Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Mandu's Bhagoriya festival
Our final morning in Mandu coincided with Bhagoriya, or elopement, festival ('bhag' means run), one of the most special days in the adivasi calendar. We scooted before the celebrations reached their peak, and before our driver could drink himself silly (he not only drove well, but provided a lucid account of adivasi life, on which this post is based). Starting around noon, troupes started arriving in Mandu's main plaza from surrounding villages. Each band carried one massive dhol along with accompanying instruments like flutes. The music, dancing and drinking began soon after. By 5pm every adivasi man and woman (and many children) would be tanked. Then some form of exchange initiated by a female (the acceptance of paan, a little gulaal applied to the chosen man's cheek) would seal her partner for the night, provided he wasn't too inebriated to perform. Men, apparently, don't have much leeway to reject girls. In most cases, parents negotiate with the boy to settle a marriage, otherwise it's just a one-night stand. Among the adivasis a payment is made by the man's family in advance of the wedding, reversing the practice of dowry prevalent among caste Hindus. As a result, girls aren't viewed as a burden, and no selective abortions are practiced.
Unfortunately, the sly intercession of political parties has upset the traditional progression of bhagoriya performances. Look carefully at the picture and you'll see four different platforms in the square. Each was constructed by a political outfit (the BJP, Congress and two adivasi organisations). Loud announcements were made continually on squeaky microphones, drowning out the music that was being played without the benefit of loudspeakers. It was great to see the blaze of colour, the gaudy sarees and the turbans bigger than heads, but otherwise the tamasha wasn't what we'd anticipated or hoped for.