Advisor Dr. Gaganendra Nath Dash
Advisor Dr. Rabi Narayan Dash
Concept Dr. Birendra Kumar Nayak
Editor Dr. Supriya K. Ghoshmaulik
Executive Editor Soumya Dev
Editorial Assistance Santosh Baral
Editorial Assistance Jogendra Kumar Behera


Rhythm in the Hills; Tribal Dances Of Orissa

Dr. Rabi Narayan Dash


Dance is natural expression of joy performed by individual or group through patterned movement of body parts along with music to make it more enjoyable to viewers. In complex society, dancers perform to entertain their patron, but tribal people, dance for themselves. Their dances are never solo for this reason. All the community members enjoy dancing either as performer or as viewer. Although W.G. Archer in his book "The Hill of Flutes" (1974) mentioned ‘nude joker’ solo dances of the Santal, this may be an exception. The tribal people, who toil in the hills and dense forest habitats for their livelihood, enjoy their leisure through dance with music and home brewed drink. A visitor of tribal land may be charmed by drum and flute sound of dance after dusk, which may continue till wee hours around the community fire. Songs are also sung in chorus. From choreography to lyric and musical instruments, everything is indigenous. It is not that dances are performed only during night; many ceremonial dances are organized in daylight also.

Scholars and amateurs are equally interested about tribal dance because it has not only given origin to complex dances of modern society but also depicts complex theme through simple expression. The present discussion will be limited to some form of dances still prevalent among some primitive tribal communities of Orissa (part of Eastern India).

Tribal dances are of various forms, various themes and various purposes. Many dances when analyzed lead one to believe that they originated at very early stage of human existence i.e. hunting and gathering using stone implements. Later with modification of subsistence economy, the dance form changed keeping some ancient items as well as dramatic expressions. Various forms of their economic pursuit like digging up root-tubers, collection of flowers, fruits and wood or snaring and hunting animals on land or water or cultivation of crops, make them exposed to Nature. They pose many problems and the people make efforts to win over the difficulties. Such encounters are dramatized in the form of rhythmic expressions with music at their home sites. These are enjoyed as entertainment.

Broadly the tribal dances can be categorized as (i) orderly movement and (ii) disorderly movement of the troupe. The hunter band operates either in a file or disorderly, for chasing a game animal, but adhere to certain planned movements to encircle the animal. In dance also such moves are noticed. Various animals and forest birds are hunted. These fauna also cause damage to their crops. The dancers imitate behaviors of these animals. The Kesari Kappa dance of the Oraon tribe (Orissa and Jharkhand) depicts collection of ‘Kesari Fruit’ (growing in marshy land) by the women. The dancing girls kneel down enacting the collection while the drummers squat before theme.

The Koya (Orissa and Andhra Pradesh) people perform a dance during marriage, where both man and women move in orderly files. Each male dancer holds an iron rod with a tiny cap, which produces sound on jerk. This rod represents the multipurpose stick used by ancient tuber diggers which was male job while the women collected the tubers. In various dances bear, tiger, deer, snake, fowls, crane, etc find place, as these are very much associated with their daily life.

Another stage is represented by group dance arranged in disorderly lines. This type of disorderly movement of dances probably developed in Mesolithic period, when these people lived on hunting. When the ‘kill’ was brought to dwelling site, the women in group would go forward to welcome their men and made a procession with the ‘kill’. This ‘Procession Dance’ now performed in orderly manner, by the Khond tribe during various occasions like marriage or brining the sacrificial pole from the forest for meria (originally a human sacrifice festival, now replaced with buffalo) . The Lanjia Saora (so named for wearing a loin cloth leaving excess at the back looking as tail) also performs such procession dance during their festival for eating new crop.

Many primitive tribes with hunting tradition (Bonda, Saora, Khond) have incorporated many incidents of past, following successful hunting, in their dances. For example, the hunter-bands often indulged in petty quarrel among themselves over claim for major share of meat. They became intoxicated and sometimes the verbal abuse leads to brawl even capture of women for rival factions. In the present dances, such incidents are dramatized. The dancers shout, shriek and feign fight or capture with rhythm enhancing drum beating. There are much similarities of this dance among the above-mentioned Mundari dialect speakers.

The file type of dance depicting hunting is not with disorderly movement. The dancers in a file show zigzag movements with high speed, imitating search and chase of game animals. They do not exhibit rhythmic movement of limbs. Gradually, this file type of dance transformed into procession type among the Bonda, Khond etc. In the Bonda dance, a group of girls stand in the center around whom a file of men dancers move encircled by rushing drummers and elderly women in procession form. This Bonda dance though lack many other aspects, yet prove to be a missing link between the ‘file’ and ‘procession’ pattern in the process of evolution of dances among the tribal population.

