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The Sahariya Tribe: A Glimpse into Their Life and Culture

The Sahariya tribe, recognized as a special backward tribe, resides predominantly in the north-western part of Madhya Pradesh. They are mainly found in the districts of Shivpuri, Guna, Gwalior, Morena, Bhind, Vidisha, Raisen, Sehore, and Sheopur. Additionally, parts of Rajasthan, particularly in Kota, Shahbad, and Kishanganj, also have Sahariya villages. According to the 1991 census, the Sahariya population in Madhya Pradesh was 332,748.

Historical and Cultural Identity

The Sahariyas are considered a sub-branch of the Kolariyan family and Bheels. They are also known by various names such as Seher, Sair, Savar, Saonar, and Sahra. In the Guna-Shivpuri region, they are referred to as ‘Raut’. The tribe prefers the title ‘Khutia Patel’ as it is a mark of respect. They see themselves as the younger brothers of the Bheels and claim descent from the legendary figures Valmiki and Shabari. According to mythology, the hunter ‘Jara’, who is believed to have caused Krishna’s death, belonged to the Samvar community, which is linked to the Sahariyas.

Village and Housing Structure

A Sahariya settlement, known as ‘Sahrana’, typically features houses arranged in a U-shape, forming a communal courtyard in the center. The women of the tribe decorate their homes with auspicious symbols made from yellow clay, chuhi, geru, and occasionally other colors from the market. These decorations are applied not only on special occasions but also regularly, particularly in the kitchen.

The houses are simple, often made from straw, bamboo, wood, and mud-walls. In some areas, six-foot-high mud walls with tiled roofs are common. The average house measures twelve to fifteen feet in length and width, and serves multiple purposes including cooking, sleeping, and storage. The construction of these houses is overseen by village elders, and the women plaster the walls with chhuhi clay, geru, or yellow clay, showcasing their skills in making graffiti and mandanas (traditional wall art).

Lifestyle and Occupation

The Sahariyas wear dark, bright colors influenced by the neighboring Rajasthani communities. Agriculture is a primary occupation, supplemented by the collection of forest produce. Their diet consists mainly of jowar and bajra rotis accompanied by various vegetables and forest-gathered roots and tubers. On special occasions, gram flour bread is prepared.

Hunting and fishing are favorite pastimes, and the Sahariyas are knowledgeable about herbs and skilled in honey collection. They also engage in traditional crafts such as making baskets, ropes, and brooms, and in woodcutting.

Religious Beliefs and Festivals

Over time, the Sahariyas have adopted the deities and festivals of neighboring folk communities. Sita is their most revered goddess, but they also worship village deities like Thakur Dev, Bheru Dev, Nahar Dev, Dareth Dev, Karas Dev, Bhumiyan Dev, Hariman Dev, and Tejaji.

Language and Art

While the Sahariyas have lost their original language, they speak the local dialects of the regions they inhabit. However, their rich cultural heritage is evident in their ceremonial and seasonal songs, such as Goth-leela, Pandav Katha, Languria, Phag, Janaki Vivah songs, Chakia songs, and Sagdawat-Bagdawat Katha. Their traditional dance, Lehengi, is performed on various occasions, and they have a tradition of theatrical performances based on the life of Tejaji.

Craftsmanship and Household Art

Sahariya women excel in crafting large earthen pots called ‘Pei’ for grain storage, which they intricately decorate with floral, animal, and human designs. These decorations are a highlight of their homes and captivate visitors. The construction of ‘Otla’ (platforms) in the house courtyard is a widespread practice, adding to the functional and aesthetic aspects of their homes.

Summing Up

The Sahariya tribe, with its unique blend of historical significance, cultural practices, and traditional crafts, offers a fascinating glimpse into a community that has managed to preserve its identity while adapting to modern influences. Their vibrant lifestyle, deep-rooted traditions, and artistic expressions continue to be a testament to their rich cultural heritage.

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