Bastar tribes unite

Bastar tribes unite

Bastar tribes unite

Chitra Ramaswamy writes about the world’s longest Dussehra and its ritual-ridden celebrations in Chhattisgarh.

Heaven and earth erupt in a kaleidoscope of colours. The reverberating sound of dhol, tudbudi and dhapra and the music from muhri or flute float through the air. Then, there is the all-pervading sound from the buffalo-horned trumpet, hakum. A seven-year-old lass, who until then was mischief personified, assumes a serious demeanour as a saree is draped around her, and her forearms are bedecked with jingling glass bangles in motley colours.

The venue is Kachangadi Temple in the outskirts of Jagdalpur in Bastar district (Chhattisgarh), dedicated to Kachan Devi, a tribal goddess belonging to the Panikas, a weaver community. A huge crowd collects outside the temple, the doors of which open only once a year during Dussehra.

Several cameramen and photojournalists jostle for space to capture the electrifying proceedings. The young girl is possessed by the goddess and is led to a swing made of thorny bel tree twigs. She gets into a trance, holds up a sword, and gives a floral wreath to the Maharaja of Bastar, thus granting divine sanction for Dussehra celebrations to begin.

The sound of firecrackers drowns the music. Possessed sirhars and angas gyrate wildly amongst the crowd. The sea of humanity moves to another venue, Gol Bazaar. It is to get the consent of Goddess Raila, yet another pre-puberty girl from the weaver community, possessed by Kachan Devi’s goddess sister. To the sound of dhankul, consent of Raila is also given, and Dussehra festivities are thrown open.

Bastar Dussehra, lasting all of 75 days, beginning with the pata jatra puja on the new moon day in Shravan month, is the world’s longest Dussehra celebrations. And strangely enough, the festival has nothing to do the Ramayana or with the worship of Goddess Durga. Dussehra in Bastar is devoted entirely to Goddess Danteshwari, the clan deity of the Kakatiya dynasty that held sway over the region in the 15th century.

The ritual-ridden celebration, which originally began as a Hindu festival, now has a distinct aboriginal character. Bastar comprises the districts of Jagdalpur, Dantewada and Kanker. Seventy per cent of its three million people belong to various tribes, predominant among them being the bison-horn Marias, the Abuj-Marias, Murias, Halbas, Bhatras and Dorlas.

Fiercely protective of their heritage and with minimal interaction with the urban world, Bastar tribes wear their antiquity literally on their sleeves. This is evident in weekly markets, where the barter system reigns and cockfights are common. Nothing is more distinctive of the Bastar tribals than their love for music, dance and liquor.

The main event of the festival is the visit of Danteshwari to Jagdalpur. It is feast time for her and her sister Maoli.

Another vital aspect of Dussehra here is the procession of twin-chariots — one four-wheeled and another eight-wheeled, both of which are crafted entirely from wood each year, without the use of nails or metal appendages. Danteshwari, who is worshipped as Durga in the temples of Dantewada and Jagdalpur, is represented in an uniconic way, as are all other village deities, symbolised by silver umbrellas or chattra held aloft by decorated bamboo sticks of varying sizes.

Rituals

Though the main events last for 16 days, the festival has several components going up to 75 days, including the sacrifice of animals. Wood has a special significance for Bastar tribes. The sequence of events takes off with cutting and consecrating the wood required for constructing chariots. Pata jatra ritual involves a log of wood being placed at the Lion Gate of palace-temple on Hareli amavasya.

This is followed by deri gadhai or the posting of twin pillars in Bhadon month in the town hall, the hub of Dussehra activities. While carpenters from Beda Umargaon build the two-tiered chariots, the heavy ropes for pulling them are twined by the tribals of Karanji, Kesarpal and Sonabal villages.

Women, young and old, dressed in vibrant clothes and ornaments, queue up outside the Danteshwari temple complex for kalash sthapna, to place pots of sprouting wheatgrass and ghee-filled lamps.

The jogi-bitai ceremony follows in the evening with a young lad from Halba community acting as a temporary ascetic for a period of nine days. With tribal music and dance, he sits in a rectangular pit in the town hall, which is partially covered with wooden planks. The jogi undertakes a nine-day fast of sorts, partaking of milk and fruits in the early hours of morning each day.

Bastar Dussehra also involves the rath parikrama or chariot circuit of the four-wheeled; floral chariot or the phool rath, the day after jogi bitai; nisha jatra or nocturnal jaunt on a full moon day in Ashwin month; and the spectacular bheetar and baahar raini or the inner and outer circuits on Vijayadashami and Ekadashi days.

The smaller chariot is pulled by youth from Kachorapati and Agarwara hamlets, while the main chariot is pulled by bison-horn Marias of Killepal village.

The festivities conclude with the Kanchan jatra or thanksgiving to Kachan Devi, muria darbar or conference of the king and ohadi or farewell to all the deities in the month of Ashwin. So, if in the mood for Dussehra still, you know where to head.

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