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Phagun Madai: Dantewada's riot of colours linked to Spring-time fruits, flowers

Gaur dancers on the streets of Dantewada
By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi  
While the rest of India soaks in the spirit of Holi to welcome spring, Dantewada district in southern Chhattisgarh takes pride in its own carnival involving music, revelry and celebrations.
The 10-day long Phagun Madai festival of Dantewada, which is over 700 years old, coincides with the festival of colours observed across the country. Grand processions are a common sight on the district’s roads packed to the full with curious onlookers. Bison horn dancers from the Dandami Maria tribe of south Bastar perform on the streets of Dantewada during the festive season. The Phagun Madai witnesses the coming together of royalty, Adivasis and non-Adivasis of the entire Bastar region comprising seven districts, including Dantewada.
Devotees walk holding their gods and goddesses
The bison horn dance, also known as the gaur dance, is a visually vibrant spectacle with male dancers wearing headgears made of gleaming bird feathers, cowrie shells and bison horns. The long pole carried by the women is called gujri, which is struck on the ground, as they move rhythmically to the beats of drums and flutes. The dance is an integral part of Phagun Madai. The festival is actually celebrated over a month but the 10 days hold the key attraction.
Suresh Karma, who heads the Sarva Adivasi Samaj in Dantewada, said that for the entire 10-day period, various types of customs and rituals are performed in the midst of dance and music. Decorated processions are taken out in the form of dolis or palkis (palanquins) during the evenings. There are 42 tribal groups in Chhattisgarh. So, there is a Sarva Adivasi Samaj to give them a proper platform.
Nagada, a main attraction of the festival
“Phagun Madai is an annual festival organised from March 9-March 19 which is linked to nature. It hails the spring-summer season’s fruits and flowers like the mango as well as mahua and palash. Mahua is an important minor forest produce in Chhattisgarh which is collected by tribals and reddish palash flowers dot the rural landscape during March-April. As part of the festival, people from all walks of life bring their own gods and goddesses to Dantewada,” Karma added. Immediately after the Phagun Madai, the mango festival is celebrated.
Some of the rituals are interesting like the traditional drama or nukkad natak showing the hunting of the rabbit which takes place at night. According to Karma, it symbolises the great hunting tradition observed in the olden days. People still remember it and carry on the tradition with great fervour on the stage. A man essays the role of the rabbit. Once, there was dense forest all around and many animals were found. So, it is basically a remembrance.
Palkis are taken out decorated daily 
Amidst the din of musical instruments like the flute and the nagada a type of drum, assistant sub-inspector Asha Singh said almost 5,000-10,000 people arrive in Dantewada on a daily basis during these 10 days. In totality, over 10 lakh people descend on the place bringing 750 gods and goddesses from far-flung villages of the district and even from outside. The madai concludes with a fair. Security is ramped up for almost a month keeping in mind the festivities and 2000 police personnel are deployed throughout the night at sensitive places.
Nandlal Rathore, who is associated with the Banjara Samaj, said devotees perform rituals with great fervour. Phagun Madai is also linked to the observance of pandum, a Gondi word which means festival.

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