Randhi cho beti, Baat cho kheti,
Kanak chudi dhaam.
Bana-pata ke ochha noni,
Khindik raho thaan.
The lines from a Halbi song invites the people of village to come and celebrate the season of life giving and nurturing showers. The singer calls out to the hands that have worked and toiled hard to till the earth, to come forth, to rejoice and be drenched in the rejuvenating showers of monsoon.
One comes across many such songs in Gondi, Halbi and Chhattisgarhi– to mark the celebratory season of saavan. These songs celebrate the vibrant life shared with nature, as nature comes to life after an expending summer. It feels like a blanket of green has taken over every hill and every patch of land. As we step into the second week of June, the first drops of rain quench the parched red soils of Bastar; as the earthy smell rises in the air. It is an invite to all, for a season full of celebration across the region. Monsoon is the season that marks and defines the intense and intimate relationship between the Adivasis and their forests, the nature– from whom the Adivasis draw their very existence, their culture, their ethics and their everyday life. As one travels through the dense forests of Bastar, the vibrant greens of the forest only remind one of how it is that these forests are a cradle of life– life that has been nurtured for centuries and is richly reflected in the daily lives of the people of Chhattisgarh.
Through this article, an attempt has been made to highlight the festivals that are found to be of great significance to the people of Chhattisgarh in the contemporary times. Through an almanac drawn around seasons, one also seeks to bring forth the festivities and rituals that define the bonds shared by the people with their surroundings- mentions of which are also found in the rela geet (traditional songs) of the Koyaturs (people of the Koya (mahua), also popularly known as the Gonds)- that celebrate the profound relationship with nature. Through songs, rituals, through every day practices and events we find instances of how life has come to revolve around the seasons and nature– fabric of life- beautifully interwoven with the processes of nature. Many ethnographers like Verrier Elwin, Eyre Chhatterton, Christoph Haimendorf, and Wilfred Grigson have provided detailed descriptions of festivals that are born out of the close bonds shared between man and nature. One of the popular remnants of that time in the present is the celebration of Hariyali, which marks the culmination of ‘jutai’, when farmers come together to worship their ancestors, soil, and seeds that have been carefully sown. Through this ritual- farmers place the crop in the care of nature, and the furman of the ancestral deities. It is then that the work of the man and his instruments stop, and the crops are handed over to nature, for it to nurture the seeds. Pola on the other hand is a festival of celebrating labor of the animals– particularly, the oxen. Gratitude is offered to the draught animals that contribute to the process of cultivation. Pola thus, is an acknowledgement of their labor, without which the labor of man would remain incomplete. We also hear of a festival, Kurum Pandum– a new eating harvest festival of the Adivasis, which is slowly disappearing from the practice of people, although it remains alive in their memories.
However, with evolving times and increased interactions between various Adivasi and non-Adivasi cultures, we also find, that newer practices are finding their way into the everyday lives of the people in the state. Two of which have become integral to the lives of the people– these are the festivals of Teeja and Ganesh Chaturthi. Although, the folklorist may trace the festival of Teeja to the Halbis, however today, Teeja is celebrated across various communities in Chhattisgarh. These festivals are borne of the correspondence between different cultures, a confluence of varying degrees of life ethics and the impact of interaction with the people from the state and beyond the territorial and cultural boundaries of the state. This rendition emerges as a result of decades or perhaps even centuries of interactions between the Adivasis and the non-Adivasis cultures– this confluence is manifested in the syncretism that appears in the festivities– where we hear slogans praising lord Ram in a pandal set for Lord Ganesh.
For the overview article, I begin with an elaborate discussion of the agricultural almanac of the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, and then progress to discuss the festivals, old and new, but immensely integral to lives of the people of Chhattisgarh.
