Sankranti in Keeramanda
Sankranti the harvest festival is celebrated all over India under various names, Lohri in the North, Makaharra Sankranti in the North West, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and so on.
As most of you would know, India is largely agrarian and the heart of this country still beats among the rich and vast variety of grain and cash crops that are grown in the country. Sankranti is celebrated when the first crop is harvested, it is a time of thanks giving to the Gods, to the mother earth and gusto in the celebrations is determined by the plentifulness of the crop.
This year, as part of the Adobe project, five of my colleagues and me found ourselves in Keeramanda. Keeramanda is a tiny clutch of mud huts on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border and actually falls in AP. We were there on a three day film shoot as we planned to make a short film on how Keeramanda celebrates Sankranti, the much awaited harvest festival.
We had heard that on Sankranti this village held a competition, in which hundreds of bulls from the village and neighboring ones would gather and to the sound of much hollering and screaming there would be a race. A small crowded 100 yard stretch where the bulls would have to run, and the one who managed to complete the race fastest, and this year the time set was 8 seconds, would win a fairly large prize. But wait, I’m moving too fast.
We arrived in the village of Keeramanda two days earlier and set up camp in the thatched extension of the house of a distant relative. Spending most of my days in the dirt, dust, noise and hurry of Bangalore, Keeramanda was the ideal get away. A four hour bumpy ride away from forgettable Bangalore and we were in the lap of nature, green verdant hills, the sound of bulbuls and parakeets filling our ears, the little village pond waited invitingly and we needed no invitation. I and the guys plunged in head long, swimming from one end of shallow pond to the other in long languid strides. The air much much cleaner, cooler. The pace of life so much slower, time to smell the flower and watch the birds fly by, we pulled out our camera and shot away, footage and stills, we just couldn’t get enough.
On the day of Sankranti the village wakes up at 3 in the morning to make large fires, where they sit around and warm themselves and at the first cock crow which signals eminent dawn the women of the house get bustling, making pots of hot water for all to bath in. They then head into the courtyard to do the traditional Rangoli.
The Rangoli is a decoration on the floor, done in various coloured powered; The Rangoli is usually done everyday in the courtyard, but for Sankranti and such other festivals it’s done in an elaborate manner. Besides numerous other things the Rangoli for Sankranti must include the relief of two large sugarcane stocks made in brown powder, with green foliage on top, and a pot in the centre.
Sugarcane is another central part of Sankranti and since in Keeramanda they grew it, people just went to their fields and lopped off a few cane. With so much of cane, my colleagues spend hours exercising their jaws and stocking up on as much sugar as they could get out of the cane.
Later in the morning, the family goes on to bedeck their cows and goats with flowers and a small puja is performed. Sankranti is when the domestic animals who worked just as hard as their masters to realize the crop are honoured. In preparation for the puja the animals have their horns sharpened and oil painted! sometimes they are also bathed, lovingly groomed and fed with specially made sweets.
A central part of Sankranti is the entertainment, more for men then women. Cock fights are a great source of entertainment, thought they are banned and so….., no the cock fights have not stopped, camera persons like us are strictly supervised and prohibited from taking any pictures for publication. Grooming, feeding and watching the cocks grow into sturdy birds just for a day like this is what a lot of men in the village live for, and our host was kind enough to let two of his home grown favourites launch at each with all their flaming red plumage on display. But I can’t go into the fine art of cock fighting or cock rearing here, however I did smuggle out a few pictures of some of those brave busters going for each other. Thankfully they didn’t have their killer spurs on J
Besides the cock fights organized on the sly, is the bull racing. The bull racing attracts much crowds and frenzy in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and it too raised the courts ire and was banned for a short while, of course without success. Recently they have been allowed again and can be held under a strict set of rules framed by the Chief Justice himself.
One of the main reasons for banning these bull racing events was not just because of the way the animals were handled but because of the way in which a large number of people seriously endangered their lives. I think some of those seriously injured also succumbed to them later on and therefore the ban.
To the small village of Keeramanda this Sankranti came over 260 bulls, of all shades and colour, sizes and age. With all kinds of temperaments, some kicking the dirt and all riled up, other timid, having to be dragged through the venue even while the large crowds smacked their flanks and screamed.
The little lane in which the race was to be held was packed, narrowing the race track to a sliver. The roofs, terraces, walls and mud path had all the assembly it could carry, the air thick with dust and full of excited hollering. It’s an all men’s show. It’s just not safe for a woman to be in the path of a raging bull, who often is so confused and terrified, and so simply ploughs through the crowd, thereby injuring many in the crowd.
If I somehow gave you the idea that bull racing is a huge fun sport, I’m sorry; this sport is more than fun. The winner of that race can walk away with a hefty cash prize and also a few grams of gold and so it’s a hotly contested race. Thanks to some of those very skittish bulls Keeramanda saw four injuries this year; thankfully none of them were serious. All in all, we came away exhausted but with some warm memories not forgetting some excellent footage of a very heady sport indeed.