The change in scale can also be attributed to the fact that the state administration shares the responsibility to organize Madais in nagar municipalities that sees a huge crowd thronging the fair. This piece seeks to highlight the nuances that make the Madai an important event in the lives of the people of Bastar.
Beginning with the first day of elaborate rituals, I wish to walk the reader through the Madai, organized over a span of two to four days, and chronicling the important events of the fair as it travels from one location to the other. A Gondi almanac is marked by many fairs and occasions where people of various communities come together. However, when one hears about Madai, post Dussehra, one realizes that the event that is being referred to is the pen Madai, that is celebrated after the kharif crop harvest.
Madai in Gondi as an endemic term could translate into any form of social gathering. One will thus find many renditions of such gatherings in the form of say Yuva Madais events where youth gather, particularly for sport meets and Didi Madais events where women associated with state livelihood promotion schemes through self-help groups come together to congregate across the region. However, it stands as different from the pen Madais of our discussion since the fair is organized to mark the season of phagun spring and to help people prepare for Holi a spring festival.
However the pen Madai in Geedam, Dantewada, is organized at the end of the month of March and could at times stretch to the last week of April, to mark the culmination of the travelling fairs across Chhattisgarh. What then, makes the events of pen Madais different from that of other Madais and melas celebrated across Chhattisgarh? Lakkhan Mandavi of Narayanpur points out that the purpose of the Madai is deeply spiritual; the act of parikrama with the deities that marks the inauguration of the fair sets the pen Madais of Bastar as distinct from other melas or Madais in the region.
The first day is marked by ritual ceremonies performed by the sevaks the shamans and the priests assembled in a cleared space in the designated fair area. This is followed by a procession of deities to secure the well being of those who come to visit and trade in the fair. The procession circles the fair about three times. During the last round, the procession moves in the reverse direction, and the deities are then carried back to the deo sthal place where the gods reside.
The space is transformed into an area filled with spiritual energy, marked by the hypnotic rhythm produced by the beating of drums, where men dance and become possessed by the power of the deities. Men carrying dangs during the procession. This ritualistic procession is, therefore, not only comprised of the deities; rather, it also incorporates men who feel the power of the deity flow through them. For a short while, they too become vessels of the ancestral deities, dancing to the rhythm of the gods.
While the ceremonies are being performed and the pens and dangs are being worshipped and offerings are being made, one observes men who begin to sway back and forth, an indication that they are possessed. One should however be wary that the possession is not by evil spirits but rather by the deos deities ; the bodies of the men become mediums through which the deos communicate with mortals. This divine power is also the driving force that guides men who carry the pens and dangs. Many present at the site explain that it is the gods and goddesses who reside in the pen and dang who make the men move in a certain way.
Pandit Ram Nareti Durgkondal block, Uttar Bastar Kanker , who has been a carrier of the anga pen in his youth, shares his experience of how the phenomenon of dancing with the deos cannot be simply explained as merely dancing. It is as if the men and women in certain parts where women are also allowed to carry the gods for a certain amount of time have absolutely no control over how they move—rather, a certain force, which is believed to be of the gods and goddesses, assumes control of their bodies, making them sway and dance to the rhythms of the drums being played during the ceremony.
This moment is considered an integral part of the event. People offer flowers to the men who are now vessels of the deities, and the procession proceeds through the fair. The Madai celebrates a coming together of the divine and the human. In the village fairs, the deities are assembled around the time of noon; however, in urban centres, such as Narayanpur, Bhanuprattappur and Geedam, the deities begin arriving the night before, and continue to arrive from various villages till the following noon.
Once all the deities have assembled in the deo sthal, the rituals begin with the continuous beating of drums.
These ritual offerings can extend over a night, as was witnessed in Narayanpur, where the prayer rituals and the traditional dance began a night before the inauguration of the fair. The night was spent with young men and women who often belong to the Gondi [traditional] institution of Ghotuls dancing before the deities. For the dances, a larger area has to be cleared in the middle of the fair, where all the spectators join together to perform the karsaar while the priest performs the sacrifices and worship rituals.
Once the offerings have been made, the pens and dangs been carried through the fair, and the gods have secured the fair through the ceremonial procession, the fair is declared open for the people. One is told that the ritual of the Madais has existed through the centuries. As one looks into the anthropological studies of the adivasis, particularly the Gonds of central India, by eminent scholars, such as Verrier Elwin, Frederick Haimendorf and V. Grigson, one hardly finds references of this event. Elaborating on the religious calendar of the Marias Gonds, Grigson compares the occasion of Madai, which he calls mandai to deoguri jatra and penkarsita He documents how the deoguri jatra which begins after poush kolang in the month of Magh , is the culmination of the ritualistic calendar of the Gonds.
However, there are Madais that are celebrated in the honour of a specific deo. In certain villages whose guardian deity is worshipped as pargana deo an endemic term for a group of villages, whose number ranges from eight to ten to about twenty, which together make a pargana there are fairs organized as dedications to one such deity. Here, one would see a larger number of deities, brought from various villages, to pay their respect to the deo.
