I am often hounding Murugan or someone else to tell me something that is ‘tribal’ about the tribals in the Sittilingi Valley. It is a question I get asked often as well. But mostly, I am disappointed that there isn’t anything that makes them very tribal. At least not in the way most of us expect tribals to be. Forest gods have been replaced by other mainstream Hindu Gods, even temples look like any other rural painted structure. Whenever I pester for a ‘tribal’ nugget, I am told of the Kari-Ramar, a tribal god who they say was worshipped in the form of a small iron rod or pestle. Something that is rather fascinating, given that iron is a man-made metal.
This week that I am in the Valley has been a fascinating one though and I saw many things ‘tribal’. There was a tribal festival the last three days in the Sittilingi village temple. Most times that I am here, there is one event or the other in the village and there are loud speakers blaring songs most night long. This week, the god was being reinstated into the renovated temple, an event that was being celebrated over three days.
There used to be a small shrine in the village which the tribals decided was not enough. Before starting renovation, the idol was taken out. Before reinstating the idol, they had to take it deep into the forest to a shrine so that the idol could get its powers back! Later on there was much music, a nautanki-style dance program, animal sacrifice and of course feasting.
On Tuesday night some of us set out to the village at ten in the night. The dance was to begin soon. I couldn’t resist taking pictures in the temple. Finally there was something that was rustic and different from other common place temple idols. Apart from rustic, I even thought of the word primeval there, but that would be taking my enthusiasm too far.
The Mariyamman idol was one of the prettiest I had ever seen. Just outside the sanctum sanctorum were two wooden carts (for lack of a better word) that I imagine must have been used to carry the idol into the forest and back. Painted red, the wooden horse was flanked by two female figurines. Outside were some more idols, gorgeously decked up in shiny clothes and finery.
Before long, the dance troupe had arrived, with glittering clothes and gaudy make up. Prayers later and a tempo built on by the loud drums; the saree covering them was off, to reveal skimpy clothes, like those usually worn by performers in a circus. The older woman, undoubtedly experienced at entertaining a field full of men, actually made me feel sad at her plight. The younger girl, rather pretty under a cake of make up, got most of the whistles though. Then there were two others, fully clad, yet eliciting much cheering from the crowds. None of them danced well, but then, by the look of it, none of the villagers in the drunken night seemed to mind.
The dancers and their costumes reminded me of the nautanki of North India. Though they started with prayers and a dance with the karaga on their heads, within no time they had turned to raunchy moves and teasing the crowds. We didn’t stay past midnight.
After the all night long entertainment was to come the prayers and the day of feasting….
(To be continued)