Blurb: An ancient tribal enclave in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is a stellar example of practicality and meaningful relationships, placing a mirror to the society at large, and showing us that, in this case, reverse is essentially moving ahead. Edited excerpts from the article.
Ghotul inhabitants from Kondagaon. Image Courtesy of Supriya Sehgal.
As dusk approaches, Awesh nudges me to wrap up the conversation. ‘We should be out of here before it’s dark,’ his appeal is serious. ‘They don’t appreciate us staying around till late.’ Being an insider, and responsible for my safety as a guide, his nervousness is understandable. Despite being in the sensitive region of Kondagaon in Bastar, I have the benefit of blissful ignorance. And the smiling faces of the young girls and boys reveal no discomfort. I peg my personal cue to the cicadas that start their orchestra in the evenings. I assume my timeline will align with the hours when these young members of the ghotuls shut the door to the rest of the world and fall into the rhythm of a tradition that has been passed on since generations.
Carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh is one of the pleasantly unexplored slices of India. Layered both in landscapes and culture, it is one of those places that alter a traveller’s stride to a slow indulgent amble through its intriguing villages. Ancient customs and unique traditions are hard for the modern world to fathom, but only a short time spent here opens one’s eyes to how the tribals are at ease with themselves.
Of the forty-two tribes that inhabit the state in the belly of India, the Murias are the sole custodians of a unique system of choosing life partners. The ghotul system is an exclusive dormitory for the unwedded, where it is perfectly acceptable for a young man and a woman to choose a partner, with a fair chance of experiencing single or several physical and emotional relationships. Subjected to several misinterpreted versions of the tradition, the Murias guard the ghotuls with fervour. Later, when I get a chance to speak with the gaita (village head), I understand why only a handful of travellers or journalists are given a glimpse of the ghotul. The misunderstood rationale and rampant vilification by outsiders have made the Murias retrieve in their shell.
‘Having children out of wedlock in this scenario is common,’ he explains. Even if a girl becomes pregnant, the partners are not compelled to get married. Nor is this perceived as a setback to the situation. In fact, the virility and fertility on account of both partners is celebrated. The child is brought up by the families and accepted by the new partners as well. I am pleasantly surprised by this progressive approach. Reverse of what modern society has conditioned us to think, this community is hearteningly forward looking, yet rooted to their tradition. It stands as a stellar example of practicality and meaningful relationships.
To end our evening on a lighter note, the gaita smiles and asks Awesh if I’m married. I mockingly ask if he’ll let me find a partner in the ghotul, sparking a loud crackling laughter. ‘But first you’ll have to learn how to dance like a true motiyari.
Supriya Sehgal is a serial travel guidebook author with words in over 30 Lonely Planet Guidebooks. Supriya likes to think of herself as a seasoned chronicler of the unusual. More about her on www.supriyasehgal.com.
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