Saturday, September 22, 2001

Preserving folk art, the Sanjhi way
Rajbala Phaugat

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.


According to research scholars, in Haryana the folk art of Sanjhi is probably as old as the legend of Lord Krishna. The Sanjhi folk art form might have been adopted by the women folks of Haryana through cultural exchanges with the adjoining kingdom of Mathura or Brijbhoomi. Literary evidence, too, suggests that during Lord Krishna’s time, Sanjhi used to be laid out with wild flowers to appease one’s consort. However, scholars opine that Sanjhi developed into a folk art form when Vedic rituals started losing importance. In Haryana Sanjhi acquired the form of a Devi i.e., an image made of clay on a mud-plastered wall and looked upon by maidens as the image of Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva.

The images of Sanjhi get a final touch
The images of Sanjhi get a final touch

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.

Village women gather to pay obeisance to Goddess Sanjhi
Village women gather to pay obeisance to Goddess 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.