Skip to main content





Identification. The Bhils are the third-largest (after the Gonds and Santals) and most widely distributed tribal group in India. Although their racial origin remains undetermined, they have been variously classified as Gondids, as Proto-Australoid Veddids, and as a subsection of the "Munda race." The name "Bhil" is believed to have been derived from villu or billu, which in most Dravidian languages is the word for "bow," in reference to the weapon that, until recent times, they seemed almost always to be carrying. Many Urdu speakers, however, equate the term "Bhil" with the English "aboriginal," leading to speculation that the term is a generic one associated with a number of tribes in contiguous areas bearing cultural similarities. Recent work on the Bhils appears to indicate that what has always been treated as one tribal group in fact is heterogeneous in nature. This is reflected in the 1961 census by the numerous tribes that are to be found under the name of "Bhil." It seems best to consider the term "Bhils" as covering a number of subtribes that include the Barelas, Bhagalia, Bhilalas, Dhankas, Dholi, Dublas, Dungri, Gamits or Gamtas, Garasias, Mankars, Mavchis, Mewasi, Nirle (Nilde), Patelia, Pathias, Pavadas, Pawra, Rathias, Rawal, Tadvis, Talavias, Vasavas, and Vasave. The Dhankas, Tadvis, Pavadas, and the Gamits or Gamtas may refer to themselves as separate tribes, or at least as distinct from the main stock, with the Dhankas even having an origin myth that upholds their derivation from the Rajputs. The Bhilalas are generally acknowledged as a mixture of Bhils and Rajputs. Yet the members of each tribe regard themselves as belonging to an ethnic unit separate from their neighbors and have developed a shared tribal consciousness. The areas inhabited by the Bhils remain some of the more remote and inaccessible parts of India today. Their unique scattered settlement pattern has hindered government efforts to provide services as has their general distrust of government officials. Recent studies of the progress made by the Hindu Bhagat movement appear to indicate that there may be a process of transformation from Tribal group to caste under way among the Bhils.

Location. The area occupied by the Bhil is the forested lands of the Vindhya and Satpura hills in the western portion of central India between 20° and 25° N and 73° and 77° E. Straddling the borders of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan states, most of this territory, traditionally referred to as "Rewakantha" (a Gujarati term for the drainage of the Rewa, another name for the N armada River), is the homeland of peoples collectively referred to as the Bhil.

Demography. A total number of 5,172,129 people are to be found under the heading of "Bhils including other subtribes" in the 1971 census. The largest concentration, 1,618,716 strong, is found in Madhya Pradesh. In Gujarat there are 1,452,987 Bhils, while there are 1,431,020 in Rajasthan. In Maharashtra 678,750 registered as members of the tribal group. The Bhils as a whole recorded an astounding
64.5 percent increase in population (from 2,330,278 to 3,833,331) during the decade 1951-1961, but this remarkable rate may be in large part attributable to the reclassification of the tribal group in the census. Between 1961 and 1971, the Bhil population registered a much more moderate
45.9 percent growth rate.

Linguistic Affiliation. The numerous and varied Bhili dialects spoken by the Bhil belong to the Indo-Aryan Family of languages and exhibit divergent levels of Rajasthani and Gujarati influence. A radius of 32 to 48 kilometers appears to be the limit of each dialect's boundaries.

