Poshina may not be on India’s tourism map, yet it commands a visit from the discerning world traveler. It is a remote village in the state of Gujarat and is located in close proximity to the border of Rajasthan. Despite its tiny size and isolated location, Poshina offers a rugged charm and if Gujarat’s history is anything to go by, some of the fiercest battles were reportedly fought by the warring groups of Rajputs – those battle-hardened clan of Northern India.
Much of Poshina’s surroundings are the habitat of two of Gujarat’s most colorful tribes – the Garasias and the nomadic Rabaris. They lead a fascinating lifestyle and their unique customs and traditions have compelled inquisitive anthropologists to delve deep into their mysterious lifestyle. In fact, had it not been for my Australia-based aunt, who is a Professor of Anthropology & Aborigine Studies at Griffith University, I would never have visited the little-known village of Poshina.
Last year she had come to India with the sole intention of carrying out comprehensive research on Gujarat’s pastoral tribes. But she faced a stumbling block – courtesy of my grandparents who objected to her going all alone in one of western India’s remotest villages. None in my extended family had any idea of the existence of a village called Poshina. I made frenetic calls to some of the leading travel agents of Ahmedabad but drew a blank. At last, it took an enterprising tourist guide from the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat (TCGL) to provide us with detailed information about this remote Gujarat village and the rest unfolded like a fairytale.
We were informed by TCGL that there was an outstanding royal retreat – the Poshina Darbargarh, which catered to the exacting needs of the new age traveler and that Poshina was easily accessible from the capital city of Ahmedabad. The first thing I did the next morning was getting our rooms reserved at the Poshina Darbargarh through TCGL and once I received the confirmation, I got air tickets for my aunt and myself. As there is no direct flight from Kolkata to Ahmedabad, we had to travel to Mumbai and from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. The drive to Poshina from Ahmedabad was all of 180 km and it was great fun as the road condition was pretty good.
By the time we reached Poshina, it was evening and we could see the red molten ball dipping on the far horizon as our cab made its entry into the regal “Poshina Darbargarh”, which was to be our base for the next fortnight. Kr. Harendrapal Sinh, our gracious host was there to welcome us and escorted us to our appointed room. At first glance, my aunt was bedazzled by the antique wooden furniture and the regal décor. Even the bathrooms had western-style toilets, something you don’t expect in one of India’s remotest villages.
After a warm shower, we sat in front of the TV and were served piping hot cappuccino coffee. Our host – Kr. Harendrapal Sinh too joined in the conversation and he provided us with significant insight into the history of Poshina.
Legend has it that while the military cavalcade of the Delhi Sultanate was once passing by the secluded Aravali foothills that today is referred to as the Sabarkantha district, they encountered the might of the Bhill tribes, who were natives of this land and known for their archery skills. In the ensuing skirmish, the Bhills ransacked the Delhi Sultanate’s army and literally brought them to their knees at a place, which is now referred to as modern-day Poshina.
The general of the Sultanate’s army after reaching Persia recounted this bizarre incident to the Persian Sultan and informed him that even the uniform worn by the soldiers were taken off by the Bhill tribes. The general uttered the word – “Poshina”, which literally meant bereft of clothes. The word “Poshak” means clothes, the word “Ih” refers to here and the “Na” meant no. Thus the word Poshina implies –“with no clothes on”.
Our gracious host also revealed in course of his animated conversation that Poshina’s intimidating landscape was the scene of several bitterly fought mêlées with contending Rajput tribes and they reportedly built a number of cenotaphs or “Chattries” as they are referred to in the local parlance. The most outstanding specimen of the Rajput school of architecture is the magnificent temple of Nilkantheswar Mahadev located in Poshina, which our generous host would take us on a visit later in the week.
Kr. Harendrapal Sinh further informed us that during the Mughal rule when the battle-hardened Rajputs were at the pinnacle of their glory, the presence of the Muslim invaders had made them rather panic-stricken and very “un-Rajput like” compelling them to take shelter in the isolated foothills of the Aravalli and according to local folklore, the formidable “Rathore” clan were the founders of modern-day Poshina.
