The issue of cultural identity is becoming increasingly important for the Gond Koyturs. They are resentful of the attempts of the RSS to Hinduize their tribal traditions. This resentment found expression at an event held in memory of Pari Kupar Lingo, the symbol of art, culture and social consciousness in the Gond tradition. The three-day Pen Gond Jatra was held from March 29-31. The procession (jatra) is taken out once every four years. This year’s event witnessed Bahujan unity, with a large number of Dalits and OBCs joining the celebrations. Pari Kupar Lingo is also considered the father of the 750 gotras of the Gond community.
The main function was held at Semargaon in Amabeda sub-tehsil of Kanker district, Chhattisgarh. Among others, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Vikram Usendi, and BJP MLA Bhojraj Nag from Kanker, former MP Sohan Potai, Kondgaon MLA Mohan Markam, Bhanupratappur MLA Manoj Mandavi, Kanker district panchayat chairperson Subhadra Salam and local panchayat chairperson Dev Chand Markam attended the event. Tribals and OBCs from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Odisha travelled long distances to take part in the celebrations.
On the first day, the Pen was brought out of the Thana and carried to the Jatra spot. The local Tribals were all decked up in peacock feathers – the symbol of Pari Kupar Lingo. The next morning, the Gayta bathed Lingo Dev. Then, all Devas, who had arrived at the place for the event, were welcomed. The local Tribals believe that all their Devas are physically present at the function after entering the bodies of the Gaytas one by one. The Karrsad dance, staged the following night, was a key attraction. It continued till the next morning. The Tribals believe that their gods and goddesses also take part in the dance. On the third and the last day, a prayer was conducted for the wellbeing of all the animals and plants of the Earth. Then, the gods that had come for the Jatra were given a send-off.
Local social activists played an important role in putting together the event. Mannu Gota, a member of the organizing committee, said that they offer their services for every Jatra. They look after food and security arrangements and ensure that discipline is maintained. Young volunteers take on these responsibilities. He said that they impatiently wait for the Jatra. Afterall, it has to do with their cultural identity. He said that their tradition is the oldest and the richest. We youngsters come to know about our Devas, culture and civilization through this Jatra and feel blessed. Manish Dhurve, who had come here from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, said that he had been waiting for the Jatra for the past three years. He said that he was participating in the event for the first time and it had been an ethereal experience for him. “The event is not untouched by modernity but we will try our best to preserve the purity of our tradition and culture,” he said. Harish Shourie, from Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh, was also attending the event for the first time. He said he got an opportunity to experience the great Tribal culture.
There was a complete ban on photography and videography at the event. Suddu Paatwi, a member of the Lingo Pen Jatra management committee, said that until a few years ago, photography at the event was unheard of. However, slowly, outsiders and foreigners started showing up at the event and started taking photographs. Later, the organizers discovered that the photographs of the Jatra dance were used to commodify Tribal culture and civilization. Material uploaded on the internet put their culture in an unfavourable light, hence they decided to ban photography and videography.
OBCs and Dalits also consider Lingo their ancestor
Satyarth Karayat, a Dalit, said that this was his second visit to the Pen Jatra. He said that he considered Pari Kupar Lingo his ancestor too, adding that the Dalit community also believes in the Pen system. He said that it wasn’t long ago that he came to know about this connection. According to him, the gotra system of Gonds was akin to that of the Dalits. He said that his gotra was Nag. According to Gondi beliefs, members of this gotra are supposed to protect the salai (sal) trees. Ugesh Sinha, who belongs to one of the backward castes, said that OBCs have close ties with the Gonds. For instance, the Pen Jatra does begins only after liquor brewed in the homes of members of the Kalar caste (an OBC caste) is offered to the gods. It is believed that Pari Kupar Lingo leaves his seat only after liquor is offered to him. Ugesh said that the Gaytas of many villages are OBCs.
Politicians abound, RSS’s role questioned
One of the high-profile participants, BJP MP Vikram Usendi, told FORWARD Press that he had been taking part in the Jatra since he was a child. He said that the Jatra is proof of the ancientness of the tribal culture. However, he ducked the question on Hinduization of Tribals, saying that it was “political”. He said that the Dev Jatra is a religious event of the Tribals and should not be politicized. Kanker district panchayat chairperson Subhadra Salam said that Kupar Lingo Dev was the chief diety of her maternal home (Maiye) and that she had been part of the festivities since her childhood.
In a conversation with FORWARD Press, former BJP MP and a social leader of the Tribals, Sohan Potai, accused his party’s parent organization, the RSS, of hatching a “cultural conspiracy” against the Tribals. He said that attempts were being made to give the tribal tradition of worshipping ancestors the form of idol worship. He gave an example: Bhojraj Nag, an MLA from Antagarh block of Kanker district, goes to the Rajim Kumbh with “Dang”, “Aanga” and “Doli” – all symbols of tribal culture – while our ancestors and Devas have nothing to do with the Hindu religion. He said that Nag was “infecting” the Pen system of the Gond community to serve his political interests, adding that this would desecrate the Pen Manda. He said that the Tribals are nature-worshippers and the Jatra of Kupar Lingo is linked to the conservation of nature.
(Chandralekha Kangali, a scholar of Gond culture and language, has contributed to the translation of Gondi words into Hindi and to the interpretion of various facets of Gondi culture.)
 The earliest Tribals.
An ancestor of the Gonds, also called Deva.
It is called “Yatra” by the Gonds of Maharashtra. It is also considered an occasion for the ancestors of Gonds to meet.
The spot where the representation of Pari Kupar Lingo is seated.
In the Gond tradition of Chhattisgarh, Gayta is the one who conducts religious ceremonies. Gayta is called Bhumak in Gondi and Bhagat in Marathi. Bihar also has a Bhagait tradition.
Sanjay Jothe, an expert in Gondi language and culture, says that in Gondi tradition, “gai” (cow) is called “Yad” and a cow-rearer is called a Yadav. Today, Yadav is the biggest OBC caste. He says that Acharya Moti Ravan Kangali has shown that many Gond gotras are closely linked to OBC castes. The OBC-Gond interrelationship is traditional, historical and ideological. What this tells us is that the toiling classes were closely linked to each other; however, subsequently, as part of a conspiracy, fissures were created between them. But if we delve into history, we will discover that all the Bahujan castes were mutually dependent on each other.
Every year, a so-called Kumbh is organized at the confluence of Mahanadi in Rajim Block, Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Over the past few years, similar “kumbhs” are being organized in different parts of the country, including at Simaria Ghat, on River Ganga at Patna.
 The Gond Tribals take out a procession carrying representations of their folk deities seated on palanquins.
A platform with a roof resting on 16 pillars, in which a representation of Pari Kupar Lingo is kept.
Translated by Amrish Herdenia and copy-edited by Rajiv Theodore
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