha and so on. In 1703 AD King Drugpal Dev transferred his capital from Chakrakot to Bastar. Bastar remained the capital of Kakatiya dynasty for a considerable time and this caused the kingdom to be named after the village Bastar.
A historical Survey
Bastar is considered to be a part of the Dandakaranya region of the kingdom "Dandak-Janpad" mentioned in Puranas. The early history of this ancient land lies in obscurity. Archaeological surveys and investigations have not so far been carried out to unearth evidence regarding the antiquity and socio-political history of Bastar. Whatever is known about the history of Bastar is by way of chronological reconstruction of events on the basis of inferences drawn from Sanskrit literature, contemporary rock inscriptions and sporadic research based on copper plates, coins etc. found in this area. From the 4th century onwards there are evidences that Nala, Trikuta, Vakatakas and rulers of Sharabpuri ruled Bastar and its adjoining areas. These dynasties were engaged in intermittent battles and skirmishes for the control of the area and therefore the rulers of these dynasties ruled Bastar for short periods. From 400 AD to 700 AD Nala dynasty ruled over the area. The area, thereafter, seems to have passed into the control of the Ganga Dynasty. The Kings of Ganga Dynasty had Barsur as their capital and the antique remains at Barsur proclaim its glorious past. The Bastar region came under the reign of Naga dynasty known as Chhindaka Nagas of Chakrakot. A number of inscriptions belonging to this ruling family have been discovered in Bastar region. As the imperial Gazetteer of India shows the eastern Chalukyas of Godavari region ruled the post Naga Chakrakot. From the 13th century onwards Raja Annam Dev and his lineage ruled Bastar. Lala Jagdalpuri, Historian of the place, in his book "Bastar: History and Culture" mentions about 19 descendants of King Annam Dev till Pravir Chandra Bhanj Dev who was shot dead in 1966.
The People of Bastar
Bastar region is one of the major areas in the tribal map of India. The population of Bastar region according to 2001 census is 26 Hundred Thousand of which 69% are tribal. About 5.5% belong to scheduled castes and the rest are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, Jains, etc. The tribal population in Bastar is mainly rural, 98% of them live in rural areas. This tribal population is not a single homogenous society. There are seven major scheduled tribes in Bastar: Gonds, Muria, Maria, Dhorla, Bhatra, Halba, Dhurva. It has been observed that the tribal communities possess considerable degree of heterogeneity. They tend to live in homogeneous groups covering distinct and defined territories. In interior villages they live a very primitive life style having agriculture as the main source of income. They employ very primitive methods of agriculture; hence the agricultural outcome is very low. They are forced to depend also on forest for their livelihood.
The Halba: Halbas are mainly farmers. This tribe is found not only in yhe states of Bastar but they are spread in Madhyapradesh, Orissa and too Maharastra. They speak Halbi dialect. Halbi was the language the king of Bastar used to speak. Halbas of Bastar believe that their ancestors came from Warangal, Andhra Pradesh with Raja Annam Deo.
It seems that the origin of the name Halba is from the word Hal that means plough. One who bears Hal (Plough) is known as Halba. There is another legend regarding the origin of the name 'Halba'. Once goddess Parvati came to visit her people. She noticed that a few farmers were harvesting. There were four effigies kept to secure a better crop. Goddes Parvati with her divine power made these effigies alive. These effigies started dancing by shaking their bodies. Seeing the lively effigies the king asked to which tribe they belonged. The people could not say to which tribe they belonged. The Goddess Parvati told them you will be known as ' Hali Batta ' which means one who shakes himself or herself. (Hilnewala)
The Muria: The Murias are neat, industrious and good cultivators who constitute the major bulk of the tribal population in Bastar. Etymologically the word Mur is a word in Sanskrit. It means mool, that is, the root, the beginning etc. Therefore it denotes the first inhabitant (Moolnivasi). Because of this understanding the word Muria was used to identify all the inhabitants of Bastar. The concluding program of the famous Bastar Dasahara was known as Muria Darbar. It denoted the gathering of all inhabitants of Bastar. Later making the distinction with the Muria tribe the Muria Darbar is substituted with the name Adivasi Darbar.
There are three categories of Murias : Raj Muria, Ghotul Muria and Jhoria Muria. Rajmurias are found in Jagdalpur Thahasil. Ghotul Murias and Jhoria Murias are foungd in Kondagaon and Narayanpur areas. Now the Jhoria Murias are absorbed in Ghotul Muria.
