|Continuing ritual: A young girl being branded on the neck at Marlavai village in Kumram Bheem. Photo: S. Harpal Singh.|
More often than not I ran into interesting articles related to branding of cattle by cattle owners and branding of criminals and slaves in the past centuries carried out by barbaric slave owners and rulers. Never have I heard about the practice of branding the children and adults by Indian tribes to keep them healthy. Are you not in for a surprise that such crazy superstitions do exist among gullible Indian tribes in this modern world? India is a land of innumerable cultures and traditions that have been in existence for centuries and within the communities across India they vary. Branding of children, in particular, among the Indian tribes is an odd one and does exist in spite of government regulations.
The branding of livestock (act of marking) with fire-heated marks to identify ownership has been in practice since ancient times and it continues even today by the cattle owners. There is another kind of branding called human branding or stigmatizing that was prevalent in the past centuries by slave owners. In this type, usually a symbol or ornamental pattern, is burned into the skin of a living person, and the resulting scar remains as a permanent mark. This is performed using a hot or very cold branding iron. The physical techniques involved are similar to those of livestock branding on a human. It is done either with consent as a form of body modification or under duress, as a punishment or to identify an enslaved person or criminal. Within a tribe, it may be done as a "rite of passage", e.g. a mark of acceptance or membership.
In India, such a practice continues to exist among the Adivasi people or tribes. The Gonds tribes of northern part of Telengana state are worthy of mention. They are spread over the four districts which had once formed part of undivided Adilabad, Telengana State, South India. This ritualistic practice of hot iron branding by this tribal community has been around for centuries mainly for the health reasons!! Their firm conviction has been that to prevent indigestion and head aches branding at specific spots on the body will produce positive results that will cure the ailment.
On the day of Lakshmi Puja (goddess of wealth), normally in the month of October, every year they conduct this ritual called ‘dahadi verswal’in the early hours of morning. The iron is heated over the ‘gomera’, the year-old sacred lumps of cow dung mixed with husk. Yet another strange belief is only during the Solar Eclipse, the branding rod for the cattle called ‘dahadi’ and the alloy ring called ‘koval’ used to brand humans are also ritualistically made by blacksmiths. They believe this astronomical period will enhance the healing capability of the metal to the maximum and will benefit the branded persons. The branding tools are made of special alloy and metal
The preferred parts for branding of humans are spine, neck, and some painful spots on the back, abdomen, etc. Branding on children and adults is done by the Ghusadi tado ( a Gond tribal festival celebrated during Bhogi puja). In the case of children, branding on the spine, on the neck is done by an incense stick that may not cause pain. Residents believe that the mild heat on the nerve produces positive pressure that will act as protection against minor ailments - a sort of immunity. There is neither scar nor wound after branding. It id reported some people get the branding done every year to stay healthy and keep the minor elements at bay.
The Human Rights commission of India lately are taking serious measures to curb human branding prevalent among the rural, illiterate people as it is a serious issue of human rights violation.