The Eastern Bhil of India
There are two divisions of Bhil: the Central or "pure" Bhil, and the Eastern or part-Rajput Bhil. The Eastern Bhil live in the mountains of central western India, particularly in northern Gujarat, southern Rajasthan, and northern Maharashtra. They are known as the connecting link between the Gujarati and the Rajasthani and are one of the largest tribal communities of India. They speak Dehwali Bhili, which is an Indo-Aryan language.
In earlier times, Bhil rajas (kings) permitted immigrants from the plains to settle in the hill regions. Later, in order to safeguard their independence and rule, the Bhil fought against the Moghals, the Maratha, and the British. They became known as "the Bhil kill" and ruled until 1947.
For the last 30 years, many Bhil have been threatened by the Sardar Saravor Dam project, which when completed, will flood much of the region where the Bhil currently live. Though re-settlement plans have been discussed, they remain incomplete.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Today, the Bhil primarily work as peasant farmers, field laborers, and village watchmen. With a growth in population, most of their land holdings are small and generally not sufficiently productive. The people are experts in handling bows and arrows. In fact, the name "Bhil" was derived from the word billee, which means bow. For years, the bow has been a characteristic weapon of the tribe, and the men usually carry their bows and arrows with them. The women wear blouses under dark blue or black saris (cloths wrapped around the waist and over one shoulder). City boys are distinctive from other Hindus because they tie rags around their heads, wear earrings, and carry swords or guns.
The Eastern Bhil are usually shy and love their independence. Festivals, dance, drama, and music are a large part of their culture, but unfortunately a lot of alcohol is consumed at these events.
The Bhil marry within their own classes. If they do marry someone of another class, the Bhil of the lower class must convert to the higher, leaving behind all family ties. This custom is strictly enforced among the tribes.
Each village is led by a head man who deals with disputes. Respect among family members is strong, and there is a great sense of connection between the living and the dead. Property is shared equally by the male descendants.
Bhil villages are rather widely scattered. The houses are located in fields where millet, maize, wheat, and barley are grown. The highlanders live in tidy houses made with walls of sticks intertwined with small branches. The roofs (which are shaped like bee-hives) are usually made of clay tiles, but roofs are sometimes made of straw and leaves.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Almost all of the Eastern Bhil practice ethnic religions that have been highly influenced by Hinduism. Shiva is considered the supreme god. Ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors) is also quite popular. Shamans (priests) are also called upon to offer sacrifices to the many gods and mud idols.
In spite of their pagan beliefs, there have been interesting manifestations of God's Spirit among the upper caste Bhagat gurus. Before his death, one guru warned his disciples that there would be a great famine, after which they should look for teachers coming from the North and West who would teach them the true way of salvation from a book, free of cost. They would teach about the true God, and about a "sinless Incarnation who was born of a virgin". The guru also said that they should worship this sinless, invisible God; turn away from stones and idols; and live blameless lives. A famine occurred in 1899-1900, soon after the guru's death.
What Are Their Needs?
Six missions agencies have targeted this group, and today, 2,601 have accepted Christ. Yet, this only represents 0.1% of their population. Much intercession is needed so that their eyes will be opened to the Truth.
- Pray against the demonic spirits that are keeping the Eastern Bhil bound.
- Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
- Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to India and share Christ with the Bhil.
- Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among them.
- Ask God to provide open doors for the Bhil believers to share the Gospel with their own people.
- Pray that Christian radio broadcasts will soon be made available in the Dehwali Bhili language.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Bhil towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
- Pray that God will reveal Himself to them through dreams and visions.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Eastern Bhil by the year 2000.
See also the following Bhil Groups:
The Central Bhil;
The Chodhari Bhil;
The Dangs Bhil;
The Dhatki Bhil;
The Pardhi Bhil;
The Pawari Bhil;
The Tadvi Bhil;
The Rajput Garasia;
The Adiwasi Garasia;
The Meghwar Bhil;
The Sansi Bhil.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Eastern Bhil
- Country: India
- Their language: Dehwali Bhili
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 2,601
- Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
- Jesus Film in their own language: Available
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 6
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 886,800 (35%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 1,714,700 (65%)
- Country: India
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 163
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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