Bhil girl
Total population
17 Million (2011 Census)
Regions with significant populations
          Madhya Pradesh5,993,921[2]
          Andhra Pradesh604[2]
 Pakistan (Sindh)1,200,000 to 1,700,000 (2020)[3]
Bhil languagesMarathiGujaratiSindhi BhilHindi
Related ethnic groups
Rathwa, Indo-Aryan peoples

Bhil or Bheel is an ethnic group in western India. They speak the Bhil languages, a subgroup of the Western Zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.[4]

Bhils are listed as tribal people of the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan—all in the western Deccan regions and central India—as well as in Tripura in far-eastern India, on the border with Bangladesh. Bhils are divided into a number of endogamous territorial divisions, which in turn have a number of clans and lineages. Many Bhils now speak the dominant later language of the region they reside in, such as Marathi, Gujarati or a Bhili language dialect.


Some scholars suggest that the term Bhil is derived from the word billa or billu which means bow in the Dravidian lexis. The term Bhil is used to refer to "various ethnic communities" living in the forests and hills of Rajasthan's southern parts and surrounding regions of western India, highlighting the "popularity of the bow and arrow as a weapon among these groups". It is also used as a blanket term to refer to the autochthonous peoples of these areas.[5]


The Bhil Kings have been mentioned in the Mahabharata as rulers of Malwa and Central India . From the time of the Mahabharata to 325 B.C [6]

Rebellion against Mughal

Rana punja was grandson of Bhil Chief Harpal Bhil of Oghna Panarawa.[7] He was the king of Merpur and he supported Maharana Pratap against Akbar.

Family of Bhil hunters in 18th century painting

Before the Independence of India, in Baria State, the Bhil women were Concubines for the Koli landlords.[8]

Some of the Bhil chief's of early medieval Ahmedabad claim the status of Kolis in the medieval period. The Kolis of Gujarat being a part of the agricultural population, the Kolis might have included some other social groups claiming agriculturist status. The Kolis were not good cultivators in the medieval period and are not described as an economically homogeneous caste at the end of the nineteenth century. The character of the Kolis, as agriculturists, varies much in different parts of the Gujarat. Crimes of violence are occasionally committed among Kolis they were known as outlaw. but, as a warrior caste, they have settled down in the position of peaceful husbandmen marked contrast to their lawless practices fifty years ago. The Kolis of medieval Gujarat too figure in medieval source more as lawless elements than as peaceful producers. Raja Vikramajit, Shahjahan's governor of Gujarat, had to conduct an expedition in 1622 against Jagirdar Kolis in north of Ahmedabad who had been for generations a terror to travellers. Between 1662 and 1668, a Baluchi adventurer impersonating the late Dara Shikoh successfully gathered around himself a large number of the Kolis of Viramgam and Chunwal. The Mughal commander Mohabat Khan had to march out to drive him away and take control of the Kolis. Records of the East India Company mention that the Ahmedabad route to Surat was particularly dangerous because of the constant irruption of brigands, robbers, piracy and highwaymen Kolis. In fact, in 1644, some Kolis attacked a caravan between Ahmedabad and Broach, Kolis armed with bows and arrows and muskets attacked Fidauddin Khan's forces in the mid-eighteenth century; the Kolis also launched guerrilla attacks on Gaikwad forces. But it is significant that the eighteenth-century Kolis of Gujarat refused to accept the Bhils as a Koli, Alexander K. Forbes, writing on the Kolis and the Bhils of Mahikantha in the period of the Gaikwads, mentions that tribal bhils were trying to be in Koli status. The above point indicates that the status of "Koli' had become a respectable one for those tribal groups in Gujarat who sought to distinguish themselves from the larger mass of their kinsmen. The Kolis seem to have attained an important socio political status by the fourteenth century, at least on Konkan coast in Maharashtra. A Koli kingdom is known to have been founded by Jayba Popera in North Konkan in 1342. The chief of the celebrated Janjira fort was a Koli named Ram Patil in the time of Shivaji, Kolis had served the Maratha army under their Koli commanders Yesaji Kank and Tanaji Malusare since the time of Shivaji and exercised considerable control over the Konkan coast. The Bahmanis conferred the rank of Sardar on Koli chiefs who held charge of hill tracts. In contrast, we have noted that the Kolis of Gujarat were mostly perceived as a predatory tribe. From the way they are described in the literature of the medieval period and in travellers accounts, we suspect that some descendants of medieval Bhil chiefs, particularly those of Ahmedabad, could have claimed the status of Koli.[9]

