Poda Thurpu – The resilience of the cattle and the community
– Kanna K. Siripurapu
Photos : Chandrasekhar Nemani
Poda Thurpu cattle is a small-compact sized indigenous cattle breed of the drought power group. Local communities identify the cattle breed as Poda edlu (Poda locally means spotted/speckles/blotches), the cattle usually has speckled coat (brown spots on white coat or white spots on brown). In the western parts of Mahabubnagar and Nagakurnool districts of Telangana the breed is commonly known as Thurpu edlu (Thurpu means East in Telugu), as it is believed that this cattle breed came from the eastern part of Telangana.
The cattle has unique traits such as excellent drought power in terms of endurance, speed and stamina. The strong and very hard hooves of the breed are not infected from prolonged hours of either wetland or dryland agriculture operations. They start to work from the time they are 18 months of age up until 20 years of age.
Another typical characteristic of this hardy breed is its wild and aggressive nature, which helps the animals to ward-off both predators and protect the young calves. This wild and aggressive nature could be attributed to the animals spending almost their entire life inside the forest. There are countless stories of the cattle protecting saving their masters lives from attacks by predators
The native breeding tract of Poda Thurpu cattle breed is Amrabad forest and its adjoining areas covering 26 villages of Achampet, Amrabad, Lingal, Padra and Uppunoonthala blocks, of Telnangana State’s Nagarkanool District.
Traditionally, the Lambadi, a nomadic tribal community, who migrated from the Indian state of Rajasthan some four centuries ago and the Golla community, classified as Other Backward Castes (OBC), have been the primary breeders of Poda Thurpu cattle. In addition, some Madiga (Schedule Caste) families have been maintaining large herds of this cattle breed for generations. The breeders are known to employ the “Chenchus” (a primitive, hunter-gatherer, forest dwelling community) as labour to care for the herds during seasonal migration, thereby, creating local employment for these communities.
Oral narratives suggest that the cattle and breeders have been around for 400 years. Documentary evidence (cattle grazing permits issued by Nizams) suggests that Poda Thurpu cattle have been bred in this region since 1836.
Amrabad forest remains the primary source of grazing for this breed. The cattle is maintained under an agro-pastoral system which includes long distance migration, lasting over six months. In case of fodder shortage, jowar, maize straw are fed to the cattle at home. Communities breeding Poda Thurpu cattle usually earn 80% of their income from pastoralism and remaining 20% from agriculture.
The breeding bull goes through a detailed selection process based on the coat color (white coat with brown patches or brown coat with white patches), horns should be pointing upwards forward, broad face and convex forehead with deep groove in center, brown muzzle and hard hooves, lean and short tail (above knee level) with brown tail switch.
The Lambada community of Seitha Tanda call themselves as Gora Banjara, and believe they are the descendants of Sevalal Maharaj (an incarnation of Lord Shiva). Sevalal Maharaj owned a massive herd of 7000 cattle and the jungle was their grazing land. Being disciples of Sevalal Maharaj, the Gora Banjara community rear cattle and continue his legacy, including grazing in the jungles. They visit Washim in Maharashtra annually to participate in the Sevalal Maharaj festival.
The Golla community, believe they are descendants of Lord Krishna, who was raised by a cow-herding family. Cattle play an important part of their culture and traditions and are integral to every ceremony, ritual and festival of this community.
It is their culture that has played an important role in conservation of this breed. The two major festivals of pastoralist Lambadi/Banjara communities are Aavula panduga (a cow festival celebrated during Diwali) and Seetala panduga (celebrated during Holi).
At Aavula panduga, 9-16 cows are tied with a rope made of sacred Avula tadulu (rope made of neem fibre) and brought to the Mantralamma temple with a belief that the Goddess would bless them by doubling the number of the strings which means, doubling the number of cows in the coming season. The entire village congregates at the temple of the forest Goddesses Mantralamma, who is said to have been born out of milk and curd of the sacred cow. Peddamma (symbolically represented as Tiger) is revered as the most powerful goddess and creator of the entire universe. Lambadas consider the tiger as the manifestation of Peddamma and if the tiger lifts one of the cattle, they consider it as an offering to the goddess and do not seek revenge on the tiger.
The community cooks together and performs traditional rituals, followed by a communal feast to satiate the forest Goddesses. She is the symbol of bounty of milk and curd, therefore, cow milk and curd is considered very sacred by the Lambadas and is almost never consumed with non-vegetarian food.
Peddamma is offered lambs and chicken to protect the herders and cattle from wildlife attack during their stay inside the forest. Although the Lambada community seldom milks the cattle, cows with only female calves are milched during Diwali, and the milk is used for cooking rice porridge and making curd. This is the only festival of Lambada where the rice porridge cooked of the sacred milk is consumed along with non-vegetarian food.
