The Mahua (Madhuca longifolia), is truly a tree of life in tribal India! The Bhils use its bark for medicine; its fruit for food; and its flowers for wine. The Mahua tonic is a herbal remedy for cough, even bronchitis, and is documented in the Charaka Samhita on Ayurvedic medicine, as early as the second century BC. Festivals and rites of passage are also celebrated with indigenous Mahua wine. This aromatic wine is believed to have divine powers, as the Mahua flower can be revived with just a few drops of water in the driest of seasons.
The Bhils are the second largest tribal community in western and central India. Closely connected to the land, their beliefs are manifest in ceremonies, songs, dances, folklore and painting.
Painting is a form of prayer and healing for the Bhils. Every year, they paint their walls with 'pithoras', as offerings to the goddess. Colourful illustrations from everyday life are painted with neem twig-brushes using natural pigments, on a fresh layer of clay and cow dung. They are filled with bright colours, and a characteristic overlay of uniformly dotted patterns. Of the many stories connected to the use of the dot, they believe that each dot in the painting is representative of an ancestor.