Thursday, July 30, 2020

The living wisdom -Sukri Bommu Gouda

The living wisdom -Sukrajji

Sukri Bommu Gowda -fondly I call her Sukrajji. who always scolded me when I don’t comb my hair. She had every right to do so as she is from my grandparent’s village and seen me when I was a child. She would sit me down and apply oil and braid my thin hair and tie the end with banana fiber. 


 She told me many stories ...... She told me a story of Sita (seete kami) and how Laxman wins Sita by killing the wild crow (ಕಾಮಂಡಲ ಕಾಗೆ )...She said It is not Rama‘s story ....It is Sita’s story .. many myths were broken.... She had a story for every plant. She sang songs of the soil and simplicity......She lives with a song in her heart. .She is spontaneous , she is confident, She is simple, she is the living  wisdom of the tribe  And now she has been selected for India's fourth highest civilian honour-Padmashree.


          The Valley School ,Bangalore  in 2006

 I remember in 2006 she came to Bangalore with me to my school in a bare foot without asking what is that she has to do there for 15 days. Sukrajji walked bare feet while going in the forest and she came to Bangalore with barefoot.  When people ask doesn’t she feel discomfort? she asks them will it be more discomfort when you walk with your footwear without feeling the earth under your feet ..? such simple truth of life . 

I fondly remember her stories of the 5 magical stones, princes with golden hair, the stone crab who turns into princess. I was more inclined to her epic stories and songs of Ramayana and Mahabharata .How the tree frog turned into Mandodhari and became Ravana’s wife, how Laxman wins Seetha  and not Rama ,  are made me wonder the rich oral heritage of Sukrjji and the Halakki tribe

 My parents and I have different stories and connection with Sukrjji’s diverse wisdom. For us Sukrajji is not only a singer or an activist who won many awards. Though her house is filled with hundreds of awards and framed certificates and momentum she herself says she has to spend extra money to keep her awards in the cupboard .. I never went and seen her awards. For me Sukrjji is just my old Sukrajji who holds me and ask how is appa amma ? . Meeting Sukrjji means for me is like going home to meet my grandmother.



Three generations of relationship with Sukrajji  is very special  for us in many ways. Sukarjji belongs to my father’s village called Badgeri in Ankola  . She would come to our house often.  ...This is totally different journey for me with Sukrajji. This gave me deep insight of her life experiences and it is privilege to share with you here

 My father recalls when he first met sukrajji in 1969-70 .He was documenting oral songs from halakki tribe. He met 60 years old  Baleendra gouda and shivi gouda (Sukrajji’s sister in law ) who were the treasure trove of rich oral heritage of halakki tribe . sukrajji may be 20 -25 years old at that time. He recalls she was sitting beside Shivi and said I also know songs shall I sing ? appa ignored her because she was too young to collect songs from her .. He says when she insisted he took one song from her .

 My mother has a special relationship with Sukrajji . She told me walking with Sukrajji in the forest is like you are walking with flora and fauna of western ghat forest . Many people don’t know Sukrajji’s this part of wisdom.  Sukrajji valued and respected each and every plant which she encountered in her daily life . The entire forest comes alive when you walk with Sukrajji  .Sukrajji says every life has its identity. They came on this earth with purpose. There is nothing like useful and not useful

 She held a wild grass and said this is called gubbi hullu  (ಗುಬ್ಬಿ ಹುಲ್ಲು )  the immediate next question from me is what is the use of this wild grass she smiles and she says  first observe them,  recognise them ,then you will understand them. Yes each plant has got its identity it may not be useful for me but useful for someone else .

 When you walk with sukrajji the entire forest recognises her. She introduces each and every plant with  their names ,stories ,songs proverbs and sometime uses but its not necessary she will tell the useses of the plant all the time .Some may be used for food or a medicine some may be used for weaving baskets or mats  some may be used for the roofs or just to lay on the floors of the  cow shed .Some may be useful for the animals or birds ,some may be useful for the rituals or just to tie as a rope, some may be for just there to discover  .. My mother says no one has documented her knowledge of flora of fauna of Western ghat . and its so overwhelming to get kannada name for each plant from her


 My mother recalls when she went for a walk in a small forest near our house in Honnavar town they came back with machle soppu,(ಮಚಲೆ ಸೊಪ್ಪು ) bhandari soppu,(ಭಂಡಾರಿ ಸೊಪ್ಪು ) jangali gadde (ಜಾಂಗಳಿ  ಗಡ್ಡೆ ) , najina gadde (ನಂಜಿನ  ಗಡ್ಡೆ ),Kavali gende (ಕಾವಲಿ  ಗೆಂಡೆ )  which my mother seen first time though she has documented hundreds of these kind of plants with tribes. sukrajji introduced these plants and tubers to my mother first time

