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


Nature Talk

The ever-increasing human species all over the globe vary not only in morph and genetic composition, but they are also segregated into numerous systems of beliefs and customs. Even neighboring people on a contiguous landmass, keep themselves separated from each other. This tendency to construct an identity for self and a group is perhaps the basis of formation of community. In the hoary past, when communication was not developed, different groups of humans devised their own method of earning livelihood and consequently appease the unseen forces to ensure a trouble free life. From uncertainties, grew system of propitiation, which became very complex with development of civilization. Religion became a philosophy.

Even at present stage of technological knowledge, the practices of propitiating natural and supernatural forces persist. The process differs from community to community according to state of knowledge. Some groups of people with more logical understanding of ‘happenings’ call themselves as ‘developed’ or rational, while branding others as ‘primitive’ and blind believers. Interestingly, it is observed that many people of ‘developed’ categories still seek the blessings of supernatural forces with the aid of the ‘primitive’ process. The ‘primitive’ communities are also not static in their methods. They have inducted various gods and their feminine versions in their curricula of religious practices from the pantheon of neighboring ‘developed’ people.

Religion has also a celebration value. People are found to wait eagerly for the festival. In a country like India, it has been observed that many religion-based festivals have participation by people from various faiths. In this issue readers will find interesting articles dealing with the cultural and religious practices of various identifiable communities.

Photographs :

References :

Shifting Cultivation by the Juangs of Orissa

Shiba Shankar Satpathy

Classes of Priest  
Sacrificial Rituals: Gurba Penu Puja
Human Sacrificial ritual of earlier time (Meria) Turky Penu Puja
Saru Penu Puja Pitabali Puja (Mangala)
Dharani Penu Puja Khambeswari-cum-Maheswari (Sankhudikhai Mangala and Nisankhudikhai Mangala) Puja

The Kondh (pronounced locally as Kandha and spelt earlier as Khond, Kond, etc) are a population of primitive tribe of Orissa. They include subdivisions like Desia (more Hinduized section), Kutia, Dongria (hill dwelling) and Pengo. They occupy mountainous areas of Central-Southern part of the state. The Desia name is assumed by those who live in the plateau, in the neighborhood of non-tribal people who improved their economy and living condition. The Pengo section is also good cultivator and more exposed to the outer world. The Kutia and Dongria occupy the highland; practiced shifting or hill slope cultivation in primitive method and live in poor condition. The habitat of Kondh people is locally known as Kondhamal, meaning hills of the Kondh.

Inspite of their rich cultural heritage and valiant nature, they earned notoriety in colonial records due to their ritual of human sacrifice, known as 'meria'. To the people of Kondh community, meria sacrifice is just one of many rituals for better fortune, where animal sacrifice is essential. The practice of human sacrifice came under Prohibition Act of 1829, under the rule of the Governor General of British India, Lord William Bentinck (1828-35) who also stopped the cruel practice of 'sati' or burning Hindu Widow on funeral pyre. But in reality such sacrifices went on for many more years in inaccessible villages. Later on human-beings were replaced by monkeys and subsequently by buffaloes.

The Kondhs attracted the attention of many British Administrators and anthropologists. Many books and reports are available since nineteenth century. Western Scholars like Verrier Elwin, F G Baily, Barbara Boal and Herman Niggemeyer deserve mention, noted anthropologist Dr N Patnaik, produced a comprehensive book on the Kondh in the last quarter of 20th century. Since then, lot of changes have occurred in the habits and habitat of the Kondh people. The present appraisal will present a picture of such sacrificial rituals as now practised by the Kondh people. Data have been collected by personal association with the performers. An inquisitive scholar may be able to make diachronic analysis after going through earlier literatures.

Classes of Priest

The Kondh society in religious matters, is guided by several categories of priests:

1. Jani, 2. Matiguru, 3. Dehuri, 4. Bahuk and 5. Jhankar.

They perform specific duties for specific rituals. The present information was collected from such priests from four villages with a large command area. They are:

  • Lochan Konhar ages 96years.

  • Gopinath Dehuri ages 80years.

  • Ulla Konhar ages 75 years.