The procession type of dance got further refined probably in the new Stone Age (when people learnt cultivation). It became associated with bone immersion ceremony. Such refinements are found among Santal, Kol and Munda (also found to live in Jharkhand). A further developed stage of this procession type is observed among the Bonda, Koya, Godaba tribes (of undivided Koraput district of Orissa) when they carry the large monobloc stone to be used as grave-marker, after quarrying. This is an arduous task, but performed for the honor of the dead. This large stone is carried to the burial ground in a procession with dance.

The tribal people pay respect to their dead persons and believe they will protect them and their crops. To appease their ancestors, the death rites need completion (which often remain postponed for years), like gotr or ‘bone immersion’. These are also necessary for the agricultural success. ‘Peacock dance’ is one of such dances performed by many tribes, though with slight variations, dedicated to the dead ancestors. The Khonds pay homage to top ranking departed leaders through peacock dance. The Peacock Dance is almost obsolete now and has not been properly studied. A note appeared in Madras Mail (1896) elaborating Khond Peacock Dance.

It was reported that six girls each took a long strip of white cloth and winding it around their waist, allowed one hand to hang in the back to resemble tail of a peacock. The dancing girls stand in two rows face to face with left hands resting on their hips and elbows protruding out to mean wings of the bird. Their right hand outstretched forward to mimic neck and head of a peacock. Then they start forward and backward, crossing each other, with heels occasionally clashing against each other. The girls look downward, but move with beats and trumpet blows. The music men keep up the spirit of the dancers.

The Juang people probably learnt this dance from the Khond, whose dance modified in course of time. This dance initially was without musical instruments. Later when the villages developed, musical instruments came to be accompanied, along with dress and hair do of the dancing maids.

The procession type of dance evolved into group duets in which a group of women dancers stand face to face with equivalent number of men dancers, with or without music men. Both the teams sing either in synchronic manner or alternatively. The Juang people use this form in their dance like ‘Deer Dance’. In Deer Dance the dancers use movement of limbs very fast. But in the Khond Peacock Dance, lip movement is used as expression of theme. The Peacock Dance is one of the precursors of now famous Odissi Dance of advanced communities. The Gadaba people (Orissa and Andhra Pradesh) in their ‘Demsa Dance’ use colorful dress, coordinated steps and lip movements in files holding each other, singing in chorus.

The dances of Oraons consist of three stages commencing with Jadur. This is arranged to seek life-partner. The second stage is Sarhul dance organized at the end of the spring for the celebration of marriage. The last stage is Kharia dance during the Phagu festival to seek blessings for the newly wed.

In our view, these dances were originally designed for agricultural success. The step-wise dances commemorates the dead for good crops, to begin the agricultural cycle with their blessing and anticipating good harvest. This is also the general norm for other similar tribes like Kol, Ho, Santal, Munda, etc.

The Jadur dance in general is composed of long line up maidens holding each other, facing similar row of young boys. The gender wise lines move fo ward and retreat with coordinated steps alternately i.e. when the boys step forward, the girls step back. The drumbeater puts rhythm in the movements. The Santal Dance Lagre is almost similar to Oraon Jadur dance. The Tahri dance of Santal, arrange the girls troupe in a curve line facing the drummers. They start the dance with jerking oscillation and sing along the beat of drum. The feet movements are side-wise, i.e. the left foot moves forward but keep leftwards. Then the right foot is brought near it, the same is repeated with right in next move. The hands sway and the buttocks roll, head also move in nodding gesture. The song rises and falls in tune. This type of choreography developed in through time and gives an enjoyable view.

The Kharia tribals perform a dance similar to village opera (Jatra) where men and women mix up in a column and behind the other. Each dancer extends one hand forward and one hand backward to clap the hands of other dancers in front and behind. This dance has structural similarity with Jadur dance, but differ in filing manner and interlocking of hands. The Phagu Shikar is pantomimic representation of hunting. The dancers hold sticks, clubs etc and step movements represent chase, running as done in hunting. Such dances remind one about the Koya or Kondh marriage dances, reflecting hunter’s way of life in bygone days.

The Oraon tribe performs Karam dance representing agricultural practices. In this dance, the men and women arrange themselves in separate groups. The postures are different and movements are slow but graceful. The men dancers in course of movements kneel down and each girl stoop low before them swaying their hands forward and backward, as if reaping paddy from the field. At the end all dancers exclaim!