History and Cultural Relations

Although empirical evidence is lacking, the Bhil are credited with the earliest occupation of their area; with successive Immigrations of Rajputs and conflicts with periodic waves of Muslim invaders believed to have driven them farther into the refuge of the forested central Indian highlands. The Rajputs, in feuds, periods of truce, and even alliances against the Muslims, were a constant source of interaction. By the end of the tenth century, most of Rewakantha was under the rule of either Bhil or Koli (a neighboring tribal group) chieftains. Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the Bhil were supplanted by chiefs of Rajput or mixed descent. In recognition of the Bhil's prior occupation of the land, many Rajput ascensions of the throne in recent times necessitated validation by the performance of a tika or consecration ceremony, by representatives of the Bhil chiefs of the area. Around 1480, Rewakantha came under Muslim administration, leading to conversion to Islam among many Bhils. However, these Tadvi Bhils, as they came to be known, maintain many of the traditions as well as the religious beliefs of the past. A Political system of rulership is ascribed to the Bhils from the earliest times. From the sixteenth century, which coincides with the Rajput supplantation, the Bhil political leadership fragmented into several chieftainships, leading to speculation that the Hindu encroachment, driving the Bhil into the hinterland, was a dynamic force that led to sociopolitical change. During the eighteenth century, deprived of their lands and finding their subsistence base greatly reduced, the Bhils resorted to looting and pillaging in large, armed bands. This led to conflict with the Maratha invaders and local rulers who retaliated by attempting to eradicate them. The Bhils were killed by the hundreds, and the survivors took refuge even deeper in the hills; this move resulted in greater disintegration of their leadership but increasing self-reliance and Individualism. These developments are reflected in today's egalitarian structure of social relations, quite different from the system of rulership that is believed to have existed prior to the successive waves of immigration into Rewakantha. It took the intervention of the British imperial administration to restore peace and order in the Rewakantha territory, enticing the Bhils back through the extension of an amnesty and persuading them to settle down as cultivators. An agreement hammered out by a Mr. Willoughby, a British political agent and Kumar Vasava of Sagbara, a powerful Bhil chief, ensured a semiautonomous status for the Bhil under Rajput territorial administration and provided them with land for cultivation, loans with which to purchase seed and bullocks, as well as rights to resources of the forest. Similar pacts were worked out in Khandesh. At present, the Bhils are a settled agricultural people whose short history of brigandage undeservedly besmirches their image on occasion. Those who have lost their lands now work as laborers. Extensive deforestation that has now reduced the forest to portions of the eastern highlands has considerably diminished Bhil dependence on forest resources.


A Bhil village, whose boundaries are clearly marked by bundles of grass tied to trees along paths and roads, is composed of anywhere from three to forty families inhabiting houses set far apart from each other. A man's grown son may, on occasion, build his hut next to his father's, but generally a distance of 70 to 230 meters separates individual houses. Clusters of homes, usually made up of related families, are not, however, infrequent. The Bhil erect their houses on the tops of the hills with their fields surrounding them, thereby allowing them to maintain constant security over their crops. Where fields extend farther from the households, the Bhil build improvised field houses. The scattered pattern of household distribution results in Bhil villages occupying an area of about 3 to 4 square kilometers. Each village has land reserved for communal use, such as for cattle pasture, for roads, for a village cemetery, and for the community threshing floor. Most Bhils live in rectangular two-storied structures of timber frame with bamboo walls daubed with a plaster made of water, clay, and cattle dung, material valued for its cooling and insect-repelling properties. The windowless abode is provided with an entrance on the front wall that is usually the only opening into the building, although a rear entry for the exclusive use of the resident family may at times be built in. The roof is generally thatched with grass or teak leaves and bamboo, material that often requires annual replacement. Built 0.5 to 1.0 meter above the ground on a plinth of earth and stone or timber, the structure is essentially a cattle shed and domicile, with regional variations on the division and utilization of space.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As hunters and gatherers, the Bhils traditionally relied primarily on the bow and arrow, although spears, slings, and axes were also used. Game hunted by the Bhils included rabbits, foxes, deer, bear, lizards, pigs, birds, rodents, and wild cats. The same weapons were also used for fishing, along with weir baskets, stone and bamboo traps, nets, and poisons. Edible plants, tubers, and fruits gathered from the forest supplemented their diet or their income, as also did honey, wild fruits, and firewood. The mahua tree (Bassia latifolia ) is an important source of berries and flowers. When they converted to agriculture, the Bhils used slash-and-burn techniques until the method was declared illegal to prevent extensive destruction of the forests. Today fields are farmed continuously, although the lands that were allocated to the Bhils, as enticement to settle down in the nineteenth century, were generally poorer fields that lacked water. Crops planted include maize, millet, cucumbers, cotton, eggplants, chilies, wheat, chickpeas, wild rice, lentils, barley, beans, tobacco, and peanuts. Many Bhils today are landless and make a living working as laborers, primarily in clearing forests and in road repair. The primary draft animal is the bullock, of which each family owns at least a pair, as well as cows with which they may be bred. Buffalo are rare, but goats are kept for their milk and meat, as are pigs and chicken. Most Bhils are nonvegetarian, consuming all forms of game and raising pigs, poultry, and goats for their meat. Although all families own herds of cattle, they are never eaten but are kept for their milk, from which curds and ghee may be made. Maize, rice, wheat, and assorted kinds of millet are staples in the Bhil diet, supplemented with the various vegetables they grow as well as a variety of edible forest products.