Bhil Rebellion

The rulers of Idar, Rajpipla, Mándvi Bánsda and Dharampur princely states in southern Gujarat were Bhils.[10]

The Bhils of what is now the state of Gujarat rebelled on several occasions during the British colonial era, notably in 1846, 1857–58 and 1868.[11]

Along with a number of other Indian social groups, the Bhils were designated as a criminal tribe by the British colonial government under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, which meant that a Bhil could be "randomly picked up, tortured, maimed or even killed" by the colonial authorities. Susan Abraham notes that many of the tribes characterized as criminal under the Act had earlier rebelled against the East India Company and participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She claims that the British colonial government legislated the Act in 1871 in the wake of these autochthonic tribes' proclivity for rebellion.[12]

Mutiny against Mewar State

According to Ram Pande, in 1881, the Bhils protested against "the census classification, prohibition on alcohol manufacture, establishment of police and customs, and the ban on the killing of witches". Their campaigning was stepped up and given meaning by Govind Guru who was a social and political leader. Pande suggests that because of his long-term Brahminical Hinduism missionary work among the tribe, Govind was able to stop them consuming meat and alcohol, and to pressurize the state for the formation of village councils which could administer their own affairs and for barring forced labor. In 1917, Mewar State's Girasias joined the Bhils in the struggle to get the petty taxes and forced labour quashed, and to get the land revenues decreased. Taking note of these protests, the jagirdars of Mewar had called on a British political agent to suppress the mutiny. Pande noted that 1,500 Bhils got shot in 1908. In 1921, the tribals and peasants united under the leadership of Motilal Tejawat in the struggle against "forced labour, petty taxes, the disparity in taxes, high taxes and the tyrannical ways of the jagirdars". Tejawat's thoughts drew followers from the Bhils and Girasias of the Danta, Idar, Palanpur and Sirohi regions of Gujarat; and he "became a notorious offender against the state".[13]


The Bhils are inhabitants of Dhar, Jhabua, Khargone and Ratlam districts of Madhya Pradesh. Bhilai (Bhil= Tribe, Aai= Came, meaning Bhils came), a city in Durg district of Chhattisgarh is named after this. A large number of Bhils live in the neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. They constitute the largest tribe of India. According to Victoria R. Williams, the Bhils are India's "most widely dispersed tribal group". A small population of Bhils also resides in Pakistan's Sindh who are known as the Meghwar Bhil or just Meghwar.[14]

Present circumstances

The Bhil are classified as a Scheduled Tribe in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh,[15] Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tripura under the Indian government's reservation program of positive discrimination.[1]


The Bhil are divided into a number of endogamous territorial divisions, which in turn have a number of clans and lineages. In Rajasthan, they exist as Bhil Garasia, Dholi Bhil, Dungri Bhil, Dungri Garasia, Mewasi Bhil,Barda ,Warli, Bagdi,[16] Dhodia, Nirdhi Bhil, Gamit, Rawal Bhil, Tadvi Bhil, Bhagalia,Bauris,[17] Bhilala,Rathwa,[18] Pawra, Barda,Warli , Nayak,[19] Nahals ,Mathvadi, Dorepis,[20]Dhanka,[21] Vasava and Vasave.[22][a]


Partial specimen of the Bhili language

The language commonly spoken by Bhils throughout their geographic distribution is Bhili.[23] Bhili has about up to 36 identified dialects and pronunciation differs by region.[23][24] Bhili is based on Gujarati, but dialects of Bhili gradually merge into more widely spoken languages such as Marathi in the southeast and Rajasthani in the northwest. Around 10 million people recorded themselves as speaking a Bhili dialect in the census.[25]

