TBI Photo Essay: Post-Monsoon Celebrations In Rural Maharashtra

This photo essay captures the range of activities, colours and festivities amidst the verdant hills brought about by the monsoon rains in rural areas of Maharashtra, including the celebration of the Vatapoornima festival.

June signals the start of the monsoons in many parts of India. Pune and its surrounding areas in Maharashtra have witnessed heavy showers since the first week of June. The rains let up for a week’s time during which I visited a few places on the outskirts of Pune city.

The Khadakwasla dam near Pune after the heavy showers.

The Khadakwasla dam near Pune after the heavy showers.

The villages of Malkhed, Thoptewadi, Kharmari, Khamgaon and Mogarwadi are situated in the Maval taluka of Pune district. The word Maval originates from the Marathi word Mavalati, which means the direction in which the sun sets.

The velvety green mountains serve as a catchment area for the dam.

The velvety green mountains serve as a catchment area for the dam.

These villages are in the vicinity of the Khadakwasla dam behind the Sinhagad fort, which is of great historical importance. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the founder of the great Maratha Empire, lived in this fort. His army, called the ‘Mavale’ was made up of the local farmers.

"I love my piece of land and will keep working on it till I die. I don't know what will happen after that, my children are educated and want to go to the city. They are not interested in farming", says a farmer.

“I love my piece of land and will keep working on it till I die. I don’t know what will happen after that, my children are educated and want to go to the city. They are not interested in farming”, says a farmer.

Farmers still form a big part of this region with farming activities taking centre stage. The short break in the monsoon has created a flurry of activity in the villages. Farmers have started harvesting rice and groundnut crops for the season.

Lush green rice fields lie near the backwaters of the Khadakwasla dam.

Lush green rice fields lie near the backwaters of the Khadakwasla dam.

Rice fields abound in the lower area because of plentiful water from the dam backwaters as well as the streams coming down the mountains, while groundnut is harvested in the top mountains.

Normally empty during the summer months, this well is full of water after the showers.

Normally empty during the summer months, this well is full of water after the showers.

The seasonal stream that originates from the top of the mountains is now full. It flows down passing through villages and ends in the backwaters of the dam below.

The cattle laze around in the waters of the full stream.

The cattle laze around in the waters of the full stream.

Farmers take their cattle to the full streams for a dip and to the lush greenery to graze before taking them to the fields. Women gather near the streams to chat while they go about their daily household chores. Everyone seems happy.

"It is a good omen that you have come here, please eat some of these groundnuts that we are sowing. It will reap a good harvest if a guest tastes it first", say these women.

“It is a good omen that you have come here, please eat some of these groundnuts that we are sowing. It will reap a good harvest if a guest tastes it first”, say these women.

But this joy is shortlived. Come summer, the situation is very different. Streams dry up, as does the green grass. The villages on the top of the mountains face severe water shortage.

Cattle set off to graze in the lush green surroundings. There isn't much grass in the summer months.

Cattle set off to graze in the lush green surroundings. There isn’t much grass in the summer months.

Villagers have to walk down the hills or have to depend on alternative sources of water to meet their daily needs. They have no advantage of being located in the vicinity of the dam since this water is diverted to meet the needs of the urban dwellers in Pune city.

A woman constructing bunds to restrict the flow of water

A woman constructing bunds to restrict the flow of water

Villages such as these have a lot to pick up from the traditional rainwater harvesting methods that have been used in earlier times in the old forts such as Sinhagad located in their vicinity.

These lush green surroundings are short-lived. Acute water scarcity during summer months and the lack of access to water from the dam, which is diverted to Pune city, leads to drought-like conditions in summer. Adoption of rainwater harvesting techniques on the hill tops can go a long way in taking care of the water needs of the villages during summer

These lush green surroundings are unfortunately short-lived. Acute water scarcity during summer months and the lack of access to water from the dam, which is diverted to Pune city, leads to drought-like conditions in summer. Adoption of rainwater harvesting techniques on the hill tops can go a long way in taking care of the water needs of the villages during summer

Farmers in Kharmari village have constructed small bandharas on the stream, but that does not help much when the stream dries. Mogarwadi, which is the topmost village on the hill, has already constructed a talaab (pond) for rainwater harvesting.

The villages on the hills face acute water shortage in summer. This  talaab constructed by the villagers of Mogarwadi on top of a hill harvests and stores rainwater.

The villages on the hills face acute water shortage in summer. This talaab constructed by the villagers of Mogarwadi on top of a hill harvests and stores rainwater.

Construction of more such structures could go a long way in solving the immediate and day-to-day water needs of the villagers in summer. At the same time, this also emphasizes the relevance of the current debates on the issue of the rights of the rural farmers to water from the dams, which is often diverted to meet the needs of growing cities.

Vatapoornima is a festival celebrated on a full moon day in the monsoon months, typically in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. It honours Savitri, the legendary wife who rescued her husband’s soul from the God of Death, Yama.

Women celebrating the festival of Vatapoornima in Mogarwadi. They hold fasts and perform poojas for the longetivity of the breadwinners of their families - the farmers working far away in the fields.

Women celebrating the festival of Vatapoornima in Mogarwadi. They hold fasts and perform poojas for the longetivity of the breadwinners of their families – the farmers working far away in the fields.

Festivals in Indian agrarian societies often involve trees and rivers. They encourage respect and reverence for nature. Women tie threads on the huge bark of the ficus (peepul) trees and pray for the long life of their husbands during Vatapoornima.

Women celebrate Vatapoornima by holding fasts and tying threads around a peepul tree, praying for their husband's longevity

Women celebrate Vatapoornima by holding fasts and tying threads around a peepul tree, praying for their husband’s longevity

All photographs: Aarti Kelkar-Khambete for India Water Portal

This article was posted by Aarti Kelkar-Khambete in India Water Portal (IWP) and republished here in arrangement with IWP.
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