The Bhuinya and Juang (Central Orissa) have dances of their own peculiarities. In these dances, Changu (a round drum held by one hand and played with the other) was the earlier instrument and Dhol (a drum played on both sides) was later addition. Girls are the only dancers, and the boys make them dance with changu beating and singing. The girls also pick up singing. The Juang girls do not cover their faces, but the Bhuinya girls half-cover their faces. The Bhuinyas also have several other dances like Sangi Nat, Udka Nat, Deya Nat, Ghecha Nat and Tuki Nat for various occasions. In these dances the women are the performers.

In fine, it can be stated that the tribal communities of Orissa are very ancient people; some might be original inhabitants and some late comers from adjoining areas. Thus we find many similarities in composition of the dance. Addition of music in the form of percussion instrument and horn/metal trumpet, introduced life into the dance. Proper analysis of these dances and accompanying music is essential. Dr. S.K. Satpathy (1992) made in-depth study on Juang music and dance and brought out many interesting findings from a musician-point of view. The tribal dances are also changing rapidly and they are imitating modern dance, to satisfy outsiders on various invited occasions (e.g. National show, tribal festival etc).

Source Consulted: Archer G. W. (1974): - "The Hill Of Flutes", Gregory.
1. Santal Dancers preparing to begin dance - Jagannath Dash
2. Bonda Dance - Ramesh Prasad Mohanty
3. Santal Group Dance - Jagannath Dash
4. Peacock Dance - Verrier Elwin
5. Deer Dance Dance - Verrier Elwin

Origin Of Bathudis: Myths and Legends

Dr. Biyotkesh Tripathy

Legend - 1
Legend - 2
Legend - 3

The Story of Creation and the Origin of the Bathudis
Teller: Kaibalya Nayak [M 30 (Religious work). Village: Pahad Madak (Karanjia, Mayurbhanj). Date: 13 Oct. 1999. Cassette No. 126; O. Tr. Pp. 6940-63. Status: As told (minor editing; interview edited). Type: Myth-legend. Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy].

These, all these our folklore, are in spoken words, proverbs and such. These are not revealed to others. Why? If we say these now we can’t provide right evidence. People will question and argue. They will say we want to show ourselves as high caste. They are performing high rituals. That’s why we don’t say these things. Of course, we tell those who have genuine interest. There is a saying with us: "Those who laugh at Badam’s words, don’t tell these secrets to such birds." This is not done. But you are so keenly interested, and I, somehow, feel it to be an auspicious moment, so I’m talking to you.

Our origin is, I mean, we are of Badam’s descent. What our culture says, what our forefathers have said, we are descended from Badam. And others are descended from Brahma. Their origin is Brahma. Our origin is from our Badam.

Then, at the beginning, what happened was, our He, the Unwritten One, he, what he did was, he started creating. When he was asleep, in what is called Yoga Maya, the goddess rubbed his feet with her hands. When she did this, dirt peeled off from his feet. From it were born two demons, rakhyasas. You see, at that time, everywhere there was only water. And two rakhyasas were born; they were Madhu Kaiteu rakhyasas. As you can imagine, their nature was demonic. When they saw the goddess, Mahamayi, they were struck by lust. They wanted to enjoy her. She understood that they wanted her and she knew that she could not tackle them. If she awakened the Shapeless One, he could destroy them. But then, she was the mother; she would not awaken him since he was asleep. She would not disturb his sleep.

So what she did was, she used her wit. She said to the two rakhyasas, ‘Look, see the one that is sleeping? If you can awaken him, then I’ll become your woman.’ Then the two, what they did was, they awakened him. The Shapeless One understood everything, about their intentions. So he killed them by cutting them into pieces. At that time there was water all round. He threw their limbs and flesh all around. Flesh is called "meda," you know, and from that comes "medini," the earth, clay, the solid ground. That flesh, that "meda" was in seven pieces into which he had torn the rakhyasas. Those seven pieces formed seven islands. We have a proverb about 7 pots and 8 islands, which comes from that. There are many such things. When the bride puts the water pot on her head before marriage, 7 pots of water are poured on her. These are our traditions. But that’s another matter. From those 7 chunks of flesh the 7 islands were formed. From those seven islands the earth was created.

All right, then, what remained was one more chunk of flesh, a little bit, which Mahamayi, our goddess, the dream beauty, at a time when there was nothing, only the Shapeless One, floating like a dream, she took that flesh, kneaded it and shaped it into two idols and breathed her brahma-power into them. Those two had a smell, which we call "basena." From that they were named Basu and Basuki. We offer puja to them. They have the power. Then what happened was that order came from that infinite Shapeless One, for them to create. When this order was received, what they did was they created twelve brothers. These twelve brothers are our Bathudis.