Estimates of individuals speaking the language are often inaccurate as speakers of minor languages like Bhili have sometimes been treated as having major languages (such as Marathi or Gujarati) as their mother tongue.[26]

The Bhil in Sindh speak Sindhi Bhil.[27]


Bhils have a rich and unique culture. The Bhilala sub-division is known for its Pithora painting.[28] Ghoomar is a traditional folk dance of the Bhil tribe.[29][30] Ghoomar is the symbol of womanhood. Young girls take part in this dance and declare that they are stepping into the shoes of women.


Bhil painting is characterised by the use of multi-coloured dots as in-filling. Bhuri Bai was the first Bhil artist to paint using readymade colours and paper. Other known Bhil artists include Lado Bai, Sher Singh, Ram Singh and Dubu Bariya.[31]


Main foods of Bhils are maize, onion, garlic and chili which they cultivate in their small fields. They collect fruits and vegetables from the local forests. Wheat and rice are used at time of festivals and other special occasions only. They keep self-made bows and arrows, swords, knives, axes etc. with them as weapons for self-defense and hunting the wild fauna which also form the major part of their diet. They profusely use alcohol distilled by them from the flower of Mahua (Madhuca longifolia). On festive occasions, various special preparation from the dish rich, i.e. maize, wheat, barley, malt and rice. Bhils are traditionally non-vegetarian.[32]


A Bhil woman in gala dress

The traditional dresses of men are the Pagri, Angarkha, Dhoti and Gamchha. Traditionally women wear Sari and Ghagra Choli.

There are many traditional ornaments of Bhils. Men wear Kada, Bajuband, Chain, ear rings, Kardhani. Women wear variety of ornaments such as hansli, ring, Zele-zumke, earring in Bhil language, narniyan[what language is this?] (bangle), nathni (nose-jewel) etc. Tattooing is traditional custom among them. Women folks do tattooing generally before marriage.[32]

Faith and worship

Every village has its own local deity (Gramdev) and families too have their Jatidev, Kuldev and Kuldevi (house hold deity) which is symbolised by stones. 'Bhati dev' and 'Bhilat dev' are their serpent-god. 'Baba dev' is their village god. Karkulia dev is their crop god, Gopal dev is their pastoral god, Bag dev is their Lion god, Bhairav dev is their dog god. Some of their other gods are Indel dev, Bada dev, Mahadevel, Tejaji, Lotha mai, Techma, Orka Chichma and Kajal dev.

They have extreme and staunch faith in superstitious beliefs and Bhopas for their physical, mental and psychological treatments.[32]

According to Victoria R. Williams, the Bhils "identify largely as Hindu". The Dang Bhils follow Christianity, and the Nirdhi and Tadivi Bhils follow Islam. A number of other Bhils follow Sonatan (Sanskrit: Sanatan) which is their "own religion". Williams states that Sonatan "blends Hindu beliefs and animistic philosophies".[14]

Bhil saints were mainly Vaishnava Hindus, and include Dhanraj Lodha, Govind Guru, Gulia Bhamda, Ramdas, Surmaldas, Tantya Mama, and Maharishi Valmiki.


There are a number of festivals, viz. Rakhi, Navratri, Dashera, Diwali, Holi which are celebrated by the Bhils. They also celebrate some traditional festivals viz. Akhatij, Navmi, Howan Mata ki Chalavani, Sawan Mata ki jatar, Diwasa, Nawai, Bhagoria, Gal, Gar, Dhobi, Sanja, Indel, Doha etc. with ceremonious zeal and enthusiasm.