  • Jagadish Dehuri ages 40years.


Sacrificial Rituals:

Like most other tribals, the Kondh are Nature worshippers. The mountain, the river, the Sun, the Earth, all have presiding deities, who need to be propitiated. The Priests follow the age-old traditions. Seven such rituals are here identified: 1. Jhagadi or Kedu or Meria Puja, 2. Sru Penu Puja, 3. Dharni Penu Puja, 4. Guruba Penu Puja, 5. Turki Penu Puja, 6. Pitabali Puja and 7. Khambeswari and Maheswari Puja.

1. Human Sacrificial ritual of earlier time (Meria):

This Jhagadi or Kedu has originated from the belief that mother Earth should be appeased for welfare of the villagers, or community, not of an individual. In olden days, the Kondhs settled the boundary of their village and wanted the earth goddess of that area to keep their residents in good fortune. In case, some serious misfortunes occurred, they consulted the 'Matiguru' (priest in-charge-of Earth Goddess or 'Dharani'). He considered the case with his divine process and prescribed the right type of worship like 'Dharani Puja', 'Guruba Puja', 'Turki Puja' or the most serious 'Meria Puja.

Accordingly, the village head and his council, confided in a non-tribal 'Pano' (a scheduled caste) person to collect a suitable young person for becoming 'Meria'. [The Pano community live in some villages in commensal relationship with the Kondh. it is said that the Kondh is the king and Pano is minister i.e. advisor.] Thus empowered, the Pano men procured a suitable sacrificial human individual (normally a young male, sometimes a female also) by kidnapping or duping. [Some informants claim that male Meria was alternated with a female Meria in next occasion.] The person thus procured was kept in secrecy and the priest started preparations for the worship. The 'Meria' to-be was well cared for by the villagers till the fateful moment.

The worship rituals took two days, involving all the priest groups headed by the 'Matiguru'. The 'Baredi' or the site cleaned worshiped with a he-goat sacrifice and a wooden (of 'Rohini' wood) post (Jjupa) was erected. The next date, the 'Meria' person was ritually cleaned with turmeric paste, oil and bathed. The person was well decorated with 'Kajal' (collyrium) on the eyes, vermilion on forehead and garlands on the head, neck and arms, and was taken round the village, to show the boundary. On the way the villagers fed him in gratitude, because after death, the soul will guard the boundary as a spirit 'Bhuany'. The 'Meria' was made intoxicated with liquor, so also the people.

When brought to the site 'Baredi', the 'Meria' was tied to the sacrificial 'jupa' post. A long rope/ thread tied to the waist was connected to the earth-deity. The 'Matiguru' performed worship with sundried rice, China rose, liquor, etc. amidst defaming shout, drum beating and incensed smoke, the 'Matiguru' cut a small piece from the 'Meria' offered to the deity and buried under the spot. The offering was done. The villagers then pounced upon the sacrificial person to get a sacred piece of flesh for burying in their own plot. The skeletal residue was buried by the 'jani'. The people believed that the spirit of the 'Meria' would save the village and Mother Earth would be pleased.


After forceful stoppage of this horrific sacrifice, the ritual was completed with monkey (nearer to man) sacrifice. When that was discouraged, they started sacrificing buffalo. There is no fixed time for performance, as it depends on the prescription.

'Jhagedi' or 'Kedu':

This is the present form of the 'Meria' worship of Earth Goddess. The decision to observe, the priest involvement rituals and purpose are the same. A Pano person buys a sacrificial buffalo, for which there is no secrecy. The place is not the same 'Baredi' and the spirit of the buffalo is not 'Bhuany' but 'Gogiani', who delivers benefit. In this case Jani beheads the animal and buries there.

2.Saru Penu Puja:

This worship is performed at the foot of a fixed mountain or hill at a fixed place. The things required for this are 1.sundried rice in new bamboo made pan, 2.termeric, 3.winnowing fan, 4.ladle of ground skin (lau tumba), 5.shorea pobusta (shal) leaves and siali leaves, 6.incense,, 8.fowl and he-goat. In this Puja chief is the 'Dehuri'. He does the ritual performance being assisted by Jani, Jhankar and Bahuk.