Festivals and the Lives of the Adivasis
Wilfred V. Grigson (1938) in his ethnographic description of the Maria Gonds in Bastar, discusses how the life of the Maria Gonds is primarily directed towards ‘raising of food from the earth– either by cultivation or by fishing, hunting or trapping’ (p. 125). He writes, that the pattern and practice of cultivation is so central to an Adivasi society, that it determines the ‘location of his village and guides his relationship with his wife’ (ibid). While elaborating on the practice of cultivation, he further elaborates that agriculture comes to guide an Adivasi’s time and, arrangement of his social life. And this is true, not only of Maria Gonds, but also of many farming communities across Chhattisgarh. Their festivals, as Grigson elaborates, about the life of the cultivators- are designed to either celebrate ‘the benevolence of earth, ancestors and clan-gods towards the crops to be sown, or to celebrate the first eating of each of the main crops, and the final harvest, in the spirit of communal thanksgiving. The human population to him is the crop of men, that the Bhumi or Earth raises for the clan, or for the Ruling Chief’ (1938, p 125).
Similarly, accounts of such festivities can be found in Christoph von Furer Haimendorf and Eyre Chatterton’s work in their ethnographic discussion of the Gonds. For the discussion, we find that after Grigson, the most detailed description of the cultivators’ society is by Verrier Elwin. Elwin through his rich account of the Muria’s (1947), describes how the life of Muria Gonds was centered on food, of which agriculture forms an integral part. And this is often reflected in the idioms and metaphors of the daily life. To mark the significance of cultivation to the life of the Gonds, Elwin cites the following metaphor that “it is as bad for a Muria to fail in his cultivation as for a monkey to slip from a branch” (p. 24). As he proceeds to discuss the life of the community and the role of Cheliks and Motiaris in Ghotuls (young members of the Ghotuls), he discusses elaborately the activities of cultivation around the year that guide the festivals and ceremonies.
We find that the list Elwin drew of the chief festivals of the Murias (1947, p 29) still finds relevance today. However, even though the list was drawn from the lives of a particular Adivasi group, we find that with time these festivals have become part of the larger group of farming communities across the region. Many Adivasi communities across Bastar are found to be adhering to this list or a slightly varied form of the list of the festivals listed below:
- Irpu Pandum- (February–March): The ceremonial gathering of the first fruits of Mahua tree and feast, at which some of them are eaten.
- Marka Pandum- (March): A ceremonial feast of the first Mangoes and any other wild fruit that may be ready, such as Tendu, Char or Karmata
- Kurum Pandum- (August): The first eating of the small grains and millets.
- Korta or Puna Pandum (September): The first eating of the new rice, together with gourds and cucumbers (the festival is popularly known as Navakhaani).
- Jata Pandum (December to January): Often called the Pupul Pandum, the first eating of pulses and beans, and use of sesame and castor oil.
As we travel across the region, one becomes aware of new harvests or fruits that can be consumed. There must be a first eating ceremony in honor of the earth which has given the crop. While the ceremonies are alike, Elwin continues to write, the difference lies in the different fruits and grains that form the bulk of the feast (1947). These ceremonies are not only a ritual of gratitude offered to earth and nature, but to the ancestral deities who are responsible for the furman or well-being of the village.
The ethics of collective labor are not only restricted to the Hill Marias of Grigson’s description, who regarded crops as the result of the combined labour of the village rather than of individuals (1938). Brijmohan Mandavi (ritual head of Banoli, Kanker) shares, that cultivation is a process of collective labor– ‘if and when one suffers, all suffer with him’; and thus, all come together to support the old and the needy and to help each fellow villager to get through the substantial parts of the agricultural cycle. In raising the crops, then, the village and not the individual cultivator is the unit. People come together to sow and reap, to thresh and winnow, to make offerings to earth and guardian deities, collectively, as also to celebrate the new eating ceremonies.
Mandavi helped me draw the following almanac which aligns very closely to the almanac discussed in Elwin’s work among the Muria Gonds of Bastar (1947, p 31). Through this almanac he explains, how ritual ceremonies are embedded within the cycle of agriculture.
- January– Bhimul Pandum, the festival of the rain god. Pupul, Korta Tinda and Pen Karsita; the new eating festival of new harvests of pulses, also known as Jata Pandum. Posh Kolang or Chherta (form of folk dance) is performed by the cheliks of Ghotuls. Til oil-seed is also reaped during this time.
- February- Kare Pandum, after which people may cut grass, bamboos and may begin cutting trees for their dippa and parka clearings (form of shifting agriculture). The Madhais festivals, great semi-religious commercial fairs begin and continue to be organized in various places until April.