Then, when they had grown into the fullness of youth, the prime mother, what she did was, as mothers are usually desperate to get their grown sons married, what she did was that she created twelve girls and got them married. But the directive from Him was to start the creation with these twelve brothers. But on this side was the mother’s power, certainly greater than the father’s. So, she, indulging her earthly desires, got the marriage performed. But she was afraid, if the Shapeless One found out, He would destroy this marriage. Since, instead of starting the creation, she was indulging in the performance of the marriage, He would stop it. So what she did was that she created a mayajala (net of illusion), so that the Old Man could not understand, I mean the Shapeless One could not see what was happening. But what was happening at that time was that in various dreams and thoughts He was having ejaculations. Ejaculations. But he did not let the semen fall on the ground. He held it in his hand, closed in his fist. As He held it in his fist, from three chinks in it came out three powers: Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheswara. Three powers come out from there. Then He said to them, ‘The twelve brothers had been instructed to create the world, but they have done nothing. So, you go now and start creating the world. When they had got this instruction, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara the three of them got busy in creation. Of course, they could create things in moments. Then they created the whole world of living things.

On this side, when the mother saw this, the Prime Mother, she cursed herself, ‘Damn it, this work was to be done by my sons. But others have done it! Certainly this creation cannot stay all right. Everything will go this way and that, turn topsy-turvy.’ So what she did was, she sent the twelve brothers saying to them, ‘You go, destroy everything including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Maheswara).’ She told them. At that time, I mean, they were getting married. She gave them unfinishable arrow-holders, imperishable arrows, such weapons, and sent away the twelve brothers.

When all of them had gone, the twelve brothers had gone, that is to kill them, to fight, the three worlds shook with the twanging of their bows. The whole world trembled. Seeing this, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were terrified. They ran to their creator for protection.

‘What shall we do?’ they cried. ‘Save us. These twelve brothers are so powerful that we cannot face them. So, take us out of this living world. They are out to destroy this living world and with it us. So save us.’

‘You cannot beat them in war,’ He said. ‘But if you coax them, cajole them, praise them and divert their attention, they will desist. Thus you can be saved; otherwise you cannot, because they have been created before you. So their power is greater than yours. I cannot also kill them at this time. So, go and cajole them, please them, persuade them. Then only they will come to the right path.’

Then they went. But they went in disguise. Having gone in disguise, they reached the twelve brothers and explained and coaxed and praised them.

‘O warriors, you are so mighty that you can destroy everything. But why should you destroy this creation? Let it stay. You can swat it away any time you want. It’s not worth your trouble. So desist, calm down. Let us serve you and please you.’

Gradually their anger was cooled; their war-lust was pacified. So, the creation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva survived. Then they turned to the Basu and Basuki, the primal beings and said to them, ‘You are the eldest. You are older than us. Since you are older or "bada," you will be known as Badam and will be worshipped. And your wife will be worshipped as Badamani. Since you are our (amara) eldest (bada), you will be Badam. The twelve brothers will be the Bathudis. They are the original inhabitants. Their ancestors are Basu-Basuki. From Basuki the name Bathudi has come. These are the Bathudis.


Origin of the Bathudis

Teller: Chandrasekhar Naik [M 45 (Cowherd). Village: Arjun Bania (Anandpur, Keonjhar). Date: 8 Oct.1998. Cassette No. 53, side A; O. Tr. Pp. 3456-61. Status: (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Myth-legend. Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy]

The story of the origin of us Bathudis. There is proof in a book; I don’t remember its name. When Brahmins were worshipping Jagannath, what they used to do was, they went to a bull. They cut out meat from it and ate it. After they had eaten, the bull’s flesh was renewed (and it became whole again). Then the brahmins went and did their puja (worship).

One day a Brahmin’s wife asked (him when he returned from his puja), ‘What do you eat there before you come home? (You say your belly is full).’

‘Can you eat what we eat?’ he asked.

‘Why not? If you are eating, why can’t we eat?’

(When he had told her what they ate), she said, ‘Can you bring us a little of that beef?’

The next day, when he went there, they cut off a chunk of the bull’s flesh, cooked it and ate. At that time, this Brahmin secretly tied a little of it in the corner of his loincloth for his wife. That day the bull would not get up and go away, nor was its flesh renewed. There was great consternation among them. The Brahmins said, ‘Everyday the bull got up and walked away, and we went and worshipped Jagannath. Why is it not getting up today? What is the reason for this?’ (They pondered and pondered but could find no answer, and this Brahmin revealed nothing).

