The Warlis are an indigenous tribe of people who have lived in the Thane district of Maharashtra for centuries. They were originally hunters but with deforestation and access denied to the existing forests, paddy farming is now the main stay of their existence. Even today, their entire life revolves around nature. Seasons dominate every aspect of their life with the year getting divided into various periods of rice growing. All the work is done manually with no help whatsoever of machines. The entire family, including women and young children, get engrossed in work throughout the year, leaving old women at home to look after the babies.
The community has developed an astonishing set of eco-indicators with the help of which they can predict the coming of the monsoon. Minute changes in sunrise and sunset and the cry of a particular bird, herald the onset of the rainy season – ushering in a period of plenty and cause for joy. The first rain in June announces the birth of a new cycle of life. The seeds are sown and the first seedling that sprouts is celebrated as a gift from Dharitri (mother earth) with a rite known as Kaavali Khaane. The seedling is cooked into a curry and shared by all the family members. Transplanting of seedlings takes place after this rite has been performed.
From June to September, the Warlis are busy in their fields, managing water, weeding, tightening plants that have become loose, chasing away rodents and cutting the abundance of grass and storing them for their cattle. Nature responds and by September the crops are standing tall in the fields. The Warlis then harvest the crops, but only after Saavari the field Goddess is thanked for her generosity.
After harvesting, its time to celebrate Diwali. Entire clans come together under the same roof and prepare to eat the newly harvested grain for the first time. This is accompanied by joyous dancing, singing, drinking and merry-making. More celebrations follow with the propitiation of Vaghadeva (the Tiger God), Kaansaari (the Corn Goddess) and a host of other Gods and Goddesses. The harvest is threshed and the new grain is brought home and stored in a kaangii which is a circular rice bin.
Written by: Erica Taraporvala Photographs: Vikas Shinde, Sunil Gokarn Copy editor: Priyanka Brijwasi