On the previous day of the Puja the Dehuri, Jani, Jhanka, Bahuk and chief of the concerned village go to the place of worship having bathed and fasted. They bury a stone at the foot of a tree. The Dehury performs the Puja chanting incantation. There either a fowl or a he-goat is sacrificed to invite the 'Saru Penu' for the Puja to be solemnized next day. The next day the villagers Dehuri, Jani, Jhankar, Bahuk and village chief with due purity and austerity go to the fixed place with necessary things. Dehuri chants incantations (mantras) and offers article to the deity; Bahuk provides articles to Dehury for the purpose. After Puja and sacrifices the ritual is over. The villagers make feast with the meat of the sacrificed animals and have the intake of it. Individual promising sacrifice can be done next day.

This is the first Puja of the year for the Kondh community. After 'Saru Penu' Puja they eat new fruits, corn and vegetables produced. Other Pujas cannot be celebrated until the Puja is done. This is special feature of 'Saru Penu' Puja. They believe that if sarupenu is pleased their life and property will be safe, against wild beast of prey and total development of the village is feasible.

3. Dharani Penu Puja:

Like 'Saru Penu' Puja, 'Dharani Penu Puja' is also observed for two days. All the paraphernalia are held on the previous day to invite Dharani Penu. Maintaining all due purity and austerity all the village people including all Dehuri, Jani, Jhankar and Bahuk go to the fixed place meant for observance outside of the village location. They drink wine and play upon drums, pipes etc. Dehury mainly does all the ritual activities in the presence of all. Things utilised here are 'sal' leaves, 'siali' leaves, sundried rice, turmeric, country wine and sacrificed foul and he-goat. After Dehury's chanting of mantra and offering of things to the deity, Bahuk sacrifices the foul and he-goat. The blood of the animal is offered to the deity. After Puja, They make feast and drink. The aim of the worship is to please the Earth Goddess for the safety of the village.

4.Gurba Penu Puja:

This Puja is generally observed outside the village, in a fixed place meant for it. As per the description mentioned in the previous Puja, the deity is invited on previous day. The things required for the actual Puja are 'sal' leaves, 'siali' leaves, sundried rice, turmeric, and fowl instead of he-goat. They beat drums and blew trumpet. All drink liquor. Dehury performs Puja chanting mantras. Bahuk sacrifices the fowl. Blood is offered to please the deity for village welfare and protection. Then they feast, drink country wine and take 'prasad'. Thus the Puja ends.

5.Turky Penu Puja:

The place is just at the end of the village. The village goddess is symbolized by a big stone buried partly there. There is neither a temple nor a house for the deity. There is no worship for the goddess every year. After 'Kedu' or 'Jhagadi', generally ' Turky Penu Puja ' is performed by the Matiguru offering the needful articles such as 'siali' leaves, sundried rice, turmeric, wine and pig. People sound drums, changus and blow trumpets. He worships to appease the village deity with offering and mantra. Finally he sacrifices the pig and offers blood. After Puja the village people feast and drink.

6.Pitabali Puja (Mangala):

The deity has a temple or place in house outside the village with boundary walls. In front of the temple or house there is a 'Jupa' or a sacrificial post with 8 metals, which is worshipped with turmeric, vermilion, rice, etc on a copper plate. The idol of goddess is wood. The Dehury keeps the deity in his home. Each day he brings it and place on the sanctum sanctorum and worships per promise individuals or all the villagers worship here. Only one Dehury does all the Puja here. The offerings for the deity are flowers, fruits, sandal paste, incense, ghee-lamps, ghee, sundried rice, turmeric, buffalo or a he-goat and fowl. No wine is used here as offering. Dehury performs all Puja work with mantras. Bahuk does the sacrifices. Blood is offered to the deity to please her for the wellbeing of the village and fulfilling the personal desires. After the Puja they feast and eat.

