Koraj Pahadi: A Little Hill of Great Importance

Like waves violently crashing against a trembling shoreline, no…., a discontented writer crumpling papers maybe… like coarse sand draining down an endless funnel, better. A skirt swishing as its wearer walks at a furious pace. The pace is not because of any delay, but the anxiety to arrive. That’s it! That’s the sound of the wind as it sweeps through the drying broad-leafed trees and over the stony hill-side.

The wind is a harbinger of an anxious summer. Winter, though bracing, was so well liked. The morning chill was a reason to stay in bed longer, to sit outside basking luxuriantly in the winter sun and of course, endless cups of masala chai! Will summer be as well liked?

Though not fully here yet, summer is nipping at the cold weather’s heels. The days are cool just long enough to be aware of winter’s fleetingness. Shedding trees and browning leaves have become commoner sights as green islands are silently engulfed by the swelling sea of browns.

After the Rains have ended and before Winter began
As Winter Ends and the Summer Begins

While Koraj pahadi (hill) has witnessed this cycle innumerable times, this year I have the good fortune to sit on its wind-swept side and witness the unfolding spectacle of the changing seasons. The signs are almost imperceptible until closely observed, at which point, they are unmistakeable.

From when I began this fellowship, Koraj has loomed large over me. I heard about it from my supervisor before I even got to Tejgadh. I can see why!

Even a slight ascent up the hill is transformative. As the bonds which tie you down on flat land loosen, fresh perspectives begin to emerge. Sounds from the land below acquire an ethereal fluidity and become of a consistency only slightly thicker than the gusty wind which carries them. Like messages in a bottle carried upon the tide, the sounds are occasional and could either be heeded or allowed to drift past to their uncertain destinies.

This feeling of transcendence though takes time. At first glance, Koraj pahadi appears unremarkable. It is only the beginning of the taller Rajmahal hills and is nowhere as high as the nearby Aravalli mountain range. Nor does it have historical fortresses which are UNESCO world-heritage sites, wild-life sanctuaries or agate mines which were “celebrated” as far back as 1908. (Imperial Gazeteer: 292). As a matter of fact, it isn’t even marked on Google maps!

Of course, it is visible in “satellite view” but may easily be dismissed as being little more than a pile of rocks. Zooming in to the maximum possible extent, it looks like it been unevenly spray-painted green by an amateur. Much of its grey-brown stony surface remains exposed to the extra-terrestrial eye. Although largely unnoticed, it is far from inconsequential. Not only does Koraj stand, it also nurtures & sustains.

Koraj pahadi is located between Tejgadh and Achhala village. At a steady but leisurely pace, it is less than an hour’s walk from the Adivasi Academy at Tejgadh. The undulating path to Koraj has many fields and appears deceptively flat. A few boulders, round and significantly larger than humans appear to be strewn across the land. To my untrained eye, they have no business in this landscape and appear to have been ejected from the earth during volcanic churning.

They have the texture of coarse sand but are firm, as if glued together by the special bond created by pressure and time. Similar boulders are scattered across Koraj. When sufficient weight is put on it they begin to disintegrate, making climbing the hill a challenge and descending, an even trickier proposition. Lashed for centuries by unforgiving winds, some boulders have been hollowed out into curious shapes. What the wind’s destructive force has taken away, has nurtured human creativity.

Wind erosion takes curious forms!
The texture of Koraj rocks

At least two boulders are the sites of rock paintings which are estimated to be nearly 12,000 years old. Getting a good look at them requires crawling on all fours, but once underneath, there is sufficient sitting space for a few people. The paintings are of wild animals and self-depictions of humans chasing them. There exist several other boulders which are potential sites for rock-art. They currently are caked with layers of mud and hint at the prospect of a rich history of a distant past being disclosed by careful excavation. For the instant moment, mud signifies proximity to water.

Rock paintings on the inner side of hollowed out boulders

Koraj’s steep and stony hill-side attracts rain clouds but retains little. Much of the water drains into the surrounding area or fills small ponds at its base. This recharges borewells on which many farms and nearby villages depend on. At the pahadi’s base is also a vaw (underground step-well) which dates back at least few centuries.  While originally built from stone, it has recently been “repaired” by entombing it with concrete. The vaw will be invaluable in the approaching dry months and will be an indicator of the health of the ground-water table.

