|Saturday, September 22, 2001||
IN the month of Ashwin (September-October), the Jat villages of Haryana witness the annual spectacle of Sanjhi. Even a casual spectator cannot miss the many faces of Sanjhi, put on mud plastered walls by village maidens. On the first day of Ashwin Shukla Pratipada, village maidens adorn walls with star-studded images of Goddess Sanjhi. For the next ten evenings these girls congregate near the image, holding lighted earthen lamps and sing songs to appease the goddess.
Sanjhi, also portrayed
as Durga and Parvati, has been recognised as an age-old rural folk art
form in Haryana, the neighbouring Janapadas region of Uttar Pradesh,
Rajasthan and even Madhya Pradesh. When the monsoon ends, there is ample
water in ponds and small pits around the villages and in the fields.
Little girls accompany their mothers or elderly relatives to fetch a
basketful of clay from which they fashion images of Sanjhi. In case
there is a draught, blocks of mud are crushed and mixed with water to
make clay. The girls prepare, often with the assistance of their mothers
or elder sisters, a face, hands adorned with gauntlets, feet and
jewellery. Scores of sparkling stars are also prepared to be used for
filling the space earmarked for various parts of the body of the image.
These parts are dried in the sun and carefully protected until the day
these have to be put up on the walls as a collage of Sanjhi, when they
are painted in white lime, black soot and ochre. Decades ago when most
houses in a village were kuchcha, made mostly of mudbricks, a
wall facing an auspicious direction was selected for putting up the
image of Sanjhi. It was the usual practice for villagers to repair mud
houses after the rainy season. Therefore, when the kuchcha walls
of the houses received a new coat of mud plaster, it coincided with the
event of Sanjhi. A Sanjhi image always looks more impressive on a kuchcha
wall than on a naked brick wall or a wall plastered with cement. The
earth colour provides an impressive background to the image of Sanjhi.
It appears erroneous to assume that the girls actually worship the image of Sanjhi. In accordance with the tenets of Hindu iconography, the wall images of Sanjhi laid in clay by the Jat village communities of Haryana, are in fact chitrardhas, revered and not worshipped. All activities undertaken for appeasing Sanjhi indicate appreciation and not idol worship as once held by reformers in the early part of the twentieth century. Sanjhi should, therefore, be treated more as a rural folk art form than as idol worship. Moreover, these activities last for only ten days at the close of which, on Vijayadashmi, the image is removed from the walls and all its parts, except the face, are discarded. The face is put in a perforated earthen pot and taken to the nearest and largest pond by throngs of girls where it is put in the water. A couple of lighted earthen lamps are also placed in it. The floating pot with the face of Sanjhi in it looks mystical in the light of the moon. Soon after herdsmen jump into the water with sticks in hands, and smash the pot. The face of the Sanjhi is thus immersed in the pond. It is sort of a vidai or departure of Sanjhi.
Since the performance of activities related to Sanjhi lasts only for a short time and is confined to Jat village communities, its character varies. Village communities adhere to the wisdom given by our manishies (old wise men) that nothing is permanent in nature. Only the bhavana i.e. the spiritual feeling, is permanent. The nature of such activities consequently acquires the character of a tradition. In fact, it is the very nature of Sanjhi tradition which has given ample scope to village communities of Haryana for developing Sanjhi into hundreds of images of various shapes and sizes. Experts are of the opinion that the State Department of Culture should consider collecting various images of Sanjhi before they are extinct and display them in a folk art museum or at various tourist complexes in the state.
Women are the principle
carriers of the Sanjhi folk art tradition. Considerable work has been
done by research scholars to record the folk songs related to Sanjhi. In
recent years, hopes have, however, been rekindled by the efforts of the
Public Relations Department of Haryana to preserve the folk art of
Sanjhi. Around Vijayadashmi competitions are organised by the department
in which images of Sanjhi laid on plywood boards are judged for awards.
Since traditions seldom die, we can hope that the folk art of Sanjhi
will survive in our village communities. Many intellectuals and
community workers associated with the promotion of cultural activities
are of the view that as a folk art Sanjhi will be preserved.