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Gavri : a folk festival that teaches abstinence from liquor

Gavri : a folk festival that teaches abstinence from liquor

Udaipur : In Udaipur region, has begun a period of austerity of 40 days observed by the males of the tribal community. Gavri , is the dance which they perform and strictly abstain from alcohol & non-veg items! Host villages that organize these dance dramas are enacted for the whole day, provide the performers vegetarian food, milk & milk products. Interestingly, not only the guest performers, even the hosts abstain from consumption of alcohol during the period. It is perhaps the only quarter when liquor sale sees a dip in South Raj, claim officials of the excise department. Bhils, the tribal community of Southern Rajasthan have been expressing their love for life, values and relationships through ‘Gavri’ a unique performing art for over 800 years in the region.

Tribal artists perform the dance drama enacting tales from mythology and social episodes inculcating lessons on environment protection, humane values, respect for women- strangely all of them coinciding with burning issues of the present times. “ Gavri is played so beautifully that the audience have an out-of the world experience. The magical effect of the folk music and dance force the viewer to stay on and watch the entire act until the episode reach its end” Pushpendra Singh Ranawat, retired professor and culture enthusiast says. Gavri is marked after the monsoons, generally that falls in the month of September-October. It is celebrated by the tribes in Udaipur, Rajsamand and Chittorgarh districts. In Udaipur, at some one thousand villages, Gavri dance drama is held in fill fervour and excitement.

Women do not take part in Gavri and all the female characters are played by men. The artists perform plays in those villages where their married sisters and daughters reside. The purpose behind this custom is to ensure the wellness of their loved ones after marriage and instill in them a sense of proud and security. A team of forty to hundred persons form the Gavri mandli which moves from one place to other enacting some 40 tales named as ‘Badshah ki Fauj’, ‘ Bhanvare ka Khel’, ‘Sur ka Khel’, ‘Dhani Banjara’, ‘Sehi ka Khel’ etc. It continues for more than a month thus entertaining and educating the masses on social and environmental issues. The food and other expenses of stay is borne by the residents of the hosting village. “ Gavri has been known to be in existence since the 3rd or 4th century, it was prevalent in the times of SiddhRaj Jai Singh, a ruler in Gujarat, who is believed to have shared a good bonding with the Bhils” informs Shri Krishna Jugnu, writer and historian. For Bhils, Gavri is not just an entertainment but it is also a pre depository of a strong religious purpose- express the devotion to Lord Shiva, thank gods for the good rains and a hope of having a prosperous year.

Life for the Gavri performers is not easy. For 40 days, the participants spend their life in austerity, following strict rules. They follow celibacy, do not wear shoes, abstain from alcohol and meat, skip night meal, sleep on the floor and do not bath during this period. The Bhil community is engaged in this dance-drama throughout the day for a month, leaving aside their farming work. Once the festival is over, only then does the community start using the new crop. The dance drama is performed in a circle in the centre of which a Trishul or trident is planted, the singers stand near the trident and move on dancing in the left and right of the circle.Any open platform of the village becomes the stage. The five main characters are Raiee Budia (representing Shiva and Bhasmasur) the raiees representing, Mohini and Parvati, Kutkadia and Pat bhopa, all other players are called Khelye. Kutkadia is ‘sutradhar’ of this play and he relates briefly the story of each play before it begins, thus the audience comes to know in advance what is going to happen.

Trident, Dhol, Thali and Mandal are used for music and the artistically prepared costumes and settings of the actors add to the effect of the play. These costumes are decorated with religious and auspicious mandras like sun, moon, stars, peacock, ‘papiha’ etc. Faces of the human actors are painted with gaudy colors or the masks are used. Black, yellow and red are the colors mainly used. Dark blue color is used for those players in the roles of demons, black for thieves, red for goddesses and yellow for ‘jogi sadhus’.

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