The dingy alley opened to a huge courtyard which was echoing with the tribal tunes and verses sung in high tone. The act was vacillating between spiritual musing and performance galore. The brightly lit chowk was a perfect set with an expansive banyan tree and a small temple adjacent. Compared to the usual commercial acts being performed in the cities, this was far too vivid in terms of costumes, jewelry, characters and props. Needless to say, the whole set up was absolutely raw, but the unparalleled energy diffused that exception.
Intrigued by the entire set up we approached Lehru to get a better insight of Gavri. The main festival of Gavri is propagated by the Bhopas (priests) of the village by placing the trident and the deity in the middle of the village area. The first day of the fest is organised in the main temples in the presence of the Bhopas and chieftains of the village. On the second day, the act is played in the north part of the village and from the third day onward, the performers travel to the inviting villages.
Extending over 4-5 hours a day with just 1 break, the main act is called Gavri and other unrelated Bheel acts are being performed. Ironically, none of the women members of the tribe participates. All men disguise themselves in various characters including (Deva -Gods) Shiva, Parvati, Kanha and Kalka etc. The lead actors usually are the lead singers too for the respective acts. The portrayal of demons (Danava), humans (Manava) and animals (Pashu) are also involved. It is an act of devotion and gratitude. All the actors abstain from alcohol and physical intimacy for the period of 40 days and consume only vegetarian food once a day. The troupe travels around the Mewar region, by the villagers that invite them over and bear all their expenses of food and lodging.
The ambiance created by these reformed artists in that remote village ceased to be pseudo. It had a rural charm, infused with the fervor of raw performers and a spiritual culture. Lehru narrated an incident that occurred during his last visit to see Gavri. He mentioned how the performances make the entire audience feel the presence of Goddess Gauri among them that it culminates in songs and verses being sung in high tempo.
With a little shudder we engrossed ourselves in the visual pleasures. In fact, the time we spent midst the rural lot helped us discover the true essence of the entire festival. The Bheels believe they have been blessed by Lord Shiva hence, the reason they outperform Gavri, better than anybody else. It is their responsibility to carry forward the cultural effervescence to the coming generations and maintain the element of entertainment.
Aesthetically pleased and filled with a transitional state of trance, we left the village at around 3 o’clock in the morning. But what didn’t leave us were the reverberation of thali and dhol and the chants of ‘Jai Shanker Mahadev’ and ‘Jai Gauri Mai’ echoing in our souls, that even today lead us to the state of bliss.
Editor: Devika Sisodia