Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sankranti: The vanishing tribes of Haridas, Gangireddu

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: 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 
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.

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