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The Ghotul System of Education

by K. L. Kamat
First Online: January 20, 2002
Page Last Updated: October 31, 2016

The author writes about the fascinating system of education prevalent among the tribals of Central India, known as Ghotul. The young ones of the tribe are taught the ways of life from their early years. Among some tribal sects, the male and female are not distinguished from each other in their upbringing and they grow up in perfect harmony, in preparation for perfect relationships. The social life of a Ghotul (gho-two-ll) is both interesting and exotic.

Stories of Bastar Travel
Table of Contents | Arrival | Chotedongar | Jagadalpur Bazar
In Gond Forest | Ghotul Schools | Picture Gallery

Visit to a Ghotul

It was dusk and the cows were returning home after spending the entire day grazing in forest. The Abujamara Murias (name of a tribe in Central India) were engaged in an unhurried meal. They chatted, joked, and smoked around camp fires. The kids made enough noise to scare even the wildlife. When they beat the drums, it was indication that the youth were preparing for the Ghotul. A group of boys was being pursued by excited girls. Some of the boys went directly  to the Ghotul, while a few others went to girls' houses to fetch them. A musical party was in progress outside a hut designated as the Ghotul. One member played the Mandri (Mridungum, a two sided hand-drum) with great enthusiasm, and another the flute. The girls started dancing in circles.

Anthropologists (among them, Verier Elvin) feel that the Ghotul is an ancient institution. It is a living university. There are no books or tests, yet one is taught life's education. Students are teachers here, and teachers, students. It is truly a wonder. The Ghotul is typically located outside the village. A long time before the land grant universities were a norm in the western world, the Adivasis reserved empty tracts of  land for educating the young. They grew vegetables in the Ghotul garden and taught community living to the children. The Ghotul is also a cultural center; every youth older than six years is automatically a member.

Some youngsters started a campfire. Others started singing and dancing. Some even played a game that resembled the modern game of Antyashkari (a.k.a. Antakshari -- a contest of memory and singing abilities, played all over India). They exchanged jokes, stories, and much laughter. All of a sudden one of the girls who was singing shook her sari  in panic, and the crowd had a hearty laugh when a frog jumped out. She eventually traced the mischief-monger, and punched him. In return, he promised to take his revenge that night.

A teenager suffered from a bad stomach, but didn't want to miss out on the fun. Unfortunately he did not go too far away to relieve himself.  The sounds and foul smell of his condition betrayed him, and he was punished by the crowd for his misdemeanor with ten rabbit jumps (hopping  like a rabbit while squatting).

© K. L. Kamat
Maidens on their way to Ghotul
Girls on their way to the Ghotul

Then the wooden bell rang. This was the indication of the beginning of formal evening activities at the Ghotul. The newly-enrolled kids bowed to the older children who then examined their homework. Students were tested for skills in leaf-weaving, vegetable-growing, ash-cleaning, and wood-carving. Some were punished for clumsy work. The punishment once again involved  rabbit-jumping, spanking, standing on one foot in the cold, hanging from the ceiling, etc. A young man distributed tobacco to those who smoked.

Then they resumed the poetry-contests, exchanging puzzles, and jokes. The boys and girls kept teasing and taunting each other till late in the night. The village-minister, (Kotwaal or deputy) then called to the captain of the class, who read out the names of male-female pairs.

A Motiyari (maiden) massaged her boyfriend's head with oil, and picked lice off his hair. She told him he would look better with short hair. Then she massaged the rest of his body with her soft delicate hands. In the proximity of her youthful curvature, the boy started a romantic conversation. The girl, then, pressurized him into making her a comb. He agreed on the condition that she become his girl, to which she refused. Experienced youngsters knew that the real meaning of the refusal was that she desired more cajoling.

The comb collection is a matter of great prestige for the Motiyaris. The bigger the collection,  the more popular she is. Combs are worn as ornaments in the hair. The boys make them out of wood or bamboo. The connoisseurs among them decorate their combs with mirror pieces, beads, and colors. The boys also wear them, but only for decoration; no attention is paid to the actual numbers. If a Motiyari likes a Chilak (her male counterpart,) she steals his comb, thereby allowing him to steal her heart.  But this results in an undesirable situation, because typically the gifts of combs have to be given (and received) in the presence of elders only.

The Ghotul building can be as small as a hut or as big as a meeting hall, depending on the village population and leadership. Some have plenty of lighting while a few others are built small in order to conserve heat. Wherever there is problem of wildlife attacks, the Ghotuls are built on a raised platform.

© K. L. Kamat
Ghotul buildings, Madhya Pradesh
Ghotul Buildings at Chameli village

The students decorate the Ghotul walls with paintings and take turns to keep the surroundings clean and meticulous. I found that many of the paintings were exaggerated representations of male and female anatomy.

 

Sex Education

Equality, simplicity, and freedom form the fundamental fabric of the Ghotul life. Members eat, play, dress, and sleep without any separation of males and females. They can even swim in the river together without clothes on.  In contrast, the so-called modern society of India does not accept it if man and women share the same bed before marriage. The Ghotul tradition of the Muria tribals points to the equality and unisexuality of  primitive humans. In the tribe, young men and women 'date' from the age of ten onwards, whereas we in the modern world wonder what age is appropriate for beginning sex education. The advocates of free sex and safe sex should study this system of natural sex education at the Ghotuls. Since the Ghotuls do not have formal teachers, the students never develop the attitude that the teachers are of a different  generation. The tribals of Bastar do not have teenage pregnancies, the abuse of  money, damage to the future because of neglected academic responsibilities, and other modern ills of the society.

