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Debuli and Nariya

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FOLK TALES OF KUMAON

This poignant story related to siblings is woven around the tradition of Bhitauli, prevalent in Kumaon since ages. Bhitauli festival is dedicated to married women of Uttarakhand. During this festival parents visit their married daughters with gifts and blessings. ‘Bhitauli’ means ‘to meet.’

By Anjali Nauriyal

This fable puts in the picture the life story of a brother and sister, named Debuli and Nariya.

The siblings lived in a faraway Himalayan village in difficult circumstances, yet they never felt lack of any thing in life as they rejoiced in each other’s company.

Debuli was devoted to her brother like no other and Nariya too loved his sister dearly.

They lived, played and ate together. Years passed and the two grew up into young adults.

Illustrations by: Jaya V Chala

Soon it was time to fix Debuli’s wedding. Her parents arranged her marriage far away from their village. Soon she was gone and the brother was left alone minus his favorite playmate.

The brother and sister were separated and Nariya was completely disheartened and generally remained in low spirits. The severance from his sister was unendurable to him.

Due to the long distance between the in-laws’ house and her maternal home, Debuli’s visits to her maternal home became less frequent with each passing year.

Nariya noticed with a heavy heart that during festivals centered on married women, his sister never visited her maternal home. Upon this realization, Nariya became all the more dejected and disconsolate. Every festival when the homes in the villages were abuzz with festivity, Nariya felt more and more sorrowful. There was not a single occasion that didn’t remind him of his beloved sister.

Seeing Nariya’s concern, his mother, whom he called Eeja in local parlance, one day said to him, “It’s been a long time since you met your sister. Tomorrow, go and meet your sister, and don’t go empty-handed. I will give you some goodies especially cooked for Debuli. It will remind her of her maternal home. Convey and blessings to her.”

Eeja placed whatever best she could arrange in a big cloth bag, including sweets, spices, curry, snacks, lentil patties, pickles, fruits, sarees, and a bindi in a big bag and handed it over to Nariya.

She chanted a prayer and asked him to carry the bag full of goodies for his sister with her blessings.

Nariya was on cloud nine and happily set off for Debuli’s in-laws’ place. It took him almost four days to reach his sister’s sasural.

Finally when Nariya arrived at Debuli’s homestead, he found his sister sleeping soundly after a hard day’s work.

Not wanting to disturb her sleep, Nariya waited patiently for a few hours for her to wake up, but Debuli did not stir an inch. Nariya thought it would not be right to awaken her, as she would be tired from work.

He decided to return home that very same day, as he didn’t think it appropriate to travel in the mountains on Saturdays.

He left the gifts at his sister’s feet and returned without meeting her.

Hours later, when Debuli opened her eyes, she saw the goodies and other gifts by her side. Looking at the special items she immediately knew that it was none other than her mother who had sent the goodies to her. The look and the smell of the goodies were what she had grown up with.

Panic-stricken she started looking around for Nariya. She shouted his name, but he had gone far away by then. Debuli ran out into the darkness but to no avail. Her brother was out of reach.

Debuli began to howl in agony knowing that her brother had undertaken such a long and difficult journey. He must have been hungry, while she kept sleeping.

She went a long way to find Nariya, but he was nowhere to be found. Debuli regretted that her brother had undertaken such a long journey, and must have been really hungry after an arduous journey. She started crying, and in her remorse, she kept repeating, “Bhai bhukha raha.”
Grief-stricken she lamented, “My brother stayed hungry, and I remained asleep, oblivious of his presence.”

Debuli’s heart and mind were both hit hard.

Filled with guilt, remorsefulness and self-reproach she was truly devastated. In her trauma she fell dead.

Legend has it that in the next birth, Debuli became a bird named Ghughuti, which can be heard singing, “Brother, stay hungry,” in the Chaitra month.

END NOTE:

Till date Bhitauli is a special and emotional tradition of Uttarakhand. Married women, regardless of their age, eagerly await Bhitauli. The people of Uttarakhand have also immortalized Bhitauli in folk songs. One such old folk song related to Bhitauli is:

“Oho, ritu aage heri fheri ritu ranmani, heri aincha fheri ritu palati ainchh.

Uncha dana kanan mein kafuwa baslo, gaila maila patlo mein nevali basli.

O, tu basai kafuwa, myar maiti ka desa, iju ki narai lagiya cheli, vasa.

Chhaja ba

Behind Bhitauli, there are several folk stories.

The word “भिटौली” translates to “meeting” or “visit” in English. Bhitauli is a tradition in which families visit married daughters. They bring them gifts as a form of blessing. During the Bhitauli visit, sweets, fruits, clothes, homemade dishes, and other items are given. Bhitauli is celebrated during the Chaitra month. In the month of Chaitra, every married daughter eagerly awaits her Bhitauli visit from her parental home. Whether it’s in the hills or in the Terai region or any other city, married women eagerly await the Bhitauli visit. It is not just about material items, but it symbolizes the love that comes from the parental home.

Women share Bhitauli gifts not only in their immediate neighborhood but also nearby villages. This act symbolizes a love for humanity and agricultural abundance.

In urban areas, due to the scarcity of time in today’s lifestyle, Bhitauli is often celebrated by sending money orders or gifts. However, in hill villages, the tradition of personally visiting the daughter or sister’s home and giving Bhitauli is still practiced.

(Dr Anjali Nauriyal, veteran journalist, author, actor and social worker is currently
Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI)