Hello. Today I’ve got some news to tell you about the PA family and about some further developments at the School Campus, about how we have finished with furnishing the new dining hall and that two of our women are helping to look after the boys. I’ll also tell you about the important and good news that we’ve finished upgrading our irrigation system with a new electric pump and how we will now extend the pipelines further to service the paddies near the School Campus. This should make a big difference to the farmers in years to come. But first I’ll tell you that we celebrated two more annual festivals over this past month. One is Kali Puja, spiritually our most important festival, not just for people here in Dabar but also for many tribal peoples elsewhere. The other is Bandna Parab, celebrated in many villages like ours, which is a special occasion when we honour and express our appreciation and thanks to our working animals.
Once Durga Puja has finished most people in India go back to their normal routines. However, here in Bengal, “There are twelve months and thirteen big festivals.” What’s more, here in the lands of ancient Raha, we have even more than that.
Kali Puja lasts for four days. For us in Raha, and many tribal peoples elsewhere, it is the most important spiritual festival of the year. Goddess Kali is seen as the personification of women’s power. Our ancient Jhumur songs recount her legend, which is an important part of our culture.
Goddess Durga was battling the great Demon Raktabij. Unfortunately, whenever she managed to wound the great Demon, each drop of his blood turned into yet another Demon. So Durga created Kali, which means black, as an incarnation of herself. The mouth of the new Goddess was like a black hole. When she opened it everything nearby was drawn inside. Kali slew all the new demons and drank their blood. She then killed Raktabij himself by chopping off his head. Kali also drank all of his blood before any of it could fall to the ground.
Unfortunately, the blood she drank drove Kali mad. She continued to kill others who had nothing to do with the battle. Only Shiva himself had the power to stop her. He did this by lying on the ground in Kali’s path. When she stepped on his chest he made the universal “om” sound, which Kali come to her senses. She was so overcome by shame she stuck her tongue out. It is for this reason that in our art you will see Kali depicted with her tongue extended as well as four arms: two blessing her followers, one holding a sword and one holding the head of the Demon.
Kali Puja is also the Festival of Lights. We decorate all our houses with lights and lamps to shine in the evenings. The spiritual significance of the beautiful lights is that the light allows us to see the dark evil in our hearts and guides us on the path towards Good. The people of Raha see Kali as being their own special Goddess because of her colour. The whole of Raha pay homage her in order to win her blessing.
Bandna means to worship. This ancient festival is concerned mainly with our domestic animals, our oxen, cows and buffalo. We want to show our appreciation and gratitude to these animals that help us in our farming work. According to legend, Pasupati is one of the incarnations of Lord Shiva. Pasu means animal and pati means King, meaning that Shiva is also the King of all animals. As Pasupati, Lord Shiva invented agriculture and bestowed upon mankind all the necessary tools and knowledge. He also decreed that the oxen, cows and buffalo should help mankind with this work. However, after just a few years, the animals complained to Lord Shiva that men were not providing them with the good food, proper respect and care that they deserved in return for their service. On hearing this Shiva became very angry and decided to go to earth to find out whether these reports were true.
When the men on earth heard of Lord Shiva’s anger they were very ashamed. They knew that they had acted badly. In order to placate Lord Shiva they cleaned the cowsheds and, after washing all the animals thoroughly, painted them all over in festive colours. In the evening they massaged the animals’ legs with oil and paid homage to them in thanks for their help.
These rituals take place every year in the Bengali month of Kartik, starting on the first day of the new moon. On these occasions the cow boys play Ahira songs on drums and other musical instruments to entertain the animals. Women draw beautiful floor paintings using rice dust (called Guri in our village language).
At this time we also make various types of cake (pita) and distribute them to the cow boys.
In the evening we also play games involving the oxen, cows and buffalo, such as Garu khuta and Kara khuta.
Brother Sister Tradition
This is a special day for brothers and sisters. Nowadays, the brother presents his sister with a gift. The sister gives thanks for having her brother and prays that he be protected in a ceremony with a flame and offerings. Afterwards they enjoy sweets.
News from the School Campus
This week, now the Pujas are all finished, the hostel boys and girls returned to us from their home villages. All of them are in good health. The boys now eat at their own new kitchen cum dining hall. So they don’t have walk to up to the house for their food at night and early in the morning. Two of our women, Arati and Archana, have taken on additional responsibilities for cooking and other things that the boys need.
Thank you so much to Robin and Maxin for helping to raise the money we needed for this project through Prabhatalloi Foundation in Australia. Thank you also to Robyn Ramsay’ s partner, Gary, for sponsoring one of the boys at the Hostel.
Because of the continuing drought, food has become very expensive so we are cultivating potatoes, tomatoes and various other kinds of vegetables for the hostel meals and distributing the surplus to other villagers.
The Water Project
This is our next major project. We are looking to improve the quality of water we use for drinking and washing, to improve the sanitation around the village and to offset the continuing droughts by installing irrigation systems.
The first stage, to install irrigation systems, is now nearly complete. We upgraded the pump at the riverside with a new, more powerful electric one and extended the pipelines right to the edge of lower Dabar. We will now add new pipelines to the fields around the School Campus. This will make a big difference to our farmers. After monsoon last year, we lost all of last year’s paddy harvest, because the rains stopped too early, and 70% of this year’s. In future years, because of the new irrigation system, the farmers can now be confident of having enough water for a successful harvest. They can also plant additional new crops during the rest of the year. The farmers will pay a fee as and when they need to use the system. The villagers, led by Dipak (one of our teachers) and his father, organised and managed this project and will administer the scheme now it is up and running.
The next stage is to improve the water we use for drinking and household use. We are proceeding carefully on this because of the costs involved, it is complicated and because the quality of the water must be good. We need to get the support and acceptance of all the villagers involved. We plan to start the project after January with a drinking water station located directly across the road from the School Campus. Once complete, this first, pilot stage will surely be welcomed by the people who regularly pass by, which includes school children, people going to work in the fields and those taking their livestock out to graze.
All of us wish you best wishes and good health on Kali Puja. Like you, we offer our thoughts and prayers to those all over the world who have lost their lives because of disputes related to religious beliefs.