Hyderabad-based Jennifer Alphonse documents the Dandari-Gussadi tribal tradition through a documentary and book
Each year during Deepavali, the Raj Gond tribe of Adilabad observes the Dandari festival where those chosen by a village chieftain are part of the Gussadi rituals. Their faces and bodies smeared with ash, armed with indigenous musical instruments and sporting specific headgears, the chosen Gussards perform the dance-like Gussadi tradition and visit people’s homes and temples.
Hyderabad-based documentary filmmaker Jennifer Alphonse witnessed an introduction to Gussadi at Shilparamam as part of a cultural programme, and was fascinated. “I thought it was a dance form; then I learnt that it is a tradition being practised over centuries,” she says.
From 2014 to 2019, she visited villages in Adilabad district to film a documentary on Gussadi and has now brought out the coffee table book ‘Gussadi: Celebration of Being God!’ (priced at ₹2,500, available on e-commerce platforms), in association with the Telangana ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency).
Jennifer Alphonse | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Initially, she visited the villages of Keslapur and Indravelly villages in the Utnoor area of Adilabad, without a camera. “They tend to freeze the minute you keep a camera in front of them, so I avoided it. I had to convince them that the Dandari-Gussadi tradition needs to be documented so that the world knows about it. Gradually people welcomed me into their homes and shared the lores of Gussadi,” says Jennifer, who has also filmed documentaries on the Nagoba jatara and the Kolam tribe.
She visited the villages for three years during Deepavali. The idea of a book came about in 2017 when she was perusing the visuals she had thus far, on the editing table. The documentary (also titled ‘Gussadi: Celebration of Being God!’) was partly self funded; monetary support also came from friends who responded to her Facebook post. The ITDA and Divya Devarajan, district collector of Adilabad, supported the coffee table book. The amount generated through the sales of the book, says Jennifer, will go towards tribal welfare projects.
The book cover, with an image by Jennifer Alphonse | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The 148-page book gives an introduction to the Gond, Kolams, Thoti and Pardhan tribes of Adilabad. The visuals offer a glimpse into the Gussadi tradition, music instruments, accessories such as masks, bags and the wooden roller considered a sacred symbol, garlands made of wild nuts, and the peacock-feathered headgear.
“While conducting a masterclass at the University of Hyderabad, I learnt from my anthropology friends that there isn’t enough documentation on Gussadi. So it felt important to bring out both a documentary and a coffee table book. Between me and the cinematographers who worked on the film, we had enough images to publish a book,” she says.
Guidance came in from scholars who had been researching the tribal traditions: “A Gussadi entering a village home is considered to bring in prosperity. Their rhythmic movements and jumps are much more than dance,” she adds.
She intends to submit the 30-minute documentary to international film festivals and later release it on a digital platform.
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