The Gonds or Adivasis live in the northern district of Telangana, in Adilabad which has been their home for many centuries. Their customs and traditions are based on the agricultural seasons and are said to have remained unchanged despite the advent of technology and modernity. The Gonds in Adilabad are called Raj Gonds and are said to have ruled these regions.
While driving through the district towards Narnoor, we noticed a group of people sitting under a tree at mid noon near the dried (almost) up hill stream of Kundai waterfall. A group of men were performing rituals, cleaning, playing drums and cooking. What was most surprising was there wasn’t a single woman or girl in the entire group.
Eventually we found out it was Bada Dev pooja, that the Gonds perform before the start of their agricultural season to seek the blessings of their Supreme God Persapen (Bada Dev or Big God) for a fruitful crop and good rains without any calamity.
The Bada Dev pooja occurs twice a year, once in January and again in May. During January it is a thanksgiving while in May it is more elaborate involving vijjan tohwal – a ritualistic showing seeds to the God and seek blessings for a good crop season, and traditional music and prayers spread over three days.
Bada Dev is said to emerge from of a fly whisk known as chahur in Gondi. The chahur or fly whisk is made up of five parts – the handle called khati, the chahur or the hairy part, gagras or the bells, thalle is the top end and a string being the fifth part. Bada Dev is located near the top end but is not seen because of the chahur around
Mahagaon village – Kundai waterfalls
As we neared the site, folks were anxious if my entry might disrupt their proceedings but they soon took solace when they realised I wouldn’t be able to climb down to the stream. We found out later the villagers here came from a village called Mahagaon and were celebrating the second day of the Bada Dev pooja. The main event on the second day involves giving bath to Persapen at a local stream.
The villagers of Mahagaon were assembled under a tree near a local stream to give the sacred bath to Bada Dev – which is inside the whisk at the right bottom corner (surrounded by the screen made of cloth) We thought the rocky bed of the Kundai waterfalls made for an interesting backdrop to their festivities
A closer view of the same scene, the whisk can be seen more clearly.
When we came to the other side we saw another whisk and more elaborate arrangements for cooking as well as drums. The second whisk was the Bada Dev pooja by another Gond clan from the same village.
The ritualistic showing of seeds to Bada Dev is in progress.
And prayers for a good crop at the end of the upcoming agricultural season. The person wearing a red scarf is known as Devari and is designated to carry out the rituals as well as Bada Dev around the village.
As the prayers are said, drumbeats start filling the air, perhaps for the last time till the harvest season.
Rumankasa village (near a bamboo tree at the outskirts)
Around half an hour into our drive we chanced upon another village that was also celebrating Bada Dev pooja around a bamboo tree in the vicinity of a Mahua tree. In addition to the drums we could also hear the strains of peepri as the rituals of the first day of Bada Dev pooja were underway.
Ladies are supposed to stay away from some of the rituals, I sat at a distance and watched the proceedings. The visual was quite striking, with the backdrop of semi dry vegetation and an occasional tree dotting the undulating landscape – and men surrounding a tree saying their prayers, some of them playing music with simple percussion and wind instruments.
On the first day, Bada Dev is taken out of the mahua tree in which he had been imprisoned or Pen soduswal (Pen=god, soduswal=imprisonment) after a pooja performed earlier.
He is taken outside the village, and worshiped under a tree. The same day he is taken to different goddesses for meeting. At the kathoda’s(priest’s) home, women perform a puja before Bada Dev is taken for rest under a tree outside the village.
Prayers and rituals at the bamboo tree adjacent to a Mahua tree near the Rumankasa village, Gadiguda mandal.
These artefacts seen in the above image are used to give Persapen a sacred bath, and made by the Dhokra artisans.
I have included the above images, even if they are not photographed by me to convey the experience of the festival in toto.
A few hours later, on our way back, we stopped at the same village again. This time ladies were involved but their role was limited. A festive atmosphere prevails outside the kathoda’s (head priest’s) home as a pooja is performed for Bada Dev by ladies. Everyone is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Bada Dev held by a designated Devari (easy to spot him with a red turban holding the chahur)
Neem leaves are used to provide shade for the resting area although no one could tell us why they were preferred. No other leaves would work apparently.
The anticipation is writ on everyone’s face as the entire village sits in a long line outside the priest’s residence.
Bada Dev finally appears and a few people around him break into a dance.
The Devari in red headgear holding the chahur with Bada Dev in it.
Amidst the drumbeats and peepri, Bada Dev is ceremoniously taken to a tree in the outskirts……
….to rest for the night.
We were very happy to have been a witness to these festivities, more so since we hadn’t planned to attend them nor did we know in such detail all the rituals and ceremonies. The festival did give us more insight into the religious practices and belief system of the Raj Gonds.