More Villages, a Market and Staying Put.

October 22.

Leon, the Australian owner of the place I’m staying at brings breakfast down to the cottage. He knows that I’m not happy with the room arrangements and is trying his best to make up for it. Much more on that, later.

After breakfast, Prashant and I walk few steps to see a village getting started on day. Cow dung with water, thought to be suspicious, is spread evenly in front of houses to clean. (it’s ironic that the houses, both interior and exterior are kept so clean, while streets and public areas are laden with trash).Mandalas are drawn on the area right outside houses to welcome the goddess. Cows and people mingle. A government pump house provides water for one hour in the morning and one in the evening. Some people are using free gas provided by the government for their stoves.

Two boys, rotating each day, walk cows and goats up to the jungle to eat. On the way back, cows know their houses and peel off, so there are no marking on the cows. Mixed village, some Hindus, some tribal, from many different tribes.

We visit a second village called Lanjiguda, inhabited primarily by the Lower paroja tribe.

Photos of people below come from both villages.

Below are a few pictures of interiors of village houses

After visiting these two tribes, we drove through nice, hilly scenery, was once all forest, but tribes cut trees for firewood. The forestry department has been planting many trees. Unfortunately, the beautiful landscape is often marred by trash.

There is no road up to the hill tribes. They walk down to market once a week, which is the only place you can see them.

Our destination is the Kakiriguma Monday weekly tribal market of the Desia Kondh tribes with participation by the local community. The Kondhas are one of the well-known tribes of Orissa who were famous in history for their Meriah –Human Sacrifice. They are found almost in all the districts of Orissa but mostly concentrated in large numbers in Phulbani, Koraput and Ganjam districts.. We walked around the market and Prashant pointed out different tribes, which he could discern from the jewelry and clothing they were wearing. The number of different tribes, and variations on those tribes, is daunting.

I spent the next several hours not moving. To explain, I was unhappy with my accommodations and wrote to my travel agent to complain about it. The travel agent succeeded in finding an alternative place, which I visited and rather liked. So I decided I would move there. We went back to my original hotel and found that Leon, the owner, had convinced two of the French people to move in together thus freeing a room for me. After some fairly unpleasant exchanges, I decided, after inspecting the new room, that I would stay in my original hotel, after all. This was something of a case study of poor communication. Leon and I have buried the hatchet, and I think the decision to remain where I am is the right one. Throughout all of this, Prashant was terrific, focusing on what was best for me, being ver patient and, ultimately handled it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in my new room, working on photos and blogging. Dinner was very good, as has every meal here, including today’s lunch, which happened in the midst of the not moving period

On The Road to Kakiriguma

October 21

Breakfast at the lodge then set off for what will be a long day on the road, but broken up by several stops.

Our first stop is in Kotpad to walk around and see textiles made by tantes, who are weavers (tanta means loom). This is not a tribal village, but walking through it and looking and walking into people’s homes gives me some sense of how they live. Sometimes he speaks too fast and when he asks if I understand, I tell him, “no, you’ve got to slow down, and talk to me as if I’m a five-year old child”.

Our next stop was in Garh padder, a primitive Dharua Gond village. People here live a most simple life and, again, walking around is interesting and instructive. Prashant is able to explain a great deal of what we see and to talk to people.

We have a really delicious Indian lunch at a hotel that Prashant knows then move on to Koraput, the district headquarters, where we visit a small tribal museum. The half hour or so we spend there is worthwhile in giving me a preview of what we’ll see in the Hill Tribes.

The third village we visit, janiguda, is inhabited by the Bada Paroja tribe. Prashant is clearly known by the people in the village. He jokes with them and gives them biscuits as we walk around. I’m not all that comfortable in this village (not a physical fear). Many of the people seem drunk, which is a big issue in all the tribal villages.

From here we drive to my final hotel, Chandoori Sai. I’m to be here five nights and was looking forward to unpacking and relaxing. I’m not at all happy with the arrangement, which has me in a single room in a two-bedroom cottage for the first night, then sharing the cottage with a Spanish couple who will move into the second bedroom for two nights, after which I’ll be switched to another room for the last two nights. Not sure anything can be done about it, but I’ve written to my travel agent already to complain. I’ll survive, but it’s not the way I was planning to end my trip.

Up for dinner, where I join the French group that stayed at the Kanker Palace with me and who I ran into at the festival in Jagdalpur. They have been very welcoming to me, which I’ve appreciated. We’re served some outstanding pizza and gnocchi and a tasty apple pie for dessert. Not exactly what I came to India for, but I’ll take it.

