When I received an invite to attend this festival, I had no clue what this festival is. And where Jhabua is, but thanks to Google, I could quickly find out the details. And grabbed the opportunity to attend this festival with both hands. The literature mentioned it as a festival where young tribal boys express their love to the girl of their choice. If she accepts it, they elope away. Till their families negotiate and agree to get them married once they come back. Now, would you not be excited to see how these boys in the most public place in rural areas propose? How girls react and how it is accepted as a ritual.
Of course the festivity of Bhil tribes just before the festival of Holi was the added attraction. The photographs added to the weight of the invitation. Here I was adjusting all my schedules, working late night to meet deadlines. So that I can spend 4 days in Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh.
Bhagoria Festival at Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh.
Landed in Indore, made a pit stop at Ujjain and paid a visit to the reigning deity of the city Mahakaal. And drove through dusty roads, dry arid hillocks to reach Jhabua by the end of the day. M P Tourism organized a film show to tell us about the festival that has been filmed over many years during the festival by an independent photographer. Let me share what I learnt through the film and the literature first.
Legend of Bhagoria Festival.
In the popular parlance, the name Bhagoria refers to Bhag. That could mean run away or elope, basically a time when boys run away with the girls they like. Another legend is that the first hero and heroine of this festival were Bhav and Gauri. That is Shiva and Parvati, this is how the festival gets its name. A third legend is that king of Bhagore conquered this area. And allowed men in his army to elope with the girls they fell in love at the haat or market that takes place before the Holi festival. Since then over a period of time, it became a tradition that continues in some ways till date.
The timing of the haat just before the Holi is not just coincidental, of course, Holi is a big festival for the region. This is also the time when most people get money for their work and have extra cash to spend at the market. It is the time when everyone comes back home from wherever they are in the world. So it makes great sense to get married or get your children married at this point in time. Now, how much of this tradition still remains is anyone’s guess.
We did see boys and girls all dressed up in the fair. Boys putting color on the girls as a gesture of proposal. And we did see girls taking Paan or betel leaf from boys as a gesture of accepting the proposal. But how much of this is accepted in the society is something very difficult to find out. We spoke to a lot of people and we got different versions of truth about the tradition of marrying at Bhagoria festival.
My analysis based on what I read, heard and saw is that at some point in time this may have been one of the few opportunities that boys and girls got to meet. And express themselves. And some of them may have used this as an opportunity to elope. Which over a period of time became an accepted norm or a ritual.
Recommend you to read following blog posts on Madhya Pradesh Tourist places.