, , , ,

Tribal Museum

I have returned to the Tribal Museum with renewed appreciation. Now completed, with ongoing touch us, I am delighted by the ongoing transformation.

I fist observed the gallery as it grew during past visits to the nearby State Museum. Then although officially opened last June, the impressive gallery was still incomplete but perhaps waiting a few finishing touches had left me feeling the main gallery was a little to much like a Tribal Disneyland. (For my earlier review Click Here).

Six months later  my reservations are overturned.


To again see the Tribal Museum again; its living green roof, the C-shaped arching circumference and once again I see excited students  reminded me why I return to Bhopal , With a group of mostly senior girls with matching kurti –dupatta, their hair hanging  (1 – 11 standard ware obligatory pigtails), we entered past Gond reminiscences of the Namada’s tribal history.

The aesthetic approach of the gallery recognises archetypal unconscious expressions of a people still in touch with nature and with each other. In contrast to the static sculpture  of the next door  State Museum ,in the Tribal Museum you are immured  in an ongoing  collective recreation by the Advaisic community.   A return to nature devoid of corporation.


In the first gallery a massive  banyan tree sprouting from a map of Madhya Pradesh. The Lit by large earthen pots, ramps take you through roots reaching  unbounded  to the vast ceiling, welcoming  you to the states tribal landscape .

The second  you feel of geographic space as traditional open courtyard adjoins the house fronts  of different communities. Life has changes from thatched leaf to tiled roofs in the last 50 to 70 years, yet the  walls with clay and colours depict Gond women’s kitchen work by a  huge grain storage container of a type used by Gonds used to partition rooms in a home.

The woodcut smell of the vihar mandap (marriage canopy) of the aesthetics gallery there is  no art distinct from tribal life, both human body and tools of life are a canvass of expression. Even a broom is a piece of art.  Music is intimately connected to nature. The intricate rhythms of the ‘Bana”, a percussion instrument, are told in the Gonds story of Badadev residing in Saja tree and making a Bana from  it.

I felt more at home in this display on this visit. As women were touching up the paint work nearby, I realized the gallery felt more complete and harmonious, lI had earlier felt the room was a cartoonish mishmash of Tribal symbols. Is it the room or myself that has changed?

Tribal Repairs

 Under four trees for each of four tribes, the marriage canopy symbolizes the marriage of earth and sky> Humans and animals were created by deities like Mata Ashtangi or Badadevv but it is earth and sky hat sustains them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are invited to experience the phases of tribal life with its festive songs , cosmetics and agriculture.  Under four trees for each of four tribes, the marriage canopy symbolizes the marriage of earth and sky. Humans and animals were created by deities like Mata Ashtangi or Badadev but it is earth and sky hat sustains them.

Man is linked to nature by tattooed terracotta mannequin. A lattice is made of jewelry and cosmetic hues.

Tribal Museum

In tribal marriages a tree branch is witness of the power of earth and an invocation to fertility.  A wedding pillar of sathe wood made without joints like a spire. A drum scene awakens the earth. .

Each level of the canopy reveals a different angle to life: The lower floor highlights traditional customs, the first the seasonal festival cycle in grained in trees and the sky myth of earth and sun on the top level

Also terra cotta images are dedicated to souls of the dead reveal Bhil ritual as if grounded to the earth.

A prominent bracelet, reminds us that a small unworn bracelet or ring offered a new daughter in law .It is  In grained with important symbols of productivity such as a well, stairwell, a farmer, field or a ploughing pair of bullocks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we entered the Tribal Devlok is entered through a hall called the Story of Tool Making.

Romano, a Swiss organic farmer volunteering in Bhopal was impressed.

“So a lot of things you can see here” speaking in an English translated from German thought. “It is so nice. I think some museum something her. One thing there. But everywhere is tribal. So much detail.”

He is right, since the Tribal Museum is an experience and not just a gallery.  The Devlock twinkles as if under a starry sky with the deities of MP and of Bastar.  Its corridor of thorns  are a reminder to bear life’s pains  unmoved.

Pithora  bapdi ancestor god

Tribal’s would avoid a concrete place of worship so symbolic shorthand attempts to suggest unlimited possibilities of time and space evoking   good and bad spirits of jungles, ponds, rivers, and hills.. It is as if  inanimate stone breathes of wandering ancestors. It remind’s us of roadside terracotta offerings, amidst jungles, on the bank of a small pond or n invisible boundary of village. A raw stone, a fluttering flag, a stick, a pillar, trident, earthen lamp as if the earth comes from another plane chained to the deities power.

They beseech a saviour god to protect seed, return strayed cattle or cure disease.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For example, passing the white Chattisbargh State display (formerly part of Madhya Pradesh), alongside a a potters street with tools, blacksmiths and goldsmiths, we see the place of  Shitala Mata.  The  principle deity of the Bastar region , she  known by different names depending in how she is invoked.  A patient with chickenpox may worship her offering a pockmarked terracotta elephant figure.  On day 3 or 5 a paste of turmeric is applied.

For other diseases and troubles the god is invoked as Jimidarin.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also aborbing was the Place of Babdev , a dedicated mound of symbolic animals, tools and pots. There is no idols but a stone in the midde in the name of Babdev and Nahar {lion).  Twice each year, at Diwali and Divasa, the whole village is arrives with cocks, goats, vermillion and horse figurines built up over the years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Aftewards, check out the the fun and innocence of children’s Rakku Tribal Games display.

Games include Chaupad,  a checkers like board game requiring mathematic skills and that should be  played in schools.

Kil.lo, played by Baiga children, a cross between snooker or pool with a stick to hit crescent lil.lo’s with a Damaha , or strike, 12 to 15 feet away. First you must hit the straight only, then the crescent, targets, after they are layered like a fort. When the target is truck a collective cry of lil.lo is raised.

Girls may like Ghar Gahr. During the festival of Diwali houses are whitewashed so children play house, making their own, much as a western child may make a dolls house.


 However, I need to suggest a few improvements:

Down stairs chai wallah was closed. So, unlike my earlier visits last year, resting to enjoy a longer stay was therefore discouraged. We had to leave the gallery for restaurant beside the outside courtyard. Here, Chai was serve from a thermos and a sign states food requires tickets bought from the Media Centre .

What or where the Media Centre is remains unsigned.

The book store, of books hung in wall baskets quiet artistically has only Hindi books. I understand this is entirely appropriate in the Museums endeavour to encourage Hindustani’s to appreciate tribal life. However, Bhopal is also marketed to International tourists. A Gallery guide, also in English, would be gratefully received by tourists. However, when leaving we were offered a tourist fold out brochure. It would have been useful for tourists before visiting the displays.

Also, there is no specific catalogue of the display, so you must write furiously if you want to remember any of the quality information available with each gallery.

For that matter even postcards would be a good way to promote the gallery and allow visitors to remember their experience. Tribal nick-nacks, should be available for purchase. I believe there is a market as demonstrated by a recent trip to Brisbane, Australia, where a travelling display of Meena tribal art from Rajasthan promoted art designs on raw cloth.  I imagine this could similarly be sold in Bhopal.

I am also surprised that even at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, or (IGRMS,  (200 hectares of Tribal recreated villages, and indigenous technology) tribal crafts are not marketed more enthusiastically. The best supplier of genuine  tribal craft is Tribes India. There are three stores in Bhopal and one in Indore. I recently bought some superb  yak wool vests at a remarkably good price. Tribal goods could also be sold at the Tribal Museum.