Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Sankranti festival: Gangireddu, Haridas make a vanishing trick

By Syed Akbar
Haridas, Gangireddu, cock and bull fights, and rangoli. They have been the symbols of Sankranti, the festival of harvest, for hundreds of years. These traditional festive symbols are now conspicuous by their absence, robbing Sankranti of its original glory, grandeur and cultural heritage.

If modernity and fast-paced life have taken a heavy toll of Haridas, Gangireddu and rangoli in towns and cities, strict animal laws have put an end to traditional cock and bull fights. They now remain just the remnants of  Sankranti. High inflation and unchecked price rise have forced many families to forgo delicious food preparations traditionally associated with the festival of harvest.

Old timers recall how the streets in villages, towns and cities reverberated with the devotional hymns and bhajans of Haridas and how children watched in awe and amusement heavily built Gangireddu humbly dancing to the diktats of his master. Colourful rangoli used to welcome visitors outside every house.

Haridas and Gangireddu are now limited to just a few pockets in the State and the tradition is fast dying with the new generation in the traditional families diverting to new and more lucrative profession. "The concept of Haridas was born to tell people about the rich and varied culture and heritage of the country. Most of the narration by them centred around epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was in simple language and everyone was attracted to the hymn," recalled senior arts teacher S Srinivas Rao.

While cock fight was popular everywhere in the State, bull fight or Jallikattu was held in areas bordering Tamil Nadu, where it was quite common in earlier days. This practice of fighting with the bull was seen mainly in a few villages of Chittoor district.

Rangampeta, 20 kms from Tirupati, as well as at mandal headquarters town, Pakala in Chittoor district, were popular for the bull game organised on Kanumu, the concluding day of the three-day harvest festival. Courageous men try to tame the disoriented bulls, running in the midst of huge congregation of people, by holding on to them as long as possible.

The State government has banned the "cattle festival" due to fatalities involved in the game. Still it is observed in a couple of villages, albeit clandestinely, away from the police glare.

"Gone are the days where children in villages used to run after decorated bull being taken by a man seeking alms, and also the Haridas, who used to roam about praising Lord Hari," regrets noted poet Sannidanam Narasimha Sarma.

Deploring the change of trend among people, Sarma observes, "our women are synonymous with our culture. But young women of late feel shy of singing traditional songs and decorating house front yards with rangoli. The culture and traditions need to be taught by parents to their children. But young parents in pursuit of money fail to teach their children. What is now left is no tradition, but vulgar display of wealth and pomp".

The government ban on cock fight notwithstanding, a few interior villages still witness this age-old practice. A cock-fight organiser, G Murali, says  "we expect a large number of people this time too. The stakes are quite high, as also the risk of being caught by the police".

West Godavari superintendent of police C Ravi Varma said the police are keeping a close watch and any illegal activity will be curbed with an iron hand. "We will not spare anyone how big they are," he warned.

Experts fear that more than 90 per cent of Haridas mendicants have quit the profession. Several thousand families used to eke out a living through singing devotional hymns. Gangireddu owners called Basavannas used to make a lot of money as everyone donated them either in kind or cash.

Nuzvidu town in Krishna district was famous for its cock fights. Former rulers of this area encouraged cockfights.

B Jayaprakash of Krishnaveni creations, a literary and cultural association, feels sorry that people are no longer encouraging traditions. "Artistes still love to perform folk songs, folklore and traditional dances but people do not want to encourage them. Lack of encouragement is one of the factors for the disappearance of traditions".

In many places Sankranti used to celebrated with palmyrah leaves decorated all around the house. Farmers used to make newly harvested paddy and
leaves of palm tree available to people in urban areas. Even though they are sold for a price, they used to be available on a large scale. Paddy is necessary for distribution to the poor and palm leaves for bonfire on Bhogi day.

"Now procuring these items is a difficult task especially palmyra leaves," astrologer Y Karthikeya Sarma said. The other difficulty urbanites face is preparation of traditional dishes like arisalu, synonymous with Sankranti.

Dasaradharama Murthy of Nellore agrees that festival atmosphere is  missing this time because Haridas and Gangireddu have played a vanishing trick.

In Telangana Sankranti is marked by the celebration of "Kari". Sankranthi is third important festival in the Telangana region as the locals prefers Dasara (Vijayadashami) and Deepavali. The temple town of Inavolu in Wardhanapet in Warangal district comes alive with people making their offerings to Sri Mallikarjuna Swamy.

Every year farmers from nearby villages like Ontimamidipally, Singaram, Udalhagudem, Lingamarigudem, Ponnulu and Inavolu decorate their bullock carts and tractors with mango leaves and coloured festoons before they arrive in the temple town to take round of the ancient temple in gratitude of the residing deity for the harvest.

The ‘Mallana Jatara’, as it is popularly known here, on Sankranti eve, the fair remains the most preferred spot for devotees to visit in Warangal. Common sights here on this day would be of women carrying ‘bonam’ on their heads, married women desiring children offering prayers touching the wall of the temple and thousands of people making an overnight stay at the 100 acre temple site.

Inflation, crop loss dampen festivity

Unprecedented inflation and crop loss have dampened the festive spirit of Sankranti. Farmers in all the three regions have been hit by unseasonal rains triggered by cyclones and low pressure even as the common man is struggling hard to keep the hearth burning.

Crop damage has been extensive in coastal districts, Rayalaseema and parts of Telangana. Added to it is the unchecked inflation and unprecedented increase in the prices of essential commodities. Sankranti is the time when farmers harvest their crop and people cook a variety of dishes in tune with the festive spirits. But the joy of this harvest festival is conspicuously missing everywhere.

The fear of violence over the T issue has also contributed its share to dampen the festive spirit. Many families, which traditionally celebrate the festival in their native village or town, have decided to stay back in view of the politically volatile situation in the State.

In Krishna and Godavari districts, considered the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh, about 100 mandals have been hit by untimely rains and floods. In Krishna district alone crops in 30 mandals were damaged. The loss is put at several hundred crore. The farmers, who are already in debt trap, were further pushed deep into financial quagmire.

Cooking oil price is sold at 75 a  kg, onions at Rs 60 and vegetables between Rs 30 and Rs 45 a kg. Many families now plan to have a low Sankranti festivities. Heaps of damaged crop lie in the backyard of farmers' houses or in the fields with the State government yet to purchased the damaged produce.

In Vijayawada CPM leader Ch Baburao said people have lost interest in celebrating festivals due to price rise, crop damage and political instability. "Unless the government controls the escalation of prices, the common man will not be in a position to celebrate festivals, even those associated with the arrival of the new crop," he said.

As farmers failed to sell their produce, they do not have money for festivities.
In what seems to be a chain reaction, shop keepers too are hit. Purchase of garments and household articles has been affected in many areas in the State.

The traders acquired huge stocks in advance expecting good sales during the festive season. Garment traders admit that they are not even able to get the delivery of their orders as they fear that their stocks might remain unsold.

Normally, the volume of business during festive season used to be nearly Rs 15 to Rs 20 crore a day in East and West Godavari districts. Traders maintain that the volume of business has been affected by nearly 60 per cent this season. Star hotels, which used to organise a series of  cultural programmes on Sankranti eve, are maintaining a low profile.

Many families, which had long stopped preparing traditional food items at home, are returning to the age-old tradition to save a few bucks. "Readymade food items now cost a bomb. This Sankranti we are preparing all food items at home. The money thus saved can be used for some other domestic need," said housewife Padma Kumari in Nellore town.

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