The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 3, 2002

A kingdom of the unmarried
Ruby Gupta

Muria group dance
Muria group dance

IT would surprise many to learn that there are certain tribal customs in our country which would seem scandalous, by modern standards. One such tribe is the Muria, who are the inhabitants of North Bastar. They have a custom called Ghotul. The Ghotul is a kind of dormitory where unmarried men and women freely establish sexual relations. This is sanctioned by the tribe and is an integral part of Muria society.

There is an intriguing legend behind the origin of the custom. It is said that Lingo Pen is a Phallic deity and founder of the Muria Ghotul. Legend has it that Lingo Pen was a proficient musician. He first taught the art of drumming to tribal boys. Amongst the Murias, a good drummer is regarded as a good lover. A Muria proverb says: "One who can beat a drum knows how to beat a girl in love." In the mythological accounts of the Murias, Lingo Pen is all-powerful. No witch or ghost can invade the atmosphere of the Ghotul because of his invisible presence. Since Lingo is also the God of love, sin has no place within the Ghotul’s boundary.


The Ghotul consists of a large hut or a group of huts. The youth of Muria assemble here after sunset. The evening begins with the arrival of boys who bring their sleeping mats, tobacco pouches and the like, along with them. They settle down round the fire or in the compound. Some of them smoke while the others start playing their instruments. Soon girls arrive and song and dance begins in earnest. There is a great deal of singing, dancing, story telling, chatting, fun and laughter. Most of the dances and games are sexually suggestive and provocative. Notable among these are the Mandri (drum) dance and the Hulki (somewhat like a snake dance). The latter is a particularly engaging dance wherein the boys move in a ring while the girls thread their way through them. (This dance is also performed during weddings and other celebrations). Finally, the boys and girls start pairing off. However, the final decision regarding the pairing rests with the leader of the boys called Sirdar and the leader of the girls called Belosa. They ensure that not only romance but also an element of duty is involved in the pairing.

Hence even the ones who are not physically attractive are not bypassed but get an equal chance to be paired and enjoy the romantic ambience of the democratic Ghotul.

According to renowned anthropologist, Dr Verrier Elwin, who has studied the system of Ghotul in detail, there are two types of Ghotul. In the older type, the boys and girls pair off in a somewhat permanent relationship that lasts until marriage. In the modern type, such exclusive pairing is forbidden and partners must constantly be changed. In the Ghotul, the boy members are known as Chelik and the girls as Motiari.

Similar customs also exist among the communities of Austro-Asian countries. There are similar institutions found amongst some other Indian tribes as well. But none of them are as disciplined and as well-organised as the Ghotul of the Murias. Inferior type of community-houses are found among other tribes of India like: Gitiora of the Hos and Mundas, Dhumkuria of the Oraons, Yo of the Ao Nagas, Morang of the Konyak and Sema Nagas, Rangbang of the Bhotias and Ilochi or Ikuichi of the Memis. However, these do not perform the same kind of role in the development of society, as does the Ghotul.

The institution of Ghotul has been evolved for a specific purpose. The reason behind this custom is very sound. It is based on the concept of unity and brotherhood. This may sound implausible, but is actually quite logical. The Ghotul is a place where boys and girls are trained to overcome attachments, jealousies and possessiveness. In the Ghotul, friendliness, sympathy and unity are of prime importance. Instead of individualistic love, there is community love and individualism does not have any place within the Ghotul. The Ghotul helps in the emotional growth of the young people. It also binds their society together, and helps the Muria boys and girls to grow up in a kind of group discipline. It is ‘a kingdom of the unmarried,’ says one of the Muria folk songs.

The existence of the Ghotul is the reason why there are hardly any crimes committed due to jealousy etc. Strangely enough, though promiscuity amongst the unmarried youth is allowed, it is frowned upon when committed by married people. Adultery hardly ever occurs. Perhaps it is because the young are encouraged to sow their wild oats, as it were, before they opt for a more long-term relationship. In this way the Muria society is highly developed. In contrast to this, in other tribes like the Bhils, the maximum number of crimes occur due to jealousy and suspicion about extra-marital relationship.

Muria society seems to be a highly evolved. It has found and implemented a unique system which circumvents the dangerous ramifications of love relationships. Romantic liaisons cause many a crime and the Murias have successfully avoided it within their tribe.

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