The Jhabua dolls are representations of the various tribes in their vibrant traditional attires. Crafted out of scrap cloth, these dolls also sometimes hold the tools used in the occupation of the tribes they represent. They come in various shapes, sizes and in groups or pairs. What sets this craft apart from the rest is the fact that it is the result of a general inquisitiveness to know the vivid cultures and attires behind the various beautiful crafts that led the skilled artisans of Jhabua take up this opportunity to show the world.

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      The dolls serve as souvenirs. Jhabua dolls are gifted to the bride in several parts of the country. The uses are decorative and they serve as a reliable source of income to the craftsmen all year round. The dolls closely resemble the features of tribal living all across the subcontinent, in a way the tribes identify themselves through this craft. It also acts as an informative object for the people living in urban areas, who have never experienced a tribal culture. For students in school or universities, these dolls are an apt tool to educate the youth about intangible heritage across Indian subcontinent. Many ancient tribes are relocating themselves to urban areas and it is likely that many of the tribes will become extinct if proper steps are not taken to document and preserver this unique heritage of India.


      Dolls have always been a significant part of Human lives, a companion in childhood and a souvenir once we grow old. Jhabua dolls are an insight into the rural lives of the tribes. This aspect is also a reason for why the dolls are not much of a rave in the local markets. The dolls depict tribal people in their ethnic attire. These are exported or sold in handicraft bazaars or emporiums. The women who make the dolls undergo a training of six months to master the craft. To prove the strength of the dolls, they are thrashed on the floor in front of the customer. The material used for Jhabua doll making is a recycled cloth; hence the craft process involves a sustainable process. 

      Myths & Legends:

      The tribes living in Jhabua area have mastered several crafts. It is believed that after the development of urban areas, where people from various regions started gathering in cities; the tribes travelled all the way to cities to sell their unique products, the products included bamboo products, pottery, paintings etc. The people grew curious about the tribal living, citing this; the tribes started making these fabric dolls to represent themselves. The craft was called Adivasi Gudiya Shilp and gained recognition across the world.


      Cloth dolls are believed to have been in existence for as long as cloth itself. Excavations have revealed that cloth dolls were made in ancient Egypt. The early existence and survival of the dolls can be attributed to the fact that scrap cloth is the easiest of all materials to source. Cloth is also easily workable and the tools required are not hard to find too. For children, the cloth dolls would also feel soft in their hands as compared to other materials.

      Dolls act as cultural ambassadors reflecting 5,000 years of Indian civilization. The Indian people have a very special affection for dolls. They are part of a tradition Indians have grown up with. At one time dolls were given away as wedding presents to the child bride. In Jhabua, the craft has been revived during the early 60s by organisations to help the tribals earn a living. The work is spreading fast depending on the demand. Many villages like Bani, Meghnagar, Ranapur, Fulmalgao are blossoming centers for doll-making. The dolls depicting the lives of all the tribes are made with fabric scrap and easily available inexpensive materials.


      The Jhabua dolls are made in many sizes and sometimes even life-size dolls are made on order. The sizes range from 2 ft to 5ft. The body is made of stuffed cloth and the skin color is usually painted in shades of brown. The expressions and features are painted onto the dolls.


      With the rise in the popularity of the idea, the number of people joining in to work has increased but the demand has been mellow. It is one of the few crafts which are the sole source of income to these settling tribes, therefore and deplete in market demand affects adversely to their livelihood. The craft seeks new innovations and forms to suit contemporary uses. The use of these dolls in various other sectors such as education and culture curation should also be promoted.

      Introduction Process:

      The seemingly simple process of making Jhabua dolls involves cutting the body shaped template out of scrap cloth pieces and stuffing it with cotton or more cloth scrap. The heads are molded out of clay or plaster, with the facial details painted on. These are then adorned with traditional attire and accessories.

      Raw Materials:

      Fabric: Usually fabric scrap is used to cover up the doll in vibrant colors, the fabrics are sourced from different sources, and hence the variance printing and dying techniques of different clothes used in this craft gives a unique aesthetic quality to the dolls.
      Cotton: It is used as a stuffing for the dolls.
      Metal wires: Metal wires constitute the frame of the legs, around these wires the cotton and a cloth wrapping is put.
      Clay: It is taken into account to mould the head and face of the doll.
      Embellishments: To ornament the doll and make it look more attractive, embellishments such as ribbon, zari, sequins are used.
      Paints: Facial features and other details on the body and attire are put through paints; these paints are synthetic, sourced from a nearby town or city.
      Gum: It is a natural adhesive, used to join pieces of clothes and different parts of the doll.


      The Jhabua doll making process does not involve any waste; the major raw material itself is a fabric waste. Bits of clothes which result from the cutting of fabric are then used to stuff the doll with cotton.

      Tools & Tech:

      Needle: Needles are used to stitch several body parts of doll by thread.
      Thread: By means of thread pieces of clothes are stitched together, the whole fabrication of doll is done through needle and fabric.
      Paint brushes: These are used to paint the details on the dolls.
      Pliers for body brame, a hand tool used to bend the metal wire.


      The dolls are used as a dowry constituent, when the bride is heading for her husband’s place. Other ritualistic importance of these dolls includes the gifts given to the child when he is born or during various rites of passage.


      The seemingly simple process of making Jhabua dolls involves cutting the body shaped template out of scrap cloth pieces and stuffing it with cotton or more cloth scrap. The heads are molded out of clay or plaster, with the facial details painted on. These are then adorned with traditional attire and accessories.

      The parts of the doll’s body are outlined onto a piece of fabric. Two layers are cut out with the same outline and these are stitched together along the drawn lines. This is then turned inside out and stuffed with cotton. Metal wires are fixed onto the legs to that they stand sturdily on a wooden base.

      The individual body parts are joined together using strong cotton threads. ‘Pakkataanka’ is the name for the double knot technique, which is used in the stitching for the robustness of the dolls. The body is then adorned with clothes and jewelry, made to fit.

      The face is made using clay and the features are carved out in careful details. This is then fired and covered with a thin layer of cloth. Facial expressions are painted onto this, a task which requires a steady hand and expertise.
      The next and the last step is to fix the legs of the doll onto a wooden base. The protruding ends of the metal wire base are used for the purpose. These are made to go through the base and then hammered from the back after twisting.
      Hair and other accessories are stitched onto the dolls. Clothes are made to size separately and then put onto the body. The final details are drawn on using synthetic paints.

      Cluster Name: Jhabua


      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.
      district Jhabua
      state Madhya Pradesh
      population 35,753 (2011)
      langs Hindi, English
      best-time August-March
      stay-at Good Local Hotels available
      reach SH-59, By road via Indore (MP) or Dahod (Gujarat)
      local Auto
      food 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.

      Famous For:

      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.


      List of craftsmen.

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