Seetala panduga, festival of horns, celebrated during Holi, involves sacrifice of lambs, chickens and offering rice porridge cooked of cow milk. During this festival, horns of the cattle are coloured with Jaju (red colour). The owner of the cattle herd carries seven bones, known as Kamani and women of the village carry a pot of Molakaalu (nine day old wheat seedlings) to the ritual site. A large pit is dug in the ground, at least ten feet away from the Goddess. It is filled with cooked Bobbarlu (horse gram), beans, feathers and innards of chicken and lambs sacrificed for the goddess. After the pit is filled, cattle herds are asked to pass by the pit. The cooked Bobbarlu (horse gram), feathers and innards of chicken are thrown at the passing by cattle herd. Rice porridge is thrown at the passing cowherd, which he should eat, moving along. These rituals are considered sacred and protect the cattle from wild animals. Cattle herds are taken in a procession around the village, acting as a good omen.
A major festival of the Gollas is celebrated during Dussehra. The festival honors local deities, including the forest God Lingamaiah (Lord Shiva) and his five sisters Pedamma, Elamma, Mahishamma, Pochamma, and Manakalamma. The temple of Lingamaiah is located at a sacred spot inside Kollam and Kommuvani penta in the forest. Offerings of lambs and chicken are made to satiate Lingamaiah. The festival includes a ritual, observed once every 3–5 years, called poli challadam. As with Seetala panduga, hot porridge cooked in milk is thrown at cowherds passing by the sacred place. Here too, the cowherds catch the porridge and move ahead eating it. It is believed that this brings good luck and protects both herdsman and herd from dangers lurking inside the forest.
In the weddings of both Lambada and Golla communities, parents of the bride traditionally give her cattle as wedding presents. In Lambada weddings, the bride traditionally sits on a bull and sings to him, reminding him of the care she gave and requesting him to move to her in-laws house along with her, even as she leaves her parents and siblings behind. The bull and few cattle accompany the new bride to her in-laws place.
Both men and women of Golla and Lamabada communities go out on the seasonal migration along with the cattle herds. Women usually take care of the domestic chores during the migration. Cattle breeding is primarily the domain of men. However, women play a significant role in nurturing the young, and taking care of old and sick cattle. Women in general have a better sense of cattle health and wellbeing than the men.
Herders can estimate the supply of fodder and water at grazing patches by observing the behavior of animals and of course the landscape. If there are signs of resources getting exhausted, one of the team members goes in search of fresh grazing pastures, coordinating with other teams in the vicinity. Local herders have a mental map of the location of every grazing patch, not only in surrounding areas but also all along the long migration route, which has been travelled for generations. Once the herder finds a promising location, he sends out a message informing the team. However, the herders make sure that the new grazing patch has not been claimed by another herd in advance. If it has, they simply move to some other patch. Usually the herders spend around a month at each grazing patch or as long as the fodder and water lasts. The local herders follow certain protocols in order to avoid potential conflict over overuse of grazing patches.
There are approximately 25 penta (grazing lands) inside the Amrabad Tiger Sanctuary of Nallamala Forest. These penta have been used customarily for generations and there is documented evidence of local pastoralist communities paying taxes for grazing their herds inside the Nallamala Forest. Until 50 years ago, local herders paid INR 1/- per animal to the government for grazing cattle on their customary grazing lands located inside the forests. However, in the last few decades things have been changing, particularly in the last few years. The forest department has been imposing restrictions on access to customarily used grazing lands inside the forest, which is adding to the misery of the pastoralists. With loss of access to these grazing pastures, finding enough fodder, water, shelter and maintaining large cattle herds has become hugely challenging and economically unviable for the local herders.
The herders argue that the indigenous forest and pastoral communities are as old as the earth whereas the forest department and the Tiger Sanctuary only came recently. Until 1975-76, cattle herders were allowed to graze the cattle up to 15 km inside the forest. However, the relationship between local pastoral communities and the forest department has become increasingly strained for the past decade. The forest department has now restricted the access to only 3 km. Forest department officials started manhandling the local pastoralists, forcing them to sell their cattle and not sanctioning any compensation for the loss of human life or livestock due to wildlife attacks inside the sanctuary.
In July, 2015 the situation escalated into a huge protest. Hundreds of local pastoralist communities blocked the Amrabad intersection for an entire day demanding compensation and a withdrawal of the restrictions imposed by the forest department to the customary grazing lands inside the Amrabad Tiger Sanctuary. Despite this, things have not improved and these communities still face harassment.
The pastoralists resolved to be hardy, just like their cattle and started popularising the breed. A cattle fair was organized by Amrabad Poda Laxmi Govu Sangam in 2016 to draw attention to the importance of conserving indigenous cattle breeds; and bring recognition to the role of pastoral communities in this process. This resulted in the Telangana state government issuing instructions to stop artificial insemination of Poda Thurpu cattle, a first step towards conservation of the breed. This also increased the price of the cattle from INR. 20,000/- to INR. 40,000/-.
The second cattle fair was a game changer. Around 400 Poda Thurupu cattle including cows, oxen, bulls and calves and 960 Indigenous cattle breeders and farmers participated in the event. Poda Thurupu bullocks have a huge demand not only among the farmers of Nagarkurnool and Mahabubnagar districts and other parts of Telangana but also in the neighbouring state of Karnataka.
These events led to Poda Thurpu becoming the first registered cattle breed of Telangana state. This may further increase the market for the breed and potentially capture the attention of the Government and the public alike.