Posted by: janpierce | January 24, 2011

Bhopas, Darghas and Water Buffalo

  While in Bangalore we visited a cultural fair. It was a small outdoor festival with art work, dancing and food, much like Saturday Market in Portland. The main attraction was a man who sang a long folktale from Orissa while a helper unrolled a storyroll depicting each event in the story. I have since learned that these storytellers are called bhopas. The bhopas were quite famous in their day as the traveling evening entertainment. They went from village to village and were known to entertain for seven or eight night’s running and for as long as the same number of hours each night. The storyroll called a phad was considered a sacred item and the skills of learning the long, involved stories of the gods and singing them was passed on from father to son much as the intricate blessing and healing songs of the Navajo tribe are passed on here. Many times the wife of the bhopa was the helper, unrolling the story bit by bit. You can imagine this husband and wife team roaming from village to village where they were the star attraction breaking up long days of labor in the fields. Of course this tradition is waning now as field workers have cell phones and blackberries and children want to watch the neighbor’s television rather than listen to an elder sing old songs.

Here’s a second bit of information I recently learned. While in Hubli with my friend Grace, I was commenting on how there are Hindu temples everywhere- literally one every few hundred meters in the cities, but I never saw mosques or other Muslim places of worship. Well she straightened me out by pointing out little fenced-in areas about five feet by eight feet. These are burial sites of Muslims of stature, usually imams,  and are also in hundreds of places throughout the city. They are called darghas. I hadn’t noticed them as there is no color and nothing to attract attention in them. By contrast the Hindu prayer places are always covered in bright, gaudy colors with masks of gods with their tongues out and are quite enough to give children nightmares. Interesting.

Finally I wanted to show a very common sight in India–a herd of animals cruising through the city streets. It may be goats, sheep, cattle or in this case, water buffalo. The owner has to take them from grazing places to their homes and the streets are the most convenient pathway. No one seems to mind. I would caution anyone wanting to “pet” either bulls or water buffalo however as they have sharp horns and aren’t friendly. Our friend Ben in Allahabad learned that one the hard way. To see a video of water buffalo trotting through the streets of Hubli, go to facebook.


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