7. Khambeswari-cum-Maheswari (Sankhudikhai Mangala and Nisankhudikhai Mangala) Puja:

Out the village there is a fixed place for Puja of both the goddess either in a temple or house to worship separately. For Khambeswari Puja flowers, sandal paste, incense, lamps and a he-goat are required where as for Maheswari Puja flowers, sandal paste, incense, lamps and for offerings food staff like 'Muans' (fried balls of paddy with jaggery mixed), 'Wookhuda' (fried paddy with jaggery mixed), coconuts and bananas are required. Dehury performs the Puja and Bahuk sacrifices the animals. Blood is offered to Khambeswari to please her for the welfare and safety of the village and for fulfillment of personal aspirations. At the end the villagers feast and enjoy the prasad. The speciality of such Puja is that no wine is offered here.

The last two worships of 'Mangala' goddess appears to have been inducted into the Kondh pantheon from the neighboring Hindus.

Photographs : Author

References :Some Notable Literature in Kondh:

  • The Kondh of Orissa: N Patnaik and P S Das Patnik, Tribal and Harijan Research and Training Institute, Govt. of Orissa, 1982.

  • Tribe, Caste and Nation: F G Bailey, Oxford University Press, London, 1960.

  • Tribes of Orissa: J K Das, census of State Govt. Publication, and 1981.

  • Tribal Myths of Orissa: R Russel, e-printed 1975, Cosmo Publication, Delhi.

Perspectives of Religious Syncretism in India

Dr. N. K. Das

This paper intends to explore the multi dimensioned and many layered contexts of reciprocally shared cultural realms and syncretistic religious formations, which have been taking place since medieval period and which have great functional value in contemporary India. Syncretism, as implied in this paper, signifies a belief in multiple religious assumptions, dogmas and doctrinal systems as also intercommunion between multiple religious denominations, sects, culture-traits and religious practices. The empirical evidences are drawn from northern, southern, eastern, and northeastern India mainly and they pertain to major and minor religions as pursued by the Tribal and Dalit communities generally. The paper aims to show how religious ideas/practices, and cultural traits mediate between diverse communities, sects and cultural regions and give rise to a complex unity. It also attempts to ascertain the historical contexts and multiple level and extent of culture-contact, and the resultant patterns of inter-faith blending and harmony.


Interculturalism and blending of different religious traditions in vast parts of the world have given rise to trans-cultural syncretism. In the present era of increasing cultural condensation, syncretism is a prevailing event. Syncretism as an important constituent of multi-cultural mainstream offers an opportunity to reinforce greater cultural amalgam and multi-confessional harmony. The vast region of South Asia in general and India in particular symbolizes a remarkable confluence of cultural strands and cross-fertilization of religious ideas and ethnic/linguistic intermingling. Here cross-fertilization of sacred ideas and civil thoughts took place, in the midst of ethnic, linguistic and regional diversities, alongside growth of innumerable religious cults and sects, in various historical phases. Thus, this vast region provides an unique opportunity to discover the syncretistic processes inherent in multi-pronged exchanges of cultural/linguistic traits and religious beliefs.

The sociologists and social anthropologists have thrown much light on the variety of religious forms through their studies of belief systems, rituals, symbols and meaning all over the world but they have not paid adequate attention to the phenomenon of "syncretism", which represents a blending of multiple religious beliefs, in variegated degrees. In this regard Raymond Firth (1970:87) has pitiably observed that the anthropologists have made only passing references to syncretism. The concept of syncretism as this paper elucidates uncovers a remarkable dimension in the exploration of cultural reciprocation. It is unfortunate that this important dimension of contemporary culture has been dismissed as ephemeral and trivial.

