Rotti brings people together

Rotti Habba is one of the few festivals in the state that herald the joy of weaker sections. 
Naturally, it has strong connections with soil and physical labour. 

In most parts of North Karnataka and a few parts of Telangana, South Goa and Maharashtra, the Habba is celebrated during Shravana, which falls between July and August.

Since it is an essential part of Naga Panchami festival, it is also known as Rotti Panchami

The celebration involves preparation of jolada rotti or jowar roti, a flat thin bread made of sorghum flour. Jolada rotti has been the staple food in most districts of North Karnataka. Rotti is also called bhakri in some places. 

Jolada rotti and various other dishes are prepared using sorghum flour in Andhra Pradesh, South Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat.

“Rotti Habba is associated with nutritional value, weather conditions and farming practices,” says Shivaputra Patil, a progressive farmer from Vijayapura town. 

Affordability of sorghum seems to make it popular among agricultural labourers and socially and economically weaker sections.  

Preparations begin early

Women start preparing for the Habba at least a week before it is celebrated. Apart from jolada rotti (sorghum bread), they also prepare sajje rotti using pearl millet flour.

Black sesame is added to the flour while preparing the dough, as it is highly nutritious and keeps the body warm in the rainy season. Once prepared, the rottis are kept near traditional furnace so that they become hard, crisp and flat. 

These crisp variants, called khadak rotti, can be preserved for months. As North Karnataka is a dry region, most farmers reap a single crop in a year. People, therefore, needed a simple food that could be stored for a long period. Khadak rotti came in handy as it could be stored for a minimum of six months, Shivaputra explains.

For the Habba, over a dozen palyas (subjis) are prepared using various vegetables. Palyas with pulses, grains and cereals as ingredients are also prepared.

The Habba will be incomplete without dry and wet chutneys, besides over half a dozen salads. Dry chutneys include uchchal pudi, agasi pudi, shenga pudi, and garlic pudi

Wet chutneys include those made using ridge gourd, red chilli, green chilli, tomato, coconut, brinjal and karihindi (a type of chutney prepared using various ingredients, powder and cucumber). 

Fried green chillies, okra, bitter gourd and cluster beans are part of the course.

Greens are an integral part of the Habba. While some are cooked, fresh bunches of methi leaves, lettuce leaves, scallions, bunches of radish green, radish, safflower green, carrot, tomato, cucumber and cabbage are used for salads.

On the day of the festival, people throng the markets right from dawn.

“We buy whatever vegetables, leaf vegetables are available in the market for the Habba. We cook and keep them ready by noon,” says Shanthamma, a homemaker from Kinnal, Koppal district.

At some places, women visit temples to offer rottis, palyas, chutneys and salads.

After they are back from temples, they offer the same food to cattle and then set out to exchange food with as many houses as possible without considerations of caste and religion.

Meanwhile, they keep receiving the same food items from others.

Every member of the family, friends and relatives gather for lunch. They share rottis, palyas, salads and dry and wet chutneys prepared in different houses.

“Rotti Habba testifies the adage — the family that dines together stays together,” Shanthamma says.

Deep-rooted

Rotti Habba seems to be a deep-rooted cultural practice to develop harmony with nature, besides fostering social integration. 

Renuka Hiremath, a homemaker from Dharwad, views Rotti Habba as an occasion for people to bond over. “It keeps us connected to the members of society as we exchange rottis, besides feasting with family members, relatives and friends. The practice develops a sense of unity,” she remarks.

Every year she exchanges rottis with about
30 families in Mansur and  Managundi villages of Dharwad district.

“These are people belonging to different castes, communities and religion, but we feel like we all belong to the same family,” she says.

“I’ve been an eye-witness to Rotti Habba for the last 80 years,” says R R Magalad, a retired headmaster in Alwandi, Koppal district.

Rotti Habba is an equaliser as well. People exchange rottis irrespective of their social strata. The basic purpose of the festival is to create equality, he adds.

According to Magalad, neither history nor religious texts have any reference of this festival.

“More than a religious practice, it is basically a social practice. People equate rottis with prasada offered at temples. Perhaps, it is the only festival that surpasses discrimination between the rich and the poor,” he says.

“The sorghum we harvest is of excellent quality. Rottis made using that sorghum could be stored for months. In the past, sorghum would be stored in granaries. About 50 years ago, we accidentally discovered a granary full of sorghum. Even elders of two generations didn’t know about it. The granary was over 100 years old. The sorghum was still fresh. We made rottis using it and celebrated the Habba,” he recalls.

For Magalad, Rotti Habba is a classic example of social harmony.

Prof Tejaswi Kattimani, vice-chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Amarkatnak, Madhya Pradesh, identifies Rotti Habba as a festival that strengthens the bond between the soil and farmers. “We worship rottis while celebrating the Habba. I always accompanied my mother when she visited the temple at Hatalageri village in Gadag district to offer rottis to the deity,” Kattimani, who hails from Koppal district, says.

The practice of offering rottis to deities is in practice even today in many villages of North Karnataka.

For Kattimani, the Habba was launched as a cultural response to the festivals that are centred around rice.

“Poor people couldn’t afford to buy rice. They were dependent on rottis. Rotti Habba began to establish the superiority of sorghum,” he explains.

According to him, the Habba could be a centuries-old practice. It speaks volumes about productive capabilities of weaker sections.

“I believe that the festival existed in different forms since the time millets began to be consumed by humans. They did not just prepare, exchange and consume rottis, but revered it,” Prof Kattimani adds.

Cultural critic Prof Basavaraj Donur of Central University Karnataka, Kalaburagi, terms the Habba as a coalescence of cultures.

“The mass exchange of rottis should be seen in the context of mass culture. The festival has secular credentials as it is the result of the confluence of different types of cultures,” he explains. 

Revival needed

Change in farming practices and seasons due to global warming and the erosion of varietal diversity seem to have affected the Habba.

“We should explain the importance of Habba to the new generation. We should include festivals like Rotti Habba in the curriculum,” he adds.

“We should promote Rotti Habba as it brings people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds on a single platform, where they sit and eat together. The Habba promotes socialisation which is crucial for a social order that leads to mutual respect and love,” Prof Donur says.

It’s celebration time in North Karnataka as people bond over rottis today.

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