The seasonal importance of Pola
Pola, that falls always on the last day of Shravan, Hindu, month, brings out the stark differences between urban and rural folks – even in Vidarbha, where it is one of the main festivals. We city folks just think of it as ‘decoration and veneration of bails (bullocks)’ and miss out on the festive significance altogether! City slums are an exception – they also celebrate Pola in full fervor.
Pola is for farmers and farm ‘helpers’ – human as well as animal. This three days’ celebration marks in a way the end of the current agricultural season, since many crops are ready to be harvested in September. (Except cotton, which is harvested continually for 2 months). Thus it is a time to relax, and say thanks to all who have helped you in the physically grueling months from May – June till now.
Nagpanchami is another rural affair and it comes at the beginning of Shravan. It is significant that during both these ‘festivals’ no Deity or God/Goddess as such is worshiped. Nagpanchami is around worship of ‘Snake God’ – since snakes and farmers both can be a threat for the other in farming activities. Snakes, which build their nests underground, may be injured or even killed when farmers till their soil. But they are also very useful since they eat rodents and other small creatures of nuisance value! Also poisonous snakes, in self protection, can sting and kill farmers. So, it is a mutual thing.
Preparation for Pola
Though we all thought Pola this year was on 1st September, in villages around Nagpur, the festival began on 31st August – the day earlier.
31st afternoon, work on farms ceased and the bulls and their keepers began getting ready for the main day. Bulls were given a complete horns-to-tail wash and their decorations begun. The farmers wives began cooking the first day’s meal for farm hands.
“We have to make four fixed vegetables for dinner this day” informs Vidya Takarkhede, wife of Sureshbhau who retired as Head Clerk of irrigation dept. at Kalmeshwar.
“Chawli/ barbati beans, bhendi (ladies fingers), dodki (ridge-gourd) and Pothi-pan wadis. (Artichoke leaf wadis). The other things cooked are usual roti, dal and rice. Both farm hands and bulls are fed and invited for the main festival the next day. ”
“We also massage the bulls shoulders with a paste of turmeric and home made white butter for all the weight of the yokel they carry year round” says Kamal, Vidya’s co sister, whose husband Arvind is the farmer of the family.
Children of the house, specially boys, get their own wooden toy ‘bailjodi’ this day and are asked to decorate it and flaunt it for all relatives. Many towns and villages hold competitions for the best toy bailjodi also!
Pola Day – day two
The next day, decorations of the bulls begin in full earnest. (By their keepers).Their horns are painted, some designs are made on their bodies, specially flanks, quilted, embroidered multi-coloured ‘coats’ are tied to their backs and their necks adorned with ornaments made specially for Pola.
The farmers meanwhile, have their own preparations. They fetch Palash (flame of the forest), tree branches, colloquially called Medhes, from woods nearby which are used to adorn the main door of the house and also the ‘Dev ghar’.
There is a charming folk lore around this. A farmer and his sister’s husband ( sala – bhatwa) go into the woods to fetch medhe. The farmer is rich and has much land and many bullocks. “If I kill him, I will get all that property because of my wife” thinks the bhatwa. So he attacks the ‘sala’ with an axe and kills him. He hides the body in the Palash branches and brings it home. To welcome home her husband-brother duo ( not knowing that brother is dead) the woman breaks a ‘kakdi’ cucumber, to feed them. One kakdi seed flies into the brother’s mouth though he is hidden in the branches. This seed, drenched in a sister’s love, brings him back to life. Seeing him spring back the brother in law, who is already full of remorse, confesses his evil plans and is forgiven, in the spirit of the festivities! Thus a cucumber is an important part of the prasad on Pola, even today. It is the vegetable that has brought a brother back to life.
After the home is adorned with medhes, the ‘important’ men of the village prepare a ‘gudhi’ ( flag) with bright silk cloth and other adornments. Each village has nominated 5-6 men – all farmers only- for this leadership position. The farmer gets ready in his most royal clothing, and carries the Gudhi to all his neighbor’s homes. Each house he goes to with the gudhi is supposed to pull out all the misery, disease and ill feeling from that house. This important task done, he carries his gudhi to the village square accompanied by all farmers whom he has visited.
All the bullock pairs, with their respective keepers, also make their way to the square. All men carrying a gudhi bless the bullocks with it. The bullocks are then positioned in a line under a huge mango leaves ‘toran’ tied across the village square. The village ‘headman’ with his bullock – either real or wooden – breaks open the toran among huge cheering. This is called ‘Pola futala’ – Pola has broken, and is the climax of the event. Without being told to do so, the bullocks, who are now well into the ‘spirit’ of Pola begin rushing homeward. So energetic and high spirited they are now that women are advised to keep their children out from the roads at this time, so they do not get accidentally trampled or shoved by a bull!
The Pola feast – for man and bull
It is up to their keepers to then get the bulls in control and take them from house to house, in their own neighborhoods, where ceremoniously dressed farmers’ wives worship the bulls and offer them prasad. Which is a roti and a gruel made from jowar or bajra. The bulls are so moody and choosy, just like men, that women folk always observe that one of the bulls will eat the roti gladly, the other will refuse and show attitude.
“He is coaxed for a bit, then the first bull gladly eats up his partner’s share also” says Vidya, in an amused tone. “I have never seen a jodi where both bails are good natured and co-operative!”
Finally, the keepers bring the bail jodi to the owner’s house, where they are fed lavishly as honoured guests. The meal is always cooked by the women of the family – never catered or ordered, even today! – and consists of many dishes. Puran poli and sanjhachi poli are must. Then there are wadas, pakodas, kadhi, dal, plain rotis, rice etc. There is also cucmber and the gruel made of jowar ( in Vidarbha).
After the farm hands – ALL of them – have been fed, the family eats finally. It’s been a long day, for both the men and the women. But the next day is even more special!! Specially for men i.e. Now it is their turn to get indulged!
The third day begins with a ‘marbat’ procession, All the evil and unpleasant events/ people of the year are personified in an idol which is paraded through the town/ village and then consigned to flames. It is a parody of sorts and no one is spared. It is rumoured that this year’s main targets are going to be the following, not necessarily in that order: Shobha De, ‘sunahare khwab dikhane walla’ (Namo?), Chagan Bhujbal, NMC ( in Nagpur) and the Pakistani army. There is actually not much political about the selection – it emerges out of popular sentiment.
Today is also the conclusion of Shravan and also the restrictions that came with it. No non-veg, no drinks were the main. So today is a ‘feasting’ and imbibing day when all ‘controls’ are off! Cheers!!!
— Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)
( Inputs from Kalmeshwar, Saoner and Nagpur)