Introduction / History
The Chodhari Bhil live mainly in the Broach and Dangs districts of southeastern Gujarat, West India. They are divided into five sub-groups, each of which marries within its own class. The Chodhari, like other Bhil, are related to the Rajput. They speak Chodri, a Bhil language.
Long ago, the cultural prosperity of Gujarat State attracted people from all the surrounding states. Gujarat became a target of the Maratha tribes, who made annual raids to the region for several years. Eventually, the Muslims fortified the areas around Surat in order to reap its economic benefits. The Islamic rulers reached their greatest power under the Moghal dynasty. It is believed that the Chodhari moved south from Pavaghad due to pressure from the Muslims who conquered northern Gujarat.
By 1817, the British had risen to power and attempted to mend what the Maratha had left behind.
What are their lives like?
The Chodhari are inclined to deny their ancient customs by trying to mold their lifestyles after the Hindus. They may intermarry with those of higher classes and participate in festivals alongside the Hindus who live nearby. They revere a Hindu goddess named Devi, who supposedly brought moral, social, and health reforms, including conversion to vegetarianism, to the people. Such reforms caused division within a group called the Sargelas, who taught that all products of nature are created by God and should be accepted as food. The Sargelas had much influence on the Chodhari, and today most of them freely eat meat.
The Chodhari are not aggressive and use weapons only for hunting or defending themselves against robbers or wild animals. They are generally known to be honest, uninhibited, simple, likable people. Most of the Chodhari work as small farmers. Cotton, vegetables, and rice are their principal crops. These are taken to the weekly markets, where they are traded for clothing, tools, and jewelry. Supplementary foods are attained by hunting, fishing, and collecting produce from the woods. The women and children are also employed, working for the wealthier land owners. Chodhari craftsmen such as carpenters and weavers are better off economically than those who farm.
Customarily, the Chodhari only marry people within their own group (even different castes); and they are permitted to marry outside their direct clans. Most marriages are monogamous, and the line of descent is through the father. Premarital sexual relations are prevalent among the Chodhari. If a young couple wishes to marry but cannot afford the bride price, it is common for the girl to be willingly abducted by the young man. They return home after several months and have their union sanctioned.
Until puberty, Chodhari girls are allowed to wear western style clothes. The women are distinguished by their red and white striped cotton saris (long pieces of cloth that are wrapped around the waist and over one shoulder). They also wear dark blue and white head scarves. The Chodhari men (who wear typical Indian style clothes) are particularly distinguished by commonly wearing "Gandhi" caps.
What are their beliefs?
The great majority of the Chodhari Bhil practice ethnic religions, such as animism (belief that non-human objects have spirits) and ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance). Stone memorials are often built for the dead. They believe in the gods of the hills, the clouds, and the wind. They also worship a god known as Mehta, who is thought to inhabit such things as whirlwinds, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes. Mehta is also said to live in the sea, on river banks, and in animals. It is believed that the spirit of a person who died an unnatural or violent death will possess the body of a witch.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth quality laborers to live among the Chodhari and show them Christ's love.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Chodhari.
* Ask God to give Chodhari believers boldness to share the Gospel with their own people.