Theis will be the first time when 55-year-old Ramesh Damor of Jhari Khareli village in Dahod district will not bring his bulls to the annual Gaay Gauri Mela, a customary tribal event to mark the new year after Diwali. Like several religious festivities, the festival has been called off this year — possibly for the first time in the history of the tribal tradition — due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Much like the famous annual Spanish bull run festival, the streets of Dahod are filled with bejewelled and hand-painted cows and bulls, running frantically as men prostrate to be “run over for blessings”, during the annual festival held a day after Diwali to mark the Hindu New Year.
Disappointed over the cancellation of the fair, tribals say they will now decorate their cattle like every year and offer prayers indoors.
Damor says, his family and the village waits for the entite year for the festival. “With the coronavirus outbreak, the Collector has issued prohibitory orders this year and so the celebrations have been called off. We were very disappointed. We had hoped that the pandemic will subside, but that has not happened.”
Traditionally, Damor says, villagers colour their cattle and feed them good things and sweets in the morning and seek forgiveness for the troubles they give them throughout the year. “Then we allow them to run over us as compensation for the troubles they bear for us. If their feet stamp over our backs, it is considered to be the blessings from the gods and goddesses,” he adds.
The age-old practice in Dahod has been passed down since several generations of farmers. Every year, villagers turn out in full force to celebrate the day after Diwali that they call “revering their field cattle”. After the bulls, painted bright and their horns adorned with peacock feathers and glitter, are brought in, farmers burst firecrackers to trigger the animals to run over those prostrating before the herd. Use of airborne firecrackers during the event, especially rockets, were prohibited since 2012.
As hundreds of cattle charges through the narrow lanes of the village, running over almost everything on way, local residents cheer from the balconies and rooftops.
Prabhudas Soida from Devda village in Garbhada says, “We never asked our ancestors why this should be done. If they have left behind such a custom it will definitely have a significance. Not everything can be explained. The first day of the year begins by asking forgiveness from the cattle which will then be with us throughout the year. This blessing ensures a good crop.”
The community feels that keeping the tradition alive is their responsibility. Ashoksinh Rathod, whose forefathers were the ‘Patels’ of 12 neighbouring villages during the British era, says, “There is no particular story behind this festival, but it is a Diwali tradition that has to be observed.”
The event, which requires police permission, lasts throughout the day as villagers take rounds to bring in their set of the cattle on the roads. More than 1,500 bulls run across the streets of Dahod district each year.
District Collector Vijay Kharadi told The Indian Express, “The prohibitory order that is in place as part of the Disaster Management Act also applies to this event. It is the first time that it will not be held. The guidelines for Covid-19 precautionary measures cannot be followed during such an event and, therefore, it cannot be allowed even with a fewer number of people.”
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