The Spirit Of The Forest

Mah Fellowship 21-22: November-January Update

July 20, 2022


Our fellows explored different parts of Maharashtra in the month of November, meeting organizations and understanding the local craft. [ In the adjoining photograph, a group of women from the Banjara community gathered to discuss their daughter's wedding.]

In November, Ashok Rathod carried out field explorations in the Bhormal, a village in Nashik district of Maharashtra, where he witnessed an off-season baring of a Mahua tree. He met and interviewed the farmers of this tree to know more about this occurrence. Ashok also researched Air Potato, a wild vine locally known as karande. Together with his brother Vasant, Ashok also visited the local district offices in Surgana to meet with officials to understand various cooperative schemes. They met with a district officer at the Van Dhan Yojana Kendra (Tribal Department) to learn about government policies and subsidies for tribal forests.

September - October is when the new leaves start to bloom. From October to November the leaves turn completely green. These Mahua trees are ready for the next stage where small mahua flowers emerge.

Our second fellow Nikita Rathod spent the month researching various tribal empowerment start-ups and NGOs, particularly Banjanara projects in Central India. She collected and analysed secondary information on various business models. Following this, she travelled to Beed district for a case study on ‘Peno’ an organization that works with Gormati women and platforms their traditional embroidery and artefacts. She also interviewed Vijaya Pawar, the founder of ‘Peno’. While in Beed, Nikita visited prominent local landmarks and architectural sites to understand local design elements, patterns and motifs.

Embroidered works ready for sale
Raw materials used by women to sew the products in the image on the left

On left : Visit to 'Peno' - An organization based in Beed district of Maharashtra that works towards preserving and promoting local crafts of Gormati women. On right : some of the motif designs


In December, our fellows continued to journey around Maharashtra's villages in search of different ways to make liquor from Mahua flowers and learn more about indigenous craftsmanship. [In the adjacent photo, Ashok is interacting with Malgonda village residents.]

Ashok continues to explore new villages in order to gain a better understanding of the various species of Mahua trees. He went to the Malgoanda Village in Surgana Taluka in December and met with Rajaram Sitad, a local farmer, who took him on a tour of his farm and introduced him to the various crops he grows. There were two unusual Mahua trees among Rajaram's 40 Mahua trees, which are night bloomers referred to as 'Dhakad' in the local language.

Ashok also conducted interviews with a few other residents of the same hamlet in order to gain a better understanding of the alcohol production process. He looked at the various ingredients e.g. Jaggery and dry red chili powder used in combination with Mahua flowers to make the alcohol, as well as how different methods of production affect the taste of the final product.

Dhabu Mahua: In these trees the water content of the flower is so high that the flowers get coated with soil as soon as they fall off. This flower brews well.

Torni Mahua Tree: This tree is short in height. The branches are slender and small, and its leaves are small in size. Due to the small size of the flowers, the alcohol that can be extracted is low.

Bhatur Mahua: The branches and leaves of the tree are thick and the leaves are long. The trunk is wide. The flowers of this tree are large and have an astringent taste.

Nikita Rathod, our second fellow, spent her month learning more about the PENO Foundation's activities. She also visited a small village called Babi Tanda in Beed district during the same trip. There she met Ms. Vijaya Pawar who took her around the foundation's many manufacturing units and demonstrated how different goods are made. Ms. Pawar explained to her the complexities of labor and product management in a locally based community empowerment organization. Nikita spent a lot of time in the manufacturing unit learning about the various machinery that are used as well as the manufacturing costs of each product. Along with block printing and oxidized jewellery making, Nikita also learned about Azo dyes.

Different types of machines used in the textile department. On left - Embroidery machine; On right - Dyeing machine

Handicrafts displayed in the Department of Handicrafts, Textile and coir, Goa,
Finished product using Azo dye

After her Beed visit, Nikita continued her local craft exploration in Goa. During her stay, visited the Department of Handicrafts, Textile and Coir. Carpentry, coirs, needlework, pottery, ceramics, and handloom were among the various local crafts she investigated. She learned about the weekly coir workshop in Panjim, which had recently been discontinued. Now, only the coir artist's work is on display in the local studio. After these two trips,  Nikita has a better knowledge of how things function in the local crafts sector. She plans to continue researching more such business setups in the future to better understand the challenges they face in the competitive market.


In the month of January, our fellows continued their research in various parts of Maharashtra and Goa.

Ashok went to Pimpalsod, a village in the Surganataluka. He met Mahadu Sukar Khotre, a farmer and local figure, there. Mr. Kotre had an interesting life, working odd jobs, teaching in the local school, and eventually becoming the Chaiman of the 'tribal Forest Worker Society.' He also served as the Sarpanch (Village Head) for five years. He enjoys farming and grows a variety of crops such as rice, nagli, and pulses. He also has 29 Mauha trees, which yield 3 to 4 tons of Mauha flowers each year. Ashok had an in-depth discussion with Mr. Khotre about farming economics, local agriculture practices, and various types of local vegetables such as Kurudu, Kvali, Shevla, Tera, and Loti, to name a few.

Different types of local vegetables that Ashok learned about in Pimpalsod village. (Kurudu, Kvali, Shevla, Tera, Loti)

Nikita expanded her research by travelling to Goa and visiting the Department of Handicrafts, Textiles, and Coir in Panjim. She learned about the newly drafted 'Goa Integrated Skill Development Scheme-2014,'which will train local youths, young widowed women, and school dropouts from the state's rural areas in various handicrafts, textiles, and coir trades. She met the institution's manager, Mr. Madhav Shiva Chari. Mr. Chari showed her the various products on display in the visitor's shop and told her about their various sources. Morjim's Coco art was one such supplier. Mr. Sonu Shetgaonkar and his wife, Mrs. Sonali Shetgaonkar, own and operate the Coco art studio. They discussed the various materials used in their handicrafts to make jute products, embroidery, pottery, etc.

Handicrafts made out of coconut shells at Coco Art Studio, Morjim

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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