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Society and Rituals in Baba Pithora Painting

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Interview with Vikesh Rathva in Vaacha Museum, Tejgadh, in 2016

My name is Vikesh Rathva. I am a resident of Koraj Fadiya near Tejgadh in Chhota Udepur district. My family is involved with farming. After I finished my MA, I started working as Assistant Curator in Vaacha Museum. While working with the Vaacha Museum, I developed an understanding of Adivasi art. When I studied them, I got a complete picture. What is Pithoro? Who is Pithoro? Why is it drawn? Who draws it? Who gets it drawn? Who does its rituals and ceremonies? In this manner I followed my study.

 

The Pithora is seen especially in the Rathva community. If some member of the family is sick, or is constantly falling sick, or some major disease infects the house, animals keep falling sick, or if somebody cannot have children, then the Ghardhani would go to the Badva. He would go to the Badva and tell him about the difficulties occuring in his home. Ghardhani will tell him everything and take a podi (bag), which has arad grains in khakhra tree leaves. The Badva will analyse the podi through his rituals and incantations and talk about the issue. After Ghardhani listens to the Badva, the latter would decide whether he wishes to resolve these issues and undertake the vow of Baba Pithora. The Badva would then chant incantations over the grains and undertake the rituals in the home. After that in one year, two years, or three years’ time when the situation or problems in the home have been resolved, the Ghardhani actually realizes that it is because of the podi-mantri, rituals by the Badva. The Ghardhani would then decide to fulfill the vow he has taken or has asked the Badva to take. He would then go to the Badva and tell him that everything for which he had undertaken the vow is as it should be, and now he wishes to undertake the rituals of Pithora. This is the process of drawing the Pithora. How is the Pithora drawn? In cases such as when somebody undertakes a vow in order to bear children, and when the child is born after the vow, the hair of the child cannot be cut until the vow is completed. Only after the vow is complete, can the hair of the child be cut. The child cannot even be married unless the vow of Pithora is fulfilled.

 

The culmination of the entire discussion between Badva and Ghardhani is the decision to draw the Pithora. When he is financially stable and can spend for the vow, then he will decide to undertake the writing of Pithora and visit the Badva. They decide the day on which to undertake the completion of the vow of Pithora. The Badva would then go to the home of Ghardhani and tell him to invite gods for the completion of the ritual of Pithora. The elders of the home and Badva would prepare notra. It is just like when you wish to invite someone to your home, you send an invitation, just like that during the celebration of Pithora every god and goddesses has to be sent an invitation. In this the painter of the painting is also called. The work of writing the painting is done by a third person, rituals and ceremonies are performed by a second person. For this notras are made of turmeric rice and are sent everywhere including devasthan (religious place/village temple or shrine). The Ghardhani would also to give this rice to the writer of the painting, to invite him to write the Pithora in his home. In this way, the writer of the painting is invited. The writer of the painting arrives a day before the actual celebration of Pithora to the home of the person who has invited him. In the entire process of writing of the painting, the first step is to bring ‘pandu’ meaning white clay that is available in a particular part of the village. This is undertaken with all its rituals, playing the dhol, villagers and family members go there and bring the clay. They would worship Mother Earth, and bring the white clay. This clay is used to make the wall chosen for painting white. Before applying the white clay, the unmarried girls from the family plaster the wall seven times with the dung of a virgin cow and after that the white clay is plastered. This makes the painting stand out. In earlier times, the paintings were done on bamboo walls, but now with progress paintings are also drawn on cement and concrete walls. The plastering ritual is still followed even if the wall does not need plastering. The Lakhara then comes and prepare the colors. He makes brushes out of bamboo, a palette of khakhra leaves, mixes the color with mahuda alcohol and the milk of a cow. To begin the painting, Lakhara requests the eldest member of the family to hold the brush and start the painting process, as it is he who has to complete the vow, while the Lakhara is the third person. Holding the brush, the elder says to god, By drawing this Pithora, I complete my vow. After this the Lakhara would start the writing of the Pithora. Depending upon the size of the wall, there could be four or five members along with a main Lakhara in the team. In such way, four or five people would then start to draw the Pithora. Simultaneously, as the painting is being drawn, the performer of the rituals, the Badva, continues to sing songs and chant the appropriate incantations. The Lakhara has to complete writing the entire painting from morning to evening on Wednesday as the entire Wednesday night is dedicated to the rituals. This way the entire painting has to be complete by 7:00 pm in the evening.

 

While the Lakhara is drawing the Pithora, the Badva would prepare an akhada (small hut) near the house, where cooking is done and ingredients of the ritual are kept. The Badva performs rituals here too. In the evening, the Badva along with musicians would go to collect branches of the kadam tree in the village. Everybody dances and proceeds to the tree, performs rituals here too and collects its branches. While cutting the branches care is taken that they do not drop on the ground. After collecting branches, the procession returns to the house, where the branches are planted in the veranda. After this ritual, the Badva begins the actual ritual ceremony of Pithora. By this time the Lakhara has finished his work, and now the Badva starts his work of performing the rituals. The ritual of Pithora would go on to around till 2:00-3:00 am in the night. This ritual explains, From where did Pithora come? Who was he? Why is it drawn? His entire story, his life, is related through singing of songs. Several gods are mentioned, wherever they have taken part in the story. Songs are sung for each god mentioned. Simultaneously, rituals are performed. Badva sings songs with his dhak (tambourine) and performs the rituals. Badva also explains various motifs in the painting. He would explain, Who is the god? Why is he drawn? He would also see to it that everything has been drawn properly, to make sure there is no flaw. He takes care of the entire process. He also performs role-playing during this ritual celebration and performs the role of Rani Kajal, dhobi in front of the Pithora. This is what happens till 2:00-3:00 am in the night.

