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Group of Bhils vintage postcard obverse

When a Bhil tribesman falls ill he believes the deities will cure him if they are properly worshipped. They believe disease is seen as a sign of the god’s displeasure.

So the Badwa is called. The Badwa is highly respected elder and chief physician with considerable social power.

The Bhils, like India’s other Adivasi tribes, do have an access to a pharmacea that Western medicine is only beginning to understand.

After examination, if it is considered a normal disease he recites mantas and blows air into her with the leaves of a neem tree. Occasionally herbal medicines are used.


The myths and legends of the tribal people reveal that they suffered from a wide range of ailments – endemic as well as epidemic – in the past. Before the 1880s, they were left largely to their own devices when ill. In a few cases, they may have sought herbal and faith based cures from wandering mendicants – such as sadhus and pirs – who resided in forest tracts. Most healing was by relatives and neighbours using herbal and other folk remedies. Tribal specialists who used herbal remedies, cauterisation, divination and exorcism, treated the more intractable cases.
– Vibrantbhiltribe.com

Song and group dancing are inseparable in Bhil culture with even tempo, and regular rise and fall. However, songs sung with a faith to cure the sick both physically and mentally  are the exception.

Unlike the daily hawen offered by Hindus, Tribals do not worship gods, but only propitiate or appease them.  Ritual is left for the priest or tribal  Badwai,who may be open to explain the ritual of sacrifice, but will refuse to explain the mantras used.

If the sick are confined to bed, or with a long fever, a Gayan may be advised.

bhil postcard

 The Gayan

The stuff required for gayan are -cardamom, clove, dry dates, almonds and lemon, all nine in number, lobhan and incense sticks.

Beginning about eight P.M. the gayan lasts until sunset next day. Three others accompany the badwa. The badwa brings a musical instrument called Bahari which makes a sound when rubbed

One of his assistants keeps a branch of sindh, called Jhadna. it’s leaves are torn with a thick needles so it turns into a fan to blow air on the sick. The Badwa holds in his had a Kharkisya.

The badwa does the Gayan depending on the ghost the person is suffering from. The badwa plays Khakiswa and his friend beats a brass plate. If the person is possessed by a Chokhala Bhoot or Chokahli Bhotani then the badwa and his friends do not drink wine a tthe time of Gayan. But if the ghosts or hags are not Chokhala then wine is drunk.
Chokhala Bhoot or Chokahli Bhotani are good people killed prematurely by someone doing evil known as Ghayandha.

The gayan begins by invoking the earth, stars and sun. The sun is called satpudi being described in seven pages. Each is invited to a mandal for their worship prepared on the East, North and south, where is kept an urn, and items including beetle nut and cloves.
They meditate and call on Ram-Lakshman.
They meditate then call on God Shankarji and Saat Bhahuvani Mata. In song they are called on to heal the sick person.

“My God, we call you, please do come.”

Hunamanji is last called to heal the sick.  As the sick person hears the gods been invoked, they sing of Teetya Jasi , Teetya Jasi, a famous past badwa of the Gayan,  finding medicinal herbs in the jungle. Teetya Jasi has taken a pick-axevand a broken pawadi to dig herbs.

Peepli refers to the sick person.

“You have to come and blow a healing wind, you have to blow wind with fan of gold and silver to cure the sick.”

The Bhil people believe Hunamanji bought sanjeevani with Badrisillla fo the god Badrinaath in the Himalays and he will do the same to heal the sick person.

The Brahmin devta is called to “see his calendar” (horoscope) to find disease and blow wind.

“The sick person is in trouble and is crying desperately, but the Brahmin guruji comes and blows the windwith the result  that the sick person becomes cheerful.”

Next Mahadev is called. He has not come and his place lays vacant.     As expert in the arts he is called to find what the disease is and to blow wind to cure. It is believed Mahadev came and has blown the amar jhada on the sick then the sick person bursts out in laughter.

Parvati is called to give jhada of silver and gold on the edge of her sari.

Next Kandi Paladev is called to be rebuked. How can a disease enter the village when he is there to protect it?

The gayan lasts until sunset next day. Prays are offered to Kalika Mata, Narmada Mata, Beheema-Arjun and Seeta Mata.

“There is a pool midstream In the Bikaner in Dhar District, about which it is believed that it cures any disease in one takes a bath in it on seven Tuesdays.”

Why does a Bhil healing ritual matter to you?

Tribal beliefs remind me that life is not a clean idea, tragedy death are all  part of  our experience..  Where Westerners  hide from illness and death behind clip boards, tests and protocols.

Observing both tribal and Hindu belief I realize the West has become  detached from life because ignore death and illness.

Consider the Western rise of alternative psycho social healings as Western science is making great discoveries. People want meaning beyond the machine of the body. Mind body medicine is much a part of the Indian tradition, as it was once in the West, but ignored and denigrated as unscientific in the modernist world. Abstrctions seem divirced from nature.

In India every possible human experience, even those frowned on socially, are expressed in the divine realm. This polytheism of the human soul gives expression even  to what is forbidden.

Just as , research on the placebo effect and hypnosis demonstrate the incredible power of the mind to heal. the experience of Tribal healing,  allows release of illness inducing emotions

This is more than the quaint acceptance of social relativism. Tribal healing is connected to the earth, and health is more than fixing the broken parts of the human machine. Most of us want to believe we are part of something beyond our self. The Hindu philosophy, as well as Abrahamic mysticism, recognizes all creation as part of the infinite divine. In that view we have all universal possibilities as part of us, as a hologram expresses the whole.

However, those parts of our self that we deny become shadows that we seek to admit to in the lovers we pursue and the enemies we despise.

The nuance of illness is largely derived cultural meaning , so healing  is influenced by the beliefs and customs of a culture. This is especially true of the  meaning given to illness: in this case to exorcised with divine

In many traditions the answers are dormant within, and healing comes from awakening them up .
Like Jacob struggling with the angel, to heal we must wrestle with the demons within to reconnect to our ‘earthiness’.

Understanding our tribal brothers and sisters is a window to understanding the primitive earthiness of humanity within us all. From admiration, to misunderstanding, to praise and sadly angry criticism, reveal unrecognized component parts of our self we must recognize if we are to have health and peace with ourselves.

As Archetypal psychologist James Hillman explains “The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths. And we have no myths as such -instead, depth psychology and psychopathology. Therefore… psychology shows myths in modern dress and myths show our depth psychology in ancient dress.”

Myths are  sounding boards employed “for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of life.”

Reference: Bhil Devlok, Adivasi LokKala Evam Boli Vikas Academy, Madhya Pradesh Sanskriti Parishad, Governmment Press, Bhopal.