 How sukrajji got interested in these forest plants is very interesting and it has come from her childhood itself. When she was 10 years old her job was getting soppu /greens to spread on the floors of cowshed. She always carried a cane basket (ಚೂಳಿ  ಮುಟ್ಟಿ  )and a knife (ಕತ್ತಿ ) with her. She became friends with leaves and grass on her way to the forest. She started recognizing those greens she needs to bring to make a bed for the cows.. Chirkla (,ಚಿರಕ್ಲ ) halcheri, (ಹಳ್ಚೇರಿ) saagade,(ಸಾಗಡೆ ) kuchmaale,(ಕುಚ್ಮಾಲೆ ) ekanayaka,(ಏಕನಾಯಕ)  adkoli (ಆಡ್ಕೋಳಿ )like she stared recognising hundreds of greens on her way from her childhood  .

 My mother told me Sukrajji is the first halakki tribe woman who talks about the relationship between Panadavas (ಪಾಂಡವರು ) and halakki in associated with plants. Sukrajji  says pandavas were farmers and they are our ancestors (Panadavara kula )  We belong to Panadava dynasty “naavu panadavara kuladavaru “( ನಾವು ಪಾಂಡವರ ಕುಲದವರು )

she says stories about how pandavas brought agriculture in this western ghat region ..She says by breaking boulders and hard rocks, they made a way to water to flow  and they dug wells to feed banana plantations.On her walk sukrajji recognises many plants which are associated with Pandavas and she gives interesting stories for these plants.

 Sukrajji  gave a beautiful story of this pandavara pachche (ಪಾಂಡವರ ಪಚ್ಚೆ )which has got beautiful tiny  pink flowers.  She tells when this plant started following pandavas when they set for vanavasa  they stopped her on the way on a rocky path (Laterite rocks ) and asked her to stay on these rocks and not to follow them  .. interestingly these pandavara pachche grows only on rocks in the monsoons on western ghat forests   .

 She recognises many plants and flowers from the western ghats with pandavas identity. panadavara baalE,(ಪಾಂಡವರ ಬಾಳೆ )  pandavara harige ,(ಪಾಂಡವರ ಹರಿಗೆ ) pandavra pachche, (ಪಾಂಡವರ ಪಚ್ಚೆ )pandavara tulasi ,(ಪಾಂಡವರ ತುಳಸಿ ). She says when pandavas went for vanavasa all these plants followed them. How interesting !!

Oxtail orchid (Seete dande )source:internet

Oxtail orchid (Droupadi dande )source:internet 

I remember when I spotted fox tail orchid in the forest Sukrajji told me this is called seete dande(ಸೀತೆ ದಂಡೆ ) there is one more of this kind that is called droupadi dande.(ದ್ರೌಪದಿ ದಂಡೆ ) She explained the difference beautifully .Though they look the same seete dande (ಸೀತೆ ದಂಡೆ )is more beautiful with longer fall  and more densely covered with flowers  compare to droupadi dande (ದ್ರೌಪದಿ ದಂಡೆ ). droupadi's garland is really small and the flowers are not closely held

Sukrajji has a story for this. Draupadi had five  husbands so she never got time to string flowers elaborately So her mala is done in a hurried manner so they are small and with scattered flowers.  But seete had lot of time to string the flowers. So she made her dande /garland  longer and densely tied with more flowers .  The stories from the tribe is always weaved with close observation and deeper connection with the nature (photos of fox tail orchid is from the internet )



 Her knowledge on wild grasses shows her wider and deeper knowledge on flora of this region .. A walk in the winter with Sukrjji will bring into notice something you always ignored -the wild grass and the diversity you never noticed. .  ambugoli ,(ಅಂಬು ಗೋಳಿ ) kadkeri ,(ಕಡಕೇರಿ ) karada, (ಕರಡ ) gondekarada, (ಗೊಂಡೆ ಕರಡ ) koli hullu,(ಕೋಳಿ ಹುಲ್ಲು ) gubbi hullu…ಗುಬ್ಬಿ  ಹುಲ್ಲು) . Sukrajji not only recognising these wild grasses she will give you the entire biography of these wild grasses 

