The bow and arrows were earlier used by the tribal for hunting down animals. These small weapons are used to shoot down smaller animals and birds for food. These are also used for self-defense. Toy versions are also made for recreational purpose and for teaching the kids.
It is also effectively used in cattle herding. When the arrows are shot right in front of the cattle's path, they turn away from that and take the other direction.
The arrowheads are made by the Lohars or blacksmiths in the tribal community and the tribals put together the bow and arrow contraption on their own. These are also sold in the weekly markets in the villages.
The men have since ages adorned 'Teer-Kamthi', the bow and arrow, which has been their symbol of chivalry and self defense. The people are experts in handling bows and arrows. In fact, the name 'Bhil' was derived from the word 'Billee', which means bow. For years, the bow has been a characteristic weapon of the tribe and the men usually carry their bows and arrows with them. Jhabua is a hilly area and a popular saying goes that an expert Bhil can target an arrow up to 1 km from one hill to the other.
In the proud history of Mewar, the Bhil tribesmen have played an important part. It was a Bhil who brought up Bappa Rawal, a forefather of the Maharanas of Udaipur. For centuries Bhil armies fought with their Rajput rulers, against a succession of invaders. Thus it is that the Bhils though themselves illiterate and lacking even a tradition of popular ballad-history, such as the minstrel charans and bhats provide for their near neighbours, are yet commemorated in the writings and verse of the Rajputs; and their long association is symbolized in the Mewar royal crest, which shows a sun in splendor, with on one side a Rajput, on the other a Bhil warrior.
Myths & Legends
The Pandava prince Arjuna was Drona's favorite student. Ekalavya, a Bhil also wanted to be Drona's pupil but Drona refused to teach him. Ekalavya was a determined student. He carved a statue of Drona on a tree trunk in the forest and started practicing in front of it. Time went by and one day the princes and their teacher came to the same forest. As Arjuna aimed at a particularly difficult target, an arrow pierced the target. Shocked, the boys and their teacher looked around. They saw Ekalavya, who went up to touch Drona's feet. "Who is your teacher?- Drona asked. Ekalavya quietly led him to the statue. Drona did not want anyone to be better than Arjun. He thought for some time and said, "If I am your guru, give me my Gurudakshina, I want your right thumb.- Ekalavya bowed and wordlessly cut off his right thumb and laid it at Drona's feet. For an archer asking to give his thumb is equivalent for asking him to give his life.
But Ekalavya was happy for his dream of being accepted as Dronacharya's disciple was fulfilled. Despite of being a deceitful incident, because of Ekalavya's sacrifice it became a legend.
Archery is one of the oldest sport and technique in India. Owing to its requirement of simple and easily available raw materials, the bow and arrow have been a part of both hunting and sport for ages. It is considered to be a Mesolithic skill, which was developed first for hunting and self-defense needs and later evolved to be a prestigious skill. There are many references to the bow and arrow in the Indian Mythology. At Bhimbetka, the paintings are predominantly based on animal life that existed during that period and also these paintings provide an insight to society and rituals followed during that period. The paintings of later periods indicate use of various weapons like swords, knife, arrows, spears, shields and bows. Some paintings indicating processions on horses and elephants specify presence of a developed society.
The Vedic era is full of examples with games and honing of archery. The form and material has evolved over years, and there are toy versions too.
In the tribal populations of India, the bamboo and cane 'Teer-Kamaan' is still used for small hunting and celebrations. Even little children put together a makeshift bow and arrow with trees branches and twigs and play, trying to hit targets drawn at small distances.
The bow is made with bamboo and the arrows are crafted out of cane. The arrowhead is made out of sharpened metal at one end. The other has feathers of eagle tied strongly with a string. The eagle feather is used since it is large and the tribals believe in the eagle's ability to glide long distances, with the air in their feathers. The streamlined shape of the arrowhead is such that once inserted it gets locked inside. The bow is wound around with silver or gold ribbons. The arrows are painted red and black or other bright colors.