But God, in his meditation, came to know all this. ‘What!’ He said to himself. ‘Taking meat to their homes in greed! Then, what worship will these do to me? So now, for my worship, I’ll have to create (new ones).’

So thinking, he rubbed out a little dirt from his bahu (arm) and made a very small statue and then taking a little dirt from this thudi (chin) he made another statue. Then He gave it life and a new race of people (of proper size and shape), whom he called Bathudi (for having been created from the bahu and thudi), came into existence for performing the puja rituals of the lord, the man having been created from the arm and the woman from the chin.


‘From today,’ God said, ‘You Bathudis alone will offer puja and worship to me.’ And (from that time) the Bathudis have been worshipping god in the form of Nilamadhaba.


How the Bathudis were Created

Teller: Sridhara Naik [Village: Kanta (Anandpur, Keonjhar). Date: 8 Oct. 1998. Cassette No. 53, Side A ; O. Tr. Pp. 3478-86. Status: (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Myth-legend. Tranlator: Biyotkesh Tripathy.]

In age-old times, Brahmins were offering puja and worship to God. For performing the puja, what these Brahmins did was that they performed a jagnya (fire ritual) where they cut off flesh from a cow or bull and ate the meat. (The cow or the bull thus sacrificed would get up afterwards with its flesh renewed and go away). After eating this, they went and performed the rituals of God.

One day, their wives said, ‘You are going everyday. What do you eat there before you come? When we give you food, why don’t you eat?’

They said, ‘What we eat you cannot stomach.’

‘You are eating,’ the wives said, ‘why can’t we, when we are members of your family? You better bring something of what you eat for us.’

‘We eat meat there,’ they said.

‘Bring a little for us then,’ said the wives.

‘Okay, we’ll bring it.’

The next time they went, they cut flesh off a bull and ate its meat. Then one of them said, ‘Ramei’s mother had asked me to take a little bit for her. Let me take a little stuff.’

Another man said, ‘My wife and family also have asked me. So let me take a little.’

In this way all the ten or twelve brahmins, who had gone for the puja, secretly tied little bits of meat in their loincloth. When this happened, the bull did not get up. How would they go then? How would they go to worship their God? It was getting late. God wondered why his worshippers were so late. Why is the bull not getting up? Have they committed some wrong? Then what to do? He ordered his attendants to go and see what had happened.

When the attendants reached the place, they asked, ‘What’s this? Why are you delaying? God has become restless in hunger. When will you perform the puja?’

‘How can we go?’ said the Brahmins. ‘This bull is not getting up.’

‘But then why isn’t it getting up?’

‘Who knows?’ the Brahmins said. ‘We don’t know anything about that.’

Then the attendants went and reported to God that the bull was not getting up and that was why the Brahmins were not coming. God wondered why and then by meditating came to know of the mischief those people had committed, that they had stolen the bull’s meat. He knew then and there that these people would not do. Then who would do His rituals? He asked Brahma what to do. Brahma told him (what to do). So He brought out a man from his bahu (arm). Having done this he said, ‘This is man.’ Then he thought, ‘This is a man but he is alone. It would not do if he did not have a woman.’ So saying, He created a woman from dhuli (earth).

Then the two mated and the woman became pregnant. When she became pregnant, God wondered about a name.

‘The child that would be born,’ He asked them, ‘what should be his name?’

Then the man asked the woman, ‘What do you say? What name should be given?’

‘Your name,’ she said, ‘and my name should be in that name.’

Since he had come out of the bahu (arm) the sound "ba" was taken from him and since she had come out of dhuli (earth), the sound "dhuli" was taken from her name to form the name Badhuli, which, in course of time, got modified to Bathudi. (So the progeny of) these people became the Bathudi. They became the worshippers of God (and offered puja and service to him).


Illustrations by Suchismita Hota

Tribal World of Orissa: A Demographic View

Bipin Bihari Hota

Reproductive Parameter
Health parameters

There are 62 aboriginal communities in Orissa, who are recognized as scheduled tribes. These are people form 22.13% of total population of Orissa, as per 2001 census. They are 24.61% of the rural and 8.10% of urban population of the State. Numerically they count 8,145,081 of which there are 4,066,783 males 4,078,298 females. Sex ratio (expressed as number of females per one thousand males) is estimated as 1002.8. The tribal people are mostly (7,698,358) rural inhabitants. Their core habitat areas are much away from towns and situated in the hilly forest land. The minority of them (4,46,723) who are found in the urban areas are all migrants from natal villages. Except some tribal persons, who are highly educated and have white-collar jobs in the public/private sectors, majority urban dwellers are daily wage earners and live in slums.