Religions show enormous variety in terms of belief, ritual, spiritualism and symbolic imagery. Anthropologists agree that there is no society that is without some form of religion. In the nineteenth century scholars were greatly concerned with the origins of religion and they looked to the so-called primitive societies for ideas about development of religion (Hendry, 1999:119-120). In a vast range of societies studied by anthropologists, concepts and formulations of gods, deities, supreme creator, guardian spirits and culture heroes have been applied profusely (Firth, 1996), but the debate over the term religion in anthropology-sociology remains unresolved generally. The sociologists and social anthropologists have expressed uneasiness with word religion because of its vagueness (Smith 1962, Cox 1965, Evans - Pritchard 1965). S.F.Nadel comments that however the sphere of "things religious" is defined, there will always remain a border zone of uncertainty (Nadel, 1954:7-8). Edward Tylor had proposed a minimum definition of religion: "belief in spiritual beings" (1913:424). This definition was however gradually subjected to criticism (see critique in Hamilton 1995:12-13). A critical review of early debates and definitions shows that crucial problems centred on beliefs versus practices, character of religious entities or forces and the spiritual or supernatural realm. Even Durkheim's claim that religion has to do with the "sacred" came to be challenged by some scholars, as such terms coming from "Western context" are not applicable to non-western societies. Goody found that no distinction is made between sacred and profane in a West-African society (Goody, 1961). The terms sacred and profane were found to be meaningless in the Azande society also (Evans-Pritchard, 1937) Emile Durkheim indeed identified the notion of sacred as the fundamental religious phenomenon. He regarded religion as a unified set of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things (1965: 62). People everywhere in their myths and rituals have attributed misfortune and suffering to certain extra-human, extra - physical power and also related the same to divinity and sacred. The structural concerns of Levi-Strauss, which has been very broad, have also subsumed the study of the "sacred" under the forms of thought, modes of classification and mythologies. Even totemism is regarded as a mode of classification (1963, 1966). Weber studied the preliterate as well as the world religions to explore the relations between religious beliefs and practices and also their "secular domains". Weber described mysticism as the attitude of abandoning the worldly involvement. Anthropologists regard mysticism occurring in many religions as a form of an assumed personal relation with a divine power (Firth 1964, 1996:173). The essence of a mystical experience is the search for or attainment of a sense of nearness to or unity with a transcendent power, usually God. This means an enhancement of the self, a heightened state of awareness, which seems to the mystic to throw a new light upon the nature of reality (Firth 1996:173). A supernatural event or a miracle, according to Firth, is an unexpected performance resulting from supernatural power, exercised by direct divine intervention or through the agency of a divinely inspired person, such as a saint. The anthropologists and other social scientists have differently documented the status and role of the saint. Weber emphasized the social basis of varieties of theism, the role of prophets in society, different roads to salvation and "universal love." One of the central concerns of Weber's sociology of religion was nature of human existence. He saw no future for religion but only its replacement by progressive rationalization and the decline of mystery, magic and ritual.

Anthropologists eventually turned from origin issue to seeking explanations of religion within its social context (Hendry, 1999: 119-120). Thus religious rites were regarded as most crucial since they provided support to social structure. Religious faiths and moral systems provided order and they socialized the individuals. The anthropologists gradually came to employ various approaches in the study of religion. Those employing social approach saw religion as a "reflection of social organization" and those using cultural approach viewed religion as a "conceptual system". The anthropologists using several approaches however, undeniably projected the faith of a people by and large as a closed system and consequently the evolved anthropological definition of religion came to over-generalize the presumed "unvarying' character of religious allegiance of people concerned; ignoring the veiled side of synthesized and syncretistic religious domain. As a matter of fact the religious beliefs of the people; as developed through extensive contacts and adoptions, are hardly ever rigid or sealed. People in most cases, as I intend to show here often follow multiple religious traditions without necessarily drawing boundaries between them, even though they may affirm their overt allegiance to one religion at a given time. Here lies the analytic significance of the study of religious syncretism as an independent phenomenon.

