During Deepavali, Lambani tanda mourns King Bali’s loss

While the world outside celebrates Deepavali with lights, firecrackers and sweets, it is pitch dark inside the Lambani tanda in Bonti village of Aurad taluk. Residents here are mourning the killing of King Bali, considered the leader of their tribe. The community observes a mourning ritual on the new moon day during Deepavali, called Kali Amavasya.

In several tandas, the only lamp lighted is in the home of the ‘tanda nayak’, or headman. Residents don’t light lamps or cook. They eat leftovers and observe ‘shraddha’, a ritual that includes praying for departed souls.

In some tandas, young girls go from house to house, singing ‘shok geet’ (songs of grief) and collecting money and oil for lamps. The collection is offered to the headman in the evening. “It may be a festival for others, but not for us. It is an occasion for us to express grief over the death of our leader,” said Prem Singh Rathod, a resident of Bagdal tanda near Bidar.

Mr. Rathod is a folk singer who is famous for his recitals of ‘Arthavani’, the Banjara folk oral tradition of narrating stories from mythology.

The legend

“It is recorded in Vaman Purana that Bali Raja was the most powerful king on earth. He even wielded influence in heaven and other worlds. This angered the gods who decided to kill him. They conspired against him and sent Vamana to kill him. Vamana conned the king into donating him the three worlds. When the king failed to keep his promise, he offered his life to the gods. Vamana trampled him under his feet. While some celebrate the victory of the gods over Bali as Bali Padyami, we mourn his passing as Kali Amavasya,” he explained. “However, Kali Amavasya is not a very popular ritual,” said Govardhan Rathod, community leader and former member of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee. “Only members of some sub-castes seem to observe ‘shraddha’. Others celebrate Deepavali like everyone else,” he said.

Ritual, a protest

“This is not just a ritual. It is a form of silent protest,” said Dalit ideologue Vaijanath Suryavanshi. “This is a classic example of the contra-logic used by the Dalit Bahujans to revolt against Manuvadi culture. Those practising it may not realise it, but it is a very powerful expression of revolt that will be included in our cultural history,” he said.

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