The tribal communities once formed the basic substratum of Indian population. Existence of tribal kingdoms in Orissa has been found in the edicts of Ashoka in pre-Christian era. Through various historical processes, the tribal people were relegated to the infertile hilly terrain and there they lived within natural surrounding enjoying their community autonomy. In this way, they missed the flow of development process of other communities. Today they require legislation to protect their rights and receive packages of various measures of development.


Present Orissa has 30 administrative districts, but earlier census records (up to 1991) show 13 districts. The coastal districts are less mountainous with thin forest coverage. So, concentration of the tribal is less. The central, western and northern districts provide ideal habitation of tribal population due to geo-environmental conditions. The district Malkanagiri, bordering Andra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on the Eastern Ghats, shows highest (57.4% of total tribal population) concentration of tribal people. On the other hand, Kendrapara district (on the sea coast), shows lowest( 0.52% of tribal population) concentration. The other hilly areas in the districts of Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, Khandamala, Gajapati, Dhenkanal, etc have fair concentration of various tribal communities.

National Family Health (NFH) survey conducted between 1998-99 on selected samples of tribal areas of Orissa, revealed some valuable information. Illiteracy is very high, especially among women. About 90% of ever-married women can not read and write, 65% are not exposed to any media and only 10% of such women have occasional exposure to radio or television.

Reproductive Parameter

The tribal communities living in their natural habitat do not keep track of age. They go into wedlock when the boys become young adult, capable of taking care of their wives and the girls grow up to physical maturity, able to bear child and look after domestic aspect. In general the girls are married off between 15 to16 years and normally do not remain unmarried at 20 years. The median age of first pregnancy is 18.8 years. Tribal women between 15-49 years (total reproductive career), have mean number of children ever born as 4.28, whereas the total fertility rate (TFR) per women is 2.06. This is lower than the rate observed among scheduled caste women. The gap between two births is appreciably (33 months), as they do not want to get a baby before weaning of the previous child.

Due to campaign of birth control, the younger women (more than 50%) do not want to have more children. 38% of women have accepted reproduction control method of any type. Tubectomy (sterilization of women) is accepted by more than 25% of married women. Still, the adoption of modern methods of birth control is lower than non-tribal people.

Health parameters

Survival of tribal children is very low due to various reasons. Undernourished mothers not attended by qualified midwives, suffered at childbirth. Under-weight babies are less likely to survive and those infant mortality rate (IMR) among tribal babies is 99 per 1000 births; child mortality (between 1 year to les than 5 years) is 44 per 1000 children.

Government effort for reaching out to the tribal people for providing immunization facilities is not yet very successful . Only 26.4% of the children received all doses and 18% have not received any sort of immunization. 30.5% children received only one dose of vitamin A.

Chronic Energy Deficiency (CED) of tribal women is observed to be as high as 55.5% and 75% of tribal women have been found to be anemic. These are very alarming. Breast-feeding is wide spread. But squeezing first milk (colostrums) from breast is very high (72.5%). This practice is customary. Considered by measures of body weight for age, and height for age, majority of tribal children are victims of grades of under-nutrition and stunting. This finding is also supported by measure of weight for height.

The Severity of these deprivation related health disorders among the tribal people have been observed to be:

Weight for age as 26.5%; Height for age as 19.9% ; Weight for height as 5.7%; Anemia of children 83.9%.
The following data reveal health care measures received by the tribal people of Orissa:
  1. Antenatal health check at home received by 22.2% only.
  2. Women receiving no anti-tetanus / toxoid 35.5%.
  3. Child delivery at own house is 86.7% and at parent's house is 5.5%

The tribal people are accustomed to traditional knowledge perpetuated through generations. Modern medical aid even though available nearby, is not tried by many. The health service providers have obtained the present statistical picture after long efforts. It is a hard task to provide sufficient healthy food, education and modern way of treatment to the deprived tribal people living in inaccessible areas of Orissa.


Photographs : Bonda Kids - Ramesh Prasad Mohanty

Ethnographic Profile Of Highland Bonda of Orissa

Dr. Ramesh Prasad Mohanty


Death Rites

Economic Existence

The Bonda, also spelt as Bondo, is one of the very primitive tribal communities living in the uphills of Konda Kamberu range of the Eastern Ghats in South Western Orissa. They are short stature people with austroloid features, and speak a dialect ("remo-sam", where 'remo' means man) of southern Mundari group of Austro-Asiatic language. As these people were living on the hills, they came to be known as Bonda Highlanders in the British reports. Verrier Elwin made them well known in the name, in the princely state records(1950), as 'Bonda Paraja' or Ryots. Later some Bonda families made settlements at the foot hills and were mentioned as lower Bonda. These section mixed with outsiders, but the upper group shied away.