Bastar Dushera —Day Three

October 20, 2018.

I contacted Shonali to ask her to change my schedule so that I could stay another day in Jagdalpur to witness the end of the festival, the return of the stolen chariot by the king. Prashant, who was to have been my guide today in Orissa, was informed of the change too late, so he shows up at the hotel, and joins us for the day.

After breakfast, we drive back to the palace ground and get a good taste and flavor of people living there for the festival, intermingling with the gods who have been brought there.

Jaspreet has suggested that, instead of having another omelette at the hotel, we get a South Indian breakfast in Jagdalpur. This is an excellent idea, as Jaspreet ordered me a variety of dishes, all of which were tasty, and a whole lot better than what I’d have had at the hotel.

After the breakfast, we go to another area where people who have come in for the festival have been provided space by the government.

Back to the hotel to rest, blog and lunch, before heading back out to see the chariot returned. We wander around and observe what’s going on, as tribes from all over the area appear. We see the Bison-horned Maria tribe line up and march to the chariot area.

When the festival begins in earnest, the tribes carry in their gods, four people typically carrying two decorated logs with something on top. The tribes are animist, so there are no idols or figures. Some of the gods are long, spear-like polls carried by a single person.

The procession of gods is totally wild. The carriers spin around and around, often going into the crowd. It’s a miracle (or maybe the work of the gods) that people are not seriously injured. Some people, possessed, jerk around wildly, or roll on the ground The crowd is intensely engaged. After the gods have all arrived, the king rides in to cheers on his beautiful, expensive new horse. Once again, we make eye contact, and he waves. The king disappears into a tent to say prayers and have a meal of the first harvests. After the meal, he will escort the goddess to the chariot, and the chariot and goddess will return to the palace.

After the arrival of the king, the crowd drifts back to the chariot. But there’s a problem. One of the chariot wheels has broken and needs to be replaced. We mill about. The honor guard wants to have a picture with me (not really, I suggested it).

Many, many in the crowd ask to have their pictures taken with me. Since I’ve been taking thousands of photos of Indians, it seems only fair that I reciprocate, so I do.

Jaspreet has a six-hour drive home, so he takes off with Tinku at 5PM, leaving me with Prashant and our driver, Dilip. After waiting a couple hours for the king, and despite assurances that the chariot will soon be repaired (evidently, AAA does not do chariot repair in the Bastar region), I decide that only the gods knew when this show would be back on the road again, so I tell Prashant that I’m ready to pack it in and head back to the hotel, which we do.

Dinner, blogging and to bed.

Bastar Dushera—Day Two

October 19

NOTE: FOR SOME REASON, THIS NEVER GOT POSTED, SO IM POSTING IT TODAY, NOV 21, BECAUSE IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING DAYS OF MY TRIP.

I meet Jeffrey and Winslow, who are leading the photography tour I was to be on. They are very friendly in our brief encounter and apparently knew I was there. I was anticipating a more dramatic encounter, but this is probably best for all. (Let’s hear it for my maturity.)

We drive into Jagdalpur to an area where tribal people are selling and, in some cases living, on grounds of office of the Forest Department during the festival. It’s a very interesting collection of people, and it makes for quite a good opportunity for photographs. We stayed only about 20 minutes, which was not really long enough. However, the short stay proved very fortuitous because of what followed.

My itinerary for today called for visits to two different waterfalls. I told Jaspreet that I would rather go to a village instead of waterfalls. At first we changed to just see one waterfall, but eventually eliminated them altogether.

As an aside, the weather here has been much less hot and humid than it was in Kolkata. Because of all the driving, my back has begun to hurt some, so I’ve started wearing thegirdle/brace I brought along. It’s not that bad, though, so I’ll muddle through. I’ve gotten quite a number of mosquito bites, which itch. Jaspreet bought a lotion which helps some.

Jaspreet is an A-plus guide, and, I think, an A-plus person. Two small examples. In arranging a visit with the king, Jaspreet referred to him as an “acquaintance,”. Based on my observations, I think he could legitimately have called him a “friend.” When I commented on that, Jaspreet made it clear that “friend” had a special meaning to him, that one had very few real friends.

