“Brother, it is not a picnic. It is like fasting.” : Warli’s ‘Birhada’ festival

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By : Remigius de Souza


The article has been republished from Archetypes India blog and can be accessed here


Traditions are a living history among the Adivasis and ethnic communities. They, perhaps, understand the meanings and mysteries embedded in their customs, rite and rituals etc. by their grooming, intrinsic in their nature. I wonder if this is true today with other societies: I wouldn’t claim that I understand.

Brother, it is not a picnic. It is like fasting.

Here is a custom that is an environmental action.

Adivasis do not treat the house as merely a shelter. They personify house and village, just as earth and river are mothers. Warli and Katkari tribes have a tradition of observing a day in a year: On that day, all the members of village community go out of the village across it s border. That day no one cooks at home neither remains at home. They carry their utensils, foodstuff, water, and firewood for cooking meals. They perform a religious rite and sacrifice a goat at the place where there are sacred masts erected by the tribal. It is the sacred site on the border of the village. A woman heads and conducts the ceremony. She stands in trance for nearly two hours, and then conducts the ritual. Outside the border of the village, the families cook their own meals, eat and return home in the evening. Prakash Sutar, a teenage Warli, explains the custom without mincing the words, “Brother, it is not a picnic. It is like fasting”.

(Extract, The end piece: Cleansing, the last paragraph, from “Warli House and Habitat-1″).

There are number of occasions when entire community meets, have meals together, drinking toddy singing and dancing.

For an Adivasi, a person, though no more, is not a part of chronological history, but a vital essence to nurture body, mind and spirit. For example, an ancestral worship, more than a ritual, is a renewal of community bond. A most outstanding example is that of Ekalavya in Epic Mahabharata. The Bhill tribes continue to this date “not to use their thumb in archery” in the memory of Ekalavya – their ancestor in the distant past.

Among the Warli tribe there is a custom. After harvest, “gods” visit house after house in their hamlet. They predict if the coming times will prove to be of plenty or shortage by measuring the heaps of harvested grain. They don’t measure the entire heap. They are given grains in a bamboo pan which they measure.

This occasion of community meals took place soon after harvest at a Warli hamlet, when we visited them.

Well, the “gods” are a group of guys from the community; they could be any persons from the hamlet / settlement. They are not branded to be gods permanently. They are gods only during this event. These gods do not turn to be “god persons” – swamis and Baba – as in the other societies who generally exploit the faithful.

By this custom, I suppose, the whole community knows who has earned how much wealth – the harvested grain – fruits of the labour: No secrets! There are many meaningful customs among the Adivasis full of wisdom.

This is in contrast to urban elite society, who is touchy about personal privacy and secrecy – among persons, among families, among groups! The governments, too, are bound by wows of secrecy, while the public debate goes on upholding transparency and governance!

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Editorial Team of Adivasi Resurgence.

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