Where Gods Are Accountable Too!

Bastar, October 19: | Updated: Oct 20 2002, 05:30am hrs
In this tribal heartland of Chhattisgarh, the gods have to be on their toes all the time! Here, they can be punished for dereliction of duty! The custom of divine accountability leaves them under the threat of imprisonment. Thats if they dont take care of their devotees.

The gods here are made to pay a price for their negligence. For instance if the rain fails and theres drought, there is divine accountability! exclaims A Jayathilak, managing director of the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board (CTB), shipped to Chhattisgarh by chief minister Ajit Jogi after what he could do for tourism in Kerala. Today, unlike perhaps any of his counterparts in various state governments, Dr Jayathilak is the single officer in the organisation and he outsources every single function.

Coming back to the gods, it isnt as though that the concept of accountability is new to India. As a court reporter, wherever the authorities dont perform, one sees the legal system punishing them for dereliction of duty. One encounters an entire hierarchy: lower courts trying on the facts of a case, the high courts reviewing these decisions, and finally the Supreme Court ruling as the highest authority. The difference here is that the hierarchy of justice is followed for the gods.

Sri Danteshwari Mai is the main goddess here. She is the reigning deity of the king of Bastar. Besides, each tribal home worships its own gods, goddesses and spirits. Each home has a deity which is in the form of a stick, explains Santosh Dubey, a local resident. During festivals, these deities are taken to the place where the god of the community or subtribe resides. The gods of the subtribes are in the form of two thick, round and long sticks. They look like a plough joined together by two smaller sticks. The head of each subtribe carries these smaller gods to the highest god of the Gond tribe, Bangaram, who resides at Kaleshwar, informed Lakshmi. She, alongwith her nephew Dhruv, set up tents for our team on the bank of the Chitrakoot Falls and has studied tribal culture by mingling with the local people.

After all the gods of the subtribes have assembled, a report is presented orally by the heads of the subtribes about the condition of their respective villages. If it is seen that there has been much suffering in a particular village, the god of that subtribe is imprisoned for dereliction of duty at Kaleshwar and released later, explained Lakshmi. The king of Bastar is above the gods, said the aunt of the present 17-year-old king. Accordingly, the local people first pay their respects to him and then to goddess Danteshwari.

Tribals comprise almost three-fourths of the states population. Each tribe has its own customs, deities, dialects, customs and habits. The main tribe is the Gond, which include subtribes like Marias, Murias, Abhujmarias, Dhurwa (Parja) and Dorla. The non-Gond tribes include the Bhatra and Halba. The Marias have a patriarchal society. But their men have to pay a bridal price. In case a man is unable to afford a particular woman, he can negotiate the price. Some prefer to work in the brides home for sometime till the time it is equivalent to the bride price. There have been times when a man had worked in the brides home up to seven years though with the evolution of the society, this system is gradually coming to an end, said Manoj, a tour guide working for the Great India Tour Company (GITC). CTB has outsourced the marketing of Chhattisgarhs tourism product to GITC.

(The travel for this story was arranged by CTBoard and GITC)