Festivals and their link to ecological farming cycles of Kondh people

Goelkana village was established by the Kutruka clans-people and it is their story of the year round festivals they celebrate in their area and among their clans-people.

“Every village has a Jani or priest who worships Dharni Penu or Mother Earth and other deities of that village. Generally a Jani’s son becomes a Jani or if he is not willing, then some other male member of the Jani’s extended family takes on the mantle of village priest. Jani is different from a Disari or traditional priest cum astrologer. A Disari serves many villages but a Jani serves only his village. A Disari has many responsibilities like for instance he would fix the date and time for marriages, festivals, etc. A Jani organises the village festivals and rituals as per the instructions of a Disari. The latter instructs the Jani about festivals, rituals, forecasts any misfortunes for the village, etc. If the villagers are not satisfied with a Disari then they can opt for another Disari.

The other traditional leaders of a village are the Naika or Haunta who is the village’s headman, the Bisi Majhi who is the Wise Man of the village, the Badarayata or senior most members of the family that holds the largest farm lands in the village and the Bejuni or village priestess. But in the present times the role of a Naika is down to the bare minimum. And the Bisi Majhi, Jani and Badarayata have taken on the role of ‘dispensing traditional justice and decision making in the village. They also are asked by villagers to give consent for every marriage proposal in the village.  

The Bejuni invites the deities to come down to the village during every festival, ritual and worship. Then she gets possessed by them and the deities speak to villagers through the Bejuni and make know their demands for sacrifices and other deeds. There may be many Bejunis in a village and they are all considered the medium to connect the villagers to their deities. In this village we have 2 Bejunis and each has a Gurumai who is like a helper to the Bejunis. Some villages also have a Gunia who is the traditional healer cum evil omen dispenser.

The Kui year starts after the Chait Parab and Balani is the first festival of the year. Balani falls before Nuakhia and during the Balani, the Disari fixes the date for Nuakhai which the festival of offering the first food that every Kondh farmer harvests from their fields. Balani is observed before every festival. Generally after 3-4 days of Ganjesh puja we hold our Nuakhai festival. There can be different Nuakhais too. In our village we follow the Dhana Nuakhai which is offering the first paddy harvest to our village deities before harvesting and eating it ourselves. During Dhana Nuakhai we offer first saru, pumpkin, maize and little millet to our deities. Many Kondhs observe Suan Nuakhai also as suan is harvested much before paddy and hence their Nuakhai is observed before ours. All our festivals are interlinked with the agriculture season. All the festivals are first observed in our Jhankeri or village deity’s place which is called Kotavali in Kui. The festival rituals are also observed at the four stones in each of the four corners of the village which are places of the deities who watch over the village and are called Jatra Kuddis.

These days after Nuakhai we celebrate Dasera but this is not our Kui festival.

Earlier used to do Makka Puja or Maize Festival but since the last 4-5 years we have not been doing it and have merged it with Balani before Dhana Nuakhai. Originally Makka Puja was the festival of seeds where we displayed all our seeds to our deities and asked them to bless the seeds for 100% germination, for healthy growth of the crops and for a bumper harvest at the end. The Bihan Parab or Seed Festival that we observe nowadays is different from Makka Puja. Bihan Parab is observed after the harvest while Makka Puja is supposed to be observed before sowing.

Then comes Kandul Parab in the month of Pus (mid-January to mid-February) and observed after Makar Sankranti. There are three festivals during this time – Kandul Parab, Puda Parab and Chhatra Parab. Villagers decide which one will be observed (out of three festivals) every year in the presence of Jani. Puda Parab is however observed once every three years. But the other two festivals are observed every year or alternate years. Kandul Parab is offering of the last crop from the farms to the deities and marks the end of the harvest season.

Hiri Bicha Parab is our own Holi or the festival of colours. It is also called the Bihan Parab. Jani and Disari will bathe in turmeric water and then villagers will bathe in turmeric water. Then only the Bihan Parab or seed festival will begin. This is observed at the Jhankeri or Katavali. Each and every family of the village will come with their own seeds to the Jhankeri. Then all seeds from everyone will be mixed and distributed equally among all villagers. It is a type of seed exchange among the villagers. Thus also the diverse variety of seeds available with villagers will be shared among those who do not have a variety of seeds. Thus each family will have a diverse seed bank.  

Bali Parba is an optional festival which we have decided not to celebrate to save time and money. Ghanta Jatra is an individual kind of a festival and is observed if any family wants to but it is not a festival for everyone in the village and not done collectively like other festivals. Similarly Sita Puja is observed by individual families if they want to. But this festival can also be done in group and observed in the middle of the village. This festival is like the Laxmi Puja Hindu people do and for us Sita is our Laxmi. It is observed to get peace, prosperity and wealth. There is another individual festival which is called Ghara Balani or Nadi Puja. This is done to appease the dead spirits of the family’s ancestors and ask them to bless the family and the farms. Some believe that if they do not Ghara Balani then the ancestral spirits will get angry and destroy their crops.

During Bihan Parab we also invoke the deities that live in our forests and hills. Hiri Bicha Parab or Bihan Parab  is observed in early summer, just after the harvest, villagers call the Dangar Debta or Hill Deity and also the Deities of the Forests and urge them to give all wild animals enough to eat so that they do not attack their crops. And women present during the rituals of this Parab get possessed by the deities of the forests and hills and begin to dance in a state of trance and are worshipped in this state by villagers. Then the women who are possessed speak on behalf of the deities and make demands to the villagers about sacrificing some wild animals and fulfilling their other needs and demands, specifying which animal and at what time and place as well. If the villagers meet these demands then they believe that the deities have blessed them.

One time a woman who was possessed asked the villagers for a 16 horned rooster called a sola singhi ganja which has 17 feathers in its tail. The villagers had assured the Dangar Debta they would get such a rooster. The Dangar Debta also told the villagers the place where they will get such a rooster. The villagers went to the location pointed out by the Dangar Debta and hunted for the special rooster. After they hunted it and offered it to the Dangar Debta the villagers also had a community feast where they cooked the rooster.

Haru Puja is observed during the middle of the cultivation season where one kendu branch is put in the mid of each farm plot and covered with a decorated mud pot to look like a scare crow. This happens in September and the objective of this festival is to protect crops from animals.

Earlier during Nuakhai, we used to prepare ritual offerings from different forms of paddy, roots, tubers, berries, etc. But as we have adopted hybrid variety of seeds in our cultivation, we do not make these kinds of varied mix of paddy varieties offerings. And instead of the roots and tubers we are using the leaves of these roots and tubers symbolically as the current generation of children do not like to eat the roots and tubers our parents and grandparents ate. These are one of the major changes that have happened in the last decade or so.

We believe that nothing in our festivals will ever be lost or forgotten. These cultures will survive because the role of Jani, Disari and Bejuni will never diminish. If a Jani’s son is not living in the village or has gone out of the village to study, work or any other purpose, then he will have to come back to the village to perform the traditional festivals of the village. He will be compelled to come back to the village by his ancestral spirits and therefore we believe that our traditions will continue in the future also. We believe that very deeply and strongly. A Disari also has to follow some rules and regulations, for instance they can’t eat in hotels and they continue to obey these norms. It is the same with the Bejunis and they too adhere to old customs. So why should not our culture survive the ravages of modernity !”

Profile of the Village : 56 households, All Kondhs
Village : Goelkana, Hata Muniguda Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

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