Keslapur Nagoba Jatara: A look at a community's vibrant religious and cultural celebration

While all the rituals and ceremonies pertaining to the preparation of the Nagoba jatara involve men to begin with, the women gain prominence and participate actively from the day of the mahapuja. Traditionally, most alliances of Raj Gond bachelors are fixed during the post-harvest Dandari-Ghusadi festival, and the nuptials take place between March and May. For the Mesram Raj Gonds and Pardhans, the gamut of weddings is complete only after the bheting ritual, which is held on the first day of the jatara and entails introduction of brides to the serpent god and thereby into the clan. This ritual is most significant part of the Keslapur-Nagoba jatara.

On the day of mahapuja, pots that were made specifically for the festival, are consecrated soon after the arrival of the priests and others to the temple in the morning. The Patels line up beside the pots while Mesram Tirupathi, the kotwal, calls the names of women to whom the pots would be handed over.

The pots are consecrated during a brief ceremony. Photo courtesy Lakshmi Prabhala

The pots are consecrated during a brief ceremony. All photos courtesy Lakshmi Prabhala (except where indicated otherwise)

The women who come in pairs are daughters of Mesram families but have been married into other clans. They are handed over a pot which is meant for fetching water from a well near the Bhourmachua (banyan tree).

After offering respects to the village elders, women go in pairs to collect the sacred pots. Photo courtesy Lakshmi Prabhala

After offering respects to the village elders, women go in pairs to collect the sacred pots.

After the distribution of the pots, the head Pardhan Mesram Tukdoji takes a seat and begins to tune his 200-year-old bow-string instrument called kingri for another recital of 'Nagoba Bhidi' in the temple premises. The Pardhans or bards are said to have preserved the myths and stories of Gonds in the oral tradition over centuries. Tukdoji has been singing the Nagoba katha for over 50 years, and has taken a family member under his wing to train him and eventually pass on the baton.

The Mesram Pardhan Tukdoji sings the legend of the Nagoba in the temple to a large gathering of Mesram devotees

The Mesram Pardhan Tukdoji sings the legend of the Nagoba in the temple to a large gathering of Mesram devotees

Once again, strains of pipri and dhol begin to waft in the air, as women carrying the earthen pots on their heads begin to line up. Everybody steps aside to make way for them and they begin walking at a uniform pace, the pots balanced on their head, leaving behind a trail of the afternoon shadows that follow rhythmically.

A group of Mesram women carrying the pots to fetch water from a step well near the banyan tree Photo courtesy Mohan Prabhala

A group of Mesram women carrying the pots to fetch water from a step well near the banyan tree
Photo courtesy Mohan Prabhala

After filling the pots with water at the well, the women return to the temple in a similar fashion. The water in these holy pots is used by women in the ritual of creating small mounds of clay also called boula (anthills). On a nostalgic note, Mesram Manohar says, “Prior to early 1980s, all the rituals were performed at the boula. After the temple was constructed and a brass deity of Nagoba was installed, the prayers are offered only at the sanctum.”

At the stepwell, each woman waits for her turn to fill her pot with water

At the stepwell, each woman waits for her turn to fill her pot with water

At twilight, all the occupants under the banyan tree pack up and move with their belongings and bullock carts to set up camps around the temple. A circular open air structure called govad is made specifically for women and the “bheti koriad” — the daughters-in-law who wait to be introduced.

Inside the govad, at around 2 am, women huddle in small groups huddle around bonfires, to keep warm while the light from the torch-bearers casts a soft glow on the bheti koriad. The girls get busy donning their white saris to participate in the bheting ceremony. Two young girls who will soon lead the procession to the temple, are seated — one a daughter-in-law of a priest while the other is a new bride in a Patel’s family, who wait as the koriad gets ready.

The two young brides who will lead the Bheti-Koriad to the Nagoba temple, accompanied with traditional music and fanfare, for a formal introduction to their clan God

The two young brides who will lead the Bheti-Koriad to the Nagoba temple, accompanied with traditional music and fanfare, for a formal introduction to their clan God

Mesram Jayanthi, a mother-in-law camped at the govad, explains the bheting ritual: “We make our brides wear white clothes, take them to the Sathi temple, and pray for their prosperity and progeny. With their heads covered, the koriad are taken in a procession to the temple led by musicians. They take the blessings of Sathi Devi before being formally introduced to our clan god, Nagoba.”

