The tribal religions in India often involve traditions of ancestor worship or worship of natural elements. However, over the years, due to acculturation, many tribes have adopted Hindu beliefs and the essence of their uniqueness seems to be in danger. However, when you come across these belief systems, you would be amazed by the stories associated with them. It would be only fair to say that for the longest time, it has only been the tribes of our country and their unwavering faith in mother nature, that have aided conservation of our natural resources.
Located in the Palgarh district of Maharashtra, there is a village called Walvanda. This area is land of the most artistic tribes of India, the Warlis. It is a composite of 7 padas or hamlets with a maximum of 100-120 houses/families in most crowded parts of the hamlets (with about 4-5 members in each home). Warlis have their own animistic beliefs like various other tribes in India.
Villagers pray to the goddess Gaodevi – the local village deity – alongside with Vithobha and Chitobha who are represented on wooden stumps. These wooden stumps are replaced once every 20 years when the grand festival is celebrated. The image of Gaodevi, on the other hand, which is embellished on the ground has remained unchanged, except for a few touch-ups over the years.
At the grand festival, offerings are made to the deities as a gesture in gratitude towards blessings received. Prayers are offered to the deities around the year during important festivals such as Dusshera and Diwali as well. The first crop yield from the fields is also offered to the local deity.
Such is the belief and veneration towards the local deities that according to legend, villagers fervently offer prayers to Nandidevi when the rains have gotten delayed. Villagers are believed to immerse the stone statue of Nandidevi in a vessel containing water until she obliges. According to the local myth around this stone statue of Nandidevi, it was once found to have been broken around the neck. However, later when a couple of village children were found to be playing around it, the broken parts seem to have come together. Today, the stone statue sits under a peepul tree by the stream adjacent to the temple of the local deities.
As one interacts with the locals of this tribal community, you would see these stories of beliefs and faith, come alive. The importance of upholding the cultural diversity of our rich country is conclusively implied.
By- Elita Almeida