Sunday, March 16, 2014

The tribal festival of colours : Kawant Mela ( HOLI NO MELO ) Chota Udepur, Gujarat

The Rathvas loosely inhabit Chhota Udepur in Vadodara District with marginal groups extending into Dahod and Godhra Districts and Alirajpur in adjoining Madhya Pradesh District. The Rathvas are the largest tribal unit in the state of Gujarat. From a history of hunter gatherers they now have graduated to farming and other rural occupations exploring their pastoral destiny. In spite of changing living patterns, they religiously revere their old ways in the celebrations of their rituals and have a deep pride in their traditional culture. Music plays an extremely important part of their lives and no Rathva would feel complete without his lovingly embellished Flute {paavo / piho / pihoto } as a remembrance of his forested homeland. The Rathvas also practice a mural painting form based on ritual traditional beliefs on the inner walls of their homes and dedicated to Pithora, the Rathva universal God of well being.

Each year at harvest time the Rathwa people come in their finest clothes from far distant villages throughout the region, crammed into trucks, buses, wagons and tractors to fill the small town of Kawant with their colour, noise and enthusiasm. Every sense is heightened while moving amongst the friendly crowds who come to celebrate their harvest, culture, community, and maybe even do a deal or find a bride at the  Kawant Mela, the Gair fair of Gujurat, India.

At the Kawant Mela men from each village have their own style.

The Rathwa tribes are agricultural people and every year they hold a mela (festival) in this town near Chhota Udepur in eastern Gujurat, India’s far west state. It is an ancient festival timed to be soon after Holi, though its origins are long before Hinduism. These farmers and rural workers were once hunter gatherers and so the dances and songs in the processions remind them of their jungle heritage, such as the male dancers painted with a paste of rice-ash to look like the big cats they once hunted.
Each village is differentiated by their own style of mens’ turban or colour of the womens’ dupatta (short sari). Even the extraordinary jewelry of the women gives clues as to their village and many wear the heavy silver necklaces of old colonial rupees. The young men see participation in their village’s procession as a rite of passage into manhood and clearly take pride in their elaborate headdress of peacock feathers, pictures of deities and lots of glitter, often with the modern touch of sunglasses and mobile phones.

Around their waist is a string of large brass bells or stone-filled gourds that they shake in unison with a hip jerk as they stamp their feet in the long procession. It creates a mesmerizing atmosphere.
As the day progresses, each group of village dancers and singers winds through the town streets, often led by deities in chariots pulled by life-size paper or metal horses. The noise of drums and flutes accompanies the vibrant singing lines of women, the black-faced rat-tags and the peacock crowned young men. After the procession they can rejoin their families to socialize, buy sugar cane and trinkets, get yet more protective tattoos and of course flirt

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