Ambu goli 


Ambu goli the name itself describe the grass .ambu ಅಂಬು means arrow in kannada  . The flowering shoots of this grass looks like an arrow. and Sukrjji warns “don’t think this grass is innocent ..take care of your langotis (ಕಚ್ಚೆ)  and sarees when you  go near to them.  I like the way how she personifies the plants into character.  She smiles and says they will hang on you ( to your cloths )and  they reach your village and your home too. She describes the character of this grass beautifully by saying “ ಬಣ್ಣ ತೊಟ್ಟವರನ್ನೂ ಬಿಡ ಚಿನ್ನ ತೊಟ್ಟವರನ್ನು ಬಿಡ -it won’t discriminate poor or rich ,well dressed or poorly dressed it will hang on you ) This kind of depth can come only when you have the deep connection with the nature and the close observation and little bit of creativity and humour

photo source: internet 

gubbi hullu ಗುಬ್ಬಿ ಹುಲ್ಲು  –Gubbi in Kannada  is Sparrow-and  the grass has got something to do with sparrows . Sukrajji smiles and says  this grass grows for the sparrows and not for us !!  The sparrow will build its nest only from this grass.

Sukrajji’s wisdom  of ecology has not came from the school or a book  this came from the ages of observation ,deep connection with the nature and passed from generations. Now unfortunately  The huge  gap got created for new generation .The real life experience to virtual experience

“ kuttaade kittade kattidre choodade ..(ಕುಟ್ಟಾಡೆ   ಕಿಟ್ಟಾಡೆ  ಕಟ್ಟಿದ್ರೆ ಚೂಡಾದೆ )  ”Shukajji are you singing or asking me a riddle?  when I asked sukrajji ,she laughed and handed over a bunch of grass to me  and said this is the name of this grass. Learning will be so interesting with Sukrajji

She has many stories around plants and places which can become a local encyclopedia   

The local diversity in the form of rich oral heritage is getting lost. What we are going to lose is enormous. Each region has its own local wisdom ,its own culture weaved with its ecosystem. May be each region had Sukrajji whom we never recognised .

Sukrajji is recognised as a singer or an activist in the main stream world. She is the one who brought into the light -the halakki tribe . The existence of Halakii tribe came into light only because of Sukrajji  

Unfortunately no one recognised Sukrajji as a treasure trove of flora and fauna of Uttara Kannada . Her stories, songs, proverbs, anecdotes related to plant wisdom is nowhere documented. Her interpretations about the tribe and the origins are not documented. Her version of Ramayana and Mahabharata was never heard.

With her age her voice is slowly deteriorating. She is not able to recall her lost songs and stories like earlier. Slowly the wisdom of this tribe of this region is fade away with the time and Sukrajji’s shaky voice will say what we really lost.


The information about most of the plants collected by mother with Sukrajji . I  added my experience. I acknowledge my mother and thanks to  my mother who took me  the road less traveled with Sukrajji .


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Wisdom stories from the Western Ghats Forests – Mann kaayi – ಮಣ್ಣ್ ಕಾಯಿ-mud fruit

ಮಣ್ಣ್ ಕಾಯಿ 

Monsoon season in Angadibail western Ghats forest, I was sitting and watching the paddy fields
It’s the month of August 2016. Eshwarnna, Raagu and Manju were adding mulch to the coconut trees along the stream.
I saw Ehwarnna coming to me holding something in his hand “akka! ನೆಲ ಅಗಿಯುವಾಗ  ಎರಡು ಮಣ್ಣ್ ಕಾಯಿ ಸಿಕ್ತು ನೋಡಿ "(akka! I got this mud balls /mud fruit while digging).  I was surprised to see two perfect round shaped mud balls of tennis ball size ..the other one was little smaller to compare the first one  .It was harder too. It looked like someone carefully hidden this balls under the soil.  “Why it is called mankaayi? when it was just a ball of mud? I asked him . (Mannu ಮಣ್ಣು  menas soil kaayi ಕಾಯಿ means fruit -Mud fruit)

ಮಣ್ಣ್ ಕಾಯಿ 

Eshwaranna told these are not just mud balls it has medicinal value too and villagers know about it .