In anthropological literature the Cargo cult has been described as a form of syncretism. Cargo cults are essentially syncretistic, blending the Christian doctrine with "aboriginal beliefs" (Worsley, 1990). Cult members preached that "Masters" would become slaves and slaves would become Masters, Cult participation gave Melanesians a basis for common interests and activities and thus helped pave the way to achieve nationhood. The anthropologists have also included the blend of African, Native American, and Roman Catholic saints and deities in Caribbean "voodoo" cults as instances of syncretism. Though the process of syncretism provides an independent field of study, it was nevertheless ignored by the anthropologists, and when discussed it was included within "the study of acculturation" (Kottak 1991:407). Acculturation has been generally defined as including, "those phenomena, which result when groups of individuals come into continuous firsthand contact, (with) subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups (Redfield, Linton and Herskovites 1936: 149). The points specified here are "contact" and "subsequent changes". Obviously, the concept of acculturation is least concerned with the survival question and continuation of pre-change religious and cultural beliefs and values, which ostensibly never die completely in any society. In different societies the pre-change culture traits and religious customs indeed survive in greater or lesser degree and therefore "acculturation" persists in such societies only as an incomplete and imperfect process. Consequently a course of syncretism automatically sets in which gets evolved in varied degrees depending on verve and impact of new beliefs and intensity of contact amidst such societies (Das 2003). Few religions are wholly immune from some degree of syncretism. Even Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other major religions, from their beginning, combined many different religious ideas and rituals. Syncretism, according to Brandon, is to be found in all places where there has been contact between religions. Plutarch originally used the term syncretism for "fusion of religious cults" which occurred in Graeco-Roman world, 300 BC - 200 CE. Indeed there exists definite difference between synthesis and syncretism. Recent discussions pertaining to syncretism, which are deplorably very few indeed, have argued that all religions have drawn on different traditions over centuries (Stewart and Shaw, 1995). Some scholars have also included the element of 'reinterpretation' as a determining factor of syncretistic phenomenon.

Anthropology is a multi-paradigmatic enterprise. Multiple paradigms help us to see reality differently. Anthropologists have always followed diversified events in human societies. In this respect the model of syncretism indeed deserves the paradigmatic treatment. Anthropologists are well suited to the task of exploring the facet of "religious syncretism" as it occurs at the level of everyday life in a wide diversity of settings. The anthropologists need to be equally concerned with the religiousness of people concerned while dealing with syncretism theme. There is indeed need for a concerted effort in this direction particularly because this issue assumes significance in the contemporary context of the challenge thrown up by the "deconstructionist strategy" (Das 2003a).


Robert Redfield and Milton Singer had launched the social anthropological "study of civilizations". These scholars saw civilization as a compound structure of Little and Great traditions. In his work in India, Singer, belonging to Chicago school, mainly concentrated on great tradition of civilization. Singer states that the Great Tradition of Indian civilization may be identified with what Srinivas calls "Sanskritic Hinduism" that has an all-India spread and what previous writers like Monier-Williams called "Brahmanism" (Singer 1972:68). Singer also used Srinivas's concepts of "All-India Hinduism", "Peninsular Hinduism", "Regional Hinduism" and "Local Hinduism". Srinivas calls the process of "spread" of Sanskritic Hinduism "Sanskritization", through which lower castes and tribal groups are brought into the Hindu fold with elements from the greater and Sanskritic tradition of Hinduism (Srinivas 1952, 1968, Sinha 1958, Singer 1972:46). Singer has clubbed this process of "sanskritization" together with N.K.Bose's model of "Hindu method of tribal absorption" (1953). This whole perspective indeed demands a thorough re-appraisal in the context of anthropological writings of last decades. Intermittent use of the term such as "popular Hinduism" by scholars like Singer has also necessitated the search for a format of analysis of popularly synthesized non-classical belief systems.

Singer has included within widespread "popular Hinduism" many beliefs and practices observed among tribal people, including the worship of numerous godlings, animal sacrifice, witchcraft and magic (Singer 1972: 45). Tribal religions indeed remained essential element of Hinduism in the writings of American and Indian anthropologists belonging to Chicago school. Singer as per his own admission is indeed not sure about the basis and persistence of "Lower Level" popular Hinduism. Hence he regards it "as a diluted form of Sanskritic Hinduism and an independent form existing prior to Sanskritic Hinduism and absorbed by it at different times and places"(Singer 1972: 45, Emphasis added). Singer also quotes S.C.Sinha's evolutionary interpretation based on Redfieldin thought. Sinha sees the "primitive" features of tribal cultures as a "relatively untransformed section of the original primitive culture, arrested in its development mainly as a result of ecological factors of isolation" (Sinha 1959, Singer 1972:46). In another complex formulation we are further told that "the culture of tribal India represents a "folk" dimension of the Little Tradition of Hinduism, while the culture of Hindu peasantry represents a mixture of folk elements with elements from the greater and Sanskritic tradition of Hinduism (Sinha 1959, Singer 1972:46, Emphasis added).

