In India, most festivals have a social or religious element. The Marabats and Badgyas celebration in Nagpur takes things a step further by explicitly confronting social problems and criticising their offenders with a procession with effigies. A unique celebration, generally known as Marabat, is observed in Bhadrapada Shukla Pratipada (roughly August – September) of the Indian lunar calendar.
In Nagpur, it is held on a somewhat larger scale and in a rather unusual fashion, with various persons and institutions carrying enormous male and female effigies while yelling slogans and pounding drums. Children celebrate a toy bull festival called "Tanha Pola" in the evening. Female and masculine representations are Marabat and Badgyas, respectively.
The Badgyas are male figures who represent crime or annoyance, such as dowry, bribery, corruption, scams, scandals, encroachment, load-shedding, smuggling, and so on, or who are used to shame or criticise someone involved in such societal issues.
Marabats are also thought to be able to cure illnesses, and processions are accompanied by mantras like "O Marabat, take away cough, cold, pain and sorrows, insects like flies and mosquitos, diseases and epidemics."
Bamboo, paper, and foil are used to make Marabats and Badgyas. The tradition of celebrating Marabat coincides with the mid-monsoon season, when the environment becomes unsanitary and begins to fester as the earth becomes marshy and stagnant pools of water become a breeding ground for insects, flies, and mosquitoes, resulting in diseases such as cough, cold, fever, malaria, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
As a result, the event aims to maintain the environment clean and free of diseases, which is why waste and dirt are gathered and burned in various regions. This year, the first day of Bhadrapada Shukla (August – September) has been chosen. Palash (Butea monosperma/ frondosa) branches were purchased a day or two earlier and placed in the corners and on the sides flanking the entryway.
People take these branches and join the Marabat procession on the day of the Marabat. These Palash branches, also known as Mendhi and Badgyas, resemble a baton. The ground is beaten with Palash batons and then burned at the intersections where four roads converge in a simulated practise to drive away all sorts of disturbance.
The procession with the effigies of Marabat and Badgyas leaves the old city area before noon. The two historical ones are Kalee Marabat and Peelee Marabat, which begin at the Nehru Putala Grain Market and Tandapeth, respectively. They are both claimed to be 130 and 128 years old. The remaining Marabats, namely
The many postures of the Chhoti Peelee Marabat, Chhoti Kalee Marabat, Laal Marabat, and other variants of the Marabat are the result of the imagination of certain creative people. Marabat effigies were originally made of earth, and this tradition is still practised in some districts of Vidarbha.
Badgyas, the masculine effigies that accompany Marabat, are Palash personifications with significant historical significance. It is reported that when they burned Rani Bakabai's effigy as a Marabat to demonstrate their outrage, an Englishman's effigy representing the East India Company was also burned.
According to history, the British seized control of the Nagpur Kingdom through a horrible crime. Bakabai was in bad condition at the time, and by a weird coincidence, she died on the day the Marabat was removed. It will never be known if this was due to illness or shock.
Meanwhile, the Badgyas have always reflected what is wrong with Indian society in fascinating ways. For example, K M Veerappan, the sandalwood smuggler, had one of these Badygas. The effigy depicted him wearing his distinctive moustache and holding a sign in Marathi that read, "I have the support of various leaders."
I'm Veerappan, the smuggler of sandalwood.” Other effigies include Osama Bin Laden, Hafeez Sayed, Ajmal Kasab, and other Pakistani and terrorist figures. Indian criminals have not been spared either. The goal is to highlight that these are persons who have defrauded ordinary people by making false promises or using schemes.
What began as a method of societal awakening many decades ago has now evolved into a religious form, with many people worshipping Marabat as a deity. They pray for her and serve her prasad while singing aartis and bhajans in her honour. For example, a married woman will ask Peelee Marabat to bless her with a child.
Surprisingly, the local event is now attracting visitors from beyond the state and even from abroad, giving the Vidarbha region a boost in terms of tourism.