This is the time of the year when Rama roams the city

By Shravan Regret Iyer

If you haven’t yet had Lord Rama himself suddenly springing up before you from nowhere in the past two-three days, don’t despair, he might still do so, along with his brother Lakshmana and their ever-faithful follower Hanuman, over the next one week. If they do, just don’t ask Rama where Sita is, nor offer peanuts to the monkey-god!

Rama Navami story
Photo by Shravan Regret Iyer

These are troupes of Budaga Jangama tribals who dress up as Rama, et al, and come out of their jungles into our concrete jungle every year during the 10-day-long Ramanavami celebrations — to recount the Ramayana, and to earn some money. 

Last week, in the scorching heat of Bengaluru, Umesh and his team, dressed as characters from the Ramayana, complete with blue-paint for Rama, were out on the streets – religiously begging for money. They are Veshadhari’s (the costume-people, if you will) of the semi-nomadic tribe Budaga Jangama. Umesh and his team have travelled from north Karnataka.

In Bengaluru, they hope to earn enough money to keep their family kitchen fires burning for the rest of the year. “We do this every year, starting a week before Ramanavami. We spread the glories of Lord Rama and we make some money in the process”, says Umesh, himself dressed up as Rama. Where is your Sita? Sorry, no Sita in his group, he says – because women are not allowed to go begging in their tribal culture.

There are an estimated 1 million Budaga Jangama tribals in the country. “That’s a sizeable population, but many of them have given up their tribal culture and traditions. Despite attempts by the government to help them maintain their Veshadhari tradition through various schemes, their younger generation does not seem interested,” Folk scholar and Kannada writer Go.Ru. Channabasappa says.

It’s easy to understand why. Most of the money they earn goes back into costumes and the colours they use. “We are also unwelcome guests. So, we are often chased away by locals when we try to pitch tents on the outskirts of the city. This time, I have rented a room near Majestic bus station for my team of eight people. It helps reduce our travel time as well as lets us cover many areas in the city. Time is of the essence, as we can earn money only during this festive season and new year.”

And sure enough, they don’t waste time even during the night. While these tribals dress up as epic characters and roam the city during the day, in the night, they put up stage performances. Unfortunately, for them, only people in the remote villages watch these nightly nataks these days.

The leaf that lit the pandavas’ path through the forest

Bengaluru: Pandavara Batti (Pandavas’ torch), a plant that is said to have been used as a fire torch by the Pandavas of Mahabharata during their vanavasa (exile), was recently spotted by a global citizen scientists’ forum member in South India, and has gained attention on social media platforms.

Pandavara Batti_1The plant’s Kannada name is not accidental. It is so called because you can light a torch with even its fresh green leaf – a drop of oil applied on the tip of the leaf does the trick as it begins to act like a wick. The plant, which is found only in the Western Ghats in India and in Sri Lanka, is still used in many South Indian temples like the Ayyanar temple and Bhairavar temple in Tamil Nadu.

Modern plant science, too, recognises the plant’s property. Its botanical name is Callicarpa Lanata. The plant can grow upto five meters tall and, being common in its habitats, has no protection status. In semi-evergreen forests, it’s an undergrowth. Indian scientists believe that this plant also has medicinal value as it has anthelminitics (anti-parasitic) and anti-inflammatory properties.

As its fame spreads, people have started to grow the plant in their home gardens. “I have grown this plant in my garden. We call it Payeveratti in Tamil,” said Lakshminarayan of Neyveli, Tamil Nadu.