Jal Jangal Jamin Jiv.... Adivasitva

we are the Adivasi from Thane!


There was a time when the Indian sub-continent was blessed with an amazing variety of natural life, made possible by diverse geographical features and climatic conditions. Innumerable early communities, which we now refer to as tribes or adivasis, lived as an integral part of Nature, harvesting its bounties. Even though each tribe had its own lifestyle, specific habitat, food habits, customs and rituals, it shared a common divinity with the others. Nature was their God, their guide, their very reason for being.

However, as we all are so acutely aware, radical change has mutated the sub-continent. The abundance of natural life has been depleted and towns, cities and metropolises have mushroomed. Even though these changes have happened, tribal communities still persist, holding on to their way of life, in settlements spanning the length and breadth of the country – sometimes living in little pockets very close to highly civilized and modern cities, sometimes far away in isolated cloisters, along the sea coast, in dense forests or snow clad mountains. They are a vital part of the country’s living heritage.

In the state of Maharashtra alone there are communities belonging to forty-seven different tribes living along the western coast of India. This accounts for 9% of the total population and ranks third with respect to the tribal population in the country. Few of the communities living here are the Malhar koli, Warlis, kokana, katkari. Although in recent years their decorative art has been celebrated and has gained wide acceptance, little is known about these self-effacing people. Now onwards these tribes will be refer by Adivasi in following paragraphs in this article

We are an indigenous tribe of people who have lived in the Thane district of Maharashtra for centuries. We are originally hunters/farmers but with deforestation and access denied to the existing forests, paddy farming is now the main stay of their existence. Even today, their entire life revolves around nature. Seasons dominate every aspect of their life with the year getting divided into various periods of rice growing. All the work is done manually with no help whatsoever of machines. The entire family, including women and young children, get engrossed in the work every day throughout the year, leaving old women at home to look after the babies.

Our community has developed an astonishing set of eco-indicators with the help of which they can predict the coming of the monsoon. Minute changes in sunrise and sunset and the cry of a particular bird, herald the onset of the rainy season – ushering in a period of plenty and cause for joy. The first rain in June announces the birth of a new cycle of life. The seeds are sown and the first seedling that sprouts is celebrated as a gift from Dharitri (mother earth) with a rite known as Koli Khaane(Kaavali). The seedling is cooked into a curry and shared by all the family members. Transplanting of seedlings takes place after this rite has been performed.

From June to September, we are busy in their fields, managing water, weeding, tightening plants that have become loose, chasing away rodents and cutting the abundance of grass and storing them for their cattle. Nature responds and by September the crops are standing tall in the fields. We then harvest the crops, but only after Saavari the field Goddess is thanked for her generosity.

After harvesting, its time to celebrate Diwali. Entire clans come together under the same roof and prepare to eat the newly harvested grain for the first time. This is accompanied by joyous dancing, singing, drinking and merry-making. More celebrations follow with the propitiation of Vaghadeva (the Tiger God), Kaansaari (the Corn Goddess) and a host of other Gods and Goddesses. The harvest is threshed and the new grain is brought home and stored in a kaanagii which is a circular rice bin.

By January, preparations are afoot for marriages in the family. All our Adivasi marriages take place in winter and involve at least three days of feasting and rituals. The whole village helps out in the preparations. Women contribute each day by helping in the collection of fuel wood, water storage and cooking. When we visited Nalshet village about this time, we met Shantaram who was even brewing liquor himself for the celebration of his son’s marriage. A talented artist, he has now become a businessman, promoting and selling his art to city dwellers with the help of well-wishers. Nevertheless, he still prefers his way of life and continues to live in the village, his family supporting him in all his endeavours.

As summer sets in, the marriage season comes to an end and Holi is celebrated. This festival marks the death of one cycle of life and we start preparing the earth for the birth of the next cycle, with the collection of dry leaves for the preparation of rab, the organic fertilizer to be spread over the land.

