Lagnala Yayla Lagatany translates to ‘You have to be there at the wedding’. It is also the name of an exhibition that showcases the marriage between bio-cultural heritage and the lives of many communities of Maharashtra. Conceptualised like a wedding, the exhibition is being organised by the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) at IISER, Pune, from October 10 to 13. Excerpts from an interview with Saransh Sugandh, artist-curator of Lagnala Yayla Lagatany: A Very Curious Wedding:
How do weddings incorporate the biodiversity of a region?
This is an activity I conducted with Yuvraj Shingate of CEE, interviewing people from different communities about the ways in which their wedding customs are tied to their immediate environment. Among the Dhivar community, which is basically a fishing community, the maandav is made of Mohai or Saalai (Indian Frankincense) tree while in other communities, like the Mahar and Phase Pardhis, Jamun leaves or wood become holy. The Pawaras use pumpkin vessels to keep Mohua drink and the Mohua tree itself is so important for the Warlis. The exhibition shows the rituals, through which so many of our rural communities are tied to so many species of grass, trees and shrubs. It is something which the urban population, too, is dependent on through our food and multiple sources, such as growing organic food, and indigenous food requires a knowledge of the local and homegrown varieties which can often be deeply embedded in certain cultural practices.
What are the different sections of the exhibition that enable urban visitors to engage with the realities of biodiversity of Maharashtra?
We have made the exhibition in a way that you experience it as a site of the wedding in a village. At the beginning, you probably see what you would have seen when you pass through a village or right at the entrance, moving through its lakes and water bodies, through its streets and then finally reaching the wedding site. Thereafter there is a section titled ‘Where are the women?’, which is more of a rhetorical question, since women, when it comes to many aspects of tradition or heritage, have had to take on the burden of it without really consenting to it. Beyond that, their labour as homemakers and farmers is the unseen driver of economy and home — so there is a section to reflect on that. And in these times of defining us vs them, there is a section on migrant communities and their lives which could further lead us to think about the rich role of migration in our food as well. In the exhibition, we have highlighted everyday rituals, like making a broom or growing a certain kind of grass, or organic farming or the importance of the water buffalo, or say, the making of a dhol from a certain tree, the making of mahua and how all of these add up to that desire for continuity and fertility that a wedding site represents.
Tell us about the project that led to this exhibition?
The project on which this photography workshop and subsequent work happened is the Maharashtra Gene Bank Project — a five-year engagement with schools and NGOs across the state.
As the children and teachers experienced new learning and explored the biodiversity around them, documentation also became important. An essential part of the project was to look at biocultural heritage that is embedded in the daily practice of various communities. With the changes that are happening around us in terms of urbanisation, change in land use patterns and food habits, we can easily lose these. That is why it becomes important to not just document but to do so in a way that the community that we are working with is actively engaged in the process. They learn to appreciate their own context, conserve and are able to talk about these aspects in a confident manner.
What is the profile of the photographers whose works have been showcased?
The profile of photographers is diverse. There are teachers, children and NGO workers from communities like Phase Pardhis, Gonds, Bhils, Mahars, Korkus, Marathas, Pawaras, Kunbis, Warlis, Kokanas and Marathas. Satish Awate, Programme Director at CEE, and I had been discussing the possibility of using visual media as a form of expression for learners from various communities, indigenous and otherwise- for documenting their context.
There is a friend of ours from Mexico, Juan Carlos who has done similar work with the fishing communities in Xalapa. Essentially, learners from rural and not-so privileged backgrounds can sometimes feel inhibited to express when it comes to using language and text. The dominant urban narratives, the fluency and articulation can seem intimidating and possibly out of reach.
But when it comes to visuals, if you know the technique and have a compelling story to tell, you can tell it with great sophistication. Also, the medium becomes important when you look at young learners. They can often be disinterested in traditional professions and may want to move to more urban reality. Using the medium becomes a way of reconnecting with their context in a different way.
What was the aim of the project, when did it begin, and how did it evolve?
It started a year back with a photography and media literacy workshop with these learners.