Practicing Halma In Jhabua : A Generous Offering Of Help By The Bhil Community


Guest Blog

Practising Halma in Jhabua

By Outlook Traveller


A beautiful example of self-sustained community living

"The Earth is thristly, why are you still sleeping?

Bring your tools and let's get to work.

We've got a dam to build, we've got trees to plant."

Loosely translated from the Bhil dialect, these are lines sung in earnest by Puniyabhai Bhuria. A farmer of the Bhil tribe, Puniyabhai stands against a pond that he helped build in 2018 as he sings these lines for us, explaining how the 'talab' came to be.

Built in the centre of wheat, corn and sugarcane fields, the pond reflects the bounty that surrounds it. But this wasn't quite the scene a few years ago, Puniyabhai tells us. The land was parched and summers especially were a challenging time on the fields. The pond, however, has embellished the landscape and made sure that the fields are always well watered. A change, facilitated by the Bhils' age-old practice of Halma and with the support of Shivganga, an NGO working for the development of tribal communities in Jhabua and Alirajpur districts.

Practising Halma in Jhabua

Living in harmony

Halma is a way of self-sustained community living. "Suppose the roof of my house is ripped, I call upon the 'suchak' or 'kotwal' (a messenger) to announce that I need help fixing my roof and that I am going to host a 'halma' at noon tomorrow. The suchak spreads the word and the next day, all those who can make time for it, step forward with their tools and expertise. It is a service in exchange for a modest meal."

Puniyabhai has deeply imbibed this spirit. "Sometimes when people approach me for help as the Tadvi (village head), I tell them quite frankly that I have humble earnings, I will not be able to offer monetary help. But I will make sure that I am of service by offering my time and labour."

Much to 'pond'er over

In 2018, when the village decided to build a dam and a pond, as the Tadvi, Puniyabhai announced a Halma. "200 people came forward and participated in the efforts every day. The team from Shivganga helped with transporting black soil from the neighbouring village of Meghnagar and in less than a month, the pond was ready," he says. Everybody brought their tools, but more importantly, their spirit to the cause. Puniyabhai arranged for their meals each day. Together they worked and sang (lines mentioned above) and brought the pond to life. Built entirely of stone and mud, it has no traces of concrete whatsoever and has served the farmers well for over four years now.

Come one, come all

Shivganga has been organising large scale Halmas in Jhabua since 2009.  The events are open to all and attract students and professionals from outside of Madhya Pradesh too.  Nitin Dhakad, an active member of Shivganga and an alumnus of IIT Roorkee, started his journey with the NGO on one such volunteer trip. Originally from Kota, Rajasthan, so charmed was he by the simplicity of life here that he abandoned his plans of moving to the big cities and decided to serve communities in the hinterlands instead. And he isn't the only one. A bunch of his colleagues are from similar backgrounds. At a time when the world is catching up with and cashing in on 'sustainability' one can take a cue from the Bhil way of life, he tells us. "From composting their waste and revering nature to living in harmony, there is much to learn here. But one needs to come with the right mindset - to learn and not educate."

The Information

How to get there: Indore, at a distance of 150 km, is the closest airport to Jhabua. The nearest railway station is at Nahargarh, 19 km away.

Best time to visit: Anytime of the year is fine, but October onwards, after the rains have just washed over, is particularly good.

Accommodation: The MPT Tourist Motel, NH-59, Deojharipanda, Madhya Pradesh 

Contact: 07392-244668; Website:

Website: You too can volunteer for a Halma in Jhabua. Read up on the various volunteer activities with Shivganga here:

In rural Madhya Pradesh, living off the land is as much about hard work as it is about celebrations. You can savour this way of life during festivals or through a multitude of other experiences:

Experience rural life at Madla

A river, forest and hills. Madla has all three within a kilometre. And that is what makes this village, just 19km from Khajuraho, so special. It is also home to artists who have decorated the walls of their houses with paintings. You can cycle through Madla, take a village tour, enjoy local food and stock up on souvenirs, such as spices, papad and pickles. 

How to get there
: Madla is just 19km from Khajuraho; so this can be a day trip

Accommodation: Madla has a few homestay options, but you can always make Khajuraho your base for this outing.

Cost: Rooms at Lalit Temple View Khajuraho are available for `6,000 onwards

Contact: +91 9993092604; Website:

Learn pottery in Pachdhar, Pench Jungle Camp

A small village of about 110 families, Pachdhar is synonymous with pottery. Walk the lanes of the village while taking in the earthy scent of clay and try your hands at the pottery wheel.

How to get there: Nagpur is the nearest airport and railway station. 

Address: Pench Jungle Camp, Kurai, Seoni, Avarghani, 

Madhya Pradesh

Cost: `6,000 onwards (for accommodation) 

Contact:  +91-9999742000


Organic pleasures of Bagdara Farms, near Bandhavgarh

Between the safaris (morning and evening) at Bandhavgarh, pack in a visit to the nearby Bagdara Farms where 27 different kinds of turmeric are grown. Pick up organic haldi from here, before you drive to Dhamokar Gate for a quick stop at Gond and Baiga villages in Bandhavgarh's buffer zone. 

How to get there: Jabalpur (190km) and Khajuraho (250km) are the closest airports to Bandhavgarh. Umaria (37km) and Katni (100km) are the closest railway stations.

Address: Village Bagdara, Tehsil Barhi, Post Office Khitauli, District Katni, Madhya Pradesh

Accommodation: Bandhavgarh has many options, in different budget categories.

Contact: +91 9560254646


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