I am running a fever. But will retire for the night after putting up this most charming painting I stumbled upon, on Wikimedia Commons. India is portrayed as the land of vegetarians and non-violence. Despite most of its inhabitants being regular consumers of meat (except members of the higher castes, and some religions like Jainism) and its history (ancient, medieval and modern) being replete with violent episodes of all kinds.

One of my old friends is a member of the Bhil community. They are an Indo-Aryan tribe living in Central India, inhabiting the region where the Aravalli Mountains meet the coast of Gujarat, the valley of the Narmada, and the plateau of Malwa. This is harsh, forbidding territory, dry and rocky in nature. The farms are few and far between, a patchwork of green along water courses in an expanse dominated by thorn and scrub.

The Bhils were, and are still, renowned for their skills as archers and huntsmen. The painting is a beautiful reminder of that facet of their lives. The man has his bow drawn, facing a herd of antelope (India’s impressive black buck). He sports a turban, a dhoti (a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist and serves the same purpose as pants), a pair of shoes and a quiver full of arrows.  The woman accompanying him is decked with ornaments, wears a blouse and a skirt (of leaves), and carries a rod (with bells at either end). Both of them have daggers.

Most intriguing is the torch she uses. It resembles a wicker basket, with flames kindled inside to throw light upon the quarry. I have never seen such a painting. The bottom shows the same hunter at rest, seated on a stone, with a dead antelope lying in front of him. This is a refreshing departure from the hackneyed description of all Indians as non-violent souls, absorbed in meditation and spiritual exercises of one kind or the other. Many tribes still organize annual hunting expeditions as part of their festivals.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on a painting preserved by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.