Nomadic communities would meet for celebrations on the beautiful rocky terrain in and around Hyderabad

Anne Chapuis and Luc de Golbery came to Hyderabad in the course of their study as anthropologists/geographers and decided to make a home here. They have been interested in researching the history and culture of the Lambadas (Banjaras), the Gonds, the Chenchus and other communities of the area.

The Banjaras came from the Northwest and moved towards the Deccan with the Mughals. Traditionally they worked in the salt business: they would get salt from the salt mines, exchange it in villages for grain and then sell grain. The Mughal army hired them to transport material in their caravans and for their reliability in navigating rough terrain. Other similar nomadic communities were those of singer-astrologers, puppeteers etc. who travelled around according to need.

Once a year they would gather, to meet relatives, settle marriages etc. Interestingly, Anne said, they would always meet at a beautiful “konda” / hill top. Banjara Hills in Hyderabad was one such meeting place and was named after the Banjaras. Devarakonda in Nalgonda was another, where they would meet every Shivaratri, celebrate, arrange marriages etc.

Fortuitously, Amita Talwar, a well known photographer based in the city, went on a trip to Devarakonda organised recently by the Society to Save Rocks for members to enjoy the stunning rock vistas there. There, she took several photographs, two of which are shown above.

In our research for the documentary on the rocks, we have had surprisingly little success in finding references to the rocks in the poetry, song, crafts, textile design, painting etc. of the region. Anne and Luc shared a nuanced understanding of this matter with us. While objective appreciation of the rocks, of the kind that we are looking for in poetry, painting etc. may not be readily available, different communities had their own unique relationship with the rocks / lakes / nature. Respect and dependence upon the landscape was the bedrock, on which a profound interactive relationship with it, was built into their daily lives. That relationship to the landscape is now almost gone. In the instance of the lakes there is no regular washing of clothes, no bathing of self / animals in them etc., as there used to be. The lakes are too polluted. Likewise, on the kondas too, there is no longer such a regular gathering and celebration of these communities amidst a well known and loved landscape.

On the contrary the rocky landscape, today, is flattened at our will. These rocks were created over 2.5 billion years ago by geological activity deep within the earth. They have been a silent witness / ally through all our historical development. In the past, so many of our communities have had the good sense to see them as profoundly valuable: as natural ecological allies, as the earth’s stunningly beautiful gift to our area. Unfortunately, we now destroy the rocks of our region at will. In so doing, we do not heed a starkly simple fact: the earth will not deliver them to us again at our will.

(The writer is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher)