Learning from folk wisdom

KS, my friend of two decades, an original inhabitant of Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, was the one who introduced me to Ghagh. ‘His proverbs are still popular among old timers,’ he told me. and went on to give me some examples.

Weather forecasts, predictions of rain, use of  organic fertlisers in farming, behaviour of birds/cattle/insects prior to rain, interpreting the signs of the seasons, folk perceptions of astronomy and other facets of environmental knowledge systems are interwoven inseparably with everyday peasant life in the world of Gagh-Bhaddar proverbs or Dak vachan. These vachans have been in circulation in the region of north eastern part of Bihar, popularly known as ‘Mithila’, since 14th-15th century A.D.

These proverbs and folk sayings have been preserved and passed down from generation to generation in oral tradition and show that the same kernel of wisdom may be gleaned under different cultural conditions and languages.

With time these proverbs, constituting a domain of ‘rustic wisdom’, have been found in languages like Bangla, Awadhi, Kannaujia etc.

Who was Dak? Interestingly, no one has been able to identify him but the consensus is that he was a Maithil Brahmin. Dak studied the heavenly bodies, the change of seasons beside being gifted observer of nature and human beings too.

The first Maithili compilation of these sayings is Kapileshwar Jha’s Dakvachanamrit published from Darbhanga, Bihar in 1905.

In 1931, Ram Naresh Tripathi brought out the most comprehensive collection of these sayings. Writes Sadan Jha in Many Worlds of Dak Vachan: Proverbial Knowledge and the History of Rain and Weather , published by Surat-based Centre for Social Studies that Tripathi “… with an objective to revive the agrarian condition, he travelled across the country, collected sayings personally or received entries by post, searched for them in the library and also wished that the Government had paid some attention to the peasant’s knowledge of rain by establishing a separate department to maintain an account of the environment of Paus and Magh.”

Reading Dak Vachan in the 21st century can be really instructive for those who practice organic farming or those intending to do non-chemical farming. The principles and methods of farming continue to remain the same: don’t harm the Earth for profit or greed.

Here is a selection of some vachan’s:

On rain

Phagu karaai, chait chuk, kirttik nattahi taar,

Swati nattahi makh til, kahi gae Daak Goar.

“If it rains in the month of Phagun (February-March) urid is spoilt; if in the month of Chait (March-April) lemons; if in the asterism of Krittika (about middle of May) the toddy palms; and if in that of Swati (latter part of October) beans and sesame; says Dak, the Gowaala.

Shukrabar ki badri, rahi shanichar Chay,

To youn bhakhaey bhaddari, bin barse na jay.

If the clouds which had appeared on Friday continue to be present on Saturday, says Bhaddari that there is likelihood of a heavy downpour.

Aage ravi peeche chale, mangal jo ashad,

Toh barseanmol hi prthvi anandayee bar.

If in the month of ashadh Mars follows the Sun it will result in good rains resulting in joyous celebrations.

Jo badri badar ma khamse,

Kahin bhaddari pani barseey.

Says Bhaddari if one bunch of cloud breaches the other it’s likely to rain.

On distancing the crop

Kark Buwaee Kakri, Singh abolo jai,

Aesa bole bhaddari, keeda phir khaye

Sowing cucumber during the period of zodiac sign of cancer rather than during Leo, says Bhaddari, the crop will repeatedly by attacked by pests.

Gajar, ganji muri, Teeneu boway doori

Radish, sweet potato and carrot should be sown at a distance.

On oxen behaviour

Pariba bahe dhurandhar, chhati aathain har jay,

Chaudah chauthi amabaas, ayalo har bithaaya,

Barda mute khet dahay, khasai khet jaun barad paray,

Gora jhar ki mura jhar, taun nahi nik jaun khasai faar,

Issa tutai sun ho kor, laagan tutai barad le chor,

Jua tutai ta subh hoya, ‘dak’ kahaichhathi nischint soya,

Khur singh samati liya, bahu sukh kari manahi diya.

Related to a ritual known as har thaadh karab (meaning placing the plough in standing position; thaad in Maithili also means putting to rest or break in motion) symbolically marking the commencement of the agricultural season and the day falls on magh sudhi shir panchami (which is normally in mid January). On this day, plough and oxen are taken inside the inner-courtyard (angan) and un-husked rice discharged over it. Following this ritual plough along with oxen are blessed (chumaun) and considered ready for the agrarian task. During this ritual if the ox urinates then the field is likely to be devastated by floods. If it drops poos (cowdung) then there is likelihood of a low yield. If its feet or ears itch or it drops on the ground—these are ominous signs of bad times ahead. Dak says if it scatters the soil here around with its horns or toes then the house keeper will have a pleasant time tending to the fields.

On easterly wind

Purwa par jaun pachhwa bahai, bihansi ranr bat karai,

Eh donon ke ihai bichar u barsai i karai bhatar.

If the west wind blows during purwai (easterly) and if a widow chats

and smiles, one may surmise that in the former case it will lead to a downpour and in the latter the widow may get married soon.

On organic farming

Jekar khet parrey na gobar,

Unhi kisan ko jano dubar.

The farmer who can’t afford to use cow dung in his fields is considered a poor farmer.

Wohi kisanon mein hai pura. Jo chodey haddi ka chura

The one who uses bone and flesh meal in his fields can be regarded as a genuine farmer.

Gobar mael neem ki khali. Inse kheti dooni phalli.

Using cow dung, farmyard manure and neem kernel waste is likely to result in more yields.

On mulching

Gobar maela pati sadey. Tab kheti mein dana parrey.

When cow dung, farm yard manure and leaf litter decompose it gives a good yield.

…………………

Proverbs courtesy Gagh Aur Bhaddari ki Kahavaten (Dak Vachan), Edited by Devnarayan Diwedi, Diamond Books; and Many Worlds of Dak Vachan: Proverbial Knowledge and the History of Rain and Weather by Sadan Jha, Centre for Social Studies.

Ends

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