The day-long rituals associated with ‘bheting’ or admission of new women members into the clan marked the start of the famous Nagoba jatara, a five-day annual pilgrimage of the Mesram clan of Gonds at Keslapur village in Indervelli mandal on Saturday. These rituals, culminating with the new entrants worshipping the serpent god at the Nagoba temple for the first time ever, continued well into the small hours of Sunday.

Not only the women who are married to Mesram men during the preceding year but others, who for some reason or the other could not attend the ‘bheting’ ceremonies earlier, took part in the elaborate rituals. Clad in white, women entered the temple precincts in the morning in a procession led by the Kathodas, the priests in the clan.

The new entrants, accompanied by respective mother-in-law, touch the feet as a measure of respect and self introduction to the priests so as to get their approval for the rituals that follow. The duo is handed over a new earthen pot meant to fetch water from the sacred well located close to the Nagoba temple.

The women set out with the pots and returned only in the evening. This water is used to make an anthill of clay which, subsequently becomes a sacred object.

The last camp of the women before being initiated into the clan was in the Govad, an enclosure situated close to the temple.

Here, they prepared the ‘naivedyam’ (offering) on 22 makeshift ovens to offer to the serpent god.

The 22 ovens corresponded with the 22 ‘gotras’ in the Mesram clan. The ‘Naivedyam’ consisted of nine different types of food grain.

The face of the new Mesram brides was covered in masks made of their own saris as they walk in a procession towards the temple led by Pardhan musicians, also of the same clan. The women got to remove the mask only when faced with the deity of Nagoba so as to ensure that the first object they saw at the beginning of ‘amavasya’ or the new moon day was that of the serpent god considered to be highly auspicious.