During some festivals there are a number of tribal fairs held at different places of districts. Navratri mela, Bhagoria mela (during Holi festival) etc.[32] Bhil community of Udaipur celebrate Gavari festival each year after Holi.[34]

Communal dance and festivities

A performance by Bhil dancers in Delhi

The chief means of their recreation is folk songs and dances. Women dance at birth celebrations, marriage functions and on a few festivals in traditional Bhili style accompanied by a drum beat. Their dances include the Lathi (staff) dance, Dhol dance, marriage dance, Holi dance, Battle dance, Bhagoria dance, Deepawal dance and hunting dance. Musical instruments include the Harmonium, Sarangi, Kundi, Bansuri, Apang, Khajria, Tabla, Jhanjh, Mandal and Thali. They are usually made from local products.[32]

Local political structure

Traditional each Bhil village is led by a headman (gameti). The gameti has authority and decision-making powers over most local disputes or issues.[35]


According to a genetic study on the Indian population in 2009, Bhill people of Gujarat carried around 27.27% of Y haplogroup H, 18.18% Haplogroup J, 18.18% Haplogroup L, 18.18% Haplogroup R2, 9.09% Haplogroup R1a and 9.09% Haplogroup C.[36]

Bhil Pradesh Demand

There has been a demand for the establishment of a separate state of Bhil Pradesh by combining the tribal-dominated parts of Gujarat and neighbouring states Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra.[37] In 2014, when the Telangana state was formed, it reignited hopes of statehood again.[38] In 2023, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA leader Chaitar Vasava raised demand for separate state of Bhil Pradesh.[39]

Notable people

See also



  1. ^ The Vasava and Vasave in Rajasthan may be alternate transliterations of the name for a single community. The sources are unclear regarding this.


