Beadwork is a craft that is practiced by many tribes across the world and is an expression of their colorful culture. Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh is famous for its bead work and the craft is actively practiced here. Women in families thread together tiny, colorful beads to create intricate pieces of jewelry with designs inspired from nature.
Traditionally the tribes used beads as money, talismans and for decoration purposes but later the beads were used in making ornaments, handbags, table runners and other accessories.
In older times beads were highly prized and were considered extremely valuable by Indians and western civilizations. They were primarily used as money by the natives to purchase goods from other natives and foreigners.
Beads were also used to make colorful accessories which members of tribes wore to signify leadership and hierarchy.
Thousands of years ago, when the beads were considered to be of high monetary value, they would be transported from one place to another in the form of necklaces which the tribal folk would wear around their necks for easy transport.
The bead work also lends a sort of hierarchy for a woman in the family structure. The more efficient and elaborate bead work she makes and wears, the higher the stature she is given. The craft tradition is passed through the generations from mothers to daughters and the designs are mostly inspired from tribal art with slight changes made to suit contemporary tastes.
Myths & Legends:
The history of bead work spans at least 5,000 years and is believed to have evolved as a craft after embroidery.
Lothal developed as the most important port and a center of the bead industry until 1900 BC, when a great flood apparently resulted in 300 years of decline. However, the Indus civilisation survived here in the 1600s and 1500s, after which it disappeared from the northern provinces.
The factory comprised 11 rooms, which included worker’s quarters, warheouses and guard rooms, surrounding a courtyard. The main bead making machine was a twisted chambered kiln, made from mud plastered bricks, which was used for heating the stones used to make beads. Bellows helped raise the temperatures within.
Lothal was especially famous for its micro-beads. These were made by grinding materials, rolling them on to a string, baking it solid. Finally the baked roll was sawed into required shapes and sizes.
From the excavations done at the tombs of ‘Ur’ in Iraq, it was found that around 2,500 BC remarkable bead work constructions were created using thousands of very tiny, fairly consistent lapis-lazuli beads. These were sewn onto a base to create a covering layer of bead work, and made into a fillet or crown. This piece still exists today.
In the ancient Indus Valley or Harappan Culture, craftsmen made millions of tiny beads and the constructions made from them were considered masterful. In Egypt, billions of small beads would be made, for the sole purpose of creating bead works. People would wear them in their everyday life as well as during funerals. As early as 500 BC, the netted technique presently called the ‘gourd stitch’ was developed and used for bead work, broad collars, funerary jewelry, and mummy nets.
When the Europeans explored Africa and Asia, they wanted to be involved in goods exchanges. They discovered that beads could be used as a medium of exchange (like currency), were durable and transportable. However, they also soon found that the receivers of beads had particular tastes and desires, and that not just any bead style, type, or color was universally popular.
The common practice is to use the same colored thread with the same colored bead and the necklaces made with the beads are classified in terms of number of threads being used in them such as 3, 8, 10 or 12 Dora (thread) necklaces.
Certain colors are specifically worn to mark certain occasions for example white is used for marriages while green colored jewelry is worn for engagements.
The traditional patterns used are ‘Phulki’, ‘Hayedi’, ‘Pati’, and ‘Toteni’ and are inspired from natural surroundings. These designs are unique to the craft and are passed from one generation to the next.
Most times, the beads for making the chain are sourced locally wherein it is difficult to get an equal diameter for all the beads. This lends a very rustic and unpolished effect to the final product, making it difficult to get a good selling price for the products.
Cotton threads- These are sourced from local markets as well as from nearby cities, Indore and Bhopal. Colored glass beads-These are sourced from Delhi and Mumbai. Sometimes the beads also imported.
As the craft is mostly hand made using only few materials, not much waste is created. Wastes include unused and broken glass beads as well as faulty threads.
Tools & Tech:
Needle-This is a long needle used to thread together tiny glass beads. Scissors-Used to cut the threads. Holder frame-Used to hold the beads and threads in place while threading the design.
Bead work is done by sewing several tiny beads together using a long needle. Traditional tribal designs are crafted with great skill and patience making each product unique and a beauty to behold.