Industrial Arts. The Bhil have no tradition of weaving cloth, making pottery, or metalworking and are dependent on trade for the procurement of the products of these crafts.

Trade. The Kotwals, a caste of basket weavers, are an important trading partner from whom the Bhils obtain mats, baskets, winnowers, and grain containers woven from the bark of bamboo. Clothing is bought ready-made. Earthenware vessels need to be traded for from neighboring potter castes. Vohra and Vania traders that set up shop in weekly markets are the Bhils' primary sources for iron implements, spices, salt, and ornaments. For all these products, the Bhil trade excess agricultural produce, such as grain and vegetables, as well as products of the forest, such as wild honey and mahua flowers. The uncertain nature of the Bhil economy has on many occasions made them dependent on moneylenders for funds to make it through periods of scarcity, as well as to pay for ceremonies associated with important ritual occasions. For these loans, collateral may be in the form of future crop harvests or indentured labor.

Division of Labor. The father, as head of the household, controls the pooled income of all members of the family and distributes the daily work among them. The mother assigns and supervises the work among her daughters and daughters-in-law. These duties include the preparation of the family meal and its delivery to the men in the fields. Drawing water from its source, milking the cows, cleaning the cattle shed, and gathering firewood and wild fruits are some of women's daily work. In agriculture, the women assist in transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. The children are generally assigned the task of taking the cattle out to pasture. The agricultural work of plowing and sowing is done by the men and hunting is primarily a male activity.

Land Tenure. The peaceful solution to the conflict Between the Bhils and their neighbors in the late nineteenth century provided the tribals with land for cultivation. Shifting agriculture that the Bhils practiced was ended by government measures that brought pressure to settle permanently and farm the lands allocated to them. Landholdings range from
1.2 to 6 hectares with fruit and nontimber trees considered as part of the property if the owner's father had harvest rights to them. Timber trees are the property of the state. Property taxes are paid to the government annually and the Bhils rarely fall behind in these payments, for fear of offending the goddess of earth and bringing misfortune upon their crops.


Kin Groups and Descent. Within each 32- to 40-kilometer radius, the limits of a tribal and dialectal boundary, the Bhil are divided into ataks (clans), patrilineal exogamous descent groups. Clans are led by chiefs who have paramount power in matters concerning the clan or caste. These clans may be segmented, with each portion distributed among similar divisions of other clans over a wide area. A process of fission appears to be quite actively involved, resulting in dispersion of the polysegmentary clans. Clanship appears to have practically no regional or corporate function. The structural importance of clanship is limited, apparently, to serving as guidelines for determining the extent of exogamy as well as for purposes of identification in reckoning descent. Within the clans are generally vicinage-based nal, or lineages, that are corporate in character. Disputes between members of the lineage are resolved by male elders of the lineage who also control activities within the group. In theory, the lineage Reserves residual rights to its members' property. Examples of both cognitive and unilineal descent systems occur among the Bhils. Males always belong to their father's joint or extended family, lineage, clan, and village. Upon marriage into a lineage, women are assumed into their husband's kinship group.

