A nomadic tribe from western Maharashtra, known as the Nandiwalas (Nandiwales)*, follow an interesting annual and sometimes even bi-annual ritual. They undertake a journey in honour of their deity Ram Mama who is invoked as a protective god. The Nandiwales speak Telegu and Marathi and worship a number of gods but in the past several decades, Ram Mama has become the deity of primary importance and he is worshipped by all the four castes that make up the tribe.

Who is Ram Mama?

Ram Mama was known as Ramu was originally a member of the Chowgule caste of Nandiwales. He is believed to have lived among the tribe not so long ago. He was an expert magician and especially proficient in the art of black magic and therefore, feared by the rest of his tribe. Word about his powers spread throughout so much so that people would go out of their way to keep out of his.

He was known to be short tempered and brutal with his actions. He could kill the nandi (bull) of a fellow member if he was angered or push a family into penury or illness. He was even known to stop the flow of water if he so wished. As his powers grew so did the wrath of his fellow caste and tribe members.

One day, during a hunting expedition, some people from his own caste attacked and killed and then beheaded him. While there was an interim period of peace, soon the members of the tribe began facing an enormous amount of trouble. Those who killed him fell ill and some died. The people began propitiating Ambaji-Limbaji, one of the powerful clan gods but to no avail.

When things seemed to be falling apart, one of the women from the Chowgule clan had a dream. Ramu had come to her, she said, and complained how he had been killed by his own people. He would take revenge for being wronged he told her. The tribe’s senior members were worried and they went back to Ambaji-Limbaji for guidance but received no sign. A few days passed and the woman who had had the dream was possessed by Ramu. As she began screaming and shouting out in anger, others gathered around her and apologised for their behaviour. Ramu, through the woman, said he would not rest till he had punished the entire tribe and had avenged his unjust treatment. The elders begged for his compassion and appealed to him for peace.

Ramu, speaking through the woman, answered that he was willing to forgive them on one condition: Every year each family from all the castes of the Nandiwale tribe would come together to offer him a pig, liquor and ganja. And since then the members of the tribe gather once and even twice a year at Wadapuri where pigs are sacrificed and a collective ceremony is conducted where Ram Mama is duly propitiated

*The Nandiwales are believed to have migrated from Andhra Pradesh and are also known as Tirmales, Gangeddus and Gollas. In Tribes and Castes of Bombay, a study done by the British, they were classified as ‘a wandering beggar community’. They travel from house to house with their decorated bulls that wear a garland of bells around their necks and are often called upon as fortune tellers.

 Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta

Source: The birth of a god: Ram Mama of the Nandiwalas by K C Malhotra, (The Experience of Hinduism: Essays on religion in Maharashtra, Edited by Eleanor Zeillot and Maxine Bernstein) and The tribes and castes of Bombay, R C Enthoven

Location: Maharashtra

Image source: Wikipedia