The other example is that I discussed a tip with Jaspreet, and told him that Shonali had suggested a contribution to a charity of his choice, rather than a tip to him (he owns the agency). I said that he’d been terrific and that I’d be happy either to tip him, or to make a contribution to a charity of his choice. He said that it had been an honor to guide me and that he did not expect, nor would he accept, a tip. He’d be happy if I wanted to make a contribution to a charity, but that that would be entirely up to me and that I should just pick one, he’d trust me. I said that I’d like to give that some thought and would let him know what I’d decided. He said that I did not have to let him know, that he trusted me.

We drive to a dhurva village, passing through a beautiful national park. Unbeknownst to us, today the village we visit is holding a special puga (festival), done once a year, called Laxmi Jugar, to honor and pray to the goddess Laxmi. Jaspreet had heard and read about it but never seen the puga. It was absolutely incredible. Women praying and playing simple bow instruments while singing their prayers, witch doctors possessed, a huge painting done by members of the community covering a whole wall and containing everything from mythology to political figures to helicopters. We were extremely fortunate to witness this proceeding, which almost certainly will prove to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was authentic, with a capital “A,” maybe ALL CAPS.

Afterwards we drove to a market, which is held one day each week and sells everything from food to household items. This was one of the better markets I’ve seen. We spent half an hour there, walking around. The colors one sees everywhere in India are simply stunning. Makes it seem that we Americans live life in black and white.

After rest and coffee, on our way to festival, we encounter a huge circle of people who are watching cheering and betting on a cock fight. We stop and are escorted into the inner circle. Not exactly my thing, but part of the culture, so I’m glad we stopped, and glad that we did not stay long. On our drive, traffic is heavy, andwe share the road with cows and pass brightly-clad women, dressed finely.

We are really in the middle of two separate and distinct festivals. On the road, there is a procession of goddesses being driven to the water to be immersed in water as the end of the Durga Puga. It is mainly Bengalis who are celebrating this Hindu festival. The same time, people are headed into town for the Bastar Dushera which is what I have come to this area to see.

We walk around town for some time, what people prepare for the festival. We passed the in enormous wooden chariot that has been made to carry the goddess. Workmen are putting the final touches on the chariot and it will be decorated soon, even though the start of this part of the festival is, in theory, only an hour or so away. This huge chariot will be pulled through town by many people buy some very large robes made for the occasion. Watching this happen is one of the highlights of the trip. According to legend, the chariot will then be stolen and hidden by a tribe that has been offended by not having been invited to the festival. The next day the king will come to the rescue by finding the chariot and returning it to its rightful place.

Walking around is fun. The previous two nights, the celebrities I encountered were the king and the chief of police of Bastar. Tonight, I appear to be the sole celebrity, because all of the locals want to have their pictures taken with me. Jaspreet jokes that he is going to start selling the right to take my picture for Rs.10 each. I think he should be asking more than that. I am magnanimous in agreeing to allow people to take pictures with me, probably because I can understand so well why they would want to.

Once again Jaspreet has secured access to a rooftop across from the chariot for us to view the festivities. It is a good vantage point, and we can see all the buzzing going around the chariot and witness the chariot being pulled, when that finally happens. Emphasis on “finally “because we wait on the rooftop for about three hours before it finally does occur. There are fireworks and firecrackers, and an honor guard shoots a salute with their rifles. Pulling the huge chariot is quite a spectacle, and also quite dangerous, as it is very difficult to control and inevitably winds up bumping into and knocking over power poles, and the like. (In fact, the next morning we find several poles that have been knocked over.)

We don’t get back to the hotel until about 11:30, but I am way too tired to have dinner, so I order two cold beers and munch on the cookies and snacks that Jaspreet has purchased during the day.

Bastar Durshea—Day One

October 18

Up for breakfast at 7, lovely morning with birds chirping and greenery all around. Two English women are the only other guests and, apparently, I’ll be visiting a village with them this morning. Jaspreet arrives for breakfast, and we set out around 8AM, for what promises to be an interesting, but long day.

The blog posting is working again, which improves my disposition significantly. After exchanging many emails and trying many complex operations with my guru in the US, Glenn, ultimately the problem was with the Wi-Fi connection. So once I connected to Jaspreet’s phone, I was able to post. It’s rather ridiculous that the functioning of this damn blog seems so important, but there you have it. I had resigned myself to not posting until after I got back from India, but once I did that, the universe fixed everything. I told Jaspreet that I was going to begin calling him “the universe.”

We drove about two hours to a remote Muria village. There’s an election coming up next month in India, so wherever we’ve driven we’ve seen hordes of security forces , appearing to me like army members in their uniforms.

