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 Marbat 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.
Marbats are also thought to be able to cure illnesses, and processions are accompanied by mantras like "O Marbat, take away cough, cold, pain and sorrows, insects like flies and mosquitos, diseases and epidemics."
Bamboo, paper, and foil are used to make Marbats and Badgyas. The tradition of celebrating Marbat 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 last day of shravan (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 Marbat procession on the day of the Marbat. These Sacred 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 Marbat and Badgyas leaves the old city area before noon. The two historical ones are Kalee Marbat and Peelee Marbat, which begin at the Nehru Putala Grain Market and Tandapeth, respectively. They are both claimed to be 131 and 127 years old. The remaining Marbats, namely
The many postures of the Chhoti Peelee Marbat, Chhoti Kalee Marbat, Laal Marbat, and other variants of the Marbat are the result of the imagination of certain creative people. Marbat effigies were originally made of earth, and this tradition is still practised in some districts of Vidarbha.
Badgyas, the masculine effigies that accompany Marbat, are Palash personifications with significant historical significance. It is reported that when they burned Rani Bakabai's effigy as a Marbat 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 Marbat 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. 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 Marbat 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 pray Peeli Marbat 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.