The haat symbolizes the completion of agricultural harvest and also is traditionally a ground for settling old disputes.

Spring is colourful boisterous and lovely at this harvest festival in Madhya Pradesh
Features Monday, March 21, 2016 - 12:55

By Susheela Nair

Every year, a week before Holi, Alirajpur in the tribal heartland of Madhya Pradesh comes alive with the joy and excitement of the Bhagoria festival.

This sprightly festival exudes the air of a local mela marked by love, gaiety, colour, music, dance, revelry and boisterous merriment.

A man playing a "Vaahali" or a colourful flute

A village girl dressed in all her finery

A man dressed in colourful turban and scarf

Dancing to the beat of drums

The haat symbolizes the completion of agricultural harvest and also is traditionally a ground for settling old disputes. At this time the quiet atmosphere of the village gives way to the fun and excitement of a large and hectic country fair, complete with giant wheels and stalls peddling everything from toys to food. Tribes from neighbouring villages trooped into the fairground lugging a variety of nature's bounty - fruits, vegetables, poultry, cattle, shoots, etc. Food lovers can savour fried bhajias, piping hot jhilebis, and tempting sweetmeats. And also kulfi, softy cones and barf ka gola to beat the scorching heat. Women flock to the jewellery stalls and buy everything from bindis to coloured glass bangles.

How the festival got its name

There are several stories about the origins of the festival’s name. One of course, is that the word Bhagoria comes from the Hindi ‘bhaag’ which literally means to run.

According to a popular belief, the origin of the word can also be traced to the deities Parvati (Gauri) and Shiva (Bhav). The combination of the two words Bhav and Gauri became Bhagoria.

Another story goes that the king of the state of Bhagore near Jhabua breached the trust of a neighbouring king. The latter attacked Bhagore and vanquished it. The victorious king proclaimed to his subjects that they would grab whatever they desired from Bhagore. As a consequence, the soldiers kidnapped all the womenfolk at the Haat.

Betel leaf is a sign of proposal

Boys come dressed up in colourful shirts and scarves

Clad in trendy jewellery and make-up

Chunky silver jewellery

According to another version, the haat is akin to a mass marriage market where young boys and girls are encouraged to elope after choosing their life partners. During the festival the prospective groom smears gulaal, or coloured powder, on the face of the girl he wishes to marry in the presence of the entire village fraternity. An exchange of paan also symbolises a declaration of love. When the girl is willing to accept him as her husband, she reciprocates by applying gulaal on his face. However, we learnt that with the changing times and exposure to education and city life, the old tradition of choosing life partners through the Bhagoria festival and community-approved elopement is not prevalent anymore in the festival.

Village belles at the Bhagoria festival

Village girls heading for the Bhagoria Haath at Alirajpur

The young tribal women arrive in droves attired in brilliant, colourful lehenga and odhini and decked in heavy silver jewellery from head to toe. The consistency of patterns of their clothing and of the designs  of  their ornaments creates a unique  visual treat. The men are clad in bright coloured clothes and turban saafas. There is frenzied activity everywhere and it is a delight to watch men and women dance and sway to the pulsating beats of the Maandhal, clang of cymbals, the resonating Dhol and the lilting melodies from their flutes.

Amazed and entranced by the energy, verve and beauty that surrounds us, we cannot help but fall into the rhythms of the Bhagoria festival ourselves.

All photographs by Susheela Nair

Susheela Nair is a Bangalore-based food, travel and lifestyle writer and photographer contributing articles, content and images to reputed national publications, portals and guide books. Her repertoire also includes public relations exercises, event management and curating photo exhibitions.

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