In fact branding variously pre-existing religions of tribal communities as "essential ingredients of Hinduism" and using terms such as culture and religion interchangeably will be a serious negation of empirical findings today. In these anthropological approaches there is hardly any scope to look at possible influence of lower level "little tradition" upon great tradition. Even though many scholars believed that the Hinduism itself has been fashioned out of pre-existing folk and regional cultures and religions in different historical phases but Hinduism could not erode completely the pre-existing tribal religious beliefs and practices completely. Several studies have revealed that tribes people in many parts of India closely resemble peasant societies; even through they exist outside Hindu social order. In fact important aspect of survival and autonomous existence of tribal religion, which is even revived often, was ignored to bluntly justify and legitimize the "acculturation" theory and concepts of Great/Little Traditions, which were imposed without realizing the unique dimensions of Indian culture and its syncretistic religiousness.

Indeed one scholar has given some importance to existence of little tradition and its impact upon great tradition. Using festivals and deities as "tracers" within one Indian village, Marriott (1955) has analyzed the process of "parochialization" (downward spread into the parochial village culture of elements from Sanskritic Hinduism) as well as the converse upward spread, or "universalization" (of elements of village culture into Sanskritic Hinduism). One may note in this formulation certain gaps. One may argue if this scheme is equally applicable to themes of religious and cultural phenomena irrespective of a Brahman dominant or a tribal dominant village producing identical results. Moreover we are not sure about the intensity and limits of these downward/upward spread and where are we to draw a broad dividing line. Certain fuzziness does prevail between two poles, and indeed the scheme is essentially tilted in favour of the Hinduism. Truly speaking, the Hindus themselves are subdivided into distinct religious sects, with distinct theology and philosophy, ritual practices, shrines and "Literate"/"Illiterate" priesthoods. They not only generally do not intermarry; they also often have antagonistic relations. Indian ethnographic landscape is replete with varying degrees of local and national cultural and religious traditions, both Hinduistic and non-Hinduistic, which are continually interacting with each other, often fusing religious elements variously. Where shall we put these phenomena empirically and critically?

On perusal of anthropological works on India one gets the feeling that Indian culture is being equated with Hindu religion and non-Hindu (including tribal) religious traditions are largely set aside in order to favour and project the model of "Great Tradition" in close relation with Sanskritic Hinduism in the overall civilizational context. Irawati Karve in a similar tone spoke of the principle of "accretion" to describe the Indian culture scene. Whether it is in these formulations or in acculturation theory we thus find some scope for refinement particularly in locales such as India where increasing interactive multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic situations demand more value-free and objective conceptualization. Seen from these perspectives then the models of great/little traditions; universalization/parochialization and even the theory of acculturation seem to serve limited purpose in our understanding of multi-religious Indian situation today. What indeed lies behind India's multitudinousness is a variously and continuously interactive process of discoverable interculturalism and a vibrant process of syncretism shaping our composite culture in different parts of India.

Hendry (1999; 12) has observed that in complex societies, people have come to live with apparently conflicting worldviews, and their cosmologies now include scientific, religious, and even magical elements. In Japan a sick person simultaneously consults a diviner as well as a doctor, and may also visit a shrine or temple to pray for recovery (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1984). Religious movements and plethora of religious ideas, in varied historical phases, motivated the people and brought them closer towards numerous religious cults, sects, reform movements and diverse belief systems. The underlying assumption seems to be that people need solace and assurance about fulfillment of all their wishes ultimately; hence they solicit refuge and sanctification of their expectations through their trust on varied religious and sectarian dogmas. Mingling of numerous exogenous religious beliefs with pre-existing religious dogma of people may not be regarded as an aberration. It is also not a system within system but the survival and situationally determined growth of multifaceted religious beliefs systems existing as a rational order. Syncretism as this author has elucidated elsewhere (Das, 2003) is a matter of degree, some societies have blended prominent aspects of two religious dogmas, in others only certain aspects of the original or adopted religion/sect has been retained and internalized. It is shown that syncretism pertains to a commingled religious sequence whose ill-defined frontier shapes its fundamental collective character (Das 2003a).


