Mitanin is a word used for female friend. Mitan is the male counterpart of the same. In Chhattisgarh, this word holds a great significance, owing to the traditional rituals attached to it. One of the very important customs related to it, is bonding a boy or girl of one family to another through a ritualistic ceremony so they become mitans or mitanins. There are five types of ceremonies for this. Tulsijal is when at the end of Srimad Bhagvatam, on one of the auspicious days, two friends put a leaf of holy tulsi plant in each other’s mouth, accompanied by chanting of mantras by the pandit. Mahaprasad from Jagannath temple, Puri is used in another ritual. Drinking Gangajal (water from river Ganges), putting a sparkling, pink tilak of Ganga baalu (Sand from river Ganges), and adorning leaves of Jaware (barley) plant grown in Navratra festival in each other’s ears are other ways of becoming mitanins. The ceremony is concluded with mitanins embracing each other. All these simple but fascinating rituals are done to sanctify the relation of mitanins in front of God through chanting of mantras.
Mitanins are lifelong friends who are ready to sacrifice everything for each other. You can share everything with your mitanin, your most profound thoughts and sentiments that you cannot share with your parents, partner or even a real sister. In the villages, the paragon of Lord Krishna’s friendship with Sudama is used to describe this relationship, a transcendental friendship in which the Lord blessed Sudama out of his penury. The villagers hold this relationship with great regard and reverence. One can count on her mitanin in all times of need. Sukh me sabiya, dukh me Mitanin (everyone in times of happiness, but only mitanin at times of despair) is a local adage. Distance and marriage do not hamper this relationship.
One can become a mitanin at any age. Generally, elders in the family would tie this bond among mostly humjolis (children of same age) if they share camaraderie. One of the ladies I met in my field visits was tied to a neighborhood friend by her elder brother at the age of 14. She was reluctant at that time as she was uncertain of her ability to maintain this relationship. However, till now, even after getting married, having kids, daughter in law, she is a call away from her mitanin. 80 kilometres of distance between their villages seem miniscule in comparison to the deep bond they share with each other.
It is even believed that if at the time of death, your mitanin comes and puts drops of Gangajal in your mouth, you could achieve Nirvana or freedom from the cycle of life and death. A very few fortunate villagers get this chance. You can have more than one mitanin but it is uncommon as the responsibility of maintaining this relationship is too large to be trifled with.
Hailing from urban background, where swearing love for our ‘friends’ on facebook, whatsapp and instagram is a fad, I am suddenly sensitized to the high responsibility that comes with being a true friend. Chhattisgarh, its life and customs never fail to amaze me. How the government used this deeply rooted tradition of mitanins to improve the health statistics of Chhattisgarh comes in the next blog.