In parts of the Nizamabad, Kamareddy and Karimnagar districts of Telangana, families and friends gather to share the abundance of freshly harvested grains and celebrate the harvest that has been harvested.
The end of each year in northern Telangana is marked by the arrival of the rice harvest. The women of the farming communities cut the harvest, which they had carefully sown and watched throughout the season, and proceed to separate the grain from the husk. The men fill jute sacks with this precious new grain and take it home. A good harvest means celebration and gratitude, and in the months of December and January, farming communities in these areas celebrate the Kotha Panduga, known as the festival of new grains.
In parts of Nizamabad, Kamareddy, the former Adilabad and Karimnagar districts of Telangana, families and friends gather to share the bounty of freshly harvested grains and celebrate the harvest. “Kotha means new,” says Manchala Srikanth, a farmer from Lingapur village in Kamareddy district whose family celebrated Kotha Panduga in mid-December. “We have a meal cooked from the freshly produced rice after months of waiting for the harvest.”
But before eating, a ritual known as ‘Kotnam’ takes place where agricultural and household tools such as the rolu (stone grinder), rokali (crusher), bamboo baskets, strainers and sieves are decorated with turmeric paste and limestone color.
Kotnam Ritual (Image: Manchala Srikanth)
The women of the community are an integral part of the festivities and conduct most of the rituals. These same women are responsible for a large part of the cultivation and harvesting of the crop. After applying vermilion to the forehead and turmeric to the legs, the women take five handfuls of new rice to cook for the festive meal. Along with the rice, curries made with vegetables, eggplant, tomato, potato, pumpkin and bottle gourd are served. There is also dal, chaaru (a fine sauce made from raw new tamarind), and curd. The meal is completed with a sweet rice, usually honeyed.
Manchala says, “After the Kotnam ritual is performed, food will first be served to the daughters, then neighbors and friends will be invited to eat.”
Everything that is eaten is freshly made. The rice is freshly harvested and even the vegetables used, for the most part, are grown on farms. This is a predominantly vegetarian feast, although the fishing community cooks a variety of fish and prawn curries for their Kotha Panduga as they treat the fish as a product from the village tanks.
Sampath Kumar Reddy Matta, assistant professor in the Telugu department at the Government Degree College for Women in Karimnagar, says: “One of the reasons why most dishes are vegetarian is that farmers only use products that they have grown. Other reasons could be the influence of different reformist traditions and vegetarian cultures such as Jainism that flourished in these parts. ” Jainism was prevalent in many parts of what is now Telangana before the 4th century.
Sampath, who specializes in literature dealing with regional gastronomic and popular culture, adds that Kotha Panduga has its historical roots in indigenous production culture, and the festival has special significance for Adivasi farming communities.
A home that brings Kotha food to its loved ones
According to him, the Kotha Panduga observed by the producing communities in northern Telangana bear similarities to the different Kotha Panduga celebrations of the Adivasi communities. For the Adivasis, this festival is not just limited to cereals. A celebration is held during the harvest of all the important crops, be it corn, millet, and even mangoes.
Unlike other harvest festivals held across the country, there is no specific day or time for Kotha Panduga. It all depends on when the harvest comes. Previously, the festival was commemorated after grinding freshly harvested rice at home in a manual stone mill, but now the rice is processed in a rice mill after which the festival is celebrated. The first bags of rice to be produced are saved for the festival and given to family members.
Men Eating Kotha
Kotha Panduga for Telangana farmers, many of whom are poor, is a way of thanking nature, for providing food and sustaining communities. The festival is underlined by the proverb, “We reap as we sow”, and by sharing the first crop of the harvest with family and friends. Through this, the farming community hopes to gain goodness in their lives.