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.
The land is hilly as it lies on a spur of the Vindhyas and along the western boundary of the plateau. The density of the forests in the districts is not high. The major part of the forests can be found near Kathiwara, Mathwar and Bhamra in the Alirajpur Tehsil. The forests are of the tropical deciduous type. Teak, Bamboo, Mahua and palm trees are commonly seen
This undulating and uneven terrain does not lend itself to much agricultural productivity. In this type of topography, the difference between the highest and lowest points is usually averaging to about 20 to 50 meters. The difference, however, increases as one goes further south. The southern portion drains to the Narmada River. The land is mostly erratic with low fertility, resulting in a lack of forest cover.
The top soils are mostly light, with some patches of fertile, medium black variety. These are somewhat threatened by soil erosion and, with the failure of rains at times, can cause vegetation to become sparse. The underlying rock structure is mostly archaean igneous with some deccan trap basalt and sedimentary formations. Due to the low permeability and porosity of the formations, the groundwater aquifers have poor retention capabilities, resulting in a severe lack of vegetation in most areas.
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.