milky way

Why this village in Gujarat cooked a pool of kheer until the cows came home

The ritual is meant to appease Avad Ma, a local goddess who protects cattle from predators and ailments.

Every morning Sarojben Desani, a cook who works in Gujarat’s Jeypur village, wakes up to Balu kaka’s chakda – a big square container attached to what looks like a big bike – rattling over an uneven road. The silver-haired man is responsible for transporting the milk produce of the village’s 700 households to the nearest district, Talada. Before she leaves for work at the local mother and child care centre or Aanganwadi, Sarojben heats a small copper vessel to make tea for her seven-year-old son and businessman husband.

But not on September 6. On that day, Sarojben, Balu kaka and every other resident of the agrarian village of Jeypur, even if they lived on the periphery of the Gir forest, carried all the milk their cows and buffaloes produced, along with supplies of rice and sugar, to a small shrine for the local goddess Avad Ma.

On every purnima or full moon day on the Hindu calendar Bhadarva, the village of Jeypur turns into a huge kheer-making kitchen, which makes offerings to the goddess in the form of sweetened milk and rice. Once blessed, this kheer is served to thousands of Avad Ma’s devotees from neighbouring villages and cities like Junagadh and Veraval. “We have been following this tradition for the last 105 years, ever since one of our shepherds dreamt of the goddess,” said Govind Jessa, the 60-year-old chief of a shepherding community.

People from nearby villages donate milk for the festival. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi
People from nearby villages donate milk for the festival. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi

Divine veterinarian

Legend has it that Avad Ma is the protector of cattle and can cure ailing cows and buffaloes. Since rural Saurashtra depends upon milk, ghee and curd to sustain its economy, Avad Ma is a highly revered deity here.

So strong is the villagers’ belief in the goddess and the auspiciousness of the full moon ritual, that no shepherd in the village accompanies their cattle to the jungle to graze between 7 am to 6 pm on that day. The cattle herders said they were not worried about Gujarat’s famous Asiatic lions paying their cattle a visit either: “We are confident that none of our cows or buffaloes will be attacked by any carnivore today,” said Jessa. “Even if a cow is just a few metres away from the lion, the carnivore won’t attack it. Instead, it will turn around.”

As the cattle return home unscathed year after year, the number of devotees of Avad Ma have grown steadily. This year, hundreds of devotees from the neighbouring villages of Ranhej, Khirtal, Chitraval and Ramnesh brought offerings to Jeypur.

Ritual feast

In Jeypur, it is considered a bad omen to measure the quantity of milk and kheer collected, or to count the number of people served. On an estimate by the shepherding community, about 700 litres of milk, 500 kilograms of sugar and 250 kilograms of rice are mixed together to make enough kheer to feed over 5,000 people.

“When we talk about feeding kheer we do not mean serving it in small bowls,” said Petha bhai Veta, a 55-year-old shepherd. “We serve kheer in huge steel plates and people are free to eat to their heart’s content. Thanks to the generosity of the goddess, we have not once run out of kheer.”

Cooling the piping hot kheer before serving it. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi
Cooling the piping hot kheer before serving it. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi

Donors start pouring in from 7 am, some carrying small bottles of milk and others huge cans. Thirty-one-year-old dairy owner Haresh Ram from Dhanej arrived early on the morning of September 6. “We believe in the goddess and her powers,” he said. “She takes care of the animals who supply us with milk, which is my family business. For the last 30 years we have been dedicating ten litres of the milk to Avad Ma.”

The milk that devotees bring is collected in massive pans that belong to the community kitchen, and boiled with rice and sugar. The mixture is stirred for a long time by several men of the village (women are not allowed to cook on this day). Shifts to cook the kheer begin at 7.30 am and go on until 3.30 pm. By 11 am, guests begin to crowd the temple. After a ceremonial pooja, the piping hot kheer is cooled in huge trays, placed outside the kitchen, and once again, transferred to serving pans.

Women devotees savouring the kheer. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi
Women devotees savouring the kheer. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi

There is so much kheer that all of it could make for a mini swimming pool. Men and women sit in rows, eating kheer with their hands.

“This is our lunch,” said Sarojben. “No woman cooks at home today. Everybody comes here to eat.”

“My son takes a day off from his office at Veraval every year to enjoy the festival,” said 60-year-old Ramiben Baku from Jeypur.

This year, Ramiben had planned a special ceremony for her seven-year-old grandson, Molesh. According to the ritual, Molesh was placed on one side of a weighing scale, with tins of jaggery that equal his weight, on the other side. The jaggery was then donated to the divine kheer kitchen, with a prayer for the child’s health, education and success.

Children being weighed on a weighing scale. Parents pledge to donate jaggery equivalent to their child's weight asking for the Goddess to bless the kid with good health, education, success. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi
Children being weighed on a weighing scale. Parents pledge to donate jaggery equivalent to their child's weight asking for the Goddess to bless the kid with good health, education, success. Photo credit: Riddhi Doshi

These rituals are popular among families with young children. It is a special occasion, children get to dress up in new clothes and buy goodies from several vendors that line the streets of the village, with toys, buckets, pans, artificial flowers, cutlery, clothes, stickers, sweets and savoury snacks.

At night, the village usually hosts a dance drama and a satire-poetry slam. This year, since one of the villagers had been diagnosed with liver cancer a day before the festival, the community decided to keep celebrations low-key.

Nonetheless, women stood up to sing and perform the Ubho Raas or Standing Raas. Unlike the usual Gujarati raas, the women do not move in a circle in Ubho Raas, but stand in one spot singing songs about Radha and Krishna, clapping rhythmically.

“Out of respect for elders in the village, we don’t really dance,” said Sarojben. “But this is important. How can we not offer the gift of music and dance to our beloved goddess on her special day?”

The feast continues until 4.30 pm when the village priest announces it is time for vendors and people to vacate the streets and make way for cows and buffaloes to return home. This year too, not a single animal had gone missing.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.