 Eshwarnna recalls the things his mother told him about the Mann kaayi. To prevent children from eating mud, -(a kind of eating disorder)this was used as a medicine.  
Eshwarnna also explained how to use this .To prepare this medicine take  half spoon of sanna menasina kaayi ಸಣ್ಣ ಮೆಣಸಿನ ಕಾಯಿ water on a flat grinding stone.(san mensin kaaayi is a tiny chilly which grows in western ghat region ) Take mudball and roll/rub it in circular motion over the stone with this spicy water until you get a paste like texture on the grinding stone. Scoop it with your index finger and let the child who has got this eating disorder lick it on the tongue. The child will stop eating mud!!

I was fascinated with mud balls and took a photo and stored them away in a cupboard hoping for to meet a child who eats mud.

Brood balls:
A year later, I got them out to show it to my interns- Haritha and Meghana who were documenting local wisdom of this region. Surprisingly, the mud balls have holes over them and the surface was not smooth anymore. It looked like some insect nibbled the entire surface of the ball.

Ehwaranna and Harita 

We sat with Eshwarnna for a discussion about the same.  Eshwarnna had no clue of how this balls were created .. He only knew the medicinal value of this mud balls which his mother told him ..

I knew about dung beetles that make these kind of balls with dung to feed on them but much smaller in size These balls were bigger and made with mud and not with dung .So I ruled out it belongs to dung beetle and I loved the story  of it  having a medicinal value which Eshwaranna told  

Later I saw similar kind of balls but much smaller in gersoppe forests. There were 4-5 dung beetles fighting for one ball . Again, these were mud balls not dung balls

gersoppe forest obseving Man kaayi 

 However i guessed these mud balls also belong to dung beetles but i never knew why they make it .
Looking at the holes we guessed it may be a breeding balls of dung beetles which would lay their eggs inside this ball. The holes in this ball confirmed the adult beetle broke through the hard-outer layer of the ball.

Packed Lunch
We decided to open it and see what is inside this ball. Eshwarnna with his knife made perfect halves of it ..what we found ..the interior of the ball was stuffed with layers of black dried coarse dung! Yes it was a dung ball coated with thick layer of mud and deceived us

This is what the brood ball represents to the larval dung beetle. Hatching from the egg inside each ball the larve eats its way around the interior of the ball

photo ;Meghana
Guessing wildly, two “rolling” beetles, a male and a female, must have rolled a layer of dung with special medicinal herbs for its larva over which it must have rolled mud for different nutrients. It became their brood ball. After preparing the ball they rolled it until they found a soft soil. When they reached a soft spot in the soil, they buried the ball and mate underground. After preparing the ball, the female laid eggs inside the ball. left the eggs to hatch, with the larvae feeding on the dung.  

 The pair can make and bury many brood balls like this. The outside layer of the brood ball hardens once buried forming a protective layer for grub. The inside layer remains moister and a food source for grub. When the grub metamorphoses into adult .it breaks through the hard -outer layer of the ball 

-With Harita Gandrajupalli and Meghna

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Wisdom stories from the Western Ghats Forests - dhik balli

It was the month of July,  Heavy monsoon time in the Western Ghat forests. Eshwaranna was busy in preparing paddy field with 2 more workers in our Angadibail forest . 

I was watching them from the distance . I saw Eshwaranna coming towards me holding something in his hand. It looked like a lump of sticky soil in his hand.
He showed me this damp moist soil  and asked me  to see closely "ಅಕ್ಕ ನೋಡಿ  ಇದಕ್ಕೆ  ದಿಕ್ ಬಳ್ಳಿ ಅಂತಾರೆ   - " akka ! see it is called dhik balli."

Balli in kannada means a thin rope, a thread or a creeper .ದಿಕ್ಕು(dikku) means direction. I was expecting a green colour creeper plant which may be like a compass - showing direction. To my surprise I saw a thin white thread like thing was lying on that lump of wet soil.

Eshwaranna told me if anyone crossed over this balli / thread / creeper knowingly or unknowingly they will forget their way home. This was true for cows also. He said it is common in the village if someone loses his way home while coming from the western ghat thick forests  they tell that person that you must have crossed the dik balli. He was trying to convince me how powerful it is by telling me "while coming from our other mud house to here - to this house (2km distance ) I would lose my way and get confused if I crossed this balli" 
I told him with a smile "Ah! beautiful excuse for your forgetfulness."

However i decided to take photos of this dikballi -a strange thread kind of a 'thingy'!

