On the 3rd day of Holi, the Rathwa celebrate their own festival of colour.
About 100km from Vadodara, near the town of Chhota Udepur is Kawant - a village in the heart of the Rathwa community. The Rathwas belong to the Scheduled Tribes who speak Rathwi language and are followers of God Baba Deb. They are deeply rooted in their heritage and culture. They got my interest when I was searching India's unique festivals. It is an auspicious day for Rathwas as they celebrate their commitment to harvest and the link between man and nature. It’s a gathering of their community as they recreate the joy of existence and life and is a prominent tribal festival in the north-eastern part of Gujarat falling after the 3rd day of Holi. People of the community, from places as far as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, join in auspicious day. I could see bedecked groups of tribals trekking towards the venue - women of each village wearing clothing in the same dye, while men wore turbans and skirts in order to differentiate themselves from other groups. They arrived through a variety of transport and showed off their sunglasses, radios and lighters.
When the sun set on the festivities, I saw tired, inebriated men returning joyous to their homes, young girls 'gupshup' about the day gone by, a happy community. The Rathwa Festival reminded me of how diverse Indian culture is. It is in this diversity that we find our sense of belonging. We're all part of something bigger.
Rathwa men dressed in their traditional clothing, playing drums and other instruments as they dance to the tune during the annual Rathwa Festival in Kawant, Gujarat. They wear an elaborate headgear which is a conical hat stuck with small framed photos of local deities surrounded by an array of peacock feathers. Rice paste and ash are mixed to make a dye painting the bodies with circles and dots in a ritualistic salutation to the jungle cat.
Young men and children who are taking part in the festival, queued up for lunch which is organized by the local political party. Men and women of all ages take part in this festival.
Young Rathwa men having a quick photo session at the local studio during the Rathwa Festival. No Rathwa would feel complete without his flute. The young generation of Rathwas are quite modern and they migrate to the cities for better education and job opportunities while still maintaining their long culture and tradition.
A man is seen dressed as a woman.
A boy paints his friend a moustache as they prepare themselves for the procession.
Rathwa men are seen playing the drums and other instruments.
Young Rathwa men are seen dressed as women as a part of the ritual during the Rathwa Festival in Kawant, Gujarat. There is a rumor amongst the Rathwas that, if a Rathwa man does not take part in the festival, he will not get his bride. Children starting from the age of 12, participate in this auspicious festival every year.
Men dress up like women and have all kinds of items in their hands like eye shades, brooms, kitchen tools, musical instruments etc.
A young Rathwa boy is seen tying his head band as part of the Rathwa Festival. He is seen wearing a belt attached with pebble-filled gourds and a string of brass bells, which is a part of their traditional clothing.
Rathwa men are seen dancing to their traditional tune while wearing torn jeans and shorts.
Women of each village wear clothing in the same dye in order to differentiate themselves from other groups.
Women belonging to the Rathwa community are seen returning back to their respective villages carrying sugarcane signifying harvest.
A girl is seen putting make up on her brother as other men wait for the procession to start.
Rice paste and ash are mixed and applied to the body, to make circles and dots as a salutation to the jungle cat. This is a traditional practice and is one of the most important things the Rathwas look into during the festival.
A Rathwa man is seen walking with the procession.
Children are seen applying charcoal over their body.
A stunt woman is seen performing one of the most dangerous circus acts - the Well Of Death, during the Rathwa Festival in Kawant, Gujarat.
Men and women are seen on a truck as they return back to their respective villages after attending the Rathwa Festival. People come from far off places like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to attend this festival every year.
Two men are seen resting under a tent after a tiring day at the festival.
A salutation to the jungle cat.
A young boy is seen with charcoal over his body and face as he gets ready for the procession during the Rathwa Festival in Kawant, Gujarat.
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Photographs by Meghanadan