This article is largely based on this author's 'introduction' to Culture, Religion and Philosophy: Critical Studies in Syncretism and Inter-Faith Harmony. Editor N.K.Das. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2003. A pre-revised version of this paper was presented in IAHR Regional Conference on "Religions in the Indic Civilisation" held at India International Centre, New Delhi from December 18 - December 21, 2003.The views expressed in the paper are those of author alone.

Photograph Source :

References :

  • Becker, Howard and L. Von Weise. 1932 Systematic Sociology New York: Academic Publication.

  • Das, N.K. 1993. Kinship Politics and Law in Naga Society. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India.

  • Das, N.K. 1998. The Chick Badaik of Orissa. People of India. Orissa State Volume (in press).

  • Das, N.K.2000. The Satnamis of Chhattisgarh. Mimeographed. Calcutta : Anthropological Survey of India.

  • Das, N.K. 2002. Kinship, Headmanship and Jural Order in Naga Society. In Studies in Anthropology in India. Felicitation Volume in Honour of Professor Gopala Sarana. Ed. P.K.Misra. Mysore : Anthropological Association.

  • Das N.K. (Ed.) 2003. Culture, Religion and Philosophy: Critical Studies in Syncretism and Inter-Faith Harmony. Jaipur : Rawat Publications.

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Ram Singh Urveti: A profile of an Artist

Ramsingh did not know about the artist hiding within. Long back once in his childhood he remembers drawing Hanuman and others Ram – Lila figures on the house walls with a special charcoal, but that’s all. He did not even do the ritual floor or wall paintings of nahdor and dhigna done customarily in festivals etc. Anyway where was the occasion to do that in a large family of eight brothers and sisters whose mother had passed away when the artist was only over a year old? Some how his father managed to raise all the eight by himself. Who then would have decorated the house, painted the walls to ward off the evil eye? In 1990, Ramsingh married Satrupa, and the very next year, he had to come to Bhopal in search of work. He contracted Jangarh and sought his help in finding a job.

They had been together in the child hood pranks, Ram Lila performances, getting firewood from the forest etc. But Jangarh who had been painting over walls in almost all the houses of the village caught the eye of the connoisseurs. They took him to Bhopal and he settled there for good. Eventually his work began to attract attention from far and wide and he became famous. In Bhopal, Ramsingh worked for the first month in the forest department as a daily wage labourer. After that he got a job in the National Museum of Man. Living in Jangarh’s house Ramsingh began helping him once in a way, with filling texture in Jangarh’s paintings. It was also on Jangarh’s insistence that he first worked on a canvas all by himself. One day, very pleased with a painting of his, Jangarh gifted him four stretched canvases and oil paint boxes. Ramsingh was delighted beyond words and sat down to a fresh canvas there and then. He dipped the brush in paint and did a stroke. Ramsingh had no experience of either the canvas or the oil paint. And the colour went flowing in many streams down the canvas. Ramsingh expected to be cross till he heard Jangarh proclaim, "may your name spread all over just as this colour on the canvas". Jangarh’s prophecy did come true and Ramsingh still has the canvas with him. Ramsingh’s is a known name in the art world today. He has received several awards for his work including those of south Central Cultural Zone, Nagpur, Kalidas Academy, Ujjain, Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi. In addition, he also got an honorable Mention by the Asia Pacific Culture Center for UNESCO, Japan. He has been exhibiting in India and abroad and has collections in various museums all over.

Though Ramsingh has never kept count of his paintings, he must have made more than a thousand that now lie in different parts of the world. Ramsingh feels the Gond painting essentially has a very peculiar relationship, with nature. He him self must not have painted a single one that does not have a tree or a bird or an animal. All the Gond artists, work on the main figures with elaborately filled textures like dots or rice strokes etc. Ramsingh’s paintings can be recognized by the particular texture he used as fills. He uses the motif of