Two British ladies who are staying at the same place I am, travel to the same village in a separate car with their guide. At first, they did not seem to be particularly friendly or communicative, but as the day, and particularly the evening wore on, they became much friendlier. Sarah and Felicity have traveled to India many many times. They come together twice a year and travel to different parts of the country. Sarah used to be in the textile business and would come here to find master craftsman doing their work. She said that that kind of work has virtually disappeared, being replaced by more mechanical and artificial products. Sarah and Felicity travel to different parts of India together twice a year now.

Arriving at the village, we are greeted by the chief, and curious villagers appear. The Muria have mixed-sex dormitories (ghotul) where adolescents are sent to sing, dance, eat, and practice premarital sex, sometimes with a single partner but more often serially. Every male member, called chelik, and girl, called motiari, takes on a new name once he or she starts going to the ghotul. They are free to choose a partner, but partners have to be changed after a maximum of seven nights of togetherness. It is thought that this is meant to discourage jealousy and instill a sense of community.

The villagers are going to perform some dances for us, so both men and women disappear and dress for the dance. We go out into the field to a shady area and watch the dances, which are interesting and fun to watch. One of the dances includes three men, who dance on stilts. We are told that these are dances that they do every night, but frankly this seems incredible to me, and I do not believe it.

So far, the visits I’ve made to two villages have not given me much of a sense of the lives of the villagers. I have not been able to witness it, and I am hoping that the village that I go to tomorrow permits more of that.

There are periodic roadblocks and inspections along the roads wherever we drive, which apparently are heightened somewhat because of the upcoming elections. At one of the stops on the way back from the village, we encountered a guard with a rather exaggerated view of his authority. He asked to see our visas, which we produced. I stayed in the car as did the two British women, but Jaspreet got into rather heated conversation with the guards, finally succeeding in convincing them that they should permit us to pass.

I return to the lodge for a brief, one hour rest stop, then we head into Jadalpur, which is some 20 minutes from the lodge for the greeting by the king of the arriving goddess. This is a major event and attracts a huge crowd, so we get there a couple hours before the festivities are to begin.

The Bastar Dussehra is a very unique festival that lasts 75 days, reaching an awe-inspiring crescendo in the last ten days. I am there at the apex of this crescendo. Tribes from remote areas base themselves in Jagdalpur in temporary camps in order to participate in the festival.

Introduction

Bastar Dushera owes its origin to Chalukya Maharaja Purushottam Deo Kakatiya who ruled over Bastar in the XV century. He is believed to have once walked in penance from Bastar to the Jagannath temple in Puri! He returned as ‘Rath-pati’ with a divine sanction to mount a chariot. The festival, thus, is over 500 years old.

Though the origin of the festival was Hindu in nature, it soon assimilated many elements of the local primitive tribes. The festival thus has acquired a distinct aboriginal character. Dushera, more than anything else, is symbolic of the composite character of the state in Bastar, where the Hindu kings did not impose upon their tribal subjects their ‘superior’ culture: instead, they assimilated worthy elements from the culture of various tribes and evolved a unique, local amalgam.

Description of the Bastar Dushera

• Bastar is in Dandakarnya, where Rama is believed to have spent the 14 years of his exile. Yet the Dushera here has nothing to do with Rama or Ramayana, as in most parts of the world.

• Beginning with the dark moon (amavasya) in the month of Shravan, Bastar Dushera spans over 75 days, ending on the thirteenth day of the bright moon in the month of Ashwin. It is thus the longest Dushera in the world.

• Bastar Dushera is devoted to Danteshwari, the family deity of the Kakatiya dynasty. For 10 days, the king (as the high-priest of Danteshwari) temporarily abdicated his kingly office and attended full-time to the worship of Danteshwari. During Dushera, the king, inter alia, sought, in due confidence, through a siraha (a possessed, primitive medium of the devi) intelligence report on the state.

• Bastar Dushera involves the participation of diverse tribes and castes, high and low, who constituted the praja here. Each group has a special, specific task assigned to it. These groups continue to do their age-old tasks even after kingship ended over five decades back! E.g., To build the two-tiered chariot, carpenters come from Beda Umargaon village; the special, massive ropes are twined by the tribals of Karanji, Kesarpal and Sonabal villages; the smaller chariot is pulled by the youth of Kachorapati and Agarwara parganas; the larger chariot is pulled by the bison-horn marias of Killepal. Singing hymns at all rituals is the prerogative of mundas from Potanar village.