We Adivasi abodes, food habits and clothing point to an inherent austerity. Our homes are windowless spacious simple structures of wood, bamboo, karvi reeds, earth and cow dung with roofs of straw and dried leaves. Inside, the rooms are dark, empty and bare, except for a handful of possessions. Although we share our living spaces with our domestic animals like dogs, goats, hens and even cows cleanliness is overtly apparent. Surprisingly, there is no furniture and no storage containers like boxes, cupboards or trunks. The only food stored is the rice in the kaangiis. All the clothes that we possess hang on a rope tied across the room. But nowadays this picture change for few peoples

Our food is simple, varied and nutritious and consists of rice along with pulses like vari, udid, tur and chavli. This is accompanied by fresh and dried fish. It is only on festive days that they include the meat of a fowl or goat. Our clothing is also scanty and minimal, yet practical – allowing for free movement. Men wear a loin cloth and sometimes a thin kurta and a turban. Women wear a nine yard sari which is tightly wound around their waist and thighs. The upper part of the body is covered by a choli and a piece of cloth called the padar. Little girls wear skirts and cholis while little boys wear shorts or nothing at all. The women’s clothes are brightly coloured and on festive days they look gorgeous with their hair well oiled and decorated with flowers, intricate pins and coloured ribbons. But nowadays many people’s wears the modern dress codes

Apart from the clothes we wear, we Adivasi seem to have no material possessions. Except for a single gold bead threaded in black beads given at the time of marriage, the women have no gold or silver jewellery. Young children now go to government schools in the nearby villages, but very few of them get good chance for quality education, if any, pursue higher education. Even though there is no doctor in the village we people are relatively healthy. This is because traditional knowledge about medicinal plants is passed on down generations and is still practiced. Shantaram’s mother who should roughly be in her sixties, had taken the cattle grazing when we visited and when she made an appearance two hours later was bubbling with energy with no traces of her long outing in the hot afternoon sun. I later learnt that her mother-in-law was still very healthy and was away at the time visiting her daughter in a far away village. The women proudly explained to us that all babies in the village were born in our own homes and they had never had a case of either baby or mother suffering from any infections.

The Adivasis are well known today amongst elite circles for their unique form of decorative art. We paint life with an intricacy of detail and an amazingly beautiful way of depicting every aspect that surrounds their daily routine. Traditionally, they painted on walls during the time of celebrations or for auspicious occasions but gradually over the years the images and themes were also transferred to small curios made of bamboo, cloth, pots of mud and dried bottle gourd. One of the main themes that occur in their paintings is that of people dancing in spirals and open-ended circles. For the Adivasi, time is akin to a circle – with cycles within cycles repeating themselves endlessly. They see themselves as joyous dancers in this time frame. This cyclic nature of time is played out in all spheres of their life and can be best seen in their annual cycle of work, thanksgiving, enjoyment and work again. Their art also expresses an interesting aspect of their inherent philosophy, that of austerity. All their stories, with its various moods and nuances are expressed with just two basic colours – the brown of the earth and the white of the rice paste.

Our paintings are well known by world as “Warli painting”. Our paintings prominently depict tigers, corn fields, rats, cockroaches, horses, snakes, peacocks and other manifestations of nature. This reflects the unique relationship that we share with Nature. Personified as Hirva, Nature is seen as the provider of all our requirements and Warlis identify ourselfs with Pardhi, the hunter companion of Hirva and see ourselves as protectors of Nature. Very lees peoples aware about fact that Warli art, the tribal art is art followed & believed by all tribal’s in thane district. Named as Warli art it does not mean that is only practiced by Warli tribe

This holistic view of life is expressed through many small daily practices. Adivasi previously did not plough the land, as this would hurt Dharitri or mother earth. Till very recently, we refused to use synthetic fertilizers, even though it was highly subsidized and at times distributed free. The adivasi knew with their inherent wisdom, that this would dry up the earth. While cooking, bhakris are only slightly roasted, as over roasting and over cooking would result in the grain Goddess Kansaari’s back getting burnt. Adivasi do not milk cows, their reasoning being that the cow’s milk is for her calf. The list is long.