The 'Ghotul' of Murias
Though the name Ghotul Muria is prevalent the institution of Ghotul has almost faded away from Bastar. The 'Ghotul' of Murias, the village dormitory, the bachelor's hall, is peculiar to the Murias of Bastar. It is meant for the young unmarried members of both sexes. "'Ghotul' is an autonomous body of youth. It is organized to serve at important functions in life. The disciplining of youth for better life, organizing different work groups to serve the villagers on different occasions which demand collective effort, helping the clan of priests to organize clan festivals, the ceremonial hunting and fishing etc, are a few of the major activities of Ghotul
The initiation to 'Ghotul' marks real steps towards maturity in the Muria community. According to Elwin, among the Murias the whole trend of life in the society is directed towards transferring the parent child relation to the 'Ghotul' relation. From an early age the children start going to the 'Ghotul'. The little boy or girl finds the 'Sirdar' and 'Belosa', the male and female leaders of 'Ghotul' community, taking place of their parents. "Though there is no fixed age for admission, children of six or seven normally start coming to 'Ghotul'
Organisation of a Ghotul
Ghotul association normally gives membership only to unmarried boys and girls at times with an exception to widows and widowers. A male member is known as "Chelik" and girl "Motiari". Boy leader is known as "Sirdar", and girl leader "Belosa".
There are traditionally defined routines for a Ghotul. Each Ghotul has a formal council to regulate its affairs. In the afternoon, the female members come and clean the compound of Ghotul. At sunset they set a fire at the center of the compound and retire to their homes. After taking the evening meal the male members come to the Ghotul with their musical instruments and sleeping mats, axe, etc. The little boys bring wood as fuel for the fire. The female members come a little late because they have to finish the household works. When all the members reach they discuss matters of importance and this follows music and dance. The young boys and girls salute all the senior members and they retire.
The Maria (Madia): The word madia is originated from the word Mad of Gondi dialect, which means the hill. Therefore Madia means the people who live in hills. There are two categories of Marias. Abujj Madias and Dandami Madias. Abujj Marias are inhabited in Abujjmad areas of Narayanpur District. They are known also as hill Marias. The group that left the hill areas and inhabited in the planes of Bastar, Bijapur, and Dentewada districts is known as Dandami Madias. They are also known as Bison Horn Madias because of the peculiar crown decorated with the hones of Bison which the mail members use during their tribal dance.
The Bhatra: Bhatras are considered well advanced tribe of Bastar. They seem much advanced in the way of thinking, furnishing the houses and even cultural performances like Dramatics, dances etc. They are inhabited in the eastern part of Bastar region. According to the legends they are the few who went with King Purushotham Dev to Jagannathpuri and returned. As they returned the king gave them sacred thread as a special honor. While giving the thread the king addressed them "Bhadr" (civilized) and this makes the origin of Bhatra tribe. The Bhatra tribe speaks the dialect Bhatri. It is a mixture of the dialect Halbi and Odia language.
The Dorla: We find people belonging to this tribe mainly in Konta and Bhopalpattanam areas of Bastar. Their dialect is Dorli which is highly influenced by Thelugu language. They believe that their ancestors came from Warangal, Andhraparadesh. According to a legend in the beginning a cow too was originated together with the Supreme Being. Therefore Dorla people keep much affinity with cows and they pay much respect to deity Bheema Dev. Dorlas are famous in celebrating the marriage feast of frogs to get sufficient rain. It is known as "Kappal Pandum" It is celebrated by the women flock. A date for the feast is fixed by the priest and on that day the ladies of the village collect frogs from the fields and keep them in a new pot. The pot will be covered with a new cloth and this will be taken to the village head's house and it remains there for a week and they are taken in a procession and left to the near by streams or ponds. During the feast days the aged women in the village pay special homage to the Clan gods.
The Dhurva: People of Dhurva tribe are found mainly in Darbha and Chintgarh areas of Bastar. They are courageous and known for their bravery. Therefore they were the people who used to get special appointment to take care of the Kings' Palace. This tribe had given birth to a famous warrior Gundadhur who led the tribal mutiny in 1910. People belonging to Parja tribe in Bastar are considered as a sub tribe of Dhurva tribe but at present they are merged into Durva tribe. Durva community celebrates a festival known as "Gurgal" continuously for one month every year which is known for its musical importance.
Though we find differences between tribes in their thought pattern, life style, celebrations, rituals etc., there are a lot of common elements they share in their cultural expressions. Almost all the tribals are non-vegetarian. All of them venerate Danteswari mai, Mavli matha, Bhima dev, Bhairam, Pattdev, and Angadev. Singing and dancing are indispensable part of their life. Superstitions are prevalent among all tribes. Arranged marriage, love marriage and marriage by abduction are common among all the tribes. Majority lives in a joint family. Polygamy is not a crime among them. Tribals of Bastar do not have a natural attraction towards education even today. They hesitate to go to a doctor for treatment. They don't worry about the problems of their life.