In Ghotuls, no distinction is made between love and sex. Everybody is free and behaves responsibly. In the beginning, they may sleep together as the brothers do with sisters, and as their hormones begin to operate, they may go further. I do not believe that there is any other society where a brother and a sister can sleep in the same room with their respective lovers.

© K. L. Kamat
For Every Boy, his Girl
Boys and girls 'date' from an age of ten onwards

As a result, children learn about love at an early age, by watching others. They imitate what they see. Mothers typically teach their daughters about the extent to which they can go at the Ghotuls. Should any problems occur, the Motiyari tells the elders and they collectively sort out the problem. Nobody feels embarrassed by this, nor is anybody despised; they are such light-hearted folks!

When grown-up Chilaks (boy students at the Ghotul) are on duty protecting the fields or are away on other work, the younger Chilaks get the chance to spend the time with the Motiyaris. This is how the young ones get educated. There are strict rules of confidentiality regarding the happenings at the Ghotuls.

Since sex is considered a very natural phenomena at the Ghotuls, there arise no perversions. Sex is seen as natural as hunger or sleep. In some civilized societies, sex is considered to be a man's right and woman's duty, whereas at the Ghotul, it's a Motiyari's privilege and the Chilak's duty. Since partners are continuously rotated, every pair gets a chance sooner or later. Although dating is restricted to Ghotuls, it is not uncommon for the couples to meet outside the Ghotul,  in the forest or at the river. If someone finds out, both of them are punished. If a Motiyari singles out a boy to treats him specially, she's punished by the other boys. Because of their sexual freedom, at the time of  marriage, neither is the bride a virgin, nor is the groom inexperienced.

In spite of social restrictions on falling in love, once in a while one does come across passionate love stories. Once a poor Chilak wanted to marry a Kotwaal's daughter, but could not afford the dowry. So the young couple eloped to another village. The Kotwaal registered a police complaint. The tribals are typically very scared of the police. Out of this fear for the police, the couple hid in the forest, only to be eventually eaten by a tiger. This story is very popular among the boys, who sing poems in the couple's honor.

Although youngsters enjoy free sex at Ghotuls, they practice strict monogamy during married life. Those who succumb to weaknesses are sometimes punished even with death. Married people cannot enter the Ghotuls. The youngsters strongly protest any meddling in the Ghotul's affairs by their elders.

Motiyaris get up early in the morning denying Chilaks of early morning pleasures, and head home to help their mothers with chores. Chilaks get up late, smoke hand rolled cigarettes (beedis), and then  go to work. A few Motiyaris refuse to go to the Ghotul because of their shyness, but even they will yield to male advances during festive ceremonies under the influence of arrack (homemade alcohol.)

The students at the Ghotul consider it their duty to provide entertainment during festive ceremonies. They play music, sing songs, and dance. Whenever they have many dancers they form large circles and dance hours on end, in monotonic tones. They do not believe in short dances, and literally dance all night long. If they get tired ,they have a smoke or drink, and resume dancing. After a while, I felt it a torture to watch the same movements over and over again. I was told that Muria tribals who are skilled at dancing are not permitted to dance outdoors!

It is very easy to notice the equality of sexes among Chilaks and Motiyaris. Both grow their hair long, wear combs and jewelry, and adorn themselves with decorations. The Chilaks often outshine the girls in decoration. They wear beads, tusks of boars, feathers and anything colorful that is available,  in every imaginable form. The decoration of Motiyaris is limited to their hair, in which they wear combs, mirrors, balloons, and even paper fans. They typically have tattoos as permanent decorations on their bodies.

It is said that a fisherman never finds the beach beautiful. It is unlikely that freedom, free sex, and the equality of sexes are as attractive to the tribals as they are to us. Since they always live amidst accidents, diseases, and natural dangers, their times of enjoyment are very few. These special occasions are shared only with special guests. After the forest-department, police, and tax officials started taking advantage of the tribals, they were excluded from the Ghotuls. I felt privileged and honored to be offered food, drinks, and introductions to Motiyaris. I almost regretted having  brought my wife along on the trip!

Stories of Bastar Travel
Table of Contents | Arrival | Chotedongar | Jagadalpur Bazar
In Gond Forest | Ghotul Schools | Picture Gallery

Excerpted from author's the Timeless Theater CD-ROM (buy at Amazon)

List of Pictures

See Also:

  • Kamat PictureSearch results for Ghotul

  • Old-timey Education -- Dr. Jyotsna Kamat hosts an amusing online exhibition of historical artifacts on education in India through the centuries


Stories of
Bastar Travel

Bastar Pictures
A care-free woman of BastarA Wooden Idol of Ganesh Worshipped by Tribals of Madhya PradeshA Gift of LoveMaidens on their way to GhotulAdivasi DancerGhotul buildings, Madhya Pradesh
Two tribal youngsters go for a smoke, JagadalpurTribal BeautyGonda Women, ChindawadaVillagers belongings at the Village FairNever Been PhotographedWooden Facial Mask of Bison Horn Maria
A Group of Memorials at Barsur in BastarFarm Guard House (Manchal) of AdivasisGigantic Hat Made with Hay StrawsPicture of Sukhdev Rajamestri Elderly Woman Belonging to Gonda TribeGonda Women
Muria Dancer with Cowrie DecorationsMap of Bastar district in Madhya PradeshMembers of the Royal FamilyBullock Carts at ChindwadaCollection of CombsIn a Tribal Town
A Mahuva TreeNecklace of CoinsOn the way to Bastar FairPalace of Praveer Chandra Bhanj Deo

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