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Socio-cultural Significance of Madai: In conversation with Pandit Ram Nareti

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Translation of the Hindi transcript of an interview conducted by Arunpol Seal in 2018 with Gondi scholar Pandit Ram Nareti

Arunopol Seal: What is Madai?

 

Pandit Ram Nareti: Madai is a festival of deos and devis (gods and goddesses).

 

 

A.S.: In which season is it celebrated?

 

Pt. R.N.: It is generally celebrated between January and March. It is a post-harvest festival. People harvest their crops, and then once they have some cash in hand, they buy necessary things, such as pots, pans, utensils or jewellery at the Madai.

 

 

A.S.:  What is the connection between marriages and Madai?

 

Pt. R.N.: Generally, marriages are arranged before the Madai. Whatever is required for the marriage is bought during Madai.

 

 

A.S.: Please explain in detail how Gondi cultural and spiritual practices (pen shakti) constitute the events of the Madai?

 

Pt. R.N.:  In villages, the devi of the lineage is worshipped. The gaita(priest) is responsible for the worship of the  devi of the lineage (also called Jimidarin). Devis and deos from surrounding villages are invited for the Madai by the host village. Although every Jimidarin has her seema (boundary), all deos and devis within the boundary of the host devi (Hatiyarin) are invited. The gaita and the kotwar are responsible for calling out and inviting the devis and the deos along with their sevaks (worshippers) for the Madai. They are also responsible for arranging the Madai and setting up the market.

 

 

A.S.: How are Madais different from other melas?

 

Pt. R.N.: Every area and every gaita will worship a different devi. So the nature of the ritual may differ from place to place, such as the rituals of Amaa-bera might be different from that of Durgkondal. At times, the Hatiyarin also sends someone to accompany the invited devi to the Madai. It is a festival when devis and deos who are also related to each other have a chance to meet.

 

 

A.S.: What are the rituals involved? How long does a Madai go on?

 

Pt. R.N.: Here it goes on for one day.  Down south towards Bastar it goes on for five to eight days. The most important ritual of the Madai is when the devis and the deos  go around the market three to four times. It is during this time that ladies with young children offer them murra and flower garlands. At times, they give the garland to the possessed sevak or to the dang itself. The phera or yatra (when the devis and the deos move around the whole market with possessed sevaks who carry the wooden medium which is believed to be a structure in which the spirit of the deo lives) is done to protect the market from evil influences. After the phera, singing and dancing continues at the deo sthal where the wooden mediums in which the devis and the deos live (anga or dang)  are brought to rest by the possessed sevaks. At the end of the day, the gods and goddesses return home having obtained permission from the host deity .

 

 

A.S.: We have observed that the market of the Madai is of great importance for people of the villages as one can observe people buying clothes, rations and utensils in large quantities.  Jewellery made of silver are also bought ... what is the reason behind such large-scale buying?

 

Pt. R.N.: Most of the valuable stuff that one requires during marriages are bought during the Madais. Metal jewellery, such as those made of gold and silver, are the most common. My father bought seven tola (a measuring unit) gold for me. I never had any desire to wear gold jewellery, and now that gold will be used for my younger son's wedding. When I was young, bigger traders would only come to the villages during Madai, and it was during this time that most valuables became accessible to the people. Today, most of such valuables are available throughout the year. Back then, it was only once a year that the jeweller came to the village; whether he sold gold at a cheap rate or not, one never had a choice but to buy it from the traders during the Madai. Consequently, most marriages were planned right after the Madai. Most engagements happen post Deepawali, and during Madai most of the required things are bought.

 

 

A.S.: Ethnographers such as Grigson have written that many other communities participate in Madais alongside Gonds; in what capacities do they participate in Madais?

 

Pt. R.N.: Everyone can participate in Madais. It is a mela. If there is a question of exclusive access then how would business flourish? All deos who come to Madais belong both to adivasis and non adivasis. Some non adivasis also worship the same deos. Gond, Gara, Marar, Teli, Kalar are jatis that are based on the occupations that these communities practise. Without the liqour that is brewed by the Kalar, the devis of the Gonds would not answer to prayers, without the mohri of the Gara, the deos cannot be invoked. Without the maur of the Marar, marriages would not be possible. Without the Kostha’s cloth, one would not be able to worship the devi. Hence, one can say that Madai is a festival where participation of all communities is a necessity. It cannot be organized without participation of the various communities or their coexistence alongside the Gonds.

 

 

A.S.: Who is the Jimmidarin? What is the Jimmidarin's role in Madai? 

 

Pt.R.N.: If one goes to a koya punem, one gets to learn in detail who is the mother deity of the village, who takes care of the fields, who cares for the people, who cares for the market etc. Jimmidarin is the guardian deity of a village and the gaita is entrusted with the task of caring for the Jimidarin.

 

During Madai ,Jimidarin is also addressed as the Hatiyarin. When other devis and deos come from other villages to meet the Jimidarin, they also protect the market. It is under the aegis of the Jimidarin that most of the activities of a Madai take place.

 

 

A.S.: You have been observing and organizing Madais for a long time. Today, the Madai is organized in bigger as well as in smaller towns. Do you see any difference in the Madais that are organized today and the ones which used to be organized in the past?

 

What are the major shifts that you have observed in the recently concluded Madai of semar gaon?

 

 

Pt. R.N.: Today, it is mostly about business. There was business even in the past but today, the spiritual character of the festival is gradually diminishing. Initially, there used to be a lot of excitement with the approach of the Madai. People used to wait for it. But there is no longing about the Madai anymore. People can buy things that they want throughout the year and do not need to wait for the Madai. The nature of excitement has changed. The nature of involvement has also changed. People often do not associate Madai with the spiritual practices. There is big division amongst those who come to the Madais these days. Mostly people come for entertainment. People come here for the joy rides but there is barely any respect for the spirits or for the deos through whom all of it becomes possible.

 

Today the Madai is more like a saptahik bazaar (weekly market). When it comes to the question of performing rituals for the deo and devis, it is still performed with a lot of gusto; but definitely there is a change.

 

In the past, the Madais used to be organized by the gaita, patel, kotwar and other samajik siyans (seniors). In smaller villages, Madais are still organized by them; but in the larger ones, the government and the municipal corporations or the panchayats play a major role in organzing the Madais.

 

 

This content has been created as part of a project commissioned by the Directorate of Culture and Archaeology, Government of Chhattisgarh, to document the cultural and natural heritage of the state of Chhattisgarh.