- March- Irpu Pandum, the festival of the Mahua tree. This is an important festival for Gonds who identify themselves as Koyaturs (the people of Koya– Mahua). Marka pandum or popularly known as Amakhani or Ama madhai– the festival of new Mangoes; and Til Khaani– festival of oil seeds is held about this time. The marriage season begins and continues through the month of May. People collect Mahua flowers, Tendu leaves and wood.
- April– Wijja Pandum, the seed festival, preceded by a ceremonial hunt to purify and protect the villages. This also means beginning of hot weather and many marriage ceremonies.
- May– Local ceremonies are performed to ensure a good harvest and rainfall.
- June- As rains begin, so does ploughing and sowing, fencing of gardens and repairs of houses, thatching and other repairing work for protection against rain.
- July– Amawas and Hareli festival. Stilts are made on the day of Pola, which is celebrated a few days after Hareli
- August- Heavy rains during the month. Kurum Pandum (first millets are consumed) is celebrated during this time. We find, that with time Kurum Pandum has also begun to be celebrated as Navakhaani.
- September- Rains comes to an end. At the end of the month, Korta Pandum (also known as Navakhani) is celebrated. It is the festival of first time consumption of the new rice, cucumbers and gourds. On the day after this festival, stilts are broken and are piled on the stone of Bhimul Pen.
- October- Nuku Nordana Pandum, before which the new rice must be washed. The Dusshera festival attracts thousands to Jagdalpur and Bara Dongar. Everyone becomes busy with reaping post Dusshera.
- November- Entails a busy month in the fields. Reaping, thrashing, winnowing, and storing the grain keeps everyone occupied.
- December- In some villages and areas, Jata Pandum is held in this month. People cut their sarson crops and store them. They collect myrabolans till the end of January.
These festivals offer a rubric of events- to celebrate the idea of communal property, where ancestral deities are invoked to protect the people living in those territories. Through the deities and their worship, Mandavi explains that a system of governance is brought into place, guided by the deep bonds shared with nature and the ancestors. Within this system, the natural and supernatural share an intimate relationship with man and his communes. However, while the events listed above may appear to be centered around the new eating festivals, celebrating the fruits of labor; two festivals in particular celebrate the process of laboring- these are the festivals of Hareli and Pola. These festivals, unlike any other, are centered around offering gratitude to the power of labor that goes into the process of cultivation.
Figure 1: Hareli: Celebration of the Gift of Hariyali, Village Ranwahi, Hatkarra-Korar Road, Korar, Kanker
Hareli, a festival of the kharif season is celebrated in the month of asadh on Shravan Amavasya. Hareli is a celebration of hariyali- a festival of gratitude for the greenery on earth. It is celebrated to offer gratitude for two particular reasons. One is for the protection of the cattle and the livestock and, for the protection of people from diseases and black magic. On the other hand, Hareli is a festival which marks the end of the labor of farmers and his tools. It is on this day, that farmers come together to clean their implements. It means, that the implements will no longer be needed and no longer will the farmers toil in the field. Now the crop will be cared and nurtured by the nature.
Pola, on the other hand is a festival that celebrates the labor of the animals– the oxen that plough the fields. Celebrated on the day of Pithori Amavasya (new moon day) in the month of bhado, is also called Kushopatini Amavasya. Pola is celebrated after the second round of weeding of the monsoon crop, after the grains of rice begin to form. The farmers come together to make offerings, in order to respect and acknowledge the labor of the draught animals. It is also believed that on this day goddess Annapurna is impregnated. The belief is held that as goddess Annapurna is impregnated, the ‘rice grains are filled with milk which would develop into grains’.
It may be found that Pola is celebrated differently among the various farming communities across Chhattisgarh. In few Adivasi areas, rituals are performed in the night by the eldest married male member of the family. Late at night, worship is offered to god Bhainsasur and goddess Bai Rao. It is believed that these rituals, that are performed during the nocturnal hours are to impregnate the crops. Many cite, that it is due to this reason that this ritual is performed only by married men of the household. It is believed that the fertility of the seed is boosted if the blood of the sacrificial animal is sprinkled over the crop. Therefore, sometimes animal sacrifice may also be offered during the ceremony; although today, people prefer to sacrifice hens instead of bigger (and therefore, expensive) animals.
