KAVANT FAIR Gujarat is a festival of celebration and love

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Looking for a holiday! A short break from work and hectic city life? Or wish to explore Adivasi culture and enjoy their festival?

 

If the answer is yes than before Holi catch the first train to Baroda in Gujarat for the Kavant Fair.

I was lucky to visit this fair last year. Around Holi was in Gujarat holidaying with a couple of friends. Our tour guide spoke about Kavant Fair that was only two days away. He briefed us about the festival and its rituals. It sounded very exciting so we took a detour to attend the fair.

 

Honestly, it was one my best decisions during the Gujarat trip. We loved the whole experience, especially spending time in nature’s lap, surrounded by numerous trees and forests.

Here is information about the festival of Kavant.

‘The village of Kavant is located in the heart of the Rathva homeland near the town of Chhota Udepur’ about a 100 kms from Vadodara, i.e. well connected by road, rail and air. Adivasi group Rathvas celebrate the Kavant fair with great enthusiasm.

Who are Rathvas?

Rathvas are adivasis who reside in Chhota Udepur of Vadodara district and Dadoh, Godhra and Alirajpur in adjoining Madhya Pradesh. They are considered to be one of the largest tribes in the state of Gujarat and have a hunter’s background. Apparently, their ancestors used to hunt wild cats and other animals in the forests nearby. Today most of them are small or medium scale farmers while others are engaged in rural activities.

What are the interests of Rathvas?

Rathvas are not only interested in farming but also in mural paintings. Most of their houses are painted inside with pictures of their culture, tradition or their god named Pithora, the Rathwa universal God of well-being. Also, music plays an important role in their lives. Every Rathva man has their own nicely decorated flute (piho, paavo) without which they feel incomplete.

What is Kavant festival?

Rathvas have been celebrating this festival for ages. This festival falls on the third day after Holi.

 

It is a harvest festival. In order to celebrate their hard work Rathvas gather in large numbers dressed in different attires. They come to the fair to sing, dance and matchmake whilst the older generation cook some delicious snacks and food.

 

According to Gujarat Tourism, “Kavant is a harvest festival celebrated with wild abandon through dance primordial blending the rhythm with the shashaying of the forest and the frolicking of the animals in the undergrowth. Surrounded by the beating of drums, the susurrations of a variety of flutes and the stamping of feet, the Rathvas dance in a vast group keeping time to the rise and fall of the crescendo of arrhythmic music in their tryst with destiny.” 

 

“The men folk wear a belt attached with pebble filled gourds and a string of brass bells. As they stamp their feet and gyrate their hips the bells and the pebbled gourds add percussion metronomical beats tintinabulating in the air. Some of the men carry cane sugar signifying the harvest and wear an elaborate headgear which is a conical hat stuck with small framed photos of local deities surrounded by an array of peacock feathers. Rice paste and ash are blended to make a dye painting the bodies with circles and dots in a ritualistic salutation to the jungle cat.” 

How do the people dress up?

Rathvas have a few subgroups. Men of each subgroup wear a similar colour turban and skirt. Similarly women of each subgroup wear similar colour dupatta and a skirt to differentiate themselves from other subgroups.

 

The dressing of Men

Men wear a turban and skirt of similar color. Along with that, they wear decorated peacock feathers as an ornament for the head. They add lots of glitter to their costume and often sport sunglasses.

Sometimes they wear wear rupee coins as a necklace.  Since Rathvas come from the hunter’s background, to celebrate their tradition, they apply rice and ash paste on their face and dress up like cats etc. They carry sugar cane as a symbol of their harvest.

 

The dressing of Women

Women wear similar colour skirt and dupatta with heavy jewellery around their neck and in various designs. Sometimes women wear a necklace of rupee coins. Along with that, they wear brass bells or stone filled gourds, which make mesmerizing sounds as they shake their legs while dancing. Their attire is vibrant and colourful.

 

Both men and women are bedecked with community specific silver jewellery which is intricately sinewy and a pleasure to behold.

Few Interesting elements

This festival is celebrated for five days.

 

Once people gather, they start dancing blending in with drums and flute music. They dance joyfully to varieties of flute music and rhythm of bells attached to their hips.

 

Few men and women come together and form pyramids. There are rides in the fair which are enjoyed by villagers and tourists alike.

 

A very interesting fact is the use of this festival by the Rathvas to match make. Young men and women set their sights for a prospective bride or groom like elders who look out for a suitable match for their children.

 

People who actively take part in this festival, drink for five days virtually without taking a break. They do this to taunt the government for the alcohol ban in Gujarat. Based on what I saw in Bastar and other adivasi areas, what is drunk is rice-beer/local drinks and not Indian Made Foreign Liquor as is available in big towns and cities.

 

On one of the five days, villagers dress up like Hindu gods and demons. Their costumes are not fancy but made out of things available in their home. This shows their creativity and enthusiasm.

 

The young Rathva men, consider this festival as a passage into adulthood.

 

For shoppers there is a market in the fair, where they sell their handicrafts and adivasi goods.

Who all attend this festival?

People come from different places. But special visitors are foreigners and NRIs. They take lots of pictures and videos. Villagers in various attires mingle with tourists - dance and sing together. This was great fun to watch.

 

Where to stay?

There are two interesting heritage properties near Kavant, the royal palaces at Chhota Udepur and Jambughoda. I was told they are good places to stay.

Which are the places to visit nearby?

The Jambugodha has a Wildlife Sanctuary. It is famous for its sloth bear and various other flowers and animals.

All in all it was a very different and great experience. With the lights and dresses of the villagers, the arena looked very colourful and mesmerizing esp. at night. We danced with them, clicked lots of pictures and ate differently cooked delicious food.

On behalf of the group we wish to thank our guide for letting us know about this festival. Do plan a trip yourself.

 

Editor: In 2019 I attended a similar celebration of Adivasis called Rajbari Holi. It is celebrated in Kathi village of Satpura Hills i.e. about 100 kms from Gujarat and Nandurbar district of Maharashtra. Here Holi are overnight – dance starts at about 8.30 pm and ends by 7 am ish the next morning. Here only men take part and dress quite similarly to what is described in Kavant Fair. The many women that I saw dancing were actually men in woman’s clothing. 

 

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