Bharata of the Bhils

Dr Bhagwandas Patel

(Summary (in English by Pradip Bhattacharya) of the paper presented in the Sahitya Akademi's seminar on Mahabharata in 2004)

Ram-Sitamani Varta and Bhilon ka Bharath are two folk-epics of tribals popular among Dunkgri Bhil tribals of Khedbrahma Tahsil in the northern part of Sabarkantha District of Gujarat dwelling in the ancient Aravalli ranges.

Many of the socio-religious events have Draupadi (DHOPHAN) as the dispenser, ruling over all. Woman's power is shown in KUTAMA (Kunti) and HODARAN (Subhadra). They regard woman as dangerous and terrifying, hence referred to as "Daayan-devi" (witch-goddess). Their beliefs are known as the Great Path (Nijaar Path).

In their folk-epic they have Jhethodar (Yudhishthir) acknowledging the rapidly form-changing Draupadi as Devi and worshiping her, touching her feet. Bhim, spying this through the window is furious and flings himself on his cot musing, "Either I should kill bhabhi (elder sister-in-law) or bhaiyya (brother), or myself. Howsoever beautiful the wife might be, why should her feet be touched? What is this magic? How has Yudhisthir done this?" To remove his anger and bewilderment, Draupadi summons him at night to a vermilion-red banyan tree. At midnight, below this tree in the assembly of the Navalakh (nine hundred thousand) dev-devis (gods and goddesses), she assumes Devi form, riding a lion, with a thousand hands holding flaming lamps, swords and skulls. The Supreme Creator himself rises from his silver throne and seats her on a golden throne. Then Bhim's male arrogance dissolves and is replaced by fear of her Devi form. She tells the creator, "Four Pandavas are ensnared, but Yudhishthir is left, for daily he worships me. Killing all I'll come to have your darshan in Vaikunth." The next midnight Bhim, weeping, tells Draupadi in front of everyone, "Bhabhi, you are Daayan-devi. Our mother too is Daayan-devi. Bhabi, placing your hand on the heads of all five of us, bless us and turn us into perfect Dev-purush (gods)." She replies, "You are still full of pride. You have understood neither the truth nor what is dharma. If you do only what we tell you to, then will you be able to find place in our assembly of devs. But you even insult the guru. If you obey what we say, only then will the lord come to our home. Otherwise you shall die guru-less and not a trace of you will remain."

In the arrogance of royalty, Bhim had insulted Draupadi's guru Baalaa Harguraa as of low caste. Hence, even the seventh sacrifice held by the Pandavas went fruitless and Pandu had to be born as a dog. Then accepting Draupadi as guru, putting aside their husbandhood, with grass in their mouths, the Pandavas fall at her feet and with folded hands beg advice for the salvation of their father. Draupadi commands them to perform the SENETARO (shankhodvaar) yajna which only her guru, Baalaa Harguraa knows how to perform. The condition he has made for coming is accepted by Bhim. He becomes a bull whose nose is pierced, a grass rope passed through it and he is yoked to a cart. They go to the banks of the Ganga-Godavari where the Guru is seated. He throws grass before Bhim, who gets down on all fours and holds it in his teeth. He drinks water in which the guru's feet have been washed. Then Harguraa rides in the cart that is pulled by Bhim and they reach Hastinapur where the Pandavas drink water that his feet has been washed in and touch his feet. Earth cannot bear the weight of Draupadi's golden tresses. Hence, earth splits and the golden tresses fall on the breast of the sleeping king Vashuki in Paataal. Awakened, Vasuki seeks out the golden-haired woman in the inner apartments of Hastinapur. Here Arjun and Vasuki duel. Vasuki flings Arjun on the ground, mounts his chest and, binding his hands and feet with a hair from his whiskers, hangs him upside down before Draupadi's bed. Queen Draupadi bathes Vasuki in a copper tub, feeds him from a golden plate. Then he approaches her bed dressed resplendently. Draupadi sprinkles flowers and musk oil on the soft bed. The king of Paataal makes love to her on the bed while poor Arjun helplessly watches the erotic sport. Dawn comes and Vasuki cuts the hair tying Arjun with his gleaming sword. Arjun drops with a thud on the ground, his pride and sense of being a husband destroyed. Draupadi's desire for a lover is burnt up after the erotic bout and thus purified she progresses towards salvation.

These indicate that the Great Mother-cult of the Nishads (tribals) included tantric practices that are developed in the Nath sect's vajrayan branch.