The name ‘Bhil’ is derived from the word ‘villu’ or ‘billu’, which according to the Dravidian language means ‘Bow’. The name Bhil also finds mentioned in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The popular legend represents them as being descended from Nishada, son of Mahadev.
Traditionally Bhil women wear Sari and Ghagra Choli, and a variety of ornaments including hansli, ring, Zele-zumke, earring, narniyan (bangle), nathni (nose-jewel). Tattooing before marriage is a traditional custom among them. This culture among Bhil tribes signifies religious affiliation as majority of the Bhil women were found to have drawn pictures of their God and Goddess .
Upon marriage into a lineage, women are assumed into their husband’s kinship group. Although polygyny is accepted, the high bride-price to be paid, especially for a virgin first wife, is an important reason for the prevalence of monogamy among the Bhils. A wife is the possession of the family, especially entrusted to the husband. In case her husband dies, it, however, does not affect the alliance, as she is supposed to marry her younger brother-in-law (dewar vatta).
A married Bhil woman sets up residence in her husband’s village, in a new house built near his father’s homestead. Among polygynous families, each wife is entitled to her own abode, but all are considered members of one household. The senior wife maintains a position of authority and determines the equitable distribution of the labor requirements of the homestead. The annulment of a marriage is formally recognized by all parties with the return of the bride-wealth.
The Bhil woman who gets married is required to set up her residence at her husband’s village, in a fresh house that is built near his father’s homestead. Among polygynous families, each wife is entitled to her own abode, but all are considered members of one household. The senior wife is the one who maintains the position of authority and also the one who determines the distribution of the labour requirements of the homestead equitably. The annulment of a marriage is formally recognized by all parties with the return of the bride-wealth.
Pertaining to changing economy and situations, these women migrate to cities like Ahmedabad for daily labour work. Earning Rs 250 a day for eight hours of hard labour, they are able to make a decent amount of money in 1-2 months before returning to their villages. Such hard labour work in scorching temperatures that go up to 45 degree celsius is not everyone’s cup of tea and these families truly do justice to the warrior history of Bhil tribes. Many recent studies have found that almost 17 lakh Bhil women in India, hope to play a stronger role in their families.