As the almanacs inform the readers, there is another festival that is celebrated in the month of August– Kurum Pandum or Navakhaani, as people now call it. However, even though the mention of the festival appears in narratives and conversations across Bastar, but the festival is increasingly fading away from practice. We often hear about a Navakhaani, which is celebrated in the month of August, but many are not aware of the grains to be consumed after the new eating ceremony. The harvest and consumption of kharif crop– which is paddy for most farmers begins after the month of September. And thus, Navakhaani for rice is observed post-harvest, that is, in October. Thus, one wonders what constitutes the new eating ceremony that is to be celebrated in the month of August. One finds a description of Kurum Pandum in the ethnographic works of Grigson and Elwin– a ceremony performed by the Adivasis before consuming the new harvest of millets.
Grigson elaborately discusses that Kurum Pandum was observed towards the end of August (Kurum Pandum is still observed in the end of August)- was the earliest of the new-eating or first-fruits ceremonies of the cultivated crops (in this case, the early-ripening millets of a particular variety of millets- the erka and penda fields, especially chikma (Panicum miliare)) (1938, p 215). In certain places this festival is also known as Kadi Pandum. Grigson continues to discuss in detail, that in ordinary villages where there was no pen (log-god), the first part of the celebrations take place at the kadri-bera field before the Bhimul post, which for this ceremony is regarded as the space of the village guardian deity. On the day of the ceremony, early in the morning of the appointed day, the women early in the morning begin to clean the ground in front of their houses, plaster the floors with cow-dung and water and, then go to a pool or pond to bathe and wash clothes. People also buy new clothes for the day of celebrating the eating of the new millets (only those who can afford).
The rituals for the day involve assembling of men at the kadri-bera field around noon, where the usual rectangle is cleared and cleaned by the perma (the priest) around the Bhimul post. For the ceremony a dwarf fence of saja twigs stuck in the ground is made on the three sides of the rectangle, with a carpet made of saja leaves. Grigson describes that the ceremony begins with the perma who stands to the west of the Bhimul post, and, facing east, addresses the village mother (the guardian deity of the village), praying and bowing before her. Grigson documents, that the villagers subscribed for a pig, a white cock and eggs for a sacrifice; sometimes even a young bull is stolen for this purpose (ibid). The perma, as usual, brought wet rice for the lokana test of the victims, and spread it on the saja leaves, laying the eggs in a row before the goddess. As part of the rituals, he would sacrifice the cock and pig, sprinkle their blood over the goddess and over each of the saja leaves and, break the top of each of the eggs with his knife. Then he would offer the goddess ears of chikma, other early millets and, mountain rice. If the latter is not yet in ear, he would offer a flowering rice stalk. He would then prostrate with his palms flat on the ground, he belches, and prays to the goddess as their mother to ‘accept these first-fruits, to grant them grace to have their new-eating feast, and to save her witless children from all troubles and adversity’ (Grigson 1938, p 215).
Grigson (1938, p 216) continues to discuss how perma then would hand each man one of the bloodstained saja leaves, and, leaving someone to watch over the slain victims, all go and bury the leaves in their fields. Each man then brings a handful of old rice from his house to the kadri-bera field and hands it over to the perma, who cooks the bodies of the sacrificed offering and the rice separately and distributes them to the men, who eat their share there.
Meanwhile the women, for whom it is tabooed to attend the ceremony in the kadri-bera field and the burial of the leaves, prepare meal from the new millets and mountain rice. The rather green grains are roughly threshed, parched in a broken earthen crock held over the fire, pounded with the uspal husker, winnowed free of husks and ground between two hand mill-stones with a quantity of salt. some even mix in a little gur sugar. The wife of every head of the family cooks the new flour in a Hanal Kunda or Pot of the Departed (that in which oil is placed in the name of the newly dead), along with new vegetables from the bari, other than gourds, beans and cucumbers (ibid).
When the head of the family returns from the sacrificial meal already described, he brings with himself the junior members of his family (but not his wife-clan relatives), some of whom would bring small chickens. He offers these as sacrifices to the ancestors; offers them some of the new flour and vegetables, and pours mahua spirit and landa on the floor of the corner of the wijja-lon room that is dedicated to the ancestral deities. The new flour and vegetables are then eaten in his house by them, their wives and their unmarried children; but no one from any other clan may participate, and on that day no one gives anything away from his house, not even fire from their hearth.