A story by Chandrakant, a Adivasi, brings out the relationship between his tribe and the rest of Nature. The story is that of a farmer who settled on a handsome price for his bull with a neighbouring farmer. After the deal was fixed, the seller offered a bidi to the prospective buyer. The buyer refused saying that he did not smoke. The first farmer then refused to sell his cow to the non-smoker and set out to find another buyer. The story kept repeating itself and the tired farmer kept on negotiating with buyers till he found a bidi smoker to whom he sold his bull. When asked about this strange behaviour the farmer reasoned that if a person did not stop for a smoke, the bull would never get any time to rest either. So though the price was good, he would not sell his animal to such a person.

A story told by Jivya Mashe shows their strong belief that Nature will always care for them. The crops had failed one year and some Adivasi asked a rich farmer to give them food. The rich farmer was apologetic, saying that he had just enough for his own family and he would not be able to help them. He was surprised when the Adivasi cheerfully told him not to worry as they had bearded friends in the forest, who would give them enough food. The farmer was curious to know who these bearded benefactors were. He followed the Adivasi as they moved expertly into the jungle, pulling up long hairy tubers of yam and suran from the ground. These were their bearded friends. The forest is full of friends and the Adivasi will only take as much as is essential for survival.

Between 1800 and 1947, Thane was under British rule. The Adivasi was marginalized and impoverished on many fronts. One of the most important policy decisions that affected them was that their community land was converted into ownership land, to facilitate tax collection. Business communities from Gujarat and Rajasthan quickly moved in and claimed ownership of land and the Adivasis were reduced from being the rightful owners to lowly paid labourers on their own land.

In 1807, The East India Company passed a proclamation that transferred the rights over all community forests in the country to the East India Company while in 1878, the British passed an act that made the Adivasi an illegal trespasser in his own forest. These policies changed the status of this tribal group, from a self sufficient and independent tribe, with adequate resources and unlimited wisdom, to a tribe of serfs and bonded labourers. Even today, the Adviasis continue to fight to regain access to a tiny fraction of the land that was theirs, and access to the forest that they have lived off and protected for ages.

The life-support system of the Adviasi is linked with that of the forest. The Adivasi is dependent on his forest for anna, arogya and aasra (food, wellbeing and security.) The current paradigm of development and non-inclusive forest policy has put the Adviasis through pain and alienation. The impact of continually being marginalized is best illustrated through the shift in the Adivasi-Tiger relationship. The traditional relationship of the Adivasi with the tiger is one of respect. When a Adivasi heard the roar of a tiger, he would say ‘paaona aala’ meaning ‘the guest has come’. The footprints of this visiting God in a field was celebrated by breaking a coconut and smearing the space with gulal. The presence of this footprint was welcomed as a sign of good harvest. Today, the Adviasis are being denied their rights to forest and land in the name of providing protection to the tiger and the forest. It is time that these gentle people are given back their rightful place in the forest, as ‘Jungle cha raja’ or king of the jungle. It is time Pardhi (hunter)was reunited with Hirva (nature).

The biggest cultural lost to Adivasi community is the impact of missionaries in rural area, the peoples influence by Christianity creates partitions in adivasi community. This will be great problem for adivasi community in near future. But new generation nowadays aware about the missionaries’ hidden agenda & they are openly support the pure tribal unity without any external interference.

Now days many of us are highly qualified across the professions. Many of us are staying away from hometown for their education or career. So we are following AYUSH to connect peoples across distance. AYUSH plays great role to utilize our tribal talent to guide our new generation. We have active presence on internet & got connected with different peoples. This will help us to understand each other.

All educated tribal’s should come together for our community development work, is today’s need

We hope all tribal’s will come together at common stage & ensure our tribal success!

Jai adivasi!



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