I got my camera out and was focusing on this thread like thing.
To my surprise I noticed it slowly moving . I screamed "ಅಯ್ಯೋ ಈಶ್ವರಣ್ಣ ಇದು  ಬಳ್ಳಿ  ಅಲ್ಲ .. ಇದಕ್ಕೆ ಜೀವ ಇದೆ ..ನೋಡು ಅಲ್ಲಾಡ್ತಾ ಇದೆ "( Eshwaranna!this is not a creeper it has got a life ..look!how it is moving slowly and entangling itself )"

Eshwaranna looked lost . I thought Eshwaranna also was noticing this for the first time so closely in a moving state .
Yes! it was alive. It was slowly tangling and entangling it self for hours. I felt as though it was moving nowhere. It was clueless, there was no direction whereas it was named as 'direction!'. May be people also got lost like this creature when they cross over it... becoming clueless...and i was observing it with astonishment . Esharanna said it will die if soil looses its moisture. I asked him to leave it where he found it from. I wondered what kind of wormy thread like creature it must be. 

How it looks :
It was   extremely long and thread-like. It was  15 to 20 cm . The body diameter is about the width of a very thin pencil lead or a thread like . It was white in color, and frequently  twisted and coiled like a discarded thread. It looked little lifeless when the moisture was drying  on that lump of soil .It was directionless meaning it was going nowhere. But it has a name  -ದಿಕ್ ಬಳ್ಳಿ (the rope/a creeper which shows you direction ) and if you cross over this creature you will lose your direction 

Link : BuDa folklore 

Monday, September 9, 2019

We have done it all -

Two girls from Mount Carmel College,Bangalore  - Harita and Meghana!  One is known to BuDa for many years and the other was experiencing the tough life fresh.They  stayed in Angadibail forest for thirty days without internet, without electricity without shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste ,without fan  far away from comfort zone.Went back home grown ,stronger, and changed .Angadibail forest..Beera ,Rangi (you named her !) and Eshwaranna  are going to miss you girls. Thankyou ! We also thank Advithi who supported you with your project in the forest  -BuDa team    

silent nights in the forest 

Sometimes wanting to stay back,
Sometimes wanting to go home,
Sometimes wanting to feel the forest,
Sometimes wanting to feel family,
Sometimes learning,
Sometimes  pushing ourselves
I go back home GROWN, STRONGER and CHANGED .
Taking things,
Taking memories
Taking love
Love for stars,
Love for forest,
Love for nature,
Love for earth,

We both believe the poem is not enough to describe the internship in Angadibail. Probably it is just 0.01pc of our adventurous experience there. For us city girls, the time there we had was a blessing- away from home, packed off in and around the small house amidst the lush green forest. 

While we woke up to screaming alarm clocks here in Benguluru, the horseflies annoyingly buzzed and woke us up every single day without fail! Walks with our ‘Beerappa Swamy’ to get milk was what we loved to do- first thing in the morning.

Eshwaranna teaching us how to arrange paddy hay 

Kutri- stocking paddy hey for the cows

our cooking routine 

Harvesting ground nuts 

From experiencing night forest walks to eating jackfruit papads, from learning constellations from Miya Bhai to suspecting a cat to be a leopard in the dark, from building mud walls to helping Eshwarnna prepare for the monsoons, from walking in search of network to call home to walking to a far neighbor’s house to see election results, from doing coconut harvest to ‘weightlifting those sacs’, from surviving the nights on solar lanterns to waiting for the first rain of the monsoons, from fighting paddy allergy to having full-moon light dinners, from cooking on fire to eating charred food, from waiting for guests for the kokum harvest to craving for the silence of the forest each night, from mixing kokum preserve in the hot sun to drinking lemon grass tambuli- WE HAVE DONE IT ALL!!

Eshwaranna explaning Mann  kaayi -a medicinal mud ball he found in the monsoon 
Advithi helping us in illustrating summer medicinal plants of Angadibail 

Our internship was to document ‘Summer medicinal plants of Angadibail’. That we would say was just less than half of the things we did there. From enjoying every meal to learning the value of food- we learnt it all. The ride was super bumpy filled with lots and lots of new things that we learnt. Realizing the forest has treasures at each step we take, understanding the medicinal value of ‘weeds’, listening to calls of various animals to going to have a hot water bath every night after a long day’s work- the experiences have made us more stronger, responsible, confident, humble, calmer and most importantly turned us into fighters- we are ready now to take upon any challenge we face!

Kokom harvest festival

We are forever indebted to the organization and everyone who help us survive those tremendous thirty days


The living wisdom -Sukri Bommu Gouda

The living wisdom -Sukrajji Sukri Bommu Gowda -fondly I call her Sukrajji. who always scolded me when I don’t comb my hair. She had every ...