In the fluctuating fortunes, even the Rathore suzerainty didn’t last long and it was the turn of the Vaghela clan from Patan to lord over Poshina, invited as they were by the quirky Jain Banias. In one of the most decisive battles, which was fought in the year 1625 AD., the mighty Vaghelas defeated the Rathore army lock, stock, and barrel. History and archaeological buffs can still view the ruins of Jadavgarh where the actual battle was fought.
As for the splendid 17th century Darbargarh (Royal Court), now converted into a heritage hotel, it used to be the palace of the former Vaghela kings, and according to our generous host – one of the best specimen of the impregnable Rajput forts of Gujarat.
It was time for dinner and as we made our way to the regal dining room and the resident chef – Kuwarani Kailash Kumari had already cooked up a storm with a delectable spread of home-cooked Rajpt meal with the essence being on spices for me and more liberal use of the same for my Australia based aunt.
After dinner as we relaxed on the luxurious sofa, we could see the ethereal sight of dim lights glimmering at the distant horizon. There was silence all around and it kind of transported us to a time when the Indian royalty was at its very best – full of dignified opulence and gracious regal aura, both of which were in full ambient light that night.
The next morning, we woke up to the chirping of the birds and were offered bed tea by the regally clad bellboy. After shower and breakfast, my aunt got busy preparing her research papers, loading her laptop and the digital camera as we made a dignified exit from the luxurious confines of the Darbargarh to rustic Poshina. We were provided with a 4 wheel drive vehicle and a very resourceful guide, who knew Poshina by the tip of his fingers.
As our vehicle meandered through the alleyways of Poshina, we passed by colorful bazaars that were buzzing with activity, and further ahead lay the domain of the tribals of Gujarat – the Bhills, Rabaris, and other Adivasis. We also came across tribal hamlets and the first-hand experience of observing the tribal craftsmen at work – forging daggers, traditional swords, bows, and arrows was indeed a revelation. My aunt was particularly mesmerized by the sheer ingenuity of the tribal craftsmen and the manner in which they manufactured earthen pots, utensils for daily use as well as traditional jewelry.
As my aunt had come with the sole intention of carrying out Anthropological research on the nomadic tribes of Gujarat, we made extensive trips to the interiors of many tribal hamlets. These hamlets are basically clusters of a few mud huts where the tribals dwell along with their livestock. Although language was a barrier, our host ensured that a resourceful guide accompanied us everyday on our outings to act as an interpreter. On certain days when the guide was unable to provide his services, Kr. Harendrapal Sinh himself would accompany us and help my aunt in collecting fascinating details of the tribals of Gujarat.
The primary goal of Tribal Anthropology is to ‘lay’ open to our view the ‘tribal man’ as he really is, to unfold to the general public the secrets of his acts, his passions, and his wants in the past and possibly in the future. For me, it was a fascinating learning experience as my aunt went about her anthropological exploration of the tribals of Poshina. The manner in which she traced the structural evolution of the tribals and the growth of civilization from the earliest times was indeed fascinating.
We spent all of two weeks collecting information pertaining to the social, cultural and economic aspects of the tribals. According to my aunt – Poshina and its surroundings are distinguished by its tribal folk culture. The region has a wide colorful cultural spectrum with the music and dance being folksy in character, which uniquely represents the pastoral beauty, the lyricism of rural surroundings and the robust and vibrant quality of the mind and heart of the tribals, much like the Aborigines of Australia and the Maori tribe of New Zealand.
The dances associated with the Bhill and Rabari tribes are definite expressions of the varied forms of traditions as rooted in the life and social behavior of the tribal folks. From her fortnight-long analytic anthropological investigation, my aunt was convinced that changes are occurring in the social life of the tribals of Gujarat. New creative ideas are gradually causing dislocation in the even tenor of the traditional dance and music of the region.
There is a growing feeling which is evident in Poshina and its surroundings that the traditional culture has been instrumental in the backwardness of the tribes and the young generation of tribals have developed a preference for modern (Western) dance and musical forms. The need of the hour is the authentic documentation of the traditional patterns of the cultural life of the tribals through audio-visual aids.