In 1981 census report the Bondas counted at 5895. The 1991 census data have not been published. But the government agency namely Bonda Development Authority enumeration of 2001, show their population limited to 5565 individuals.


The hill Bondas are viewed by their neighbors as very aggressive and fear-some people. They live in semi-naked condition and indulge in killing the outsider who tread into their territory. They attract attention because of their attire and appearance. The men wear a loin cloth only and the women wear a home spun short piece known as 'Nodi', around their waist which just encircles the heap and hang upto the thighs. The torso is covered by colourful bead necklaces and metal rings around the neck, ear rings, bangles and strap on the scalp. The head is shaved. They seldom take bath. Their own legend explains this as curse on there women by 'Sita' of the Ramayana. The Bonda girls, as the legend goes, scorned Sita when she was helplessly roaming in these forests with her husband 'Ramachandra' during exile. The aggressive nature to unknown people might have originated from their experience of being chased out by the ruthless Aryan invaders and had to move into inaccessible territories.

Despite their aggressive behaviour towards unknown people, they possess a simplistic mind unable to negotiate with the developed world. A Bondo man always carries weapons like bow and arrow, an axe and sharp knives. As they remain intoxicated most of the time with fermented 'Sago-Palm' and other juices, they often enter into arguments snowballing into quarrel occasionally leading to homicidal assault. For these reasons, till a couple of decades back, the outsiders did not dare to venture into the Bonda areas, instead preferred to stay away.


The hill Bondas are divided into exogamous sections such as: a) the Barajangar group and b) the Gadaba group. The Barajangar group or the country of Twelve Confederacy constitute twelve villages which are situated on the hill tops within the hill ranges and are thought to be the original Bonda villages. The Gadaba group consists of the villages that emerged from the Barajangar group, the original Bonda villages, due to population expansion. These daughter villages are not necessarily situated on hill tops. Of all these villages, Mudulipada is considered as the central of the whole Bonda country and enjoys the status of being its capital where the chief deity is propitiated and the chief (Naik) of the Bonda land has his throne. However, the people of Gadaba group of villages who under the influence of the Gadaba tribe (another neighbouring primitive community), do not acknowledge the authority of the Naik of Mudulipada; they have no interest in the cult of the chief deity; and they may even keep there festivals in different dates and even perform in different ways. This second group have descended to foothills.

The entire upper Bonda tribe is divided into two exogamous moieties or baish namely Cobra (Ontal) and Tiger (Druka) of which the people of Cobra group are most numerous. Both these moieties share common exogamous clans (Mada) named after village functionaries, like, Muduli, Kirsani, Badnaik, Dhangada-Maghi, Chalan, Dora, Sisa etc. The Bonda people prefer to establish separate households soon after their marriage. Their family forms are mostly(68.9%) nuclear. Patrilineality, patriarchy and patrilocality are respectively, the norms of descent, authority and residence . But the female voice is highly respected by the male members due to their high economic importance in the society and their seniority in age.


The Bondas mainly practise two types of marriage (Dosinge), namely, arranged marriage (Salak-Boyi-Dosinge) and capture marriage (Wai-Boyi-Dosinge). Payment of bride price (Ginning) is prevelant in both cases. While a cow, a bullock and about 20-30 Kgs of cereals are the prescribed amount of bride price in case of an arranged marriage, it goes upto 3-15 or even more number of cattles and cereal weighing about a quintal or so in case of a capture marriage. However, the amount depends upon the nature and severity of the capture made by the grooms party.

One of the most import features of Bonda marriage is that a woman aged about 20-25 years marries a boy aged about only 7-10 years. The intention behind this practice, is to ensure economic security of the wives in their old age. As the woman does most of the activities for sustenance, when she becomes old, the younger husband takes up that activity and supports the old wife. The young husband remains obedient to his wife as she has trained and groomed him to maturity. As he becomes adult, they start conjugal life to procreate offspring.

Bonda society mantains dormitories for boys (Ingersing) and girls (Selaniding). The boys of one village visit Selaniding of young girls of another village, where they can choose their life partners through prolonged intimacy. This arrangement also keeps both the sexes satisfied.

These people pay more importance to the girl child, as girls are economically important. Age seniority of the wife also keeps the men under control. This is just the reverse of the practice prevalent among the non-tribal Indian people. Husbands observe certain restriction on food and do not move out of the village when there wives are pregnant. The 'Enlightened' Bondas have now started abandoning this practice.