Kinship Terminology. Among the Bhils of the Ratanmal hill area of Vadodara District in Gujarat, kinship terminology is classificatory. A man's relatives fall into at least one of four categories: (1) his patrilineage, (2) other cognatic kinsmen, descended from women of his lineage, which include his Father's sister as well as his own sister, (3) his haga, or wife's relatives now related to him by marriage, and (4) his hagasambandhi, a term for those not directly related to him who are cognatically or affinally related to his immediate relatives. In the Panch Mahals and Sabar Kantha districts of Gujarat, descriptive kinship terms also occur for such categories as grandfather (the older father or aged father) and grandmother (the older mother or aged mother), for whom there are no classificatory names. The Bhils in the former state of Rajpipla (now Nandod taluk of Bharuch District, Gujarat) and in West Khandesh, Dhule District, Maharashtra, reflective of preferential cross-cousin marriage, have one term, mama, by which they refer to their father's sister's husband or mother's brother.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Extensive regional variations of the marriage restrictions exist, although clan exogamy is strictly enforced everywhere. In some areas, such as Sabar Kantha and the Panch Mahals, cross-cousin marriage with the daughter of one's father's sister is permitted or even preferred. Polygyny among the Bhils is quite frequent. In the Ratanmal area, where lowland Bhils express displeasure at the thought of marrying off their daughters to the highland Bhils, a high incidence of this intermarriage occurs nevertheless, almost all as a result of elopement. This practice invariably results in dissatisfaction and bitterness, especially where negotiations for the bride-wealth are involved. Bhils marry young, at around 14-16 years for boys and 11-13 years for girls. A boy's first wife is expected to be a virgin. Residence is not established until after the girl's first menstruation, and the couple remain in most respects highly dependent on their parents for guidance and assistance for several more years. Clan exogamic injunctions are strictly enforced. Additionally, tribal endogamy is preferred, therefore intermarriage is often spatially restricted to a 35- to 40-kilometer radius. 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. Sororal unions often occur among polygynous marriages, but although leviratic alliances are allowed they are quite rare. Most marriages fall in one of five categories: contract marriages, elopements, mutual attraction, marriage by service, and abduction.

A married woman sets up residence in her husband's village, in a new house built near his father's homestead. A son is generally given some farmland and a few head of cattle with which he may subsist and provide for his own family. The new couple function as a distinct economic unit and are expected soon to be independent of his parents, but mutual assistance occurs frequently, especially in such farming activities as plowing, sowing, and harvesting. It is not uncommon for related men to cultivate land jointly with the express purpose of sharing the harvest equally. 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 dissolution of a marriage is often initiated by the woman, who, dissatisfied with her husband, abandons him, frequently eloping with another man.

Domestic Unit. The basic coresidential unit is the nuclear family, comprising a couple and their unmarried children. Within polygynous families, several contiguous homes may constitute the homestead. As sons marry, the nuclear family loses its commensal nature but solidarity continues as a joint family evolves with corporate characteristics, wherein the patriarch maintains ultimate control and authority over the landholdings.

Inheritance. Upon the death of the patriarch, his property and debts are divided among his sons, the size of the allotment increasing in direct proportion to a son's seniority. A daughter receives an inheritance only if she has no male Siblings, although her father's brother's sons may receive an allotment as well. Property owned by her is inalienable and reverts back to the lineage upon her death if she in turn has no heirs. In instances where there are no direct heirs, the property is inherited by the deceased person's closest collaterals.