 

After these rituals and ceremonies are completed, the animal sacrifice is done. The branches of kadam that are sown in the veranda of the house are part of the Baba Ind ritual. To conduct the ritual of Ind, Badva would come to the veranda. For this ritual, he lays down a carpet on which he places nine terracotta pots; lamps are lit, arad grain, vada (cutlet) and rice are laid out. This represents that the god himself has come to this place and in his presence all ingredients of the ritual are placed before him. Here songs related to Ind are sung, rituals are performed and incantations are chanted. While this Ind ritual is being performed, all members of the family, relatives, people of the village and neighborhood join in and dance around these branches. An atmosphere of festivity is created all around. It is not only a painting, not just a ceremony, it becomes a festival. Depending upon the family's relations, there can be around 1000-2000 people in this festival. This is a way of completing the ritual with joy and happiness. Around 5:00 am in the morning the ritual of sacrificing an animal is complete, branches of the kadam tree are picked up and taken for immersion to a river, canal or some water body in a joyous grand procession. If the vow were for an unmarried boy or a girl, he or she would be dressed like a groom or a bride in this last ritual. This becomes the finale of the ritual. While this ritual is being undertaken, fellow villagers and relatives prepare food and a grand feast is offered to everybody around afternoon. After this people go back to their everyday activities. This is the way ceremonies and rituals of Pithora are conducted.

 

After the celebration of Pithora painting is completed, the responsibility of safeguarding, looking after the gods on a daily basis is that of the Ghardhani. Badva and Lakhara after the ritual are free from their duties. During festivals like Holi, Diwali, Divaso, Akhatrij, and similar communal celebrations, the Ghardhani has to first offer food to the painting.  Every three to five years after Pithora is first drawn, a ‘pangu’ ritual is celebrated. Some do it after three years, some after five years and in such a way the painting becomes part of their daily lives. It signifies that god has taken a place for himself in the home. The place of Pithora in the home is that of a god and everything is done by first seeking his blessings. With the passage of time there have been several changes both big and small, due to the impact of urbanization. In a similar way, earlier when Pithora used to be drawn in villages on a large scale with huge celebrations, people from all communities would join. It is never like that anymore as the Rathva do it, so there will only be Rathva. Some people from communities like Nayak, Dhanak also join, as they also have Pithora in their homes. Also if you see the scale of education in these communities, every child has started going to school. The youngsters of ages around 25-30 have also started getting educated. There have been attempts to bring forward the traditions of the community. Research scholars doing MPhils, PhDs, have been looking at Adivasi society and culture from the point of view of education. These are attempts to bring forth cultural traditions of communities. Several researchers and scholars have conducted a lot of studies on Pithora, its celebration and its traditions. The painting that is done on the wall is done according to rituals, along with its ceremonies, based on the vow, and even done happily. It is done in a social way, as it is supposed to be done. If we look at it from the perspective of contemporary education system or modernity, this painting has gained recognition even abroad, in that one can see changes that have occurred in it like several Lakhara have brought it onto canvas. Due to this, awareness has grown in national and international levels about the painting. University researchers and foreign scholars have created a new perspective to view and understand this painting in terms of how it is painted? What is its history? How is it done? What are its rituals? And similar efforts have been made to look at the painting from various angles.

 

The urban folk look at it as a form of art, while for people from the villages it is attached with their rituals. In present times, people have also joined several religious sects, but I have seen in their homes they still do Pithora, which is a very good thing. As people have joined these sects they do the rituals with coconut and avoid animal sacrifice. The relation the painting has with its society despite all the changes has been preserved. Even the youth have started to realize that this painting is a medium for the identity of our community and it has to be preserved. People who have authentic information about this painting attempt to explain it in the proper way. Despite all the changes that have been seen, even the educated class in the community still look at him as their god of health.

 

When the celebration of Pithora painting is done, all relatives of the Ghardhani are invited along with everybody from the village. In this people from the entire village and neighborhood join. The specialty of this celebration is, when it is being undertaken relatives bring with them arad grain to reduce the financial burden on the Ghardhani, and also musicians like dhol and shenai players. With one member of the family, there could be 20-100 people from his neighborhood joining in. People come dancing and playing instruments to their relative’s home. The person in whose home the festival takes place, has to make arad grain vada (cutlets). As alcohol is used continuously they also bring alcohol like tadi or neero. The entire day and night of the celebration, people dance in the veranda. Shenai players only sing songs related to Baba Ind or Baba Pithora. There can be up to 10-15 dhol players. People make a circle in a space of around half an acre and dance throughout the night. People also dance around the branches sown for the Ind ritual. The women dance with a kartal (cymbal) in their hands while men dance with tir kamthu (bow and arrow) or dang (club), or dhariyu (billhook). The elders sit near the circle where people are dancing, and take care that no one is disrupting or causing nuisance. They dance all the way to the ritual of sowing the branches or ‘Javara vahani vidhi’. A big part of the identity of the culture of Rathva Adivasis can be seen through this dance form, which augments the celebration. The sound of the dhol declares that somewhere in this village Pithora celebrations are being performed, which is a form of message in itself.