Can you feel the energy? Picture taken by Willy Sanson, an award winning international photographer, during Ghotpal Madai and submitted for the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.
Chhattisgarh

Ghotpal Madai: A Tribal Festival in Bastar Region of Chhattisgarh

As I stood in the middle of a huge ground filled with people, for a second, I could not comprehend what exactly was happening around me. Amidst all the dust and colourful attire, all I could hear was rhythmic sound of thumping feet constantly moving in semicircle pattern. What was I witnessing? I was in the middle of one of the most extravagant celebrations of the Tribals of South Chhattisgarh – I was in Ghotpal Madai.

The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals.” – Siddharth Katragadda

Local tribal festivals and fairs in Chhattisgarh are the best time to get a glimpse of the striking world of the vibrant tribal culture, mystical tribal rituals and local deities.

Also read: 5 Reasons Why You Should Travel to Chhattisgarh

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A procession during the tribal festival of Fagun Mandai at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
A procession during the tribal festival of Fagun Mandai at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
Tribal Festival Season (Season of Mela Madais)

Tribals have their unique ways of celebrating festivals. Since the main source of income for Tribals is agriculture and forest produce, the festival season begins right after harvesting. Although Tribals celebrate few festivals during and post monsoon period, they celebrate majority of festivals after harvesting of crops.

The post-harvest festival season of Tribals usually begins in January and ends by May every year. During this period, Tribals celebrate several festivals and fairs across the region on different dates and at different locations.

The dates of these local festivals are never fixed and keep on changing every year. The concerned persons including priests from villages gather together and decide the dates for every festival at a particular location; that way, there is hardly any clash in dates of two festivals at different locations.

However, the uncertainty of exact dates also makes it little difficult for tourists to plan their trip precisely. The best way out is to always stay in contact with the local tour agent, like Unexplored Bastar; they will update you on the exact dates as and when such dates are finalized.

Post harvesting period is the Season of Madai in Chhattisgarh.
Post harvesting period is the Season of Madai in Chhattisgarh. PC – Jeet Singh Arya
Madai (Mandai/Mandhai/Madhai) 

Madai is a local festival-cum-fair dedicated to the local deity of a particular region. It is like an extravagant cultural gathering of Tribals where they celebrate along with their local deities.

For the Tribals of Chhattisgarh, all villages have their local deities; these local deities of different villages are related to each other as part of one big family.

Madai is a time when the entire tribal community comes together; after harvesting and selling of crops, they bringing their local deities at one place to meet and celebrate together.

I got the opportunity to attend couple of Madais when I went to Bastar Region in Southern Chhattisgarh during winters. I attended Ghotpal Madai in January 2018 and Phagun/Fagun Madai in February 2018.

The best way to experience the rich tribal culture is by attending a local festival like Madai.
The best way to experience the rich tribal culture is by attending a local festival like Madai. PC – Jeet Singh Arya
Ghotpal Madai and its Rituals

Ghotpal Madai (also known as “Ghotum Kadsad”) in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, India, is dedicated to the local deity – Usendi Tado/Devi. Usendi Devi is considered the daughter-in-law of the presiding deity of the region, Danteshwari Mata (on her name, the place is called Dantewada).

Although the main festival of Ghotpal Madai is of two days, the actual celebration begins almost two weeks earlier. The festival is composed of several tribal rituals.

The main deity in Ghotpal Madai, Usandi Tado Devi.
The main deity in Ghotpal Madai, Usandi Tado Devi.
Announcement and Invitation

The first ritual is of inviting the people and local deities of the nearby villages to Ghotpal. This is done in a traditional way; a small group of dancers go from village to village dancing and playing drums; while doing so, they announce the final date of the Madai Mela, as fixed by the local priest of Ghotpal, and invite the people to attend.

On the scheduled date of the Madai, the Tribals of neighbouring villages bring their local deities, in the form of a bamboo stick known as Angas, propped on their shoulders, to Ghotpal. These long decorated bamboo sticks signify the vehicle of the local deity.

The main deity in Ghotpal Madai, Usandi Tado Devi.
The main deity in Ghotpal Madai, Usandi Tado Devi.
Marriages and Cultural Programs

As Tribals from nearby villagers start arriving, community marriages (Samuhik Vivah) happen on the first day of the festival.

Marriages involve time and lots of money. So, tribal couples, who cannot afford to bear the expenses involved in marriage, marry during Madai. The community, with some help from the Government, make arrangements for such marriages.

Although this was traditionally not part of Ghotpal Madai, with the increase in marriage costs, Tribals have found this unique way of celebrating the occasion, while providing a solution to the poor couples.

Such marriages are followed by cultural programs, which involve tribal dance, folk song, local theatre, etc. all night long.

One of the children of the Usandi Devi fully decorated during Ghotpal Madai.
One of the children of the Usandi Devi fully decorated during Ghotpal Madai.
Dev Khelni (Playing of Gods) – Decoration and Purification

The main rituals related to local deities happen on the second day.

In tribal culture, the form in which Tribals worship their local deities is very different. They do not worship deities in the form of idols, but in the form of a long wooden/bamboo sticks. The devotees beautifully decorate such sticks with peacock feathers and bells. Tribals decorate both the main deity, Usandi Devi, as well as her children for the festival.

