By Richa Baruah
Panchamrit, in assamese, refers to a porridge prepared by mixing five ingredients that are considered manna for the body. The porridge is especially fed to expecting mothers, in a ritual celebrating it through “naam” (Assamese prayer songs) and termed the same as the porridge – Panchamrit. The significance of this ritual, though primarily focussed on the holy porridge, exceeds to far more. The panchamrit signifies the event which rejoices the coming of a new baby in the family.
On the 12th of November 2015, we gathered at the village of Dadara, in Kamrup district, Assam, India to celebrate the coming of new babies; the babies not just of a family but that of the community- babies of the Hargilas (local name for the Greater Adjutant Storks) residing there! At first, it may seem a tad bizarre, but rest assured, it was no whim. Every year has been witness to more than 40% of nest fallen hargila death in the form of deceased chicks. The cause of death varies from natural reasons to lack of human concern. In such a situation, a campaign was initiated collectively by the Dadara villagers & Aaranyak to create awareness about the deaths of the chicks and how to curb it. Coordinator of greater Adjutant program Purnima Devi Barman, research biologist from Aaranyak, popularly known as Hargila baideo, worked with the villagers and came up with the idea of Hargila Panchamrit.
“Tradition plays a very important role in the lives of the common masses. So, to motivate such thousands, a traditional approach goes a long way towards success”, Purnima Barman commented. “People not only from the village but also many of my colleagues laughed at me when I invited them for Panchamrit of Hargila, “Stork baby shower”"….but once they joined they were emotionally sensitised and truly participated in the event. Purnima added, “… now I feel glad conservation is not a separate subjectbut it should be a part of your tradition and we must integrate our customs with it.
The event this year saw a surprisingly grand turnout. Not only Dadara villagers, but also visitors from neighbouring villages joined us in the celebration. The women folk were given assignment by Purnima Devi Barman. The women folk of Dadara had enthusiastically prepared ‘Naam’ (assamese hymns and folk songs sung on specific subjects), which were sung, especially welcoming the Hargilas to their village. The occasion was covered by an All India Radio correspondent. After the naam, a round of introductions was held, wherein the tree-owners happily shared their experiences of conserving the Hargilas. The tree-owners whose trees were home to the Hargila nests proudly recounted their journey thus far. The interviews seemed to encourage the spirits of the villagers even more. The feeling of ownership and responsibility that they played in the conservation network was felt. After the interviews, a short seminar was held wherein we jointly discussed the importance of the conservation work.
Afterwards games were played; the main focus of these games being environmental awareness.
It gave me immense pleasure when we could sensitize them through a game called the web of life. The villagers proved eager participants. An hour of laughter ensued. Finally, it came to a close and the group broke for refreshments.
Although the programme was only for a few hours, its memories linger still. My mentor was not off the mark in that ‘tradition goes a long way towards success’, for successful it was! At a time when countries are being thoughtlessly turned barren, when mindless industrialisation is playing a demon to the environment, we have made an army of civilians whose pride and joy are their trees and the winged friends which nestle there.
“Men, women, children, youths all are engaged in this movement of Aaranyak and we are proud of it”, said Jadab Das, a local resident and a tree owner. We visited many households that day out of curiosity and the same lines of feelings expressed by the tree owners. We also visited Sankardev Sishu Niketan, Dadara, a local school that has partnered with Aaranyak to create a sort of revolution. “We did not know anything on this bird in my locality but Purnima baideo visited us and offered her help to move forward. When we came to know about the importance of the bird we felt privileged to be a part of this mission”, said Head master Paresh Das. “My little four year old girl Diya also joined in this movement and she wishes to be a hargila baideo in the near future,” proudly said Mahesh Das who is very inspired by this movement.
It will not be false to claim that the Panchamrit indeed proved to be a ‘manna’ for the Greater-Adjutant Storks of Dadara! I wish to be a part of this program whenever I get a chance.