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Patalkot: A Tribal Abode Deep Within the Earth


In the southern part of Madhya Pradesh, there is a district called as Chhindwara. Green and fine-looking ranges of Satpura encircle the whole district. Chhindwara is not only known for oranges, cotton and coal but its natural and scenic beauty also attracts everyone who comes here first time. Chhindwara district is separated into four forest zones. In all, Chhindwara is a forest district. Patalkot is positioned in the Tamia block of Chhindwara district. It is 2750 to 3250 feet up above the mean sea level. Patalkot valley is well-heeled in flora and fauna.


Start your drive to Patalkot from Chhindwara. It is just 70 km away from Chhindwara. Patalkot is a very scenic, deep valley in the northern part of the district. Patal means “very deep” and Kot is “a place to live.” Patalkot is simply a unique but natural place enclosed by hills all around. Patalkot is the origin place of Dudhi Gayni river. Deep inside the valley, there lives tribals. Main villages of Patalkot are: Rated, Chimtipur, Gujja Dongri, Sahra Pachgol, Harra-ka-Char, Sukhabhand, Dhurni malni, Jhiram, Palani Gaildubba, Ghatlinga, Gudichattri, Gaildubba, Kareyam, Ghana, etc. Gonds and Bharias are the main inhabitant of this gorge.


The valley:


It’s a deep, horse shoe/ cup shaped valley. It takes almost two hrs to arrive at Rated, a village that can be seen from the top of the valley. There is another way to enter in the valley; one can attain Chimtipur from Chhindi road. Chhindi is 6 kilometers away from the real gateway of Patalkot. There are almost 24 villages and 15 hamlets in the valley. The total population of this valley is somewhere around 3000.


Gond and Bharia are the two main tribal communities out of those 45 living in Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh state. It is said that Bharias are living here for more than 500 years. There are almost 51 Gothras (lineage in the Hindu community) in Bharia tribes but tribals belonging to 16 Gothra are found in the valley. Tribals never marry in same Gothras.


The People:


Gonds and Bharias mainly constitute the population of Patalkot. They cultivate their own crops viz., Maize, Millets, Rice and Wheat etc. Men, women and children wear traditional dresses. Chulki, Mundri, Binoria, Toda, Hasli, Kardona, Paijan, Mohanmala, Kushmala, Mungiamala, Markadhana mala and Patli are the common ornaments they show off in their festive times.


Edibles and Beverages:


It includes various types of food. Tribals cook roti (Chapati) for the lunch and dinner. Grain powder (Atta) of Maize, Jowar, Bajra, Kodo, Wheat, Gram, Udad, Kulthi and Jhurjhuru is prepared in their home itself. After mixing water in this grain powder, they roast it on iron pot called Tava. They like to make Daal in their dinner. Daal is prepared by using Masur, Tuar, Chana, Moong, Kulthi and Tevda pulses. Sometimes they make a special dish called as Daliya. Maize, Jowar and Wheat are mixed together for this. They like to have Bhaat (Rice) everyday in their meals. Bhaat, Kodo, Kulthi, Bhadli, Sama, Dodma is taken for this. For curry making, they prefer to cook Kaddu, Tumdi, Karela, Gataru, Rethu, Bhura, Bhata, Kacharia, Kunduru, Bathua, Chirota, Rajbhaji and Rirua. Peja is also a special dish in each tribal hut. Bhaat, Kodo, Kutki and Sama are mixed together and fermented for 3-4 days. Buttermilk is added for better flavor. Tribals are non-vegetarians. They hunt animals and cook flesh of Goat, Sheep, Sambhar, Deer, Rabbit, Wild Pig or Bore, Cheetal, Keetri, Teetar, Fadki, Hariyal, Peacock, Cock, Hen, Fish, Crab, Pigeon,  etc. Common spices for all such dishes contain chili, salt, turmeric, coriander, amchor, tamarind, ambadi, gud (Jaggery). Tribals smoke Beedi and Ganja. They prepare liquor known as Gapai, Chhidi, Sulphi, Mahua and Handi. They use Gulli (Fruit of Madhuca indica) and Jowar oils for cooking purposes.


Gods and Goddesses:


Tribals perform prayers and rituals everyday. The place, they perform Pooja (prayer) is called as Devghar. Tribals worship Mahadev, Badadev, Madai, Madmi Mai, Dhuladev, Nandia, Surjadev, Agiadev as their gods and goddesses.


Tribal instruments:


Nagda, Timki, Shehnai, Chakule, Singa, Tambura, Chikara, Bansuri, Ghunghru, Khadtaal, Madar, Dhol, Dahak and Tudiya are common instruments they play in various ceremonies and rituals.


Cultivation pattern:


Bharia tribes perform Dahiya cultivation. The time has changed the method but, still, they perform such type of cultivation in Patalkot. In this method of cultivation, soil is not ploughed. They dig the soil by their own hands using a Khurpi. There is less plain land therefore, ladder shaped or canal shaped rifts are made on the soil. They plant the seedlings here. Bharias believe that soil is their mother and they should not use Bhakkhar (Plough). It may give pain to their motherland. Nari, Basula, Girma, Pans, Hasiya, Tapar, Khant, Por, etc. are the basic requirements for the cultivation.


