Stringing thoughts and dreams into reality through colorful beads is a way of expression for the Bhil tribe residing in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. It is not just work for the artists, but also a kind of meditation. With each bead almost a chant, bringing peace to the creator and also giving stature to the wearer; conferring a higher stature with more intricate and elaborate beadwork.
This art has been in existence since Harappan times; earlier uses of bead art were in making ornaments, talismans, Jhoomers (chandeliers), etc. Over time, it has found use in modern products too such as key-chains, hair-pins, file-folders, handbags, photo-albums and frames. Beadwork is traditional work for the tribe and knowledge has been transferred from one generation to another. Generally, women are involved in this art form; one of the main proponents of this art-form is Ms. Jeevan Bala who in turn has learned this art from her mother-in-law.
The raw materials required for this art are beads, yarn, needles, cloths, sponge, safety-pins, wire, wool, and hooks. Most of the raw materials are purchased in bulk from the markets of Indore & Ahmedabad. The processes involved in beadwork are stringing, knitting and stitching although stringing is a compulsory process for all kinds of products. For example, making a necklace is a two-step process; the first being to finalize a design (either on paper or in the imagination of the artist) and secondly to string the beads as per the design.
The main markets for this handicraft are local fairs (Melas) and exhibitions with the supervisor cum artist of the group (In this case, Mr. Natwar and Ms. Jeevan Bala) in-charge of sales. The main challenge that present-day bead workers are facing today is that their earnings in a day are only about half of the daily wage laborers. The second problem is the lack of a permanent market; their sale is dependent on occasional demands which reduce the chances of a steady income. Lack of training in the latest design trends, which could help the artisans produce products relevant to customers, is yet another challenge.
Despite these challenges, it is heartening to watch the bonhomie that these tribal artists have while working together – this is reflected in the colorful articles they make. This art is not only a source of income for the artists but is also a symbol of unity and love. These women are keeping their culture, and a way of life alive with their hard work, passion, and determination.