Traditionally, whenever a guest used to come home, the host would wash the guests’ feet with water. Similarly, after the local deities arrive at Ghotpal, a procession of devotees carry the local deities, along with the host, Usandi Devi and her children, to a nearby pond for purification. After a short bath of deities, the devotees carry the dieties to the open ground just beside the main temple.

Water that drips from the Usandi Devi while bringing her back from the pond is considered holy. This dripping water is drunk by various devotees to get rid of any ailment and as a mark of her blessings.

One of the ceremonies during the tribal festival, Ghotpal Mandai, near Dantewada, Southern Chhattisgarh.
One of the ceremonies during the tribal festival, Ghotpal Mandai, near Dantewada, Southern Chhattisgarh.
Dev Khelni (Playing of Gods) – Decoration and Worshiping

After bathing and purification, the procession brings the deities to the center of the main ground. Here, the priests and other devotees assemble and decorate all the deities in the traditional attire and form.

After the decorations, the priests perform various rituals and worship the local deities. These rituals also involve worshiping the trees associated with the deities.

Part of worshiping also involves dancing or playing with the deities. So you will see few people carrying the main deity, Usendi Devi, while dancing in the main ground.

Vibrant and colorful tribal festival of Ghotpal Madai, Dantewada, Southern Chhattisgarh.
Vibrant and colorful tribal festival of Ghotpal Madai, Dantewada, Southern Chhattisgarh.
Bidai (Seeing Off)

Just like when relatives/guests come to your home, you welcome them, feed them, enjoy with them, and then time comes when you have to see them off.

Similarly, Madai ends with the seeing off of the local deities that came to the festival. All the devotees that have brought the deities from their villages, carry them back. And the priests again place the main deity, Usandi Devi, back inside the temple complex, where she remains until the next Ghotpal Madai.

Tribals dancing and playing with the local deities during Ghotpal Madai.
Tribals dancing and playing with the local deities during Ghotpal Madai.
Tribal Dance

During two days of Madai, the villagers that come to attend the festival, camp at the ground just beside the main temple. And, in between eating and sleeping, one thing that they do with eclectic energy is dance.

Two days of the festival constantly buzz with the tribal dances performed by the Tribals. You will see not just the trained group of dancers in their traditional attire, but also the local people dancing rhythmically in their colourful attire on the beats of traditional instruments.

It is impossible to not shake your legs on their beats and perfectly synchronized dance steps.

Tribal Dance Group performing during Ghotpal Madai.
Tribal Dance Group performing during Ghotpal Madai.
Tribal Fair (Mela)

And for the time when you want to catch your breath and take a little break from all that dancing, you may head to the local fair.

No Madai is complete without a Mela (Fair). The fair brings the locally made and economical day to day utility items for shopping. It is also a great place to try some really amazing local food.

Among the Tribals, drinking locally made alcoholic brews like Salphi, Chhind, Land, Mahua, etc. is part of the culture. You will see containers of these local brews lined up to sell, mostly be women; almost everyone consume these local brews, irrespective of gender and age. This is a great place if you want to try them!

The head priest after the purification and decoration of the main deity, Usandi Devi, during Ghotpal Madai.
The head priest after the purification and decoration of the main deity, Usandi Devi, during Ghotpal Madai.
Wanna Join?

Attending Ghotpal Madai was one of the most unexpected, rewarding and enriching experience for me. Watching up close the tribal culture is definitely an experience in itself.

Experiences like these make you question the extent of modernization and urbanization at the cost of our traditions and culture. These festivals show that we have to go back to our roots to preserve our traditions and culture, otherwise we might loose them forever!

How to Reach

Raipur – Jagdalpur – Geedam – Ghotpal

Ghotpal is a small hamlet in Dantewada District in Southern Chhattisgarh. There are direct flights available till Raipur (the capital of Chhattisgarh) from all metro cities of India. Rail network also connects Raipur. You can hire a private cab from Raipur, which will be the most convenient way, to visit Ghotpal.

However, if you are traveling in public transport, then you have to reach Jagdalpur (around 300 kms away from Raipur). You can either take a flight (direct flights have started from Raipur and Vizag) or a bus to Jagdalpur. From Jagdalpur, Geedam is around 70 kms and you will get buses and tempos till Geedam. Ghotpal is further 10 kms away from Geedam and shared tempos/autos are available till there during the festival.

Where to Stay

You can either stay in Jagdalpur (around 80 kms from Ghotpal) or in Dantewada (around 40 kms from Ghotpal). However, there are more and better stay options if you stay in Jagdalpur.

Can you feel the energy? Picture taken by Willy Sanson, an award winning international photographer, during Ghotpal Madai and submitted for the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.
Can you feel the energy? Picture taken by Willy Sanson, an award winning international photographer, during Ghotpal Madai and submitted for the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.

If you want to attend Ghotpal Madai, or any other Madai, I would highly recommend getting in touch with the most helpful peeps at Unexplored Bastar. Their local knowledge is unparalleled and their services are highly economical.

Do you enjoy local festivals? Do you find tribal culture fascinating? Have you attended any local festival in Chhattisgarh? How was your experience? Let me know in comments.

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