Rituals and Tradition:


Tribals perform dance in each of their social and culture gatherings. Few important dances include: Holi, Gusai, Karma, Rreena, Saila, Gendi, Dadariya, Jharpat, Bilma, Tapadi, Cherta, Sing Madiya, Hulki, Rela, Choli, Ghanti, Madri, Gour, Sahul, Tunta, Karama, Dumkuch, Dhuriya, Thapti, etc.


Saila Dance:


In the Gondwana region of central India, a festival called Bhujaliya is celebrated with a lot of joy and excitement. This festival is celebrated throughout the month. In this, a group of 8-10 men perform dance. They hold a drum stick (1-1/2 feet long) in their hands. They dance in a circle. They keep on singing folk songs too. Dhol and Timki instruments are played.


Karma Dance:


Karma basically is a dance of Baigas who live in Mandla district but tribals in this valley also perform this ritual. Tribals bring Karmi/ Kalmi or Haldu (Adina cordifolia) twig from the forest. They put this twig in a drench or pit and cover the soil. Before putting the twig inside the soil, the twig is covered with a cloth. Madar, Dhol and Bansuri are played. These tribals dance near the place where they put the twig. They dance overnight.


At one side, a group of men hold their hands and dance in semi lunar pattern. At the other side, girls and ladies hold their hands in other’s waist. They also dance. Tribals keep in on singing their folklores at this time. In the songs, they ask questions and receive answers from their counterparts. Dhol and Madar players stand in between both the group.


Important festivals:


Meghnath is one the most important fair of Gonds of the valley. This fair is celebrated on Chait Purnima (full moon night). On this occasion, tribals make a wish and revolve themselves on a big pillar. The Meghnath worshipping place in each village is predestined and it is said to be a holy place in the village. A dais is made on the base of 4 big Saal (Shorea robusta) trunks.


Thick trunk of Saal tree is also put near the Meghnath. This is known as Jheri. Oil, ghee and other lubricants are applied on the trunk of this. One the distal end of Jheri, coconut, ghee and few coins are tied. Tribal men try to climb on this trunk and in the meantime, women try to stop them. They hit them with a stick. Whosoever climbs and plucks this, is awarded in the fair. If none is succeeded, the award is given to the ladies those who stop them.




Tribals get together on a pre-decided date and place to worship their lords. This is known as Madai festival. Here they fulfill their social and cultural requirements. This festive time somewhere near Deepawali time brings happiness among the tribal community. Idols of their respective Gods and Goddesses are brought to a place. Tribals dance all through the day and night. Madai is generally the last festival time of the tribals in any year. They try to enjoy it as much as they can.


Herbs in Patalkot: This valley is known as treasure of medicinal plants. Few important and highly effective medicinal plants of this valley includes: Addhajira (Chaff Tree), Bach(Sweet Flag), Adusa (Malabar nut), Ajgandha, Soorankand (Corm), Kalmegh (Andrographis), Narbod/ Satavar (Wild Asperagus), Kachnaar (Variegated mountain ebony), Punarnava (Spreading Hogweed), Shivlingi, Khatua (Sprout leaf plant), Van Karonda, Van kela, Maida Lakdi, Brahmi (Indian pennywort), Safed musli, Hadjori, Jangali Piyaz (Indian squill), Jaljamani, Sankhpusphi, Kalimusli, Kalihaldi, Baichandi (Wild Yam), Dudhi, Gular, Anantmul (Indian sarparilla), Chandrajot, Musakani, Ban Karela (Bitter gourd), Bach (Cowhage), Chitavar (Rove colour leadwort), Sarpagandha, Shitaab, Patharchata (Indian rockfoil), Bhilwa, Cheeval, Pithkarenti, Makoy (Black night shade), Sahdehi, Arjun (Arjuna), Baheda (Beleric-myrabolam), Harra (Myrabolam), Giloy/Guduchi, Banda (Vanda/orchid), etc. Over-exploitation of plants like safed musli, chironji, sarpagandha and bach has made them endangered species.


My aim is to document the indigenous knowledge of the tribals of Patalkot. These tribals are experts in curing health disorders. They use herbs in the treatment of various ailments. But, so far, just like so many, biodiversity of Patalkot is also threatened. It is need of the hour to prepare a plan for conservation of medicinal plants as well as documentation of indigenous knowledge of tribes. Possibility of eco-tourism should be sorted out so that the economy of the area develops at the same time. There is a greater hope for the eco-tourism. It was 1990 when I went to Patalkot first time. The valley was very beautiful and scenic. Tribals were living happily. They had enough forest produce to live life joyfully. Things began to change all of sudden. Outsiders started entering into the forest for their own benefit. No one was there to stop them. No forester, no agency, nothing. Deforestation began to happen. No one was there to make complaint. Politicians, outsiders, and foresters were there to exploit the forest and its people.


I urge people to come forward and rescue the unique creation of God and save the biodiversity and culture of a virgin land called “Patalkot.”

Click on the picture for a larger view

Nice view from the top

Its a horse shoe shaped valley

Scene near the Kareyam village

Wow...thats the Patalkot valley

My friend Dr Sanjay Pawar

It was dense forest in late 1980's, things have changed drastically.....we have to think about it

Oh this one is a young Bharia guy...looking cute

You can see hamlets in valley, have a look on a tribal colony down the hill

This is 16 km from Bijori Harrai road

Striped Bouncing Right Arrow
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