Piercing the ear lobes is a must and done in infancy, but scalp shaving is done at three years of age. They have no elaborate idea of name giving so same names may recur in a family. Names are given according to birth days, i.e., Monday, Tuesday, etc. irrespective of gender. For example a boy born on Monday will get the name 'Soma' and girl will be 'Sombari', if one is born on Tuesday the boy's name will be 'Mangala', a girl 'Manguli' and so on.

Death Rites:

If a person dies, he or she is cremated on pyre, but the cause of death is ascertained. The surviving spouse goes to the cremation ground and takes a piece of half burnt bone and hits with a pebble. If it crumbles, the death is not by any sorcery.Otherwise, the culprit is searched through magical method by a 'Shaman'. When the guilty is ascertained, either the village council penalise him or revenge is taken by magical practices.

On the tenth day of death of an adult, a cow is slaughtered and feast is given to the kins and 'Soru-brothers' (a socio-religious brotherhood). If the descendant is not capable at that time, either he is granted time upto twelve months by the Soru-brothers or he can take loan from any fellow villager and become his bonded labour.


The Bondas are primarily animistic but also include Hindu Gods in their pantheon. Unlike the Hindus, they consume beef and meat of dead animals. As stated earlier they associate themselves with Ramayana hero Lord Rama whose sword is their supreme deity i.e. Patkhanda Mahaprabhu, situated in a Great Banyan Tree. Besides this, the Sun and the Moon are worshipped with a number of demi gods residing in different streams, forest, swiddens, villages, homes etc. They are thought to be responsible for good and bad in their daily lives. The Disharies or Shamans act as the intermediaries between the supernatural powers and human beings. Wrath of ghosts of the recently deads are considered as malevolent entities who are responsible for crop failures, death of domestic animals, diseases etc. So the Bondas fear such ghosts and do not go out alone at night. If required, they go in groups by singing songs to ward off those beings of the unseen world. The demi-gods are worshipped in different shrines mainly at Sindibor, the sacred stone platform in each village where the important socio-religious activities are conducted.


Law and order are maintained in the society through the village functionaries. Each clan is headed by a Munda who is responsible to solve minor cases relating to the members of his group. However, the cases relating to homicide, adultery, divorce, land related disputes etc. are referred to the Munda of Badnaik clan who acts as secular head of the village and enforces law and order in the village society. The trials are held at the Sindibor and the Badnaik is assisted by Kirsani Munda who is also assisted by the Chalan Munda. All these functionaries enjoy high social status and the office is almost hereditary. But if somebody is found unsuitable for the post can be removed by consensus.

Economic Existence:

The Bonda people live in the safe altitude of hills amidst forest. Basically they lead a life of hunter and food gatherer for most part of their existence. In course of time hunting became illegal and forest declined rapidly. They began hill slope cultivation in slash and burn (Swidden) method. They could not develop efficiency in this and the crops produced was meager for their requirement. Forest adaptation made them self sufficient and fearless people who did not allow anybody to enter their territory and themselves did not come down to take others help. The government development agencies were trying for a long time to make the Hill Bondas aware of the modern methods but met with little success.

For last two decades or so various non government agencies and also government people became partially successful to befriend the High land Bonda people and taught them agricultural methods. Now the Bondas are gradually responding to the development activities to eliminate poverty illness and ignorance. Much is awaited to be done.

Reference : Bonda Highlanders by Verrier Elwin .- Oxford University Press(1950)

Photographs : by the author

ISSN: 2249 3433


The word tribe is variously used in literature to denote a community on the basis of homogeneity. Originally many autochthonous communities who were identified by similar culture, social organisation and governance, living away from the main stream life of a country, were mentioned as tribe by their colonial rulers and Western scholars. Many such communities have moved towards the mainstream lifestyle so that they may no longer be identified as secluded, underdeveloped people with queer customs. This has happened to all areas of the world where tribal communities live. Still, many tribal communities lead their lives in very primitive ways devoid of the techno-economic glamour of contemporary civilization. These communities are labeled as "Primitive Tribal Groups". Indian Government has identified such tribal groups to give special attention to their development, whereas in the Indian Constitution all the tribal groups are recognized as "scheduled tribes".


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Professor S.K.Ghoshmaulik
Retd Professor of Anthropology, Utkal University is the Editor of this e-zine

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Professor Birendra Kumar Nayak
Retd. Professor of Mathematics, Utkal University

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Retd. Reader in Odia language and literature

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