Socialization. Although formal submissiveness is rarely stressed, discipline is maintained by frequent beatings or threats, and the child is expected to contribute to the Household economy very early, often accompanying the parents in their daily rounds by the age of 6. Babies are weaned from the mother's breast and fed solid food after 10 to 11 months. Among the Bhils, the shaving of the head occurs when the child reaches the age of 5 years.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Bhils' history of interaction with the British imperial government is characterized by alternating periods of submission and of sporadic, isolated rebellion. The overall objectives of their uprisings were to protest the erosion of agrarian and forest rights as well as to demand the attainment of higher Social status and political self-determination. Tribal peoples were among the last to become politicized and thus their participation in national politics was much delayed. Until the early 1940s, awareness of tribal concerns among Indian Leaders, with the exception of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad, was rare, and tribal issues were never addressed in resolutions passed in Congress.

Social Organization. Among the Bhils, a social distinction is conceptualized by the different subtribes, including a division between Ujwala (or pure) Bhils in Kotra Bhomat and Kalia (impure) Bhils. A cleavage is also evident between the plains and hill Bhils, with the former considering themselves superior. Bhil villages consist of two or more extended Families (tad in Ratanmal), each with a depth of six to seven Generations and inclusive of cognates such as sisters' children, a pattern that tends to promote cooperation and unity among the extended family. In Ratanmal, a village's population may be made up entirely of members of one lineage, but in many villages several lineages may be represented and one lineage, claiming descent from the village founder and thus ownership of the village, becomes the dominant lineage. The members of the subordinate lineages in this case enjoy restricted privileges, and their rights to the lands they till, in theory at least, are subject to revocation by the dominant lineage. Dominant (bhaibeta ) lineages reserve for their use the most fertile lands, the choicest pastures, most fruit trees, and other valuable trees even when they stand on the subordinate (karhan ) lineage's plots of land. In general, the karhan are considered as mere tenants and are excluded from participation in the management of the affairs of the village. Bhils recognize the Concept of caste purity and impurity in transactions with artisan castes; and among Hinduized Bhils, their dependence on Ritual specialists such as sweepers and handlers of cattle carcasses has increased. Among the Bhils of Khandesh and Rajpipla, care of their cattle is entrusted to the Gori, members of an Untouchable caste.

Political Organization. Each village is under the Leadership of a headman (vasawo in Gujarat; gammaiti among the Palia Bhils; gaddo among the Kalia Bhils; tadavi in Ratanmal; mukhi in Kotra Bhomat), a hereditary position whose functions include being the head both of the dominant lineage and of the local pancha or village assembly. The headman represents not only the lineage but also the village in functions beyond the community, and he is also the local conduit for transactions between the villagers and the government. He is assisted by one or two functionaries whom he generally appoints from among his kin. In some large Bhil villages in Gujarat, the pardhan (another hereditary office, but confirmed by the government) is subordinate only to the vasawo. During a headman's absence, he assumes many of the functions of the vasawo's office relating to government. The amount of power vested in the office of the headman varies greatly on a regional basis, but his dependence on the village panchayat (council) is constant in Bhil society.

Social Control. The village council is composed of all the senior men of the village, and when they meet on important matters that concern the village, its members are of equal Status, be they members of the dominant lineage or of the subordinate lineages. Indeed, since almost all important matters are discussed within the council before a decision is reached regarding their resolution, the subordinate lineages, which often are numerically and economically stronger, are able to assert themselves politically as equals of the dominant lineage. The headman settles disputes, imposes sanctions on dissidents, gives advice, arranges the settlement of debts, and mediates conflicts within the family. The presence of the headman is essential in validating any transaction, with negotiations being sealed and held binding by the eating of opium. Where serious punishment such as ostracism, banishment, or trials by ordeal are indicated, council acquiescence and support is essential before the headman delivers the verdict. Serious crimes that would have merited these punishments in the past, however, are at present brought before a local magistrate.

Conflict . Apart from their history of resistance to successive waves of invasion and domination by Rajputs, Muslims, Hindus, and the British, the Bhils had a brief period of brigandage and a series of rebellions during which their martial skills were put to the test. Their most efficient weapons of war were those that they employed for exploiting the forest environmenttheir bows and arrows. They sometimes also carried muskets, swords, and daggers.


