Namaste doston! Ram Ram!
I am just back from a tour of the villages of Chhattisgarh. What a trip it was! So much fun. Villages that looked like villages. Beautiful kachha houses. Granaries overflowing with grain. After all, we were in Sargoja – the Wheat Bowl of India – famous for its wide variety of grain, of so many colours, taste and aroma.
My guide was Rahul Singh ji, the famous historian of the area. The sights we saw – greenery as far as the eyes went; fields with paddy, wheat and so many other healthy grains; and amidst this greenery, huge houses – all kaccha. Huge entrances leading to store-rooms over-flowing with opening out to a circular courtyard and around the courtyard more rooms with a kitchen to one side. All kachha. All done up with a mud plaster. But more beautiful than polished marble. The designs wrought by fingers better than any designer tiles. Simple materials like cow dung, plain mud, geru mixed up to form such beautiful floors that I just couldn't stop admiring. The artist had taken inspiration from nature and created a world populated with porcupines, birds, ducks, langoors, bulls, flowers, trees, men and women. The woman behind this art is Sonabai. This art that she has created is known by her name. Rahul ji tells us that she had learned it in her home as a child and when she got married, she brightened up her new home with it. It was because of Rahul ji that we were able to see her home. Though Sonabai passed away last year, her art lives on. People come to Sargoja to learn this art.
We met her family – son, daughter-in-law, grandson, his wife – all were there. And what a house – it was a living art gallery. Everywhere you turn, you see her work – women drawing water from the well, a monkey swinging from a tree, parrots, bulls. And a sign of prosperity – grain in the courtyard.
Did you know that 23,000 varieties of grain are being preserved here? Then this region also has ancient roots that keep coming up in the form of temples and palaces in excavations. He showed us the caves of Ramgarh. This is supposed to be the place where Kalidas sat and created his magnum opus Meghdoot. This cave also has some inscriptions in the Brahmi script. This is supposed to be the world's first love letter written by Sutnuka Daasi inviting the love of Roopdeen Daksh.
The people of Sargoja are nature lovers. They have preserved their forests. Gaudy markets have not been allowed to take the place of traditional haats. And they revere Mother Earth – whose bounty they enjoy. Nature has been generous in giving here and these people have also preserved these gifts. The plastic epidemic is non-existent here. But what is most important is that the people here are rich in contentment. If people are content, they will also have many festivals and happy traditions. When people live together in harmony they want to share their joy and live life happily. So there is no "festive season" here, rather festivities about year-round.
In fact, most of us also lived similar lives that we seem to have forgotten. Didn't we have some festival or reason to celebrate all year round when we were growing up? I suppose the more educated we are becoming, the more we are losing touch with our history. Holi was not a single day festival, it sort of announced the beginning of so many others. Small festivals like tesu, bachhbaras, Sita saptmi. So many types of teej – but now only some are celebrated. In the days gone by so many people managed to survive only because of the festivities – these included those who cared for the calves, the trees, did the upkeep of the wells, those who make pots, the barbers, the ones who roasted the grains and even the smaller farmers.
Rahul ji also has a special place for Sargoja and the Ambikapur district and its villages. He shared stories of the region - from the heart. Did you know that 23,000 varieties of grain are being preserved here? Then this region also has ancient roots that keep coming up in the form of temples and palaces in excavations. He showed us the caves of Ramgarh. This is supposed to be the place where Kalidas sat and created his magnum opus Meghdoot. This cave also has some inscriptions in the Brahmi script. This is supposed to be the world's first love letter written by Sutnuka Daasi inviting the love of Roopdeen Daksh.
Next, we travelled to Maheshpur, home to ancient Shiv temples. This land is the home of many talented people – writers, historians, scientists, anthropologists, philosophers and there is actually no count of the folk artists born here.
We were fortunate enough to visit around the time of Holi and were able to witness the dance of Saila and Sua. All along the route, we say dance troupes. The highlight for me was the picture I clicked with the dancers bedecked in their colourful costumes and pom poms.
The bamboo art of this area is amazing. Many national level bamboo artists live here.
And the food – is largely grain based. Fara, dhuska, bara, malpua, kari-laadoo, khaja. Just the aroma of rice cooking drove me into a trance. And when I actually ate the dishes, I was in heaven.
The journey back was livened up by Rahul ji's stories. He told us the story of how friends swear loyalty to each other by tieing a mitan – or what you would call a friendship band in the city. Then both exchange paan, moong dal, ganga jal and prasad. All this to make their friendship permanent. This custom is irrelevant of caste or class. The mitan ensures that they and their families share all life's highs and lows.
Isn't it a lovely custom?
So here I am, signing off by tieing the mitan to you, my lovely reader!
(About the Writer: Manisha Kulshreshtha is a popular Hindi writer born and educated in Rajasthan. Her upbringing as an army child made her footloose and her travels enriched her soul. Honoured with several awards and fellowships, Manisha published seven collections of stories and four novels. Manisha is a Senior Fellow with the Cultural Department and is working on a travelogue -- Meghdoot Ki Rah Par. Her works have been translated into Russian, Dutch and English. Her work has afforded her the opportunity to travel around the world.)