One such event is the deo Madai of Semargaon where the presiding deity—Kapar Lingo Deo baba who is one of the supreme deities for Gonds —sees about hundreds of pens brought together for the deo jatra. A two-day event, it sees people come together to offer prayers to the pens and dangs brought from various villages across Bastar. The event involves a night- long dance where people perform traditional dances to rela songs while carrying their gods, an event which Grigson has documented as penkarsita.
Such dances are also referred to as pen karsaars , where the carriers of the pens and dangs are driven by the divine power of the ancestral deities and every one present at the ceremony dances with each other along with the gods. Only after pen karsita has been performed, and worship ceremonies have been offered, can the deoguri or procession through the fair begin.
Although the landscape of the event has evolved over the years, the deo or doeguri jatra still remains an imminent feature of the event. Deoguri iatra, as the name suggests, involves carrying and dancing with the deos embodied in pens and dangs. Pens at deosthal. It is believed that the ancestors continue to live and guide the Gondi clans through these pens after ceremonial rituals have been performed to render these logs as vessels containing the divine energy of the ancestral deities.
Dangs are single pieces of long wooden logs with triangular flags of red or white color, tied at the upper end, with ghunghroos bells tied at the lower end. These log-gods are symbolic of the ancestral spirits with each clan having their own pens. It is believed that the pens represent the original ancestors of each clan. The guardian deity is also believed to ward off the evil and menacing spirits away from the village and its people, and is thus invoked in times of need by the people of the village irrespective of their jati or religious affiliations.
Madai, as an event, begins with offerings of flowers, rice and vermillion, made to the guardian deities and pens of various clans invited from neighbouring villages. Among residents of the village, the non-adivasis too begin every occasion first by worshipping the guardian deity of the village and then their own religious gods and goddesses. The Madai, although centered around the deities of the Gonds, is not limited only to the people of the Gond communities; rather, the rituals of the first day are incomplete without the participation of the members of other adivasi groups.
Pandit Ram Nareti shares during a conversation that without the participation of other groups—the drums which are played by the people of the Gadha community, the flowers grown by the Maraars, the liquor brewed by the Kalhaars—the ritual ceremonies remain unfulfilled. Thus, one witnesses the coming together of various communities in various capacities in the deo sthal.
With time, the event of the Madai has seen a larger participation of other groups too, particularly that of the non-adivasis. Thus, from a time when only Gonds were responsible for organizing the event, today, many different ethnic groups join in to collectively organize the event both at the level of the village and at the urban centres. Thus the Madai organizing committee involves the participation of the village elders of all the communities present in the village. However, the decisions pertaining to scheduling of the date of the Madai still lies with the Gond priest in the village.
Since most villages are inhabited by the Gonds, often the priest of the guardian deity who has been chosen by the deity herself and belongs to the Gond community , after consultation with the deities and ancestral gods of the village, can declare the date to the members of the deo committee. Thus begins the preparations of the Madai—collection of donation, invites to the deities of neighbouring villages, booking of various performance troupes, booking of tents for stalls and shops of various kinds, invitation to traders to put up their stalls during the fair.
These arrangements often span across months; thus the planning and preparations begin right after Dusshera, when the Madais begin to be scheduled after the Raj Madai of Jagdalpur. The festival of Madai also marks the beginning of the season of wedding ceremonies and rituals among the people of Bastar. It is during the season of Madais that families visit each other and alliances are made.
Phaldaan —a ceremony that marks the agreement of the nuptial alliance between the families—is performed during this season when families visit each other in the Madais being organized around the region. As people of various communities and regions come together and visits are made to various Madais, this offers an opportunity for families to scout and arrange for suitable alliances for their sons and daughters. It is said that the weddings that take place outside this season are usually the cases where the couple has either eloped or married against the wish of their families.
Besides the celebration of the harvest at the end of the monsoon, Madais also mean seeking the blessings of the deities prior to preparation for weddings and for the nuptial ceremonies. Thus, one sees that the traders who come to Madais also offer commodities that are an essential part of the wedding ceremony. And this ritual of the traders bringing in goods in large quantities and varieties has been an integral feature of the Madai for centuries. Millets for sale and purchase by traders and vendors. He shares that before the advent of the modern modes of transportation, the traders would travel on bullock carts from one place to another.
Thus, bookings were made in advance, and the fair would travel from one village to another according to the dates of the bookings. However, today with faster modes of transportation and growing commercialization, people are able to find many such occasions where the traders offer opportunities to make purchases for various events during the year. The enthusiasm and excitement for pen Madais have simmered but it has not been completely lost.
The fair offers stalls that sell metal suitcases, utensils of various kinds, clothes at wholesale rates to be gifted to relatives and village members by the family of the bride and groom , silver jewellery and accessories of all kinds for women. Utensils for sale during Madai. Silver jewellery being bought for marriage ceremonies. There is also a separate section devoted to vegetables and meats of all kinds. One also sees traders present in the market, who are willing to buy agricultural produce and non-timber forest products brought by the people to the Madai.
After selling their produce, the people then use the same money to make purchases of various kinds as preparation for wedding ceremonies. Madai therefore offers a site of commerce and trade, where one often finds women and men selling various handicrafts and produce from their fields—ranging from millets to fresh vegetables and fruits, from baskets and brooms to elaborate decorative items, all produced at home.
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