If you go to the forest in the month of January after Markar Pooja, the only flower you will see blooming is the alluring Hootar Baa. It starts blooming in mid-January and continues to bloom till the end of March. This is no ordinary flower, it is the season’s first flower and is very precious. Its bright pink colour grabs the attention of any passerby and leaves them awestruck.
In the Adivasi community, edible flowers are a part of the food culture. Hootar Baa fits in the edible category and each year, the Adivasi community waits in anticipation for this seasonal flower to blossom. When the recipe with this flower is prepared, it is said that the Singbonga, the Marangburu – the nature’s almighty, also sit with you to eat it. It is highly unlikely that someone in my community hasn’t tasted this recipe, it is a beloved dish.
While all the Adivasis of Jharkhand prepare the recipe of Hootar Baa, the Adivasis from the Ho community are forbidden to even touch the flower or bring it home and cook it, unless the community has celebrated the Baa Festival. Approximately 90% of the Ho Adivasi community strictly believes in and follows this tradition, especially members belonging to the Diwri (Adivasi Priest) family.
However, there are still some Ho families who do not believe in or follow this custom and cook and eat Hootar Baa. This isn’t looked down upon or found offensive by those who do follow this custom.
Sometimes, when a person who does believe in the custom happens to eat this dish without the Baa festival having taken place, they have to take a bath and then enter their homes.
Hootar Baa starts to bloom in January, which is two months ahead of the Baa Festival and also before the most important Sarjom Baa (Saal flowers) start blooming. It is this flower, which is exceptionally holy in the Ho Adivasi community that the Adivasis wait for to celebrate the Baa festival.
Baa festival is also known as Baha in Santhal and Sarhul in the Oraon Adivasi community. It is celebrated in the month of March, when the Sarjom tree and many other trees flower.
Traditionally, the Ho community first offers the flowers to Mother nature and to their ancestors and only then can they touch and bring flowers into their homes and cook Hootar recipes.
There is a tale in the Ho community about Hootar Baa. There were two brothers from the Diwri (Adivasi priest) family. The elder brother was bound to become the priest and so he did. Being a priest, the elder brother followed some customs to maintain the peace and harmony in the house and in his community. The younger brother was also supposed to follow some customs just like his elder brother, but he did not because he assumed that it was only his elder brother who was required to do so.
Their whole family knew about the Hootar Baa and the rules about the festival. The younger brother, however, couldn’t wait that long and was getting impatient. One day, without his family’s knowledge, he went alone to the forest to get the Hootar Baa. The forest was full of those flowers and while he was excitedly dreaming of enjoying the flowers at home and was about to pluck the Hootar Baa, he saw a snake on the Hootar plant. Within a fraction of a second, he withdrew his hands in fear and realized the snake would have bitten him.
Nevertheless, he was adamant and went in search of other Hootar plants, which he found within 5 metres. He was determined to pluck and cook the flowers that day. Just as he was about to pluck the flowers, he froze as he saw a venomous snake crawling towards his hands, just an inch away. He managed to react quickly, withdrew his hand and fled, still in disbelief from what had just happened.
After a few minutes of silence and heavy breathing, the boy, with renewed enthusiasm and determination for his mission decided to walk to the other side of the forest to get the Hootar Baa. He took solace in the fact that he had options in every direction of the forest. After confusion and hesitation on which Hootar Baa to pluck, he proceeded to move towards a plant which had much more flowers than the others. Just as he was about to pluck the flowers, thinking he wasn’t the kind of person who could wait that long to follow the customs, his entire body turned to lead. There was a lion under the umbrella of the plant, furious almost as if he was guarding the plant. The boy fled as fast as he could and narrated the incident to his elder brother.
His elder brother asked him just one question – “Did you touch the flower?” The younger brother told him he hadn’t, to which the elder brother said that it was nature who was continuously trying to communicate with the boy, trying to tell him that the time is yet to come.
Such stories and traditions revolving around nature are common in my own and many other Adivasi communities. With immense knowledge of the forests and its flora and fauna, there is no dearth of festivals and customs celebrating nature and its beauty. Meanwhile, we wait for the next Baa Festival sow e can enjoy this delicious recipe.