MP's Bhagoria Festival: Where Choice And Consent Is The Norm

Apart from having all the trappings of a colourful and kitschy village fair, the festival serves as a matrimonial platform, for couples who have been seeing each other, secretly or otherwise.

smita singh
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Bhagoria Festival
MP's Bhagoria Festival: The boy goes ahead and puts colour on the girl of his choice. The girl then smears gulaal on the face of the boy, or accepts paan, whom she loves or considers suitable for marriage. If the feeling is mutual then both elope. Sometimes they go to the boy’s house, or his relative’s or a friend’s, and get married around Holi with their families’ approval. No, this is not a scene from a Bollywood movie. This is a real scene from Bhagoria haat that is held in three tribal districts of Alirajpur, Jhabua and Shahdol of Madhya Pradesh.

Celebrated seven days before Holi, Bhagoriya haat is a festival of the Bhil tribe. These tribals also celebrate Bhagoria to mark the end of the harvesting season. The name Bhagoria is said to originate from ‘Bhag’ which means run. Although there are other explanations given for the name, like it is said that the first couple to participate in this festival were Bhav and Gauri. They are no one else but Lord Shiva and Parvati, hence the name Bhagoria. While another says that King Bhagore conquered this area and that he allowed his army to elope with the girl of their choice at the haat. Since then, the tradition continues to be followed in some way or the other every year.

Whatever be the reason I feel stoked at the thought of young people getting the freedom of choosing their own partner in a country and time when everyone else except them are involved in choosing their life partners. It is a custom in the Bhagoria festival that if the girl does not like the boy she rubs off the colour and moves on. Well consent looks like this, something that we need to learn from these tribal communities.

The festivities

Apart from having all the trappings of a colourful and kitschy village fair, the festival serves as a matrimonial platform, for couples who have been seeing each other, secretly or otherwise. These haats are held in almost all villages of the districts and are vibrant and colourful.

Bhagoria festival Bhagoria Festival. Image Credit: Hindustan Times

The men wear the flashiest clothes possible, all psychedelic prints and gaudy colours, with blingy sun-glasses to boot. Girls from one village usually wear identical saris or ghagra cholis in order to be easily identifiable amongst all the groups in the busy fair. So, you might see a swarm of 15–20 girls, all dressed in red, or another group strutting about in green. They are also decked up in their unique silver tribal jewellery. There is much rejoicing, dancing and feasting.


That’s at the mela, what about in cities!

Caste, religion and social strata

Recently I read the news of a father severing off the head of his daughter because he was unhappy with the relationship his daughter had with a man. Or we have seen cases where both the couple were hacked to death because they went ahead and married outside their caste or religion. We, who belong to a so-called civilised society will prefer to blackmail, separate, kill our own sons and daughters for choosing a life partner and will accept the dictates of khap or village panchayats but will not accept their choice.

Consent is right

In our world when a girl spurns the advances of a guy, he stalks her, assaults her, kidnaps her or most commonly throws acid on her. Guys cannot take ‘no’ for an answer. We clearly do not know where to draw the line. The thought behind throwing acid is devious one that - if she cannot be mine I will disfigure her that nobody else approaches her. What kind of sick mentality is that?

Tribal societies are simple, they are closer to nature and Mother Earth. They are aware of the natural order of things, whether its lifestyle, food or customs. And choosing whom one wants to spend the rest of their lives is also one of them. Here, elopement is not frowned upon, but in these districts, it is not just accepted, but celebrated. Life is celebrated. And we have much to learn from them.

Image Credit: MP Govt

The views expressed are the author's own.

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