This is one of my recent adventure quests which even for me, was uncalled for and unheard of. After the shoot cancellation which I had intended to do in the first place, I was unsure what to do around the city so I decided to step out of my featureless day at the hotel and decided to explore the city.
I came across a bright colour on locals which intrigued me to dig a little more. I started talking to the guy who was serving me tea and he told me the details about the joyous fest which happened to take place when I was there.
Pushkar Camel Fair and Kumbh Mela don’t need an inception however this festival swept me off from my feet. This is celebrated in the village of Pattan Kodoli which is in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra attended by thousands of devotees from Shepherd’s community from all across India. This is the town where I saw a glimpse of both modernity and heritage. The festival is celebrated to offer prayers to the community deity of the shepherds, Shri Vittal Birdev, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. They consider that the festival and rituals would bring good fortune. Many start their journey days or weeks in advance by foot to reach the temple from their village in time. Throughout the festival, Shri Vittal Birdev is situated under a big banyan tree in a small mandap for the devotees to get his blessings. Millions of people gathered to the village on this day. The streets of the village were filled with food, entertainment and local handicrafts stalls.
As the local language is Marathi which isn’t one of my adjectives, however with the help of localities, I finally reached in the center of the crowd of devotees and I was grooved with the energy. Devotees were throwing turmeric power (called “Haldi” in Hindi) on each other and were tranced in joy and dance. I joined the devotees to see what happens inside the temple and the experience was out of this world. As told by the locals, the Shepherd community offer “Prasad” mixed with Haldi and dry coconut pieces to god. It is consecrated by showering the God’s idol. The devotees collect the bhandara from the God’s feet and take it to their home. They use it on auspicious occasions and to cure any illness. Along with bhandara they also offer goat’s hair to the god. This place is famous for the blankets made of goat hair which are used by the Sheppard’s. Throughout the day I could see many people gathering in small groups and sang bhajans and folk songs. The devotees also showered Haldi on everything they liked or worshiped. During the peak of the procession I found myself being mesmerized and lost in the moment. In the blink of an eye everything turned to yellow.
The main ceremony took place in the afternoon and by then there was no space left to put my feet to the ground. Like on Holi, Haldi was applied on everyone and from far the whole place looked like a golden blanket. Devotees brought huge fancy handmade umbrellas which decorated traditionally and went inside the temple with a band of drummers. After the darshan, they started to move out of temple in the open area for more celebration and my excitement heightened to the level I hadn’t experienced myself. They marched, played the drums, spanned the huge umbrellas, sang folk songs, danced and did acrobatics.
This tradition is being followed by hundreds of years. The devotion of the shepherd community for this festival gets larger each year as they say. With the almost equal gender ratio in the village, it was wonderful to see the women also participating for the festival and there were no setbacks in their contribution to make it larger than ever. In this festival, there are predictions given during the main ceremony by the priest of the temple and as far as I gathered, most of the time it has been true.
The next day I decided to explore one of the Kushti Aakhara (Wrestling Club)nearby. It’s a traditional mud wrestling which also happen to be the ancient sport of India and oldest in the world. I decided to visit in the morning so I could see how Kushti takes place in a clay or dirt pit. The soil was mixed with ghee and other ingredients and is tended to before each practice. I saw few matches of Kushti and during my discussion I got to know that wrestlers of aakhara live and train together inside the premises and follow strict rules and a restricted life style. Soft drugs such as alcohol, (chewing) tabacco or even coffee and tea consumption was not allowed to them. The training schedule of a Kushti wrestler started at around 4 or 5 am with exercises and practice matches. During their training sessions, wrestlers worked themselves to near exhaustion. All these activities created ample of opportunities for my adventure portraits.
Me as a photographer who aspires to see all of India and want to show people through my eyes, I was taken by a surprise to know about the festival like this and being able to be a part of it was even more mesmerizing. We are so versatile and made such significant traditions that if you visit each state of India, you will find yourself in another world all together.