Driving through the breathtaking Gujarati countryside, we reached the archaeological ruins of Jadavgarh near Kazavas on the banks of river Sei. It was here that the “Battle of 1625” was fought between the Vaghelas and the Rathores. From a purely ethnographic point of view, this archaeological site is ideal for understanding firsthand the evolution of the culture as well as the past phases of the people of this region. For the avid archaeology buff, the ruins of Jadavgarh will offer significant insight into how the early settlers made tools, implements, weapons and other necessary equipment in order to serve their biological and psychological needs.
Towards the end of our fact-finding mission, we witnessed a surfeit of activity in the bazaars of Poshina and my aunt was curious to know if there was any festival just around the corner. Anthropologists do have a keen sense of cultural anticipation, which none can hide, however hard one might try. Our gracious host – Kr. Harendrapal Sinh had kept the festival of “Chitra Vichitra” under wraps in a veil of secrecy and would have revealed about the festival on the appointed day. But even the astute host had to give up to my aunt’s sense of expectancy.
We woke up early the next morning and found out that the whole of Poshina was all decked up for this all-important annual “Chitra Vichitra” festival. There was an air of celebration all around and the venue of this colorful festival was choc-a-bloc with the natives of the land, all of whom had come fully dressed in their choicest of outfits. Legend has it that this festival dates back to the epic Mahabharata and the Shiva Temple at the festival venue was the place where Chitraveer and Vichitraveer reportedly apologized asked for forgiveness from Lord Shiva.
The village of Gunbhakhari, which is ideally located in the district of Sabarkantha is the main venue of the festival and incidentally happens to be at the confluence of three rivers – the Sabarmati, Akul, and Vyakul. Locals also believe that both the sons of emperor Shantanu – Chitravirya and Vichitraviraya, were cured of incurable diseases with which they were afflicted.
As we strolled leisurely to the actual venue of the festival, we could see hundreds of tribals truly engrossed in the celebrations. The Garasias, the Bhills, and the Rabaris made their presence felt with their embroidered attires. The womenfolk, in particular, were conspicuous by their ethnic jewelry while the men were dignified with their customary blue shirt, the quintessential dhoti, and their signature saffron turban.
In a corner, a special enclosure was erected where the tribal women performed their traditional dances to the sheer delight of the festival crowd, some of whom had come from far away countries like the USA, UK, and Australia just to take part in the “Chitra Vichitra” regalia. The sight of women adorned with beautifully embroidered “Ghaghras” (specially embroidered skirts) and ornate jewelry made a definite impact especially with the outstation guests.
The bombastic beating of drums is a feature of this unique festival and this festival also serves the dual purpose of finding one’s life partner. Given the fact that the festival begins well past midnight, we missed the ritual wherein the tribal groups assemble at the holy “Triveni Sangam” and offer their obeisance to gods that leads to unfettered merriment in the form of dancing and singing of popular folk songs.
As per the expert advise of our generous host – Kr. Harendrapal Sinh, we bought a set of indigenously manufactured silver jewelry as souvenirs. On the penultimate night of our stay at the Darbargarh Poshina, thrilled as we were by our adventure, our magnanimous host had planned for a mid-night bash. Tribal dancers performed a dance to the percussion beat of native Gujarat. A starlit dinner was exactly what the doctor ordered to finish off a truly memorable trip in the tribal heartland of Gujarat. Memories of Poshina will linger on for a lifetime.
The city of Ahmedabad, which is the hub of Gujarat, is 180 km from Poshina. Ahmedabad is well connected by air, rail, and road network to the rest of India. From Ahmedabad, one can easily hire cabs for the onward journey to Poshina, which can be covered in around 4 hours.
The airport at Ahmedabad is well connected by regular flights from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, Kingfisher, Jet Lite, etc. operate regular flights to Ahmedabad.
The road and rail networks linking Ahmedabad to the other metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are extensive. The frequency of trains operating in the Delhi and Mumbai sectors, in particular, is plenty. Kolkata and Chennai too are well connected by trains to Ahmedabad and vice versa.