Religious Beliefs. The Bhils have traditionally been classified as animists; this classification is reflected in the 1901 census, wherein 97.25 percent were labeled as animists and the remainder were associated with the Hindu faith. The process of Hinduization has, however, been a long-term process, and the lower level of Hindu belief integrates much animistic belief for which the Bhils would have found much affinity. There are localized deities, such as Wagh deo, the tiger god. Nandervo, the god of agriculture, is paid homage to after the rains have brought a new growth of grass. Shrines to lesser gods are built on slightly elevated and secluded land that is believed to preserve their sanctity by keeping them away from the pollution of the lower regions. Images of deities are also kept near their agricultural fields, to be propitiated with offerings to ensure the safety and quality of the crops. Today Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are the major faiths that the Bhils adhere to, with the latter two having had the most impact on the belief systems. Among the Ratanmal Bhils, Hinduism is widespread, with four main elements predominating. (1) The few Hindu gods that they have adopted are powerful but benevolent rather than malevolent. (2) They believe in the existence of an afterlife where one's senior relatives maintain authority and control over events in this life, even in death. (3) There are many spirits of the earth, some that unite in bands with maleficent intentions and require personal devotion and regular propitiation. (4) There are malicious individuals among them that wield supernatural powers in the form of witchcraft and sorcery that must be neutralized. Bhagwan is the predominant name for the supreme deity among the Bhils, although in Ratanmal he is also referred to as Mahaveda. Kalika, the "earth mother," is another deity who evokes reverence and fear. Holi, an important postharvest festival, is celebrated for her. A person who did not die of natural causesa murder or a suicide, for exampleis believed to become a malevolent spirit who will consume People. Twins and babies with unusual features or deformities are believed to be manifestations of an evil spirit that must be destroyed immediately lest they be a source of danger to their kin (the practise is now illegal). Two Muslim sections of the Bhils are the Tadvi of Madhya Pradesh and the Nirle or Nilde in Maharashtra. They maintain, apart from the main body of Islamic faith, a belief in a pir or guardian spirit of the village for whom a shrine (mazar ) is built, and this is the focal point for the annual urs or jatra festivals that celebrate the death anniversary of the spirit.

Religious Practitioners. A priest (badava ) among the Ratanmal Bhils plays the role of medium, diviner, and healer as well as worshiper. Only males may become priests as women are considered to be ritually impure and also believed to have insufficient strength of character. A person is born a priest but requires a long period of training under a master who imparts the wisdom and technical intricacies of the priesthood. The culmination of the rigorous period of discipline is a trial by ordeal. He may then undergo possession or induce possession in others. In essence, he officiates in functions that involve the gods. Below him are the more numerous priests who do not possess the spiritual strength to undergo the ordeal and as such are competent only in rituals that involve malignant ghosts. Lowest in rank are those who only possess powers that allow them to divine the causes of illness, heal certain diseases, or offer sacrifices and worship. Priests are generally no match for witches and are immune to witches' powers only if they are under the possession of a deity. To deal with these dangerous and formidable persons, villagers call on the aid of a witch doctor (kajalio badava ) who has developed the power of divining the witches and sorcerers, neutralizing their powers, and, on occasion, destroying them. Sorcerers are believed to be persons who have trained for priesthood but, lacking the moral fortitude to resist, have succumbed to temptations to use their skills for personal gain (either monetary or in terms of power over others). Witches are believed to be Persons (usually women) with low moral integrity who, lacking Spiritual strength, have become agents of evil spirits in Exchange for the occult powers of flight and transformation.

