January 18, 2006

Lights on that hill

The Dangs is tiny both in area and population; Gujarat's smallest district on both counts. The majority of the population is tribal. Like tribal areas almost anywhere in the country, the roads are pitiful, villages don't have electricity, phone service is spotty and that includes mobile phones. Driving about the district at night, I needed no more than my two hands to count the number of electric lights I found. (One of those lights, or a clump of lights, blazed on top of a hill. More of that, shortly).

Yet in one corner of the district, bulldozers and labourers are hard at work on roads. The labourers live, as such labourers do, in tiny shacks and tents beside the road. A small fire at night wards off both the slight chill and the darkness. In a long series of fields, you will find poles erected by the thousand; in some places, multicoloured canvases are already draped over these poles to form tents to house people. In those same fields, you will also find paired rows of closely spaced toilets, pipes ready to feed into a trough dug between the rows. Workers string up wires amidst the poles; elsewhere, more workers are putting up electricity poles and stringing gleaming electric cable from one to the next. Huge Sintex plastic water tanks sit on round concrete platforms; others lie on their side almost bemused. The river that runs nearby is now generous host to a series of check dams, 22 of them we learn, all built in the last year or two (Government of Gujarat signboards say as much). So the river is really a series of placid lagoons.

All this activity. Why? Because the Government of Gujarat has suddenly taken an interest in the lives of the tribals of Dangs?

Not quite.

All this activity, because February 11, 12 and 13 will see a "Shabari Kumbh Mela" in Dangs. 500,000 devotees expected.

So that's what it takes to pay attention to an entire district, to people otherwise forgotten. In which case, I say, let's have Kumbh Melas all over this country, all the time.

And that blazing clump of lights? The brand new, still unfinished temple on a hill, commemorating the spot where Shabri fed berries to Ram and Lakshman in the Ramayan. Lights up there. Saw them off to our left for many minutes on the night we left Mangal Barde's home in Mukhamal village. That was after struggling to take notes while we spoke, by the light of a tiny flickering oil lamp. No other lights in Mangalbhai's house. No lights in Mukhamal. Lights on that hill.


More on this trip, soon.


kuffir said...

sabari must have fed berries to ram and lakshman all over india - there are several areas in a.p., and karnataka (and of course u.p., and m.p., and chattisgarh ).. where she is supposed to have done that. so you're right- let there be kumbh melas all over the country. as long as they generate nothing more harmful than touristic interest.
but what if the parivar decides sabari deserves a 'dal' of her own too ? more absurd things have happened.

Anonymous said...

Won't be the first time our p-secs shouting wolf, remember 2001?

Hmm...kuffir, touristic interest leads to little incidents in Mecca too - no?

Anonymous said...


That was an excellent post - you really have a very distinguished writer's voice. I loved the article. Are you going to query it?

I have never heard of Sarbari - why does this legend attract so much pilgrims?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you Kuffir. Several people in the Dangs told us that they had always heard that the "real" site where Shabri fed Ram the berries is in Kerala, but then others seemed to revere this site, so I don't know.

As always, and perhaps sadly, any supposed "reality" is irrelevant when it comes to faith.

Thank you Helmi, I'm touched by your kind comments on my writing. I enjoy yours too, you know. But I don't understand, what do you mean am I going to "query it"?

The Shabri legend is from the Ramayana; she fed Ram and his brother Lakshman berries. There is a Shabrimala temple in Kerala whose devotees you can see all over the south at this time of year, and they are called Ayyappa devotees. Whether this is the same Shabri I don't know. (Someone please correct me if I've got any of this wrong).

Anonymous said...

Or if I may suggest, lets move the whole Kumbh Mela outside India! that way we can give subsidy to poor Hindu's too. Let them also get the life time opportunity of flying that too at government's cost.

How about that hummmm?