A festival for protection of the borders- Chowdi

While on a random drive around the Malenadu region, my curious eyes fell on a family of road-trippers who were out on a rather interesting journey.. It was an unusual sighting of wooden toys with a beautiful backdrop of the Bhadra dam in the backdrop.. I got off the car to click a few pictures of wooden toys consisting of six people riding on a pull cart.. I did not know what it represented and who had left them.. We continued our journey all the way from Bhadravathi to down the hills of Agumbe via Shimoga while spotting several carts carrying different representations, all lying on roadside. My curiosity grew intense and got an insight into what all of these really meant after consulting a friend who happens to be a native of this region.

This is a part of Chowdi- a festival endemic to this region of Malenaadu. Maari is the sister of goddess Durga, she’s the controller of evils. She likes drinking blood and doesn’t spare any evil passing her way. Gadi Maari- the protector of the borders, keeps a vigil on evil entering into the village. During Chowdi, Gadi Maari who is always stationed at the village border is invited into the village and celebrated once in a year. She is represented with a wooden pull cart.

The cart and all other representations on it are made of a special wood called ‘Ghost wood’, painted and decked up. As the cart enters a boundary, the villagers start to collect money from all localites to manage the expenses of the festivities ahead. Animal sacrifice is an important part of this ritual where blood of either sheep or  roosters is offered to Maari, the village keeper. All possible things are taken care of to keep this violent diety calm and happy. It culminates in a lavish dinner served to all villagers. This is a rather rude way of telling let the evil eyes (Maari Kannu) not fall on the happiness of the village, we have made Maari happy with all that she likes during the festival, now her job is to guard the boundaries, let her stay there!

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A Gadi Maari cart by the roadside

Then, the cart is hand-pulled and left at the exit boundary of the village i.e. entrance of the next village. There-on the festival starts at the next village and the cart thus moves forward from one village to the other. The transport of these carts to the next village is mostly done during the night so that the evil doesn’t find its way back into the village. People leave broomsticks, clay pots, umbrellas etc. alongside the cart as weapons of Maari. This trip of the Maari thus traverses all the way from the hills down to finally reach the ocean. This entire cycle repeats in every two years.

So with one cart starting in each village, I wondered how many carts may pass through any given village throughout the 2 years period and how many animal sacrifices need to be done. I was told that some villages may have several carts at a time and some may never have any. For convenience, yet some villages accumulate the carts and celebrate all at once. Spread across the calendar, carts keep coming and carts keep going.. But it’s an opportunity for the entire village for some joyous celebration together!

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