Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Witchcraft and Farmers in Konkan

20 May 2012

I visit rural parts of southern Konkan frequently and across the districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, people like to tell and retell stories of ghosts and witchcraft. Hilly areas and good tree density at many places allows more space for the lesser number of humans and more number of the stories surrounding the souls of the dead, who apparently like to hang around those who are still living in their bodies. There is a great obsession amongst the majority of the people about the effects of the powers of the dead.

Move around the village and you will come surely across some small clusters of tall trees which have not yet fallen prey to the human greed. Near those trees on the grounds you are likely to find ash remains of the fire lit some time ago to cook meals. They say that souls of the dead of a Brahmin like to hang on those trees and they can be satisfied only by rituals performed by Brahmin priests and share of the meals prepared by them. There is nothing really harmful about this superstition. In fact it helps to save some trees which otherwise would have easily fell and certainly having a delicious meal cooked on open fire under the trees in beautiful environment itself is a great pleasure.

Last week I visited one of my relative in Konkan. They are farmers and telling me their stories. It was late in the evening and very dark outside and of course good time to start stories of the ghosts. But this relative of mine is a very practical farmer who also acts as a village trader with a keen sense of business and a good sense of humour. It was obvious that like common folks in the village he did not believe in the witchcraft stuff. “There are some particular days when these activities are supposed to be very effective. Such as if you wish something bad for somebody on no moon day, they say chances are high that it becomes true. These are the days you have to be particularly watchful of your bananas, since these ill wishers many times like to steal them instead of buying them.” He then narrated his recent experience of ash gourd crop. “Ash gourds are considered to take in them all the bad spirits and hence people don’t eat them in this area. We at our home don’t mind eating them. In fact various food products made from them fetch very good price in Mumbai and I had planned tried to some experiments in my newly started food processing business. I sowed them on a neglected patch of land since they need little care. I was very happy when I saw very good flowering and also subsequent good fruiting. I forgot that it also is a good medium for the people engaged in doing some witchcraft. On a day before the no moon day I visited the plot just to find that all of my ash gourds were gone.”

His neighbour who was sitting there silently till this time now started to talk. He told how he lost his two animals till date by deeds of these people doing some witchcraft. He also did not believe in that nonsense. But his experiences were making it clear that so called non sense was also a great social menace. People tie certain things with bananas and many of the times they use pins to attach these objects to bananas. They leave those bananas at certain places in the village which are frequented by the people at whom their ill wishes are targeted. These are found and eaten by free grazing cattle. The pins attached cause injuries in their throats or stomachs and animals die many times.

Well these are small but common instances having a very wide spread in a region where you also come across an occasional case of human sacrifice. After hearing those stories and trying to write them down for this blog, I get a broader question in my mind. We have been trying so much for extension of the science and technology but why have we not promoted scientific thinking yet? Any answers?

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