A blissful morning listening to Putturaj Gavai

Day 7
05th February, 2018
Tavaregera (Tawaragera)

We set off early this morning from Gumgeri, as we had a long distance to cover ahead. Meanwhile, we took a brief stop in a beautiful temple premise in Hanchinala, a village for breakfast.  On the side of the road, beautifully woven tents, pitched in an open field and a group of people,  the nomadic Buda Beda Jangamas  camp site!

Shamanna, one of their leaders welcomed us. This community travels across North Karnataka through the year donning what is called “Hagalu Vesha”, performing stories from the Sampoorna Ramayana, Kanakadasa’s life, about Ambigere Chowdaiah etc. The money they receive from villagers is their only earning. This is a spiritual exercise, but now seen only as entertainment with the community treated as outcasts. Shamanna’s compatriots treated us to an impromptu performance singing songs written by Putturaj Gavai. Sitting in the field in the early morning and listening to them perform was pure bliss!

We also saw the beautiful quilts they make by hand and the aesthetic and waterproof tents they had sewn. Shamanna spoke of how it’s really difficult to educate their children with the little performance money they get from villagers. He also mentioned that the current state government had released 150 Crore for the welfare of nomadic tribes but he wasn’t sure how much would actually reach the people. We left, after speaking to them about our Long March for The Handmade, and discussed how their livelihood, performance art, is also essentially handmade and  with a warm invitation to be part of the closing convention of the Padayatra at Kottur.

We then reached the temple where there was a platform outside for us to sit and eat and there was a borewell for us to wash our plates. The fact that villages still have common spaces and public water facilities really helps us, padayatris!

The temple was a simple and beautiful one –a Vaishnava temple with an Islamic style dome! Once again, appreciating the harmonious nature of North Karnataka we continued with our breakfast, Chitranna (Lemon Rice) made from the rice left over from the previous day. Post our breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised to see a woman priest, Halugavva who was performing the Pooja at the temple! What we heard from her made us even gladder.

Not only is she a woman priest, but is someone who has lost her husband! In cities, educated, working women who lose their husbands don’t even take part even in their children’s marriages but here in a village in North Karnataka, this lady was devotedly performing Pooja! She said, the village residents told her that, what mattered was not her gender or her marital status but only her devotion! As we were chatting with her, she also made tea for us. North Karnataka’s people may not have much money but they are most generous to all of us, always offering food and tea.

We then proceeded to walk towards Tavaregera, stopping for lunch in a farmer’s field. A weaver from Ilkal joined the Padayatra today, getting excellent Jolada Rotti for our lunch! Post lunch, after some rest, we walked on.
In Tavaregara, poet Anand Bhandari’s friends received us. As we proceeded to another temple for more meetings, we stopped at Srinivas Singh’s house where he and his family members were peeling tamarind. He is a farmer who has 15-20 tamarind trees. He also grows other crops. Tamarind is harvested once a year around this time. He also buys tamarind from others, processes it by hand and sells. The processing is all by hand and involves removing the shell and its fibres, crushing it with a small wooden rod and removing the seeds. The processed tamarind is then sold largely in Santhes (weekly markets). The handmade process is both eco-friendly and creates livelihoods. His one worry though is that tamarind rates fluctuate and he is never sure if he will get a good rate. This is an issue with all farmers, and therefore farmers’ organizations across the country press for purchasing produce at a cost 50% more than production cost by the government.

Kavadis (Quilt) by Muchigeris

Activist-friends took us to Mochi Hunagund Yallappa’s (of the Muchigeri community) house. Saraswatamma and Manjula, his neighbours who make kavadi/quilts were also there. Traditionally, Muchigeri or Mochi community were involved in sewing kavadi, which is not only handmade but also a recycled product made from old saris and other used cloth. Around 50 families still make kavadi even today. They spend two days a week collecting used cloth from the villages. Later, washing and segregating the cloth and sewing is done in their free time. This craft is exclusively made by women young and old of this community. In order to reduce competition, they follow a system where each family goes only to a particular village. The Mochis in Tavaragera alone cover up to villages.
Kavadis are still widely used in this region. They are especially useful during winter, as they are thick. They can also be used as a mats and mattresses.

Women sewing quilts

In olden days, when barter system was prevalent Mochis were exchanged for grain or goods but now it’s sold only for money. Even today, if farmers have a good yield, they still give small quantities of grain but most of the time it is of low quality as good quality grain is reserved for selling. They light-heartedly shared that some people pick up a quarrel if cloth that does not belong to them is used in the quilts.

See this short video on The Art of Re-Cycling.

The biggest festival in this village is also Muharram, which is celebrated by all the communities.
We reached Tavaregera quite early in the evening. It’s a Town Panchayat with many old temples and Muslim Dargas. Anand Bhandari, an activist from the Madiga community and students from the town took us to a Neelakanteshwara temple. Weavers, potters, street vendors, auto rickshaw drivers and even a natural farmer joined the meeting. There was a sharing of experience by all the activists. Vinay Sreenivasa, one of the yatris, who has worked extensively with street vendors, was able to share his experience with the street vendors.
During this conversation, we came to know that this village has more than 15 castes like Gowdas (landlords), Devanga (weavers), Kumbaara (potters), Chammara (Cobbler), Mochi, Hagaluvesha, Medararu, Ganigaru, Madaru, Siddaru, Budabudikeyavaru and Ramakondadavaru and many others who are involved in one or other handmade production and farming.

Rotti making

Hundreds of women in this village make rotti for selling in the cities, but most of them do it through middlemen. None of the hand-making people in this village are organized and therefore are exploited by the middlemen. What once used to be a domestic activity has now become a large-scale commercial activity.
This village also had potters. As observed earlier, potters here too have lost their jobs due to plastic pots that have flooded the markets. While a few of them make a living by making bricks, those who are capable of buying land have become farmers. One of the weavers of this village told us that ten years back this village used to have 200 looms but now there are only 15. We would have explored further but were running out of time and we had to move on.
Apart from people belonging to the farming community, most hand-making people don’t own any land. Since their nature-friendly products are no longer preferred for daily-use, the need to have an alternative income for these communities become essential. Therefore, they are fighting for rights over small piece of land to till. If not, handmade products should be given sufficient economic value, which will save not their craft but perhaps even secure our future.

-Abhilash and Vinay