On the fringes of the forest!
A long time ago, legend has it that Baiga ancestors were created by God from the womb of Mother Earth. They became the keepers of the world. And, after God had finished creating the world, he offered to make them king. However, they declined because they wanted a simple life. “Give the kingship to our brothers, the Gonds”, the Baigas told God. He did so but also blessed the Baigas. “All the kingdoms of the world may fall to pieces, but he who is made of earth and is lord of the earth, shall never forsake it. You will make your living from the earth but without ploughing it, as you must protect the earth. You will never become rich because to do so would forsake the earth”.
Dominantly residing in Madhya Pradesh &Chhattisgarh, the Baiga tribe got its name from the Hindi word ‘Vaidya’ (healer) because of their profound knowledge about the medicinal and healing properties of thevarious species of flora and fauna found in the forests.The Baiga have been the forest-dwelling aboriginals from central India who claim to be harbingers of the human race and history in India, as it emanated from the conjugation of the Nanga (nude) Baiga as the Indian Adam and the Nangi (nude) Baigin (female Baiga), as the Indian Eve, who were the rightful progenitors of Indians. Baigas always believed that they were the chosen few who were hand-crafted by the God Himself and hence were the kings and rulers of the whole earth.
Identified as a primitive Dravidian tribe, the Baigas are known for their traditionally minimalistic ways of life They lived in intimacy with the elements of nature, and even at present, their everyday lives and livelihoods continue to be closely intertwined with their forest ecologies. They are adept woodcutters and extremely skilful at using the axe, including its use for hunting.
Sharing space and resources of the forest with the big cat and other species, the communities’ skills traditionally lie in an intimate knowledge of plants and animals. Unattached to their material possessions, minimalism and simplicity of the Baiga tribe has always been a point of highlight while discussing the history of this community. Each Baiga-God carries a positional power and designation that is inseparably linked to the God hence, Baigas do not worship Gods as ubiquitous supreme lords.
The most important fertility goddess is the Earth-mother, Prithvi or Dharti Mata. The Baigas see in her the personification of the fertile soil. In a Baiga myth the tortoise was sent by Bhagwan into the netherworld to fetch the Earth-mother so that plants would grow on earth and people and animals would have something to eat.
They say they never ploughed the Earth, because it would be akin to scratching the breast of their Mother, and they could never ask their Mother to produce food from the same patch of earth time and time again – she would have become weakened. For this reason, Baigas used to live a semi-nomadic life, and practiced Bewar, or 'dahiya' cultivation – out of respect, not aggression. These techniques, (also known as 'swidden' agriculture), rather than being a cause of deforestation, have been shown to be effective conservation devices, employed for centuries by tribal peoples.
It is believed that the Nanga Beige (the first Baiga man) was gifted a piece of cloth nine hands (cubits) in length by the God, but he returned all of it but a hand and a half that was necessary. Baigas believe themselves to be heirs of the earth and rulers of woodlands. Yet still, they live a simple and straightforward life. Their homes are not adorned; they do not wear any ornaments. It is truly a simple way of living. The Baiga households of the present continue to be simply provisioned with earthen pots and vessels for cooking and storage, leaves for plates and gourds for drinking vessels. Over time, pots, pans and other utensils of steel, aluminium and brass have also become commonplace. The staple food of the Baiga people consists of kodo, kutki, paddy, jowar, wheat, corn and masoor.
Singing and dancing are not only popular pastimes, but have a ritual and cultural significance in the lives of the Baiga people.The Baigas are considered to be the inventors of the Karma dance which is one of the most popular dance forms of central India. Other dance forms include Saila, Reena, Sua and Tapadi. The Dadaria is another important form of song and dance which use poetic expressions of the Baigas. The singing and dancing among the Baigas is often accompanied with rhythmic drumming on the percussion instrument mandar. play. Festivals, madais (fairs), rites and rituals, weddings, and even birth and death ceremonies are all incomplete without singing and dancing.
Tattoos make up a huge part of their culture. Baiga women have every body part tattooed with big elaborate figures. Upon asking, they revealed that this art has been passed down to Badi-Badanin group who do the tattoo work. They know the types of tattoos demanded by each tribe and have learnt the art from their mothers and would surely pass it down to further generations as well.Tattooshold a special significance for the Baiga women. They are considered to enhance the beauty of the women and are often perceived as a substitute to ornaments in their adivasi culture.Getting elaborately tattooed is culturally appreciated and women take pride in their tattoos.
The Baigas have thought deeply about the ultimate realities of man, and have tried to find answers for the riddles of life and death, good and evil. Many adivasi commuities are known to have great faith in magic and the Baigas regard themselves as the most powerful of magicians. Their advice is sought on a range of issues and crises such as the health of agricultural crops and theirharvest, infertility in men and women, recovery of stolen goods and protection from wild beasts such as bears and tigers.
Erstwhile nomadic hunter-gatherers, who practised shifting agriculture, they are also known to be extremely knowledgeable about the medicinal and healing properties of the various species of flora and fauna found in the forests of central India. The Baigas continue to possess a keen knowledge of their environment and of the biodiversity of their region which they pass on through oral traditions from one generation to the next.