Although commonly associated with Maharashtra, and found in Gujarat too, Varlis actually consider Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli to be their original home. A tribe of non-Aryan origin, they are the largest tribal group in the territory and constitute 62.94% of the total tribal population.
Rituals are extremely important to the Varlis – they are nature worshippers who regard the Sun and the Moon as the eyes of God. Their main deities are Naran dev, Hirwa, Himai and Waghio, and stone images of these deities are found in tree groves. A Bhagat plays the Ghangal (a musical instrument made from gourd,
bamboo and iron strings) and performs the rituals.
Traditionally the Varlis wear a loin cloth with a small waist coat and a turban. The women wear a knee length, one yard saree – Lugden – and adorn themselves with silver and white metal ornaments.
The term Dhodia seems to be derived from Dhundi, which means a small thatched hut, and the Dhodias are primarily hut dwellers. They reside mostly in the northern part of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. They are known to be the most educated among all the tribes and are good cultivators. Some own enough farm land to be able to earn a decent livelihood.
Traditionally the men wear a white knee length dhoti with a shirt or waist coat, white or coloured caps and ornaments like earrings and silver chains around their waist. The women wear a knee length dark blue saree with an aanchal worn from the front and left loose at the back. Popular accessories include colourful bead necklaces, and metal ornaments such as bangles or thick kadas around their ankles.
The Koknas derive their name from the Konkan region in West India. They have land of their own, produce paddy and are better cultivators than the Varlis. With the introduction of formal education many of them have moved up the social ladder.
Koknas well built and both men and women often tattoo their bodies, especially their foreheads. The men wear a dhoti up to the knees, with a waist coat or shirt and a turban. The women wear traditional colourful sarees that are either knee length or full length.
The Kathodis, called Katkari in the Thane district of Maharashtra, make up 0.08% of the total tribal population of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. Their name is derived from their profession of kattha or catechew making.
They are considered to be at the bottom of the tribal social ladder. They usually live in forests, in semi-permanent settlements. Most of them cut wood and collect charcoal. The government has tried to improve their standard of living by engaging them in permanent professions. They wear minimal jewelry; what is worn adorns the women only.