Ceremonies. Apart from the main festivals of Holi and urs mentioned above, as well as rituals associated with childrearing, other festivals celebrated by the Ratanmal Bhils include the Akhatrij, when offerings are made to Mahadeva, the god of destruction; Indraj, the sky god; and Hadarjo Kuvar, the guardian spirit of fertility of the earth and women. These are joyous occasions marked by feasts, singing, and dancing. An anabolkham or ghost ritual, in contrast, is marked by tension, performed as a gesture of appeasement or propitiation to a spirit and is prompted by a series of unfortunate events. Gundaru kadvanu (exorcism of the cattle shed) is one major ghost ritual that takes place in a clearing in the jungle, during which offerings are made to all punitive and malignant spirits. In such rituals, active participation is limited to the headman, a ritual specialist, and a priest, while others attending maintain distance and silence. Women of all ages are barred from being present or anywhere near the site. In the Panch Mahals, the Bhils observe Gol Gadhedo six days after Holi. In a central place in the village, a pole is raised at the top of which some jaggery (crude sugar, or gur ) is tied. Men attempt to climb the pole and reach the gur even as the women, drunk and armed with sticks, try to deny them access to the pole. He who succeeds in reaching the gur is considered clever and throws the prize down to the crowd. The Muslim Tadvi Bhils continue to observe local and regional festivals such as Adhujee, Holi, Dassara, and Divali (the lamp festival) but have minimized their religious significance.

Arts. There is very little representational art among the Bhils. Rough wooden posts of carved human figures are sometimes used as memorials to the deceased. Some Bhils sport tattoos, many in the form of crescent moons, stars, and flowers. Music is perhaps the area of greatest artistic elaboration, with songs playing a central role in the celebration of festivals and in such ceremonies as weddings.

Medicine. In Gujarat most diseases have an associated god who must be appeased to relieve illness. For epidemics, Bhils may resort to building a toy cart that they consecrate and take to another village, whose people in turn take it to the outskirts of another, and so on, until the cart has reached a remote portion of the forest. By doing so they hope to drive out the plague. Since Bhils believe that illness is caused by the displeasure of the spirits, they are indifferent to practitioners of modern medicine.

Death and Afterlife. The traditional method of disposing of the body was by burial, but Hindu influence has made Cremation much more prevalent with a secondary burial of the charred remains. People raise memorial markers made of either stone or wood, with heroic figures often carved into the material. Ceremonies are performed three and twelve days after cremation, and food is set out for the deceased up to a year after death. All the dead of a house are offered food during important occasions. The Ratanmal Bhils believe in an afterlife where the spirits, endowed with human attributes that correspond to those of their past life, hover about the area that they lived in and maintain interest in their surviving kin. Thus, "good" persons who died of natural causes are believed to become benevolent spirits. Those who were mean or spiteful, practiced witchcraft, or died violently are believed to become malevolent spirits that cause misfortune among the living.


Ahuja, Ram (1966). "Marriage among the Bhils." Man in India 46:233-240.

Bhandari, Bhagwat (1989). Tribal Marriages and Sex Relations: Customary Laws of Marriage in Bhil and Garasias Tribes. Udaipur: Himanshu.

Carstairs, G. Morris (1954). "The Bhils of Kotra Bhomat." Eastern Anthropologist 7:169-181.

Koppers, Wilhelm (1948). Die Bhil in Zentralindien. Wiener Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik, vol. 7. Vienna: Institut für Völkerkunde. Translated by Theodore Ziolkowski. The Bhil in Central India. 1958. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files.

Moore, Grace Wood (1965). Bhil Cultural Summary. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files.

Naik, T. B. (1956). The Bhils: A Study. Delhi: Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh.

Nath, Y. V. S. (1960). Bhils of Ratanmal: An Analysis of the Social Structure of a Western Indian Community. Baroda: Maharajah Sayajirao University.

Navlakha, Surendra Kumar (1959). "The Authority Structure among the Bhumij and Bhil: A Study of Historical Causations." Eastern Anthropologist 13:27-40.

Rao, Adityendra (1988). Tribal Social Stratification. Udaipur: Himanshu.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bhil." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Sep. 2017 <>.

"Bhil." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (September 20, 2017).

"Bhil." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 20, 2017 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.