Gloriously Rich and Diverse Culture of Khandesh

Khandesh is a well known region for its prehistoric and rich heritage. Its culture is not only ancient but also multifaceted. Many communities are happily residing in the lap of this region.

Unified amalgamation of Arya, Non-arya and Mughal cultures:
Khandesh exhibits a homogeneous mixing of different cultures of Arya, Non-arya, Buddha, and Mughals. Adivaasis (primeval tribes) inhabiting in and at the foot-hills of Satpuda hills have retained their original customs and traditions even today. Theirs is an ancient original culture and is older than the Arya invasion in this country. A group of brave and nomadic tribe of Aryas called Ahir/Abhir settled in this region and the subgroups of this tribe like Gurjar, Ahir, and Gavali people changed the scenario of Khandesh for betterment.
The Mughal rulers-Akbar, Jahangir, Shahajahan, Aurangzeb and Danial and Farukhi Kings have left imprints of their culture and rule on Khandesh. Satvahan rulers who were much impressed by Buddhist philosophy and the caves and frescoes carved by them at Pitalkhore near Chalisgaon town of Jalgaon district indicate the seamless amalgamation of cultures in this province.

Different theories of nomenclature of Khandesh:
There exists difference of opinions about the nomenclature of this province as Khandesh. Some of them are described as below-
I) Khandesh is the region of Ahirs who were devotees of Lord Krishna, who is fondly called 'Kanha' by his devotees. They referred to this as country (desh) of Kanha hence Kanhadesh which in due course of time became 'Khandesh'.
II) According to another view, Kanbai (Kandevi) is the deity of many communities of this region. Hence country of Kandevi hence Kandesh which further metamorphosed in to 'Khandesh'.
III) Still some have different view as for many years this region was under control of Muslim rulers who were known by the name 'Khan'. Their country hence 'Khandesh'.
IV) One more view states that as this region was the mine (locally called khan) of human gems and jewels and mineral resources. Therefore it is named as 'Khandesh'.

Tribes, communities and dialects of Khandesh:
Tribes-Since remote past, pretty diverse kinds of tribes and communities have been living very happily together in this land of Khandesh. Scheduled tribes include Gond, Bhil, Konkana, Pavara, Gavit, Pardhi, Tadvi; Vimukta Jaties include Kaikadi, Kanjarbhat, Gorbanjara, Lamani, Jogi, Pardeshi Bhamta, Ramoshi Vadar, Chhapparband; Nomadic tribes include Gosavi, Bairagi, Sanyasi, Beldar, Kingarivale, Ghisadi, Gopal, Dombari, Dhelari and other backwards include Gavali, Kongadi, Rangari, Tambat, Sonar (Smiths), Bhavsar, Sutar, Pinajara, Tamboli and Schedule castes include the people belonging to Mahar, Mang, Chambhar, Mehatar (Scavengers) Jangam, Mochi, Dhor, Khatik, Garudi, Meghwal communities. Along with them, the advanced communities too have been dwelling since remote past.
Dialects-Major dialect of this region is the language (= wani) of Ahirs called Ahir-wani which further abbreviated to 'Ahirani'. It is also known as 'Akkadibhasha'. Ahirani is represented by different sub-dilaects of different shades such as Leva patidari, Gujarau, Bagalani etc. Primeval dialects include Pavri, Dehwali, Bhili, Tadvi, and Warali. Other lesser spread dialects include Vanjari, Bhavsari, Pardeshi, Beldari, Mehatari, Panchali, Dhori, Mahari, Mangi, etc.

