Vasai – Agrarian Society

For several centuries people of Vasai depended on agriculture, everything revolved around agriculture. Traditions, marriages and celebrations incorporated agricultural aspects of everyday life. For example, marriages took place before or after harvests. A family’s worth was measured in how much land they owned and how much they could harvest. Strength of the family was in number of children, as children later as adults would then help in agriculture.

Since the early 1980’s, people’s land in areas such as Virar, Nala-Sopara, Vasai were either taken forcibly from them or  forced to sell their lands at a very cheap price through intimidation and violence by thugs and gangsters. As a result people have gradually moved from agricultural society to finding other means of livelihood. Here are some pictures that provide a glimpse of the fading agricultural society. (Collection and courtesy of Louis P. Rumao).

Planting Banana Trees

People harvested many corps mainly: Rice, Bananas, Coconuts, a variety of vegetable, flowers sold for pooja and decorative purposes.
Here you see young banana plants are planted in neat rows in a plot that has been leveled and weeded. Plots were prepared by burning dry banana leaves and stems to burn the weeds. Next, the land was tilled using a plow or Nangar, pulled by two bullocks. After plowing the land was leveled and ready for planting. A typical plot was limited to 100 to 200 plants to keep it manageable for irrigation. The spacing between the plants was measured by a measuring stick called kanda approximately 6 feet long. It takes almost one year for the banana plant to mature and produce a fruit.

Mature banana fruit ready to be harvested

This picture shows a banana plant with mature fruit to be harvested. The specific variety of banana plant (locally called Bengali) producing this fruit you see in this picture is just about extinct in Vasai. The plants were destroyed by a virus that makes leaves grow in a bunch. It is called a bunchy top disease. Unfortunately this is the most common type of banana sold in the market and preferred by consumers.

Man lowering banana fruit-Rajali variety ~1970’s
Banana fruit is carried using a wooden pole called Kavad.

Rice was harvested after monsoons when field are sufficiently dry. Once the rice plants are cut, they are laid flat to dry for a few days. Then the dried rice plants are rolled into a bail called Bhara using a rope called bundh, approximately one meter long,  made from dry banana tree stems. The harvested rice bails were piled on modified bullock cart called Hataya Gada and emptied into a clean flat space called Khala in circular pile called Udva. Udva is capped downward by smaller bails of hay to protect it from unexpected rains. When labor is freed after harvesting rice is ready to be processed.  The larger rice bails are sub divided into phauli and trashed to separate rice grains from the rice plants. The process is called Zodni.. Rice grains are sun dried and stored for future use. The rice straw is softened by trampling of 4 to 5 bullocks or male water buffalos to produce hay or Pendha. This process is called Malni. This hay is used as a feed for cows and bullocks.

Malni – Creating hay

This picture shows the Malni process. The male water buffalos are made to rotate around a central stump of wood. As they walk in a circular fashion, more rice straw is added. If the rice straw is too stiff, it occasionally sprinkled with water to soften it. After a few hours when the hay builds up it is removed and bailed into an elongated bail. Two bails are tied together to make a Pandyai londi. These bails are stored in a barn called Padal.

Flowers grown for sale

Flower plantation for commercial purposes was a more recent trend. Flowers such as Jasmine and Marigolds were profitable but very labor intensive. This picture shows a field of flowers, locally called Piwli and German (For the predominant yellow color of the flowers).

 

Toddy palm tree – toddy harvested in clay pot

Agriculture also includes toddy collection. Toddy is collected by cutting floral stalks of the toddy palm tree. The sap is then collected in clay pots called “matka”. Naturally occurring yeast ferments the sap and as the day gets warmer the alcohol content in the toddy gradually increases Toddy is collected twice a day, the morning batch is very sweet whereas the afternoon batch is higher in alcohol content. A person who tends to and collects toddy is called a bhandari.

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