Some Legends and Folk Stories of the Baiga People of Central India

in Article
Published on: 23 August 2018

Riddhi Pandey (compiler)

Riddhi is an alumunus of Azim Premji University, Bangalore, where she completed her MA in Development in May 2016. She has worked for a year in Kanker (North Bastar) district of Chhattisgarh on issues of forest rights, land rights and cultural rights of the indigenous communities in the region. She has also worked as a research assistant in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh where she engaged with the Baiga community. Her research interests include questions related to forest and land resources, the cultural identities of indigenous people, and engagement of indigenous communities with law, rights and development.

In September 2018, Riddhi will begin a Masters Program in Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Geneva.


Wealth and Sleep

A Baiga story from Hirapur, Balaghat District


Once  the Cow was disputing with the Wind as to who was greater. Then Nanga Baiga (the first Baiga on earth) came by and asked them why they were fighting. The Cow said, ‘I am the greatest, for all over the world the crops grow with the help of my dung.’

Then Sorrow and Sleep came to that place. Sleep said, ‘You are both wrong. I am the greatest for whatever trouble or sorrow you have during the day, I can cure it at night.’

The Wind said, ‘Yes, I am not great, for without the help of the clouds, I cannot move.’

At last Wealth joined them. He said, ‘I am the greatest, for where I live there is no need of dung, and the Wind cannot harm me, and Sleep comes unbidden, and no Sorrow can remain where I am.’

Sorrow said, ‘He speaks truly. For where Wealth lives, I cannot live.’

Nanga Baiga heard them all, and he said, ‘Truly there is none greater than Wealth.’



The Beating of Bhagavan


A Kath-Bhaina Baiga story from Taliyapani, Bilaspur District


A Raja ruled over a town where lived an old Baiga and his wife. The Baiga had been in the Raja’s service for many years, and to reward him the Raja gave him a large block of gold and sent him home to enjoy the remainder of his days. On the way home, the old man came to a river. He set the gold down upon the bank and went to bathe. But a dog came by and stole the gold. The old man thought that Bhagavan had taken it and he got very angry and said, ‘I’ll kill Bhagavan for this.’ He shouldered his axe and went down the road in search of Bhagavan. Soon he came to a great tank that a seth (rich trader) had made. It was very deep. But there was no water. ‘Where are you going?’ asked the seth. ‘I am going to beat Bhagavan.’ ‘When you see him tell him that there has been no water in the tank for five years.’

Then the old man came to a field and saw a horse standing there. ‘Where are you going?’ asked the horse. ‘I’m going to beat Bhagavan.’ ‘Then when you see him, tell him that no one has ridden me for 12 years.’

Then the old man came to a village where a Gond man was living. He had five wives, but they all had run away. Only his sister was with him. Then Bhagavan came in the form of a dewar (Baiga magician and healer who performs important rituals in the village) and said to the old man, ‘Where are you going, Father?’ ‘I’m going to beat Bhagavan.’ So Bhagavan said, ‘Why do you trouble to go further? Go home and you’ll find the gold in your own house.’ But the old man said, ‘I must first write a letter.’ So Bhagavan wrote it for him. In the letter the old man recounted the whole matter of the Seth, the horse, and the Gond. Then said Bhagavan, ‘Tell the Seth to bury a ring in the tank and water will spring up. As you go, saddle the horse and it will carry you home. Take the Gond’s sister with you and all his five wives will return to him.’

So the old man did as he was ordered and everything happened as Bhagavan had said. At last when he came to his own house, he found that the dog had carried his gold home. So he married the Gond’s sister and they lived happily together.


Excerpted from 'Folk-Tales of Mahakoshal' (1944) by Verrier Elwin, Oxford University Press.


A Baiga legend on the creation of the earth


In the earliest of times there was only water all around. On that water, an old leaf would float and God would rest on that leaf. After spending a long time this way, God began to reflect on the absence of land amidst all the water. God then used the dirt of his chest to create a crow. He ordered Crow, ‘Go Crow, and find land.’ Crow flew away in search of land and after a while he came across a tortoise named Kunwar Kakaramal. The tortoise had huge tusks. Crow had gotten tired with all the flying and sat down to rest on his tusks. He said to the tortoise, ‘Kunwar Kakaramal, do not lie to me. Tell me honestly where I can find land. I have come to take soil from the land.’ On hearing this, the tortoise secured Crow in his tusks and took him to the Paataal Lok (nether world), where the land and its soil had been seized and hidden by Raja Kichakmal. On being asked for some soil, the Raja gave it to Crow and the tortoise Kakaramal brought him back from the depths of the Paataal Lok. The Crow then gave the soil to God. God created a churner using a large vessel and a snake, and used it to churn the soil brought by Crow. He churned the soil well and allowed it scatter all around on the water to create land. Soon after, as God was roaming in all four directions to inspect the earth that he had created, he realized the land was movable and would shake continuously. He immediately created the Agaria (community of traditional iron smelters). The Agaria made four large nails of iron. After this God created the Nanga Baiga who then secured the land by nailing down the four corners of the earth and put an end to the shaking of the earth. Ever since the Baigas are known as the protectors of the earth.


