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Durable Link to this BlogMonday, May 16, 2005

'Peacock Dress' of Tribals

During my tenure (1977-1980) at the All India Radio station of Kolkota (Calcutta), I had a privilege of meeting Prof. Ashutosh Bhattacharya. A distinguished folklorist, anthropologist and writer, Dr. Bhattacharya worked with Dr. Verrier Elwin, over years and was his confidante. He had many intimate incidents connected with Elwin, and here is one narrated.

Both of them were in the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh while working for the Anthropological Survey Department. Elwin had found out from reports that some tribals far interior in the forest wore peacock feathers-stitched. They prepared their own liquor (landa) and were fond of singing and dancing in groups. Elwin was familiar with tribal's ways. Peacock-feather dress was the only new thing he heard about and at once started for investigation. He asked Mr. Bhattacharya to join. He also suggested to carry one or two bottles of city liquor, which was of great attraction to the tribals. Bhattacharya obliged.

The journey was arduous. There was no pucca road. Even the footpath (trail) ended after a while. They had to request the forest officials to provide domesticated elephant for further journey. Elwin was tired and wanted a draught of 'ambrosia' which was being carried. He had a good taste for such drinks and in no time, full justice was done to the nectar which Bhattacharya was carefully guarding to gift to the tribals!

It was evening when they spotted the tribal village of feather wearers. To their utter dismay, they found that what was described as peacock-feather dress was the longleaf sheathes strung together just to hide their private parts. The inhabitants were too poor to afford even a loin-cloth. There was no gaiety, no dance or music or even country liquor. There was nothing to offer from the party either. Poverty mocked at them threadbare!

Elwin Saheb was the most distressed. It was beyond his imagination that the plight of a section of hard sustained self-supporting tribals could be as miserable. Later he tried his best to draw attention of the government at the famished conditions of these creatures who could hardly survive.

There were such tribals fifty years ago. Gandhiji's option for minimum clothing has background of such sad happenings.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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