The floor is cleaned first and an old rag or ‘Sadalo’ is spread out. The beads are taken off from their holder thread and sorted in different heaps according to their colors. The sling of the thread is unwound and looped around the toe, while the ends of the thread are held in one hand. With the other hand each thread is taken out one by one.
No sketches or graphs are made, but the designs are verbally pre-decided by the women. Most of the designs follow age old patterns with slight modifications in the choice of colors.
Very seldom we find ourselves in a vicinity of a culture so diverse that we begin questioning and correlating our own way of living, at Jhabua one cannot make a brief visit, as the land throws such inquisitiveness in ones conscious that he can't help but unravel this diverse intermingling of tribes in the world of their own. Situated at a picturesque plateau with highlands and valleys, Jhabua is home to mysteries, culture and crafts with echoing history that narrates glorious past of this land.
SH-59, By road via Indore (MP) or Dahod (Gujarat)
Kachori, Samosa, Regular food, Tribal cuisine
Jhabua town was founded in the 16th century by a notorious freebooter, Jhabbu Naik. Keshodas took over the land after defeating Jhabbu Naik and his gang. The rulers of Jhabua were Rathor Rajputs who were descendents from Bir Singh. He was the fifth son of Jodh Singh, commonly known as Jodha, the founder of the principal Rathor state of the Jodhpur in the Rajputanas.
Keshodas took over in 1584. Till 1572, he was a member of Prince Salim's staff, who had invested him with the insignia of royalty. He was poisoned by his own son, Karan Singh. Soon, in 1642, Shah Jahan restored these territories to Maha Singh who was a nephew of Keshodas. Maha Singh then defeated the Nayaks of Jhabua and Thandla, and established his capital in Jhabua in 1642.
Jhabua experienced great difficulties during the invasion of the Marathas in 1722. The year after, Jhabua was placed under the management of the Holkars. Gopal Singh who served the British Govt impressively during the Sepoy Mutiny was appreciated by giving his adopted son, Udai Singh Bahadur, full power to rule. Alirajpur and Jobat were under the Bhopawar Agency.
After India attained its independence in 1947, the Jhabua district came into being during the formation of Madhya Bharat in 1948, with the merger of former states of Jhabua, Alirajpur, Jobat, Kathiwada, Mathwad, Petlawad Pargana of Holkar state and one village (Kanwada) of the Dhar state. In 1956, it was merged into Madhya Pradesh. Bhabhara which was once part of the Jhabua district, is the place where Chandrasekhar Azad, the great freedom fightern spent his early life when his father Pandit Sitaram Tiwari was serving in the erstwhile estate of Alirajpur. But, when Alirajpur district (which was once the part of Jhabua district) got separated from Jhabua, Bhabhra became the part of Alirajpur district.
Jhabua district lies in the western part of Madhya Pradesh. The district touches the borders of the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The district headquarters is situated on the edge of a small lake called the Bahadur Sagar, 360 meters above sea level.
It has an area of 6782 sq kms. It is bound by the Banswara district of Rajasthan in the north-west, Panch Mahal and Vadodara districts of Gujarat in the west, Dhulia district of Maharashtra in the south, Dhar in the east and Ratlam in the north. The river Narmada also forms a southern boundary. The Vindhyan range crosses the district.
Jhabua is well connected via road to important cities like Ahmedabad to its west and Indore to its east, both the cities have airports. It is also connected by road to Indore and other towns in the state.
Jhabua is a village with below basic infrastructure, inhabited by a population which strives to raise the needful with the help of various organizations. It is now one of the 24 districts in Madhya Pradesh currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF). It has basic amenities including market hubs, clinics and convent schools. A government college and a polytechnic provide the higher education for local youth.
Of all the districts inhabited by the Bhils, Jhabua is the most important because over ninety percent of the population consists of Bhils and Bhilalas. Like all other Bhil settlements the Bhil villages tend to be highly disaggregated, with the Bhils living either individually in their own huts, or in family clusters, the 'falia'. In this the Bhils differ from other tribes such as the Gonds, who are gregarious and live together in distinct village clusters. Even the Gondi villages have their Dhanas, or hamlets, but these are sub- villages rather than the individual compounds which the Bhils favor.
