The Hindu Business Line

Keep calm, the Gods are coming

A tribal ritual of saluting the village deity continues for over a century


A century ago, on the eve of the first new moon after the monsoon harvest, legend has it that Rama Thakur, the over six-foottall head of Peth village in Dahanu taluka of Maharashtr­a’s Palghar district, could be spotted patrolling the narrow lanes looking into each house after sunset. He was checking if any women folk, roosters or cattle had been left behind. Any violation would result in a fine and confiscati­on in summary terms of the animal.

Thakur has passed on but there is a diligence in observing the annual ‘Gaon Dev’ (village God) ritual in some tribal villages in Palghar till today. On the eve of the designated day (which was in November this year), all the women and girls from the village along with the animals (though there are exceptions) cross the Surya river and stay out in the open for 24 hours.

Only the men can stay back in the village. The doors of all the houses are kept open. All night long, the men sit under a huge banyan tree around the wooden with his catapult and the family paid a fine of four annas (twenty five paise) at that time. The bird was a handy sacrifice.

Though rules have been relaxed, the fines for violation still exist. One resident had to marry off his son under trying circumstan­ces a week before the ‘Gaon Dev’ ritual was performed. The bride’s father would not listen to reason and refused to delay the marriage by even a day. The village council decided to levy a hefty fine of ₹10,000. After much pleading they settled for ₹4,000.

The day after the ritual, as a sign of gratitude to the Gods, animals are sacrificed. The meat, roasted on a wood fire, is distribute­d to all the villagers.

Welcoming back the women

Meanwhile, a few elders build a makeshift arch of mango leaves and flowers at the entrance to the village to welcome the women back. The dinner that night is meat and rice in every house. While the entire village follows the rules, not everyone agrees with the tradition.

But the question no one was willing to answer is: who will be the first to oppose this custom and invoke the wrath of the village deity?

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