On the next day, however, the usual remains-eating feast (Hara Tindana) in the houses, to which the members of the family are free to invite friends, brother-clan and wife-clan relatives, whom they regale on mahua spirit and on landa. Evenings are spent dancing- the korlam dance with men and women dancing separately in their usual manner.
In villages where there is a log-god and a Mataguri or hut-shrine of Mata or the village guardian deity, the sacrifices on the first day are made before each- the penna with three or four mediums officiating at the former, and the priest of Mata (Mata pujari) at the latter. In some villages, there is a separate hut close to the shrine (pen Yawar) of the log-god or clan-god and to the Mataguri, and a separate priest of the ancestors, and offerings are thus, made separately for the three deities (Grigson, 1938, p 218).
After this pandum everyone is free to eat the new early millets and garden vegetables other than gourds, cucumbers, beans and pulses. The practice as to mountain rice varies, for there is still the Korta Pandum or rice first-fruits ceremony to follow. In some places people are free to use and cook the new mountain rice in any way they like after the Kurum Pandum. In others, it must be cooked or roasted without being first washed in water until the Nuka Nordana Pandum has been held, which coincides roughly with Diwali. The Korta Pandum– Navakhaani for rice comes about a month after the Kurum Pandum and, is the celebration of the first eating of the new rice of the main crop and of new cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds.
Unlike the Kurum Pandum, it is a purely domestic ceremony with no public offerings, though the date for it is fixed for the whole village by the usual elders' meeting. It takes place in the first or second week of Kuar, i.e. in early October.
With shifting agricultural and consumption practices, we observe that lesser and lesser number of people now rely on millets for their source of grains. As generations of people are increasingly shifting towards rice as their preferred choice of grains, the festival of Korta Pandum is gaining precedence over Kurum Pandum- such that the latter is beginning to be remembered as Navakhaani, celebrated in August. Although, a few of the older generation still remember the rituals and significance of this pandum of new millets, however, as the newer generations are moving away from the consumption of millets, with time all that would remain of the elaborate ritual of Kurum Pandum is a faint memory and a fleeting mention in the folklore of the Adivasis.
Festival: Source of Collective Joy
Speaking of the rituals and ceremonies of the old, one finds that with the contemporary times, festivals which were once perhaps alien to the region are gaining significance. We find that besides Rakshabandhan and Janmasthmi, which are predominantly known to be Hindu festivals, Ganesh Chaturthi and Teeja have become an integral part of the ritual calendar of the people of Chhattisgarh.
Interestingly, one is often quickly led into believing that Teeja, in particular has been imported from the other parts of India, particularly the northern regions. However, when we delve into the cultural and ritual history of this festival, we find that Teeja can be traced to the community of Halbas who had once accompanied the king as his troops from the southern parts of the country. Today the community of Halbas are no longer recognized as outsiders, but rather as communities’ indegenous to Bastar. We also find many of the rituals, which were originally celebrated by the Halbis is increasingly becoming part of the Adivasi almanacs. One such is the practice and ritual of Jagar or jagaran, which today manifests in the day and night long worship ceremonies offered to Lord Ram– popularly known as Ramsatta or Ramdhun. Jagar, as practiced by the Halbis was jagna or yagna to invoke the deities. People across the Adivasi villages also organize night long worship.
In a similar fashion, Teeja too, a festival that can be traced to the Halbis and other settler communities, is now being celebrated widely across the state. One can see the beauty of the syncretistic practices, a feature particular to the Indian rituals and festivals.
