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Marabats and Badgyas

Apr 4, 2015, 18:30 PM
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Marabats and Badgyas
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Most festivals in India always have a social or religious connotation. In Nagpur, the festival of Marabats and Badgyas go a step further and directly confront social evils and criticise their perpetrators through a procession with effigies

On Bhadrapada Shukla Pratipada (approximately August – September) of the Indian lunar calendar, a unique festival, popularly known as Marabat, is celebrated in the eastern part of Vidarbha. It is held on a somewhat larger scale and in a rather unique way in Nagpur where huge male and female effigies are taken out by various people and institutions while shouting slogans and beating the drums. In the evening a festival of toy bulls, called ‘Tanha Pola’, is celebrated by children. Marabat and Badgyas are female and male representations respectively. These, and various smaller versions, are in fulfilment of some vow or desire.

The Badgyas are male figures personifying crime or nuisance, for example dowry, bribery, corruption, scams, scandals, encroachment, load-shedding, smuggling, etc or as a way to disgrace or condemn someone associated with any similar social problems. Marabats are also considered to have the power to do away with ailments and the processions are accompanied with such slogans as “O Marabat, take away cough, cold, pain and sufferings, insects like flies and mosquitos, deceases and epidemics”. 

Marabats and Badgyas are made of bamboo, paper and foil. The tradition of celebrating Marabat coincides with the mid-monsoon season when the environment turns unhygienic and begins to fester due to the earth becoming marshy and the stagnant pools of water turning into a breeding ground for insects, flies and mosquitoes that lead to diseases like cough, cold, fever, malaria, pneumonia, etc. The festival is thus targeted at keeping the environment clean and free of ailments, which is why garbage and filth is collected in various areas and burnt. The first day of Bhadrapada Shukla (August – September) is selected for this occasion. A day or two earlier, branches of Palash (Butea monosperma/ frondosa) are bought and kept in the corners and at the sides flanking the door. On the day of the Marabat, people take these branches and join the procession. These branches of Palash, also called Mendhi and Badgyas, actually represent a baton. A mock drill is observed to drive away all forms of nuisance by beating the ground with Palash batons and then burning them at the junctions where four roads meet. 

The procession with Marabat and Badgyas effigies are taken out before noon from the old city area. Kalee Marabat and Peelee Marabat are the two historical ones that start from the Nehru Putala Grain Market and Tandapeth respectively. They are said to be 130 and 128 years old respectively. The other Marabats viz. Chhoti Peelee Marabat, Chhoti Kalee Marabat, Laal Marabat, etc are spin-offs from the original form of the Marabat and their various postures are the fancy of some imaginative people. Originally Marabat effigies were made of earth and this practice has been continued in some parts of Vidarbha.

Badgyas, the male effigies accompanying Marabat, are personifications of the Palash possessing great historical value. It is said that when the effigy of Rani Bakabai was taken out as a Marabat by people to express their anger, an Englishman’s effigy representing the East India Company too was taken out simultaneously. History has it that the way the British got hold over the Nagpur Kingdom was a heinous act on their part. At this time, Bakabai was in poor health and in a strange coincidence she expired on the day the Marabat was taken out. Whether this was out of ill-health or shock will never be known.

Meanwhile, the Badgyas have always had interesting reflections of what is wrong with Indian society. For instance, one such Badygas was of K M Veerappan, the sandalwood smuggler. The effigy had him in his typical dress and trademark moustache with a banner in Marathi stating, “I have the support of several leaders. I am Veerappan, the sandalwood smuggler.” Other such effigies have been of Pakistani as well as terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, Hafeez Sayed, Ajmal Kasab, etc. Indian culprits too, have not been spared too. The objective is to show that these are people who have cheated the common man with false promises or scams. 

What probably began as a way of social awakening many decades ago has now also taken on a religious form so that there are many who worship Marabat as a deity. They offer her prayers and prasad while aartis and bhajans are sung in her favour. A married woman, for example, will pray to Peelee Marabat to bless her with a child. Interestingly, the local event is now attracting people from outside the state and even from abroad so that it has now given the Vidarbha region an additional tourist value. 

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