The Spirit Of The Forest

Mah Fellowship 21-22: May-July Update

August 2, 2022


In the month of May, Nikita delved deeper into the cultural and theological importance of the stitching patterns and methods. She went back over her study from the previous six months and linked the connections. Mirror craftsmanship is very important in the Banjara tribe. According to some accounts, they were installed on the clothes to reflect light on animals in the wild, and their clothing served as a diversion for their protection. Many older women have reported that the clothing has provided them with medicinal advantages. Like the stitching patterns of the Banjara clothing, the jewelry has unique medical significance. Older ladies from one of the villages informed Nikita that certain decorations had varied effects on various areas of the body. Some jewelry raises blood pressure while others stimulate acupuncture sites.

Some of the most influential women of Banjara community that Nikita has interviewed in the last six months.

In the same month, Ashok visited his home town Srugana to explore the drinking culture. He met with his old friends and new locals and had long chats with them about the tradition of making liquor at home and how it is an entire family participates in the process. These families are proud of the booze they make at home. This trip back home allowed him to reflect on the study he had done over the previous six months. He learned about the many methods of producing Mahua. But all of the settlements had one thing in common: the brewing spirit. Regardless of age, career, or marital status, all family members participate in not just brewing Mahua but also in embracing the custom.

Ashok meeting with his friends from neighboring villages


Our fellow, Nikita traveled around the country over the past eight months, meeting with several Banjara communities to learn about their way of life, ancient traditions, and well-preserved Banjara embroidery technique. Last month, Nikita chose to take a break after visiting the villagers, various institutions, and community leaders to reflect on her findings. Nikita has spent the last month studying academic history as chronicled by various experts. This investigation leads her to Prof. Motiraj Rathod's book "Ancient History of Gor Banjara". Prof. Rathod's extensive research on tribal communities is an excellent starting point for delving further into the history and origins of the Bajara community. Nikita's study has provided her with enough information to draw the links between histories, traditions, socioeconomic fabric, culture, and political governance. In the next weeks, she will undergo traditional Banjara embroidery workshops in the village of Yellama Tanda.

This month, Ashok stayed in Surgana to focus on water-related issues in the taluka. For a long time, the region of 15-16 thousand people has been suffering from a serious lack of drinking water. Water shortage becomes particularly acute in the months of April, May, and June. The town president, often known as the ‘mukhya’, is in charge of the water systems. Ashok got a chance to interview the local leader - Mr. Bharat Laxaman Waghmare. Bharat, who was born and raised in Surgana, has spent the last several years serving as the Nagar president of the Nagar Panchayat Samiti (Notified Area Council). Mr. Waghmare discussed how deteriorating infrastructure exacerbates the problem of water shortage. Along with the well, the town has a 10,000-liter water tank that supplies water to all village areas. Every alternate day, each alleyway receives 45 minutes of water.

Ashok meeting Mr. Bharat Waghmare - a local leader from Surgana and other visuals of the region

After visiting his hometown, Ashok decided to delve more into the district's water challenges. Dandichibari, Kukudmunda, Ubarnpada, Vadpada, Ambadhad, and Pangarne were some of the villages he visited. Surprisingly, these communities had fewer water management difficulties, yet the residents were just as concerned. Ashok visited many community leaders and individuals who helped him better understand the situation on the ground. He spent most of his time in Dhandichibari, where he observed that many community women walk to a natural water spring every day to gather water. This natural spring provides water to villagers and also the animals in the surrounding region. Moving forward, Ashok hopes to connect the current ground challenges with mauha production and its implications on livelihood.

Fresh water spring in Dhandichibari village.

This month, Ashok's older brother Vasant Rathod joined the MAH fellowship team to investigate various aspects of mauha manufacturing. Vasant is a social worker who operates an NGO in Surgana Taluka named 'Aadarsh Foundation.' This month, he conducted a study on the mauha leaves, fruit, and other items manufactured from them. The mauha flower and fruit are both valuable to the community. Vasant found the oil manufacturing methods for mauha seeds. The oil extracted from the Mauha fruit seed is mostly used in cooking and as a moisturizer during the winter months. Tolbi, Tolbyan, Tolbel, and Mohatya are the vernacular names for the seeds of the mahua fruit. Proteins, phosphorus, and potassium are all important components present in the mauha fruit oil. One type of oil known as thepa is used in the meals of domestic animals such as cows to help them produce more milk. Snakes and rats are scared away by the smoke produced by the fruit oil. Vasant also visited various industrial sites in Surgana to understand about the extraction of mauha fruit oil.

Mauha fruit seed oil extraction


Through July, Nikita spent more time at the Yellamma Tanda where she learnt some new techniques of embroidery and handloom work, namely the Makhi Nakhra, Jhin Jhini, Jalan and Jali work. The women Nikita spent time with and also helped, were preparing products for a bi-annual exhibition called the Aakruthi Vastra held by the Crafts Council of Telangana which is a nonprofit organization working towards revitalizing local crafts.

Nikita engaging in handicrafts activities at the Yellama Thanda

Ashok on the other hand, continued his research in the Surgana district of Maharashtra, where he conducted interviews of local traders to understand what had caused the availability of Mahua flowers to drop from 25-30,000 tonnes per annum previously to 6-7000 tonnes per annum in the last two years. He found that in the year 2021, many of the village merchants who bought and sold the Mahua flower did not do so because of the widespread of the coroa virus.

Ashok interviewing shopkeepers on their trade activities in the Mahua flower

Do get in touch!

Please get in touch if you are interested in our project and would like to know more about it. We can also ship bottles of Mah to some destinations. Let us know if you would like to taste it! Mahua is not just a drink, it is an experience that connects you to the earth of the Indian forest. Every bottle carries a message.

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