A Baiga Folk Tale


A Baiga named Saanti had two wives, Jalango and Sayaat. One day he saw a dream in his sleep in which the Dharti Mata (Mother Earth) was shaking. In the dream Dharti Mata said that in order to appease her, he would have to make an offering, and sacrifice his children. Saanti Baiga took his seven children to Sarguja, where the shrine of the Dharti Mata was located. On the way he met a raja. When the Raja got to know that the Baiga was about to sacrifice the lives of his children he tried to stop him and instead offered his own bones for the sacrifice. The Baiga refused to take the bones of the Raja in order to save his children. When the Baiga reached the Chitee hill, the hill took the form of a wild boar and appeared in front of the Baiga. The wild boar also requested the Baiga to take him for the sacrificial offering in place of his children. The Baiga agreed. That night, when the Baiga was asleep, a mandar (drum played by Baigas and other tribes of Central India) appeared from the depths of the earth near his head. Next morning, the Baiga planted a Karma tree, put a flag on it and made sacrificial offerings of the wild boar and some little chicks. He then proceeded to dance around and danced in varied forms. He identified these different dance forms as Karma, Sua and Saila. The Dharti Mata became quite pleased with all of this and told the Baiga that he should continue to dance the Karma forever. She warned him that her happiness was in his hands. Thus, the Baiga and both his wives returned to their village singing and dancing all the way. Ever since, the Baiga people continue this tradition of singing and dancing in the honour of the Dharti Mata or Mother Earth. 


Translated from Hindi in a compilation of folktales titled 'Adivasi Lok Kathaayein' (1989) published by Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lokkala Parishad, Bhopal. These stories are from a section titled ‘Baiga, Saharia aur Shahdol ke aadivaasiyon ki mith kathaayein’, contributed by Basant Nirgune.


The Tiger and the Baiga


On a hill called Dhutiya, there resided a Baiga named Latiya. One day, when his pregnant wife was expecting to deliver soon, the couple went into the forest in search of edible roots. Both of them began to dig the ground for roots at different places. As the wife was digging for roots, she experienced labour pains. She shouted out to the Baiga invoking the Dewar and informed him of her pain. With this a Dev came to possess the Baiga and he began to shout. He then told his wife that if she gave birth to a boy then she should not bring him to the Baiga, but if she gave birth to a girl then she must bring her to him. The woman, who was crying in severe pain, asked him the reason for this. The Baiga replied that if it were a boy, then he would have to make efforts towards finding a bride for him and would have to pay obeisance by the touching the feet of her family. However, if it were a girl, then  others would be obliged to honour him in this way instead.

Immediately after, a child was born. It was a boy. When the Baiga heard this, he became very angry and he used the stick he had been using to dig roots to pluck out a portion of the Saja tree. He chanted a mantra and converted it into a tiger and a tigress so that they could eat the newborn. When the mother saw this, she abandoned her child on the ground and ran away. The tiger and the tigress found the baby and realized that it was useless to kill such a tiny being. They agreed that the child would be insufficient to appease their hunger and decided to take him along with them and raise him.As the child grew older, he began to take good care of the tiger and tigress in return, as both the wild animals were very weak. He would use his bow and arrow to hunt for them and continued to take good care of them till they died. Tigers were created by the Baiga and the Baiga boy was raised by tigers. Since then, the tiger and the Baiga have remained friends. The Baigas consider the tiger to be their brother.




In the past, elephants had huge wings and they could fly. One day an elephant flew to a lake to drink water where there was a crocodile. When the crocodile saw the elephant in the water, it was surprised to see such a large animal and caught the foot of the elephant in its jaws. In order to escape, the elephant tried to fly but failed, and the crocodile pulled him into deeper waters. Their struggle continued for 12 years and 13 yugs (epochs). In the end the elephant was forced to seek help from God.

God came and saw that the crocodile had torn the elephant’s wings and the elephant appeared tired and about to die. Except his nose and ears, the entire body of the elephant was under water. God used the elephant’s ears to rescue him and pull him out of the water. This is how the ears of the elephant widened. God then removed the remainder of his wings, as when the elephants descended from the skies to the land they would destroy houses and life on earth. Thus, the God ordained that elephants would no longer be able to fly.


Translated from Hindi and excerpted from the book titled 'Prakriti Putra Baiga' by Dr Vijay Chaurasia, published by Madhya Pradesh Hindi Granth Academy, Bhopal.




Chaurasia, Vijay. 2004. Prakriti Putra Baiga. Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Hindi Granth Academy.


Elwin, Verrier. 1944. Folk-Tales of Mahakoshal. London: Oxford University Press.


Nirgune, Basant. 1989. ‘Baiga, Saharia aur Shahdol ke aadivaasiyon ki mith kathaayein' in Adivasi Lok Kathaayein, edited by Niranjan Mahavar, 137–68. Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Lokkala Parishad.