Many festivals like the Mahavir Jayanti, Hanuman Jayanti, Kali-puja, Shivrathri etc are celebrated with much aplomb. A festival the district is well known for is the Bhagoria Hat. It is the main attraction in the Bhils and the Bhilalas from the district of West Nimar. This Bhagoria festival is celebrated in the month of March, before Holi. It is celebrated on the on-set of the spring season. As the name of the festival indicates 'bhag' (to run), after choosing their partners, the young people elope and they are subsequently accepted as husband and wife by society through predetermined customs. The tradition is that the boy applies 'gulal' a 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.
The Bhagoria haat also coincides with 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.
Bhils and Bhilalas, Bhagoria indulge themselves in a series of fairs held one by one at various villages on their specific market days, commencing seven days before Holi. Another prominent festival is the Sattom Dosha to worship goddess Sita. The staple meal consists of dishes made of vegetables, pulses that are seved along with rotis. Sweets like Jalebis and Pettha are much loved.
The main occupants are the Bhils and Bhilala tribes. Languages spoken here are Hindi and Gujarati. The people consist of a majority of Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The other religions followed are Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. The tribal population also forms a major part.
Their traditional attire is the Kachla- Ghagra (blouse-skirt) for the women and the men wear a type of lungi and vests. They adorn themselves with ornaments such as the Galsan, Bali, Kade, Hatka etc.
The Bhils are basically an agro pastoral people. The means of livelihood of the Bhils has hitherto been marginal agriculture, a certain amount of animal husbandry and seasonal migration as seriously affected the social structure of the Bhils because they tend to migrate as a village rather than as individuals. However, change has begun to occur because of enhanced avenues of employment in the public sector and because of reservation of jobs for tribals. One now finds the Bhils coming into occupations such as government workers, teachers, policemen, forest guards, etc., availability in some villages the migration cycle has also been interrupted and there are more people who are able to stay in their villages and earn a livelihood. The Bhils are fond of ornamentation, including body tattooing, branding, embroidery and bead jewellery and decorative items. The women have become experts in simple embroidery of the waistcoats worn by men and the apparel of women, as also in making costume jewelry of traditional design with glass beads. Bead work is to be seen even amongst non tribes in some of the districts of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat and amongst the Bhils in Panchmahals and Vadodara Districts of Gujarat.
The Bhilala tribe has particularly dense populations in the districts of Dhar, Jhabua, and West Nimar of Madhya Pradesh state. Their language, also called Bhilala, is a sub-group of the Bhil language, which belongs to the Indo-Aryan linguistic family. The Bhilala primarily work as farmers, farm servants, field laborers, and village watchmen. With a growth in population, most of their land holdings are small and generally non-productive. However, there are a few substantial landholders, and a number of Bhilala have even taken government jobs. The Bhilala are known for their multi-colored, embroidered garments. Tattoos are also commonly worn by the villagers.
The region also hosts the Rathwa tribes who are mostly found in the western regions of Madhya Pradesh. They are small scale cultivators and their language is described as the Rathvi - a mixture of the ancient local words of the Bhil tribe and those of Gujarathi, Malvi and Maharashtra. The tribe is known for its Pithoro Paintings and the Chuum Jhuum, a famous dance form.
Deojhiri: It is 8 km from Jhabua town on Ahmedabad-Indore State Highway No.22. It lies 1 km to the west of the road, on Sunar River. As the name of the village denotes there is an ancient temple of Lord Shiva (Deo, a diety) and jhiri or a perennial spring. The spring has been built up into a kund. A samadhi of some religious saint is located here, celebration is held on Baisakh Poornima, which falls mostly in the month of april according to Gregarian calender
Crafts and culture: Jhabua is known for its plethora of tribal crafts such as their cloth dolls, bow and arrows, pots, bead jewelry etc. The tourists even visit Jhabua to witness the lifestyle of tribes in Jhabua.