Koraj sustains life in more ways. It is a hospitable habitat for many species of plants, birds, insects and I am told, a few leopards. It is part of a larger and more complex network of natural life stretching across eastern Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Its foliage enables a small number of goats and cattle to graze. Medicinal plants and fire-wood to meet modest needs are also obtainable from it.

Given these qualities, it is perhaps no surprise that many religions believe in Koraj’s importance. At its base is a Hindu temple housing, which is believed to have very old stone idols. A little further up the hill is a Muslim shrine and higher still is an adivasi place of worship. Clay horses and incense sticks are placed there when wishes are sought or granted. This religious harmony is particularly significant given that it is so close to a site of devastating communal riots that happened in 2002 and whose flames even singed Tejgadh. (Devy: 2002)

Historically, Koraj and the surrounding ranges have been the site where Rajput kings escaped Muslim conquerors and a barrier against Maratha expansionism in the South. Many adivasi groups like the Rathawas, Nayakas, Bhils, Kolis call it home. Some old masonry work is visible, but it remains of uncertain origin. Add British colonialism to this already complex mix, and an interesting history of the region emerges. That perhaps is a blog for another day!

Recently, a bright-eyed child burst into my stream of thought, showing off to me and his English teachers, his newly acquired vocabulary: “Tomorrow— mountain— go — eat”. Although this invitation lacked in grammar and syntax, enthusiasm and warmth made up for it . The invitation was for Van Bhojan (meal in the forest) which is an annual event organized by the Adivasi Academy’s Vasantshala. Unsurprisingly, the venue was a large flat rock at the base of the hill. Nearly a hundred people showed up since the Adivasi Academy staff and their families were invited. Everyone including some women carrying firewood from the hill, were offered a sumptuous meal prepared by the kitchen staff and assisted by teachers and some Vasantshala students. This handing down of knowledge of food preparation crossed otherwise daunting barriers of language, geography and generation. It was perhaps only appropriate that this was under the watchful shadow of Koraj.

Passing down knowledge at the foot of Koraj pahadi

Koraj pahadi means many things to different people — a destination, a geographical point of reference, a historical archive, a refuge and an escape. To me, it is a mediator between change and constancy. In being a beacon for rain-clouds and protecting the surrounding area from the rasping wind, it itself has ever so been gradually changing as its boulders get hollowed out. It is not aloof or unattainable like taller mountains, but in fact approachable and necessary. Koraj pahadi’s relationship with its surroundings exemplify the best traditions of the AIF fellowship- determination, patience, harmony, and making the best out of inevitable change.

Harmony!— Koraj is the backdrop for a tree full of weaver bird nests and cows grazing in its shade

Sources:

Devy, Ganesh, Tribal Voice & Violence, SEMINAR, May (2002), (available at http://www.india-seminar.com/2002/513/513%20ganesh%20devy.htm , last visited 13.02.2019)

The Rewa Kantha Agency, IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA, Vol 21, 292, (1908) (available at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/reference/gazetteer/pager.html?objectid=DS405.1.I34_V21_298.gif , last visited 14.02.2019)

Champaner-Pavagadh Archeological Park, UNESCO World Heritage List, (available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1101 , last visited 14.02.2019)

Nishant graduated from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata in 2011 and received his LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School. He clerked with the Supreme Court of India and later litigated a diverse range of cases in and around New Delhi with a litigation chamber. His most recent engagement was with the Centre on the Death Penalty at the National Law University, Delhi where he was one of the founding members and assisted inmates sentenced to death secure legal representation. At Harvard Law School, Nishant wrote about the impact of colonialism on tribal groups in India and pursued diverse interests ranging from natural resource issues, law and neuroscience, food law and criminal justice policy. He frequently writes about criminal justice issues in academic and popular publications. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Nishant will be working on issues related to de-notified "criminal" tribes in India and hopes to better understand the law's impact on the lives of marginalized peoples.

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