Figure 2: People Assembled for Evening Aarti on Ganesh Chaturthi, Village Parvi, Bhanupratappur
During the celebrations and festivities, one witnesses a curious admixture of local rituals and a festival of the migrants. Ganesh Chaturthi presents a platform for the young to come together to build the pandal, decorate the idol, take care of the idol for the duration, that it is housed in the pandal and, also ensure that immersion of the idol takes place with music, drums and dancing. We are almost led into believing, that perhaps Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival of the people of Chhattisgarh, given the close proximity to the Marathi state. Yet, the festivities present a curious mixture of local and non-local rituals, a confluence of cultures, which presents an intriguing scene. One often encounters, that while the people gather together for evening aarties, the religious hymns offered to the idol of Lord Ganesha are the songs that celebrate the glory of Lord Ram. The nacha parties (popular for their theatre performances across the state) also perform as bhajan mandlis (choral groups) for Ramdhuns or Ramsattas- recitals of Ramcharitmanas- that can go on from 1 to 5 days of praise and worship. Organizing and hosting Ramdhuns are becoming increasingly popular both among the settlers and the Adivasi communities. Similarly, during Janmashtmi, a festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, we see that nacha parties perform songs offered to Lord Ram. We also find that the youth in the villages come together to organize and make arrangements for the event– wherein they are also responsible for organizing bhajans (songs of worship) to the deity. These songs, we find, are found to dedicated to Lord Ram.
Of course, this is the result of years of different cultures corresponding with each other. Cultures, that were carried by the migrant settlers in to the region and accepted by the people of the state in their idiosyncratic way. The procession, for instance, for Ganesh Chaturthi begins with a dance that can go up for hours. one observes a procession or two coming from the villages in the days following Chaturthi. People dancing with reverence and joy, the idol is seated and taken for immersion with songs blaring out of the sound systems (DJ sets), which may not necessarily be dedicated to Lord Ganesha. From electronically mixed bhajans dedicated to Lord Hanuman, Lord Shiva and, Lord Ram; the playlist also has popular Bollywood and Chhattisgarhi numbers with people dancing to the music with complete enthusiasm. However, while the procession bears some resemblance to the manner in which the festival is celebrated in the state of Maharashtra, the rituals and the meanings associated with these rituals vary from what is observed in the Marathi state. As many would share the festival gives them reasons to come together in evenings when people gather to collectively offer aarti.
Similarly, one may be led into misunderstanding the celebration of Teeja as the festival is celebrated in the northern parts of India. From the rituals that are performed for instance, for Kamarchhath puja in northern and central parts of Chhattisgarh, are very close to the rituals observed in the state of Bihar and Jharkhand. Accordingly, for Teeja, instead of celebrating the four kinds of Teeja, in Chhattisgarh people in the urban as well as the rural areas celebrate Hartalika Teeja, which is centered on the myth of goddess Parvati. Women visit their maternal or maiden homes, observe a fast, eat ritually prepared food and, the time is spent collectively with friends and other women while offering prayers.
The readers while they read the allied articles will observe that the festivals and rituals in Chhattisgarh in the months of saavan can largely be associated either with the processes involved in cultivation or the socio-cultural ethos born out of years of interactions between people of varying cultural and social practices.
Yet, these festivals offer an opportunity for all to come together for joy. The joy of coming together can be found in the manner in which the festivities are organized. As I share throughout the piece, that festivals both of agriculture and socio-culture confluence are harbingers of celebration. It is that time of the year, when the hardest months in a cultivators’ almanac is coming to an end, these festivals offer an avenue to celebrate hard work and labour, before the labor can be enjoyed at harvest.
Thus, these festivals offer a change away from the mundane-ness of the routine. These festivals offer opportunities to the young and old to come and celebrate, and take a break from the tireless toiling in the fields. From the ritualistic cleaning of the agricultural implements to building a pandal for Ganesh Chaturthi puja, from offering gratitude for the service of the animals to a day spent with the friends from childhood (during Teeja, when women visit their maiden villages)– these festivals are reasons to celebrate various relationship humans share with each other, with other species, with the natural and the supernatural.
Many women would share that the fasting on the day of Teeja is hardly bothersome because of the time they get to spend with their maiden family, with their friends from the childhood. They would share that the joy of meeting and collectively celebrating the festival makes fasting, worthwhile. And, this is true, not only of Teeja but all the festivals observed during the various seasons. These festivals become an opportunity to celebrate as well as acknowledge the significance of the multidimensional relationships that build the fabric of the human society and the vibrancy they bring to the everyday life.
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Elwin, Verrier. 1947. The Muria and Their Ghotuls. London: Oxford University Press.
Furer-Haimendorf, Christoph von, and Elizabeth von Furer-Haimendorf. 1980. The Gonds
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