Not terribly accurate, but still a welcome bit of recognition from the national media community. – editors
Keeping history alive dramatically
AWAKENING A scene from the play “Gavari “.
The Bheel tribe from Rajasthan performs Gavari, a living piece of ritualistic theatre, around this time of the year.
They call him Budia. He wears a wooden mask and red half pants.He holds a stick which has a piece of red cloth wrapped on top. He is believed to be the omnipotent, omniscient and the creator of the world. He moves back and forth in a circle, while the dancers move in the opposite direction. The brass plate and a drum called madal are the music accompaniments.
The villagers sit in an outer circle that creates a kind of arena. There is a perfect rapport between the spectators and the performers. The performance goes on for hours and is often resumed in the night.
These are the kind of ritualistic scenes one can witness in the villages of Bheels in Udaipur,Rajasthan these days. This several centuries old performance is known as Gavari. It has its origin in Lord Shiva’s encounter with Bhasmasur, a demon who wanted to destroy him with a view to kidnap Parvati to fulfil his carnal passion. Lord Shiva, is however, protected by Vishnu, who reduced Bhasmasur to ashes by employing a clever modus operandi.
While burning, he asked Lord Shiva for forgiveness and asked him to grant his last wish that he be remembered in future. The tribal theatre, Gavari, is said to be a fulfilment of Bhasmasur’s last wish. It is also believed that Gavari is the daughter of Himal-Bheel, who comes to visit her parents once in a year during Rakshabandhan.
What make Gavari a dynamic and living piece of ritualistic theatre of Bheel tribe are the theatrical elements like music, dance, dramatic dialogue and commentary. The narrative is laced with mythological stories and also projects lives of local tribes. Light-hearted acts also form a part of this performance. In course of its enactment, several spectators go into trance, and participate in the dance.
Some of the villages in the rural areas of Udaipur have mixed population that includes Bheels, Rajputs, carpenters, porters and Muslims. Though participation in Gavari is reserved for Bheel males, people from other communitiesalso contribute to the annual event in different ways. While the carpenters make wooden masks for performers, porters make elephants and Muslims contribute in terms of the ration that needs to be served to the participants. The performers eat only one time and that too only vegetarian, maintain celibacy and stay away from home in the temple. The villagers from other communities, including Muslims, stop eating non-vegetarian food during the days of Gavari rituals. This is a manifestation of collectivism. This unique tribal art form has survived over the centuries by a collective will of society and, in turn, it has helped to develop a harmonious social relationship.
The Bheels are marginalised farmers, whose pastoral life has been endangered by stringent forest laws. As a result they are forced to work on construction sites. But during Gavari celebrations, they stop work.
The main characters of Gavari are Budia with a wooden mask that symbolises Lord Shiva and Bhasmasur. There are two rayeean – one represents Parvati and the other, Mohini, the enchantress who destroyed Bhasmasur. They wear similar costumes, act in an identical manner and when they are put to questions they reply in unison. Kutkadiya is another important character who, like a narrator, directs the whole programme and comments on the coming episode. During interludes dancers take the space.
In the whole presentation, the character of Bhopa occupies principal place. He is possessed with Bhairav, the manifestation of Lord Shiva, who frequently goes into trance and holds an iron chain. Other characters can be broadly categorized as gods, men and animals.
Living the part
As a form Gavari has tremendous theatrical relevance to the creation of a modern indigenous theatre. On surface, Gavari appears to be similar to Brechtian epic theatre but it has no concept of alienation. In The performers live their characters. Its powerful music is capable of expressing wide gamut of human emotions. Its distinct acting style, in which the entire body of performer becomes a vehicle of expression, and its capacity to transcend the barriers of time, space and place can enrich modern Indian theatre. Unfortunately, contemporary theatre scholars and practitioners remain unaware of this great tribal tradition of Bheel people. It was only in 1984, Bhanu Bharti, an eminent theatre director, brought his production of K.N. Panikkar’s play “Pashu Gayatri” in Mewari version to Delhi in Gavari style with tribal performers. Ever since Bhanu with his Disha Natya Sansthan, Udaipur and his tribal artists have produced some landmark productions like “Kaal Katha” and “Amarbeej”.
Meanwhile, it is time for the finale of Gavari ritualistic drama, which is marked by colour and religious fervour.