• The chariot looks very primitive to an outsider. Nothing could have barred the king from buying a sophisticated chariot from elsewhere. But he chose to patronize the native people. The tribals, bound by their inscrutable taboos, do not employ refined tools in the making of the chariot. The massive vehicle, made new every year, is hewed into shape. The swaying juggernaut, when it is pulled by 400-plus strong marias, impresses upon an onlooker the force of aboriginal faith.

• The festival involves a congregation of hundreds of local deities enshrined in hamlets and villages across the erstwhile state of Bastar. The priests of these diverse chapels and temples even today walk in groups to Jagdalpur bearing their deities decked in flowers and their villagers sounding bells and tabors.

• The festival involves rituals of extraordinary rigor like a lass (kumari) swinging on a bed of thorns; a youth (jogi) sitting in vigil, shoulder-deep buried, for nine days; possessed mediums of local deities dancing eerily on the roads; etc

• The festival provides an occasion when elected representatives of the day, administrators and old-time tribal chieftains formally confer at the Muria Durbar on the state of Bastar.

• Bastar Dushera has so completely captured the imagination of the subjects here that the tribals have woven interesting folk songs and proverbs around Bastar Dushera!

The events take place on the streets of Jagdalpur and because of the huge rush and frenzy, the local administration cordons off the major streets. And it is virtually impossible to take good pictures from ground level. So we will climb up to a great vantage point that Jaspreet has secured for us, arriving at 6PM, before the streets get blocked. We stay put and wait for the event to take place about two and a half hours later, which we can view from the our privileged vantage point.

Coming to this area, I had been warned by several people that it was changing and would not remain the way it was for long. We have an immediate sense of this, as we look out on the street. The festival now has an event planner who has imported multicolored lights that move up-and-down, creating circles on the street. A couple of large screens have been set up down the street, so that people who cannot get close to the main platform on which the activities take place are able to view what’s happening on the platform from the street. A drone hovers above the main platform, taking photos. It all has a disappointing, commercial feel to it.

Gradually, a huge crowd gathers. Our vantage point is to be shared with some VIPs, and security forces are shouting instructions from the street up to a force member who is in our viewing area. I am very concerned that we are going to have to vacate the position we have held for more than two hours to permit these VIPs to view the festival. Shortly before the beginning of the festival, a woman stations herself to my left and begins to try to push me out of the way. I push back and Jaspreet, who is behind me, intervenes. He speaks rather heatedly to the young woman. Later, I asked Jaspreet what he had said. He said he asked her whether this is how she treats somebody who has become a very large distance to participate in and enjoy the festival. Did she not know the saying that the visitor is God? Wasn’t she ashamed of herself? After this, the woman left.

Not too long before the festivities begin, the main VIP, who is the police chief for the entire district of Bastar, arrives in our area. He is not dressed in uniform and is a relatively young man. I jokingly ask Jaspreet whether he thinks the police chief wants to have his photograph taken with me. Jaspreet takes me seriously and says he will introduce me. He introduces me as a blogger from the United States. The police chief greets me warmly and welcomes me. We shake hands. He speaks English quite well. Jaspreet asks the chief if he will have his photo taken with me and the police chief agrees readily. Fifteen minutes later a small table with tea and biscuits is set up for the police chief. The chief has somebody come over to me and invite me to sit down with him to have some tea and biscuits, which I do.

It is impossible to capture the frenzy of the festival, once it begins. All of the commercial elements fade completely into the background and one can enjoy the festival. From The palace, several blocks down to our right, my friend, the king, walks to the central stage area. He is decked out with a crown made of flowers that bloom only at the time of the festival. Down the road blocks to my left, the princess is escorted down the street to the central platform. The central platform is full of dignitaries and it is difficult even to see the king. At one point, however, he looks up at the crowd, spots me and Jaspreet and waves to us. It was the only waving that he did during the entire time. (Jaspreet can confirm thi.)

There is a frenzy of activity in motion, with tribal people from various areas trying to crash through the barriers to have their gods who they are carrying meet the princess. From the standpoint of somebody from the US, this whole spectacle is unbelievable, because there is no way anything like it would be permitted in our country because of security concerns. Below are some photos from the festival, which do not begin to do it justice.

When the festival ends and the crowd dissipates, we climb down from our vantage point and make our way back to the car. It is 10:30 by the time I get back to the lodge and instead of the that they have prepared for me I have a cold beer and some Indian breads, and then go to my room to sleep.