Koli Bhaji: A feast fit for Gods! Unique rain invoking ceremonies involve offering local vegetables, and performing the Kamadi folk dance

15, Sep 2021 | Mamta Pared

“पाण्या देवा येशी कवा ? नारायणा देवा नवस केला” sing a group of Adivasis, praying to the rain gods to bless them. Their song roughly translated into English goes something like this: “Oh rain gods please shower your blessing on us. Don’t be upset we have prayed to Lord Narayan.” For generations tribal communities have sung this song to seek good rains, that in turn ensures a good harvest and enough food for the people. 

A unique aspect of the rain invoking ceremonies in this part of Maharashtra, in the forest amidst traditional Adivasi villages, is offering the gods portions of ‘Koli’ a local green leafy vegetable that is known to the western world as White Musli. It grows well in the forest during the rainy season and has multiple uses, the leaves are cooked into a delicious side dish, and it is also used for medicinal purposes. The Adivasi communities offer this plant to the gods starting the season’s ‘avani’ or paddy cultivation. As a part of the prayers and celebrations the families also perform the tribal dance known as Kamadi.

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According to folklore, the Koli vegetable is also related to fertility, and the Kamadi dance is performed to seek good rains, a good crop and fertile soil. Many also worship the Shivling, locally known as ‘Shankara’ during this time. Luckily, I happened to be at home when the ceremonies were held recently, and it instantly refreshed my childhood memories. Those days, whenever my mother used to return from the farm, I would go running to her and ask her to show me what she had got home for us that day, eagerly helping her offload the basket on her head, and peering into it to explore the treasure.

This time too, when my mother came home, I asked her what she had brought, and she showed me the Koli vegetables in her basket. Mother said, “Today we have to light the diya (lamp) for puja (prayers) and that’s why I have brought these vegetables from the forest.”

Just as we don’t forget our childhood habits, we also keep our culture alive. Even though younger generations are not as enthusiastic about these ancient cultural celebrations, our parents still make efforts to educate us about it. I realised that all we need to have is a sense of curiosity to know more about our culture and tradition. Luckily, I love learning about our tribal culture. But whenever I talk to my parents or grandparents about these things, my siblings start making fun of me. I just ignore that and continue asking questions.

Koli offerings to satiate the gods

The day of the puja unfolded when the prayer lamp was lit by the eldest person in the house. Five ‘gods’ of divine figurines made of rice are offered abir-gulal, a fragrant vermillion. Then the gods are offered the Koli vegetables brought from the forest, and a coconut is also crushed in front of the idols of the five deities. Ever since my grandfather passed away in 2015, my father as the eldest has been responsible for lighting the puja lamp in our family. We have an heirloom lamp in the house which is lit on this special occasion. However, I noticed that the Kamadi dance which people used to perform earlier was not performed.

The Kamadi dance has its own significance. My parents remember that in the past it was always performed on this day. Just as Tarpa Dance has its significance in Katkari tribal culture, so does the Kamadi dance, which is performed before planting the crops. This dance was actually performed to worship nature. Dancers prayed to God to bless the tribe with a good amount of rain so that our crops get proper water. This dance was performed in the courtyard of the house and the entire village used to participate. After the ceremony, the Koli vegetable would be cooked and eaten during the feast.

Before writing about this ceremony, I discussed it with a friend in my community. Like me, he had heard of this dance but had never actually participated in it or even seen it. “I have only heard about it, but times have changed,” he said and then as if confused about my curiosity, asked, “Why do you like it all?”

But I wanted to know more, and spoke to 75-year-old village elder Shankar Tamboli, about this dance. He was enthusiastic in his recollections. He reminisced, “Earlier we used to dance together, sing old songs and used to play drums on the brass pot and used to dance on those tunes. We used to dance on the day of the worship, and even when it was not raining that time, we used to dance.” The twinkle in his eyes, and his animated recollections was all the reassurance I needed that I was on the right path. The times may have changed, technological advances may be keeping us occupied, but that does not mean we need to stop learning about our rich cultural heritage. That’s how memories are created, and kept alive for generations to come.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mamta Pared who hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Here she showcases how life-long poverty and deprivation affect people’s approach to life and livelihood.

Meet Mamta Pared

Mamta Pared CJP Fellow
CJP Fellow, Mamta Pared

Mamta Pared is a young Adivasi woman hailing from the Warli community. She lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Her mother is unlettered, while her father was educated up to the fourth standard. After they got married, her parents started working together at a brick kiln. Every year, their family used to migrate for employment and live near brick kilns, six out of twelve months. There are five siblings, the youngest was born when Mamta was five years old. As the eldest daughter in the family, she was responsible for caring for her siblings, and also helped with household chores. She had to skip school frequently and stay home to take care of her brothers. But she studied hard, passed scholarship exams, stayed in a government hostel, even borrowed money to pay college fees. Mamta eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media.

Related:

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Maharashtra’s Katkaris strive to overcome isolation and deprivation

 

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