  1. ^ a b "List of notified Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census India. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Census of India 2011. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner,used India. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  3. ^ Bhil of Pakistan, Hussain Ghulam (2020) Bielefeld University,million%20(as%20of%202020)
  4. ^ Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India (PDF). New Delhi: Ministry of Tribal Affairs. 2013. p. 10.
  5. ^ Gall, Timothy L.; Hobby, Jeneen, eds. (2009). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. Vol. 3 (2, illustrated ed.). Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale. p. 131. ISBN 9781414448916. OCLC 1112785346. The name Bhil identifies various ethnic communities inhabiting the hills and forests of southern Rajasthan and neighboring areas of western India. Some scholars argue that "Bhil" comes from the Dravidian word for bow (billa or billu) and reflects the popularity of the bow and arrow as a weapon among these groups. The term is also used in a broader sense to refer to the aboriginal peoples of this region.
  6. ^ Tiwari, Shiv Kumar (2002). Tribal Roots of Hinduism. Sarup & Sons. ISBN 978-81-7625-299-7.
  7. ^ Maharana Pratap & His Times. Maharana Pratap Smarak Samiti. 1989. p. 37.
  8. ^ Nath, Y. V. S. (1960). Bhils of Ratanmal: An Analysis of the Social Structure of a Western Indian Community. New Delhi, India, Asia: Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. p. 62.((cite book)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  9. ^ Behera, Maguni Charan (9 November 2019). Tribal Studies in India: Perspectives of History, Archaeology and Culture. New Delhi, India, Asia: Springer Nature. pp. 46–51. ISBN 978-981-329-026-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  10. ^ Bombay (Presidency) (1901). Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Government Central Press.
  11. ^ Ghosh, S. K. (1987). Law Enforcement in Tribal Areas. Ashish Publishing House. p. 124. ISBN 9788170241003.
  12. ^ Abraham, Susan (July 1999). "Steal or I'll Call You a Thief: 'Criminal' Tribes of India". Economic and Political Weekly. Economic and Political Weekly. 34 (27): 1751–1753. JSTOR 4408149.
  13. ^ Unnithan-Kumar, Maya (1997). "Class Resistance and Identity". Identity, Gender, and Poverty: New Perspectives on Caste and Tribe in Rajasthan (illustrated ed.). Oxford; Providence: Berghahn. p. 240. ISBN 978-1571819185. OCLC 1043247151.
  14. ^ a b Williams, Victoria R. (2020). "Bhil". Indigenous Peoples: An Encyclopedia of Culture, History, and Threats to Survival [4 Volumes] (illustrated ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio. p. 179. ISBN 978-1440861185. OCLC 1107833866.
  15. ^ "MP के दूसरे दौरे में भी ट्राइबल पर फोकस; जानिए BJP के लिए आदिवासी क्यों जरूरी". Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  16. ^ "Bagdi". Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  17. ^ Project, Joshua. "Bauri in India". Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  18. ^ Tilche, Alice (19 February 2022). Adivasi Art and Activism: Curation in a Nationalist Age. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-74972-3.
  19. ^ Fisher, R. J. (1997). If Rain Doesn't Come: An Anthropological Study of Drought and Human Ecology in Western Rajasthan. Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-184-6.
  20. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Khandesh. Printed at the Government Central Press. 1880.
  21. ^ Srivastava, Ashirbadi Lal (1966). The Sultanate of Delhi, 711-1526 A.D.: Including the Arab Invasion of Sindh, Hindu Rule in Afghanistan and Causes of the Defeat of the Hindus in Early Medieval Age. Shiva Lal Agarwala.
  22. ^ "List of Scheduled Tribes". Census of India: Government of India. 7 March 2007. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  23. ^ a b Mehta, Sonu (2004). "Bhils - I". In Mehta, Prakash Chandra (ed.). Ethnographic Atlas of Indian Tribes. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House. p. 191. ISBN 9788171418527.
  24. ^ Phillips, Maxwell P. (2012). Dialect Continuum in the Bhil Tribal Belt: Grammatical Aspects (phd). University of London. p. 23.
  25. ^ Ratnagar, Shereen (2010). Being Tribal. Delhi: Primus Books. ISBN 9789380607023.
  26. ^ "Paper No. I - Languages". Census of India 1951. 1954. pp. 61.
  27. ^ "Sindhi Bhil: Sindhi Meghwar language".
  28. ^ Pachauri, Swasti (26 June 2014). "Pithora art depicts different hues of tribal life". Indian Express. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  29. ^ Kumar, Ashok Kiran (2014). Inquisitive Social Sciences. Republic of India: S. Chand Publishing. p. 93. ISBN 9789352831098.
  30. ^ Danver, Steven L. (28 June 2014). Native People of The World. United States of America: Routledge. p. 522. ISBN 978-0765682949.
  31. ^ "Bhil Art - How A Tribe Uses Dots To Make Their Story Come Alive". Artisera. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  32. ^ a b c d e Singh, V. P.; Jadhav, Dinesh (January 2011). Ethnobotany of Bhil Tribe. ISBN 9789387307360.
  33. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency ... Printed at the Government Central Press. 1901.
  34. ^ "GAVARI: A tribal dance drama by the Bhil community of Udaipur". Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  35. ^ Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 439. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  36. ^ Sharma S, Rai E, Sharma P, Jena M, Singh S, Darvishi K, Bhat AK, Bhanwer AJ, Tiwari PK, Bamezai RN (January 2009). "The Indian origin of paternal haplogroup R1a1* substantiates the autochthonous origin of Brahmins and the caste system". Journal of Human Genetics. 54 (1): 47–55. doi:10.1038/jhg.2008.2. PMID 19158816.
  37. ^ "Explained: Why are tribals of Rajasthan and Gujarat demanding a separate state of Bhil Pradesh?". The Indian Express. 25 May 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  38. ^ "Clamour for separate Saurashtra, Bhilistan to get louder – Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". 1 August 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  39. ^ "Gujarat AAP MLA demands separate state of 'Bhil Pradesh' for tribals". India Today. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  40. ^ "Bhuri Bai | Paintings by Bhuri Bai | Bhuri Bai Painting -". Saffronart.
  41. ^ "Lado Bai". Bhil Art.
  42. ^ Ramaṇikā Guptā; Anup Beniwal (1 January 2007). Tribal Contemporary Issues: Appraisal and Intervention. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-81-8069-475-2.
  43. ^ "Ahmed Patel saviour Chhotubhai Vasava puts Congress in bind". dnaindia.

Further reading