Dean Alan Fashion
Collection Coffee Table Book Catalogue
Fashion Article Posted June 13, 2008
Muria and Their Ghotul
Verrier Elwin's Kingdom of The Young
..."All the unmarried boys and girls of the tribe had to be members of the ghotul. This membership was elaborately organized; after a period of probabtion, boys and girls were initiated and given special titles which carried with them graded ranks and social duties. Leaders were appointed to lead and discipline the society... Boy members were known as 'cheliks,' and girls as 'motiaris.'.
"The cheliks and motiaris had important duties to perform on all social occasions. The boys acted as acolytes at festivals, the girls as bridesmaids at weddings. They danced together before the clan-gods and ... formed a choir at funerals. Their games and dances enlivened and enriched village life, and redeemed it from that crushing monotony which was its normal characteristic in other parts of India.
"It was natural that the ghotul... should foster every kind of art... The boys made and decorated charming little combs for the girls, and elaborate tobacco-boxes for themselves; the girls made necklaces, pendants and belts of beads and cowries. The boys carved the pillars and doors of their ghotul building, which was often the finest house in the village... And above all they danced. "But this is common to many cultures.
What gave the ghotul its unique interest was the approved and recognized relationship between the boys and girls.
"There were two types of ghotul. In the first, and probably the oldest... the rule was that of fidelity to a single partner during the whole of the pre-marital period. Each chelik was paired off with a motiari; he was formally 'married' to her and she took the feminine form of his title as her own. Divorce was allowed, though 'infidelity' was punished. "In the second type, any kind of lasting attachment between chelik and motiari was forbidden. No one could say that such and such a motiari was 'his' girl; his attachment was rationed to three days at a time.
"Although outwardly both types of ghotul were the same... the cutoms and atmosphere of the more modern latter type were entirely distinct. Here everything was arranged to prevent long-drawn intense attachments, to eliminate jealousy and possessiveness, to deepen the sense of communal property and action. There was no ghotul marriage, there were no ghotul partners.
Everyone belonged to everyone else' in the very spirit of Brave New World. A chelik and motiari might sleep together for three nights; after that they were warned; if they persisted they were punished.
"This was sometimes called the 'changing ring' ghotul; because in it you changed from girl to girl just as you changed your rings from finger to finger.
"...At any time after supper, the cheliks began to assemble. They came one by one, carrying their sleeping mats and perhaps their drums. The little boys brought their daily 'tribute' of wood, 'clocked in' by showing it to the official responsible... The elder boys gathered round the fire; one took a half-smoked leaf-pipe from his turban and ignited it..., another played a few notes on his flute... Then the girls came in with a rush, all together, and gathered round their own fire. After a while they scattered, some sitting with the boys, others singing in a corner.
The others occupied the time in pleasant harmony; sometimes they danced for an hour or two; the smaller children played rampageous games; sometimes they just sat around the fire and talked... Often they sang lying down, two by two, chelik with motiari, or in little groups.
. I shall never forget the sight in some of the larger ghotuls of sixty or seventy youngsters thus engaged.
"After an hour or two of dancing, singing, games or storytelling, certainly not much after ten o'clock, the serious business of the evening began. The little boys went round saluting their elders, a ritual then repeated by the girls. One of them distributed finely-powdered tobacco from the ghotul store, to which all the parents contributed. Then the girls each went to her partner of the day and sat down behind him. First of all, she shook out and arranged his hair and then combed it. When this was done, she massaged him, sometimes with oilseed, sometimes rubbing his back with her comb, and then she cracked his fingers one by one.
Yet there was much to be said on the Murias' side. In the first place, the cheliks and motiaris were wonderfully happy. Their life was full, interesting, exciting, useful. The ghotul was, as they often said, 'a little school.' The cheliks were 'like Boy Scouts,' as I was told in a village which had a troop in the local school. There was no comparison between these children and the sad-eyed, dirty ragamuffins in villages at a similar cultural level elsewhere. In the ghotul, the children were taught lessons of cleanliness, discipline and hard work that remained with them throughout their lives. They were taught to take pride in their appearance, to respect themselves and their elders; above all, they were taught the spirit of service. These boys and girls worked very hard for the public good. They were immediately available for the service of State officials or for labor on the roads. They had to be ready to work at a wedding or funeral. (In contrast) in most tribal villages of the Central Provinces, the children were slack, dirty, undisciplined and with no sense of public spirit. The Murias were very different.
"The village dormitory is a symptom of a certain stage of cultural development. We ourselves consider that we have outgrown it; we may grow into it again.
In the days when I shared the free and happy life of the Murias, I used sometimes to wonder whether I was a hundred years behind the times or a hundred years ahead.
I do not suggest we replace our Public Schools by ghotuls and turn out own children into cheliks and motiaris, but I do suggest that there are elements in ghotul life and teaching which we should do well to ponder, and that an infection of the Muria spirit would do few of us any harm.
"The message of the ghotul -- that youth must be served, that freedom and happiness are more to be treasured than any material gain, that friendliness and sympathy, hospitalty and unity are of the first importance, and above all that human love - and its physical expression - is beautiful, clean and precious, is typically Indian."
Elwin published his study of the Muria as a 750-page book entitled 'The Muria And Their Ghotul,' later translated in a abridged edition into French and Italian.
In 1968, an abridged English edition was published by Oxford University Press under the title 'The Kingdom Of The Young. He became a citizen of India in 1954, and died in 1964, a few months after finishing his autobiography. Altogether, he was another of those erudite, charming and somewhat unusual types that England seems to produce.
Photos by Massimo Conti
You may also have interest in the fashion shopping articles ...
Have you ever dreamed of becoming a fashion designer?