“If a family member has passed away recently or the bride is unwell, she cannot participate in the ritual and will have to wait for another year to be ceremoniously introduced into the clan and become eligible to offer prayers at the Nagoba temple. This is why the bheti koriad ensure that they make it to the ritual at any cost.”

The Bheti-Koriad, dressed in white, wait to be taken to the Nagoba temple

The Bheti-Koriad, dressed in white, wait to be taken to the Nagoba temple

Barring the banyan tree and the temple compound, the surrounding environs wear the look of a carnival; filled with tea shacks, make-shift restaurants, an amusement arena with giant wheels and many vendors selling household articles and appliances. Most hawkers hope to attract business from newly-weds setting up a new home. Mesram Manohar was quick to point out, “All these facilities and conveniences are a much later addition, but the rituals remain the same and have retained their traditional zeal.”

At night, the Nagoba jatara provides a stage to many rural folk theatre troupes who perform Gondi Ramayan and Mahabharat, so named as the shows are performed in Gondi dialect. These performances are a major draw and have the audiences riveted till the early hours of the morning.

During the nights, the visitors to the Jatara are treated to performances of epics in the local dialect Gondi

During the nights, the visitors to the Jatara are treated to performances of epics in the local dialect Gondi

During the Nizam’s rule, eminent anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf had conducted ethnographic studies on the tribes of Adilabad. In the year 1944 he had introduced the phenomenon of Darbar on the third day of the jatara wherein the aboriginals could voice their grievances and concerns to the representatives of the government. Till date, it is an event the Adivasis look forward to and take an active participation. This year, despite a cloud of uncertainty looming over the Darbar on 19 January 2018 in the wake of the recent Adivasi-Lambada conflict, the event was peaceful.

The general mood of the final day is that of gratitude and thanksgiving. First, the Mesrams assemble near the temple and distribute the prasad and sacred pots among the 22 families who had different roles to play in the festival,

To bid adieu to Nagoba, the Raj Gonds and Pardhans face the temple and offer tobacco and bidis while paying obeisance. It is an expression of thankfulness to the serpent-god and seeking blessings for the year ahead. Among the aboriginal people, the custom of offering tobacco or bidi indicates respect.

The Mesrams pay obeisance to their clan god Nagoba by facing the temple and offering tobacco/bidies

The Mesrams pay obeisance to their clan god Nagoba by facing the temple and offering tobacco/bidies

The entire group moves towards the govad where the wives of Keslapur Patel and the chief katoda wash their feet as a measure of thanksgiving and paying respect. Soon after, men stand in line and members of the 22 families personally greet and hug each and every member. The women too, join in and express their gratitude to everyone. A great sense of camaraderie prevails as everyone wishes the other well and appreciates their efforts in making this festival a great success.

Towards the end of the Nagoba Jatara, all men and women extend thanks to everyone whose efforts had made the event a grand success

Towards the end of the Nagoba Jatara, all men and women extend thanks to everyone whose efforts made the event a success

In the final ritual of Betal puja, a few Adivasi elders have a chance at displaying their skill in wielding the sword.  With a thin bamboo stick in one hand, the elder takes as big a leap in air as possible and moves the stick as if it were a sword. This feat which has the entire audience in awe, is said to denote that the Raj Gonds were also warriors. After the Betal puja, the entire gathering forms a circle to sign off the year’s Nagoba festivities with a dhimsa dance routine.

During the Betal puja, a few Mesram elders have an opportunity to display their valour and skill with the sword

During the Betal puja, a few Mesram elders have an opportunity to display their valour and skill with the sword

In addition to being a vibrant religious and cultural rural fair, the Keslapur Nagoba Jatara provides insights into the social customs and traditions of the Mesram Raj Gonds and Pardhans. Clad in spotless white, standing or walking in a straight line, they have unflinchingly continued along the paths taken by their ancestors, with great earnestness.


Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018 18:37 PM

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