THE BISON HORN MARIA TRIBE: The Tribal Icon of Chhattisgarh, India
Article and Images by Tania Chatterjee
The BISON HORN MARIA Tribe is the iconic tribal image of Chhattisgarh. The unique picturesque head-gear of BISON HORN MARIA is highly photogenic and eye-catching. Therefore, their image forms the front-page image in all tribal and tourism blogs from Chhattisgarh. This blog documents the lives of Bison Horn Maria.
Chhattisgarh is a state in central India. It is rich with large number of distinct tribes. Tania Chatterjee who heads Fotorbit loves to explore remote tribal regions. She travels to remote corners of Bastar to bring the vivid images of Bison Horn Maria tribe. Tania is keen on portrait and travel photography.
Bastar is the tribal heartland of India. It is a treasure trove of ancient Indian tribal culture and heritage. Bastar used to be the largest districts in India. The region lies in the southernmost region of Chhattisgarh. Bastar is now segregated into 7 individual districts. It is a forested mineral rich region with an estimated population of 2.5 million.
Bastar is known for versatile tribal groups and their rich heritage. About 70% of the population in this region are tribals. The large dominance of tribals makes this region perfect to study ancient tribal anthropology. The number of distinctive tribal culture and heritage is a rich treasure for future generation; this culture and practices are in need of protection.
Tribes in Bastar
Bastar is home to some of the primitive vulnerable tribal groups across the world. The remoteness of tribal villages makes them highly vulnerable. The major tribes of the Bastar region are the Gond, Abhuj Maria, Bhatra, Halba, Dhurvaa, Muria and Bison Horn Maria. Bhatra has further sub-castes namely San Bhatra, Pit Bhatra, Amnit Bhatra. The Maria is known for their unique Ghotul system. There is lot of controversy related to Ghotul system. The system has also seen lot of changes over the recent years.
Each of these tribal groups in Bastar has their own distinct cultural identity. They have their own unique traditional life-styles that include different festivals, dance forms, food habits, rituals, deities etc. This blog speaks about the Bison Horn Maria tribe. Although we recognize them as Bison Horn Maria tribe; but they prefer to call themselves Damdami Maria.
Travel to Bastar
Bastar is not yet a prime tourist destination in India. Bastar is known for great water falls like Chitrakote and Teerathgarh. Chitrakote is also known as the Niagra of India. Apart from the natural beauty it is also home to the famous Danteshwari temple. Danteshwari Temple is one of the 51 Shakti peetha. Bastar also has the famous kanger valley national park which has many interesting caves and waterfalls which can be visited. Bastar has ancestral temples, grand waterfalls, dense forests, natural caves and vibrant tribal festivities in your list of things to do.
Dusshera is one of the best times to visit Bastar. Dusshera is a famous festival in Bastar. The festival is very unique due to three distinct reasons. In Bastar Dusshera the main idol of Danteshwari is carried on a Rath (chariot). In Bastar Dusshera the idol of Ravana is not burnt unlike other places in India. The Bastar Dusshera continues for 75 days. Bison Horn Maria dance is a key attraction in Dusshera festival.
The Bastar Tribes
Travelling to remote villages and interacting with these tribal groups is a great way to learn their tradition and cultures. One of the most photogenic tribal groups is the Bison Horn Maria. Today reaching out to most of these tribal villages are not very difficult. The roads to these villages has improved.
Enjoy the remote Tribal Villages
A large number of Bastar tribals still live in deep forest areas. They also avoid mixing with outsiders. They strive to maintain their own culture and practices. If you want to get the true feel of “primitive society”, you need to go deep inside the forest and visit the tribal villages. It’s once in a lifetime experience to witness their daily life and culture. A visit to the tribal village is a great way to learn about sustainable living.
Bison Horn Maria s’ are simple living yet very welcoming tribal group. They sing and dance in many festive occasions. The Bison Horn headgear is a must in every festive occasion. The head dress is heavy with bison-horns and plumes of feather from jungle cock. The face is covered by string of cowries
The Bison Horn Maria practices a blend of animistic and Hindu beliefs. They follow Hindu customs but they also celebrate festivals in their own way. They believe in birth after death. Traditional healers and shamans are highly respected in these villages. This tribe strongly believes in occult forces and black magic. The clan God is believed to save the village from these occult forces. Dancing is a part of worship in Bison Horn Maria tribe.
The Bison Horn Maria tribe is known for their love to drink. They usually make two kind of drink Salfi and Landa. Landa is a rice beer prepared by fermenting cooked rice; it is usually white in colour. The other popular drink is the Salfi. Salfi doesn’t need brewing, and has to be consumed within an hour or else it can turn poisonous causing an upset stomach. Salfi is usually extracted in morning and evening hours and consumed early. The yeast present in the air and the liquid initiates the fermentation process. Salfi tastes like coconut water with bitter and sour flavour.
Bison Horn Maria
BISON HORN MARIA Tribe is the photographic icon of Chhattisgarh tribe. My interest was largely in seeing the Bison Horn Maria culture in close proximity. I wanted to explore their homes, their dresses, accessories specially the head gear and large drum. The headgear and the drum make this tribe visually interesting.
The men from this tribe wear a headgear made of bison horns which also gives the name of the tribe. They are externally known as Bison Horn Maria but they call themselves as Damdami Maria. The women wear a golden band on their head. During dance the women carry a rod with loose metal rods creating a musical bell like noise.
Bison Horn Maria Dance
Now a day this folk dance is performed as a part of ritual. They are performed during festivals as part of worship or related to agriculture and marriage. Earlier the men used to do the drumming as part of hunting exercise. Drumming helped to round up the animal before the kill. The Bison Horn Maria dance is a synchronous rhythmic dance.
The Bison Horn Maria Drum
The drum is an interesting feature in the Bison Horn Maria culture. The process of making this drum is very interesting. The heavy cylindrical drum is made of a hollowed tree-trunk three feet or more in length. It is time taking process to smoothen out the cylindrical drum from one single log of wood without cracking. The Bison Horn Maria’s are great dancers and they can dance for hours with tireless nerve and agility. The men carry a heavy head dress and a heavy drum slung from the shoulders.
Both men and women look gorgeous and best in their traditional attire. Most of their dances are rhythmic and synchronize with music and songs.
The tribal beauty and age-old Indian Bison Horn culture is really mesmerizing. Bastar is a representation of tribal ancient lifestyle; it needs to be explored and documented. This photo story is a sincere effort to give a glimpse of Bastar and its wonderful people.
Fotorbit conducts tribal photography workshops across India. Visit Fotorbit website to get further details. You can follow me on Instagram to get updates.
There are lots of people around the world working towards documentation of tribal communities, one among them Jimmy Nelson is my inspiration. Do visit his website to get inspired.