Aadivaasi (primeval) cultures of Khandesh:
Roots of Aadivaasi cultures have gone deep in this soil. The need for creation of Nandurbar as a special Aadivaasi district reflects this very fact. The aadivaasis residing in the hills of Satpuda are the surviving successors of Mohenjo Daro and Hadappa cultures. Their life style reflects their relationship with the very original culture of this country. "Dab" in the Satpuda is the cultural capital of these aadivaasis. The small paadas (= colonies, basti) located at remote places in Navapur, Nandurbar, Dhadgaon, Saakri, Yawal, Raver, Chopada, are replicas of ancient cultures. Gonds and Bhils are major residents. They include sub tribes such as Rajgond, Maharaja Gonds, Pachhashi Gonds, Bada Gonds, Pavaras, Gavit, Tadvi, and Barelas. They worship different deities like Devmogara Mata, Ganda Thaakur, Raja Fanay, Mandhar Mata, Ravan, Meghnaath, Hirava Deva, Motha Dev, Waagh dev, Kanasari mata, Holika. By worshiping natural icons of theses deities, they offer prayers to the 'Mother Nature'. Even in the extreme conditions of famine or calamities, they very enthusiastically celebrate Holi, Divali, Gandi Divali, Navai, and Pola. Being mother dominated family culture, women's equality and freedom is a highly valued characteristic.

Cultural Heritage of Khandesh:
Cultural and historical places in Khandesh region are the living flag posts of Indian culture. Their preservation and conservation is the immediate need of the time. These include the deteriorating frescoes and caves of Pitalkhore near Chalisgaon, Shendurni of Sindurasur; fort of Parola- the home place of freedom fighter Rani Lakshmibai; Akrani Mahal of Dhadgaon; Hemadpant style temple of Mudhaladevi at Vaghali; Padmalaya near Erandol; Swinging tower of Farkande, Erandol; Hot water spring at Unapdev near Chopada; collection of articles used by Sane Guruji placed in Pratap College, Amalner; Internationally famous art gallery of Keki Moose at Chalisgaon; Wooden house of Bahinaabai Chaudhari at Asoda village are the living legends of rich cultural heritage of Khandesh which need immediate attention for their conservation.

Folk arts and artists of Khandesh:
Khandesh is a fond lover region of folk arts. Many Art loving groups are scattered in this region. Large groups of Mahar and Mang communities inherit the inborn spirit of traditional arts. It is aptly said in Khandesh- "Singing and dancing (is found) at Mahar's house and reading, writing at Brahmin's". Recent times have modified the aims and means of arts, but richness of traditional arts is still visible in their homes. Now a day Mang, Mahar communities exhibit singing, dancing, music playing, acting, through different folk arts such as folk plays, Tamashas (traditional stage acts), orchestra, band party and banjo groups. This fact is evident from the groups of Bhika Bhima Sangvikar and Anand Loknatya Mandal. Fugadi dance of women in probably all communities, Bhillau dance of Bhill, and Viroba dance of Dhanagars (Shepherds) are quite popular among the people.

Un-comparable mourning (sorrowful) Songs:
This is one more unique characteristic of Khandesh. These songs are very rarely sung else where. They are sung particularly by women. They are very sensitive and heart touching.. When a woman is emotionally struck very severely at heart, such as the death of some near and dear one, then her grief flows out spontaneously in the form of a very touching song. This mourning song is not printed or readily available in the market, but instant outburst of the sorrow of that woman. It is effective enough to make a listener weep howsoever distantly related or unrelated he or she may be. These songs are unique, wording is personalised and describe the noble memories of the dead and also her intimate relationship with the dead one.

Some customs and traditions of Khandesh:
Most of the communities in Khandesh observe some traditions and customs. Some of them are- playing Akhaji on the Akshayya-tritiya; to arrange gondhal- jagaran during the marriage ceremony; munja (unmarried young boys) bhojan; to arrange a marriage of frogs and procession of dhondi for praying rain showers to pour down; festivals of gramdevatas like Mari mata, Khandoba; to beg for holi; fixing of annual labour contracts for farming etc. Through these acts, Khandesh culture sweetly whispers its past and present in our ears.

Author: Prof. Dr. Shashikant Sonawane, Pratap College, Amalner (Marathi article)
Translator: Prof. Ravindrasingh A. Patil, Jalgaon