While the traditional religious festivals
of the Hindus, Muslims and other communities are celebrated
in Madhya Pradesh asenthusiastically as in the rest
of India, it is the tribal fairs and festivals of Madhya
Pradesh, which are a celebration of the ethnic life-styles
of the colourful tribes of the land. The tribal festivals
in Jhabua are marked by carefree revelry, drinking bouts
and exotic entertainment like cock-fighting, uninhibited
dancing, etc. The casual visitor often fails to appreciate
adequately the genuine and strong tradition of democracy
in tribal society, the harmonious living with nature,
the respected status accorded to women, the amicable
sharing of the community resources.
Among the cultural festivals of Madhya Pradesh, the
Khajuraho Festival of Dances and the Tansen Music Festival
in Gwalior are poignant celebrations of Indian classical
dance and music.
This colourful festival of the Bhils and Bhilalas, particularly
in the district of West Nimar and Jhabua, is actually
in the nature of a mass svayamvara, a marriage market,
usually held on the various market days falling before
the Holi festival in March. As the name of the festival
indicates, (bhag, to run), after choosing their partners,
the young people elope and are subsequently accepted
as husband and wife by society through predetermined
customs. It is not always that boys and girls intending
to marry each other meet in the festival for the first
In a large number of cases the alliance is already
made between the two, the festival providing the institutionalised
framework for announcing the alliance publically. The
tradition is that the boy applies gulal, red powder,
on the face of the girl whom he selects as his wife.
The girl, if willing, also applies gulal on the boy's
face. This may not happen immediately but the boy may
pursue her and succeed eventually.
Earlier, the Bhagoria haat was also the place for settling
old disputes; open invitations were sent to enemies
for a fight in the haat. Bloody battles used to be quite
common in the past but today police and administration
do not allow people to go to the haat armed.
The Bhagoria haat also coincides with the completion
of harvesting, adding to it the dimension of being an
agricultural festival as well. If the crops have been
good, the festival assumes an additional air of gaiety.
In the life of the Bhils and Bhilalas, Bhagoria is not
merely one festival but in fact a series of fairs held
one by one at various villages on their specific market
days, commencing eight days before Holi.