Gobbemma: Decorated Gobar Ball placed on Muggu.
We celebrated Sankranti yesterday. We drew muggulu (rangolis) and topped them with gobbemmalu (decorated gobar balls). We danced and sang traditional songs, including “Gobbiyello!” that details, verse by verse, every stage of the growth of a seed from the moment it sprouts, bears fruit to fruit till it ripens and we finish off by eating the fruit – a జామకాయ (guava), as the song goes. Each stage of growth is a cause for celebration and comment:
“Oh, really? Is it so, sister?”
We sang, danced, ate, drank and made merry.
The farmers, whose harvest this festival celebrates, however, aren’t so merry these days. Tamil Actor Nasser, appearing on the “Indiaglitz” Pongal special in 2012, reminds us of their plight and refuses to wish “Happy Pongal.” Pongal, referring to the “overflow” or abundance of the harvest, is another name for the Sankranti festival.
“Nasser hits the nail on its head. What good are pongal wishes when agricultural lands are being poisoned or built over, when farmers are pushed to suicide, and water bodies are polluted, over-exploited or encroached upon to build engineering colleges and bus stands. I join Nasser in withholding my Pongal wishes this year, and I hope that a Happy Pongal is in the offing in the not so far off future.”
Yes, we need a revolution. Several. And in our celebration itself are some simple acts that have a role in being the change that we want to see in our society, and in how we connect with the earth and one another.
Drawing Muggulu (Rangoli)
Topping with Gobbemmalu
Drawing rangoli is a form of public art at the community level. Neighbours come by to see it. In villages where people draw muggulu every day, it is a way of saying “available,” and when you draw an impressive one, people may stop by and like it and comment as well.
I don’t know how to make a good muggu but my daughter has started learning a few designs. Every year for Sankranti her friends try making some as well, and top the muggu with gobbemmalu. Though in our neighborhood in Mumbai, none of her friends is from Andhra Pradesh, and none have heard of gobbemmalu before now (even in Andhra many have forgotten), all of them join in making them and singing and dancing about them.
To make a gobbemma: Form a ball out of gobar (cow dung). Decorate with pasupu, kumkum and flowers or flower petals.
As you can see, we revolutionized the tradition in one way, though we hardly realized it at the time. Both boys and girls are drawing muggulu and making gobbemmalu. My mom was appreciating this and I told her that although both the boys and girls took some time to get used to the idea of handling gobar, once they started they took to it equally well. Several times I had to announce, “only five more minutes!” Finally when I told all the kids, “last one!” one little boy told me, “Auntie, I will make four more.”
Tender Coconut Party
To get down on the ground, using the earth or the pavement as a canvas and chalk or powder as the medium, creating art that will last a day, adding the touch of gobar, helps kids and adults reconnect to the earth and cycle of life. Especially when you sing and dance along to a song “Gobbiyello!” that details every stage of the growth of a seed to fruit and finish off by eating the fruit.
So bombarded with packaged foods are kids’ parties today that serving fruit at a party counts as one more revolutionary act. We had the traditional til-gul and bobattu as well as guava fruit. In my fight against industrial foods, which threaten our health, environment, economy and human rights, I lose no chance to serve whole foods like fruit and refreshing tender coconut water and remind everyone at the party how much fun these are to have.
In the evening we also had three generations of friends singing and dancing and partying together, which is healthy for all ages, yet seen less often these days.
Integrating boys and girls, young and old, touching the earth and honoring the fertility of the soil, and awakening the artist in each of us … in these little ways, a Sankranti party is a site of celebration and resistance.
Be the change!