Shankarlal Raikwar belongs to a community that dances at festivals and carnivals for a living; he is also a farmer and a Community Correspondent. Shankarlal is an expert in performing feminine roles especially from mythological texts like the Mahabharata. He is proud of his art but unfortunately it makes him a point of ridicule in society. He is also worried…
For the agrarian community who inhabit the central Indian region known as Bundelkhand, the month of March is the time to raise the hope high. The people have just come out of a hard season, ploughing and sowing at their fields and getting the land ready. Everyone is waiting for the rains to pour. At that moment, comes the auspicious festival of Navratri and the whole region goes ecstatic with hope.
"It is one time in the year when the people can dare to hope for anything and everything under the sun," says native Community Correspondent Shankarlal. "They hope against incurable diseases, against calamities, fate and the odds. The sky is the limit. And you only need to have the belief to do so."
According to the local belief, on the days of the festival, the goddess herself enters the body of the chosen one in the community. The person goes into a dervish trance. The others in village pay their respects and make promises to the goddess in exchange for blessings and miracles.
"You could call it a superstition but it is the culture of the region and the ceremony sets the tone for the festival," says Shankarlal. "The goddess herself has visited the earth to give us her blessings. Once the impossible has happened, everything seems possible."
To propitiate the goddess, the people build 'Ghatts' which are earthen pots stuffed with a local variety of grass. These ghatts are placed at locations in the village considered holy - in the vicinity of the temple, under the banyan tree, in the courtyards of the houses etc. They are allowed to remain there for nine days of the festival and on the ninth night, are set affloat in the nearby ponds, lakes or rivers.
While the most religious and zealous tend to undergo grueling tasks like fasting for nine days or crawling on their knees across the entire village, most believe that the best way to propitiate the goddess to is through song and dance.
"Every night, the people gather in the community space. The nagara and the dholak (drums) are out. Folk songs are ringing through the air. Everybody dances till they can't dance anymore. It's almost like a fever in air. We are so carefree. We are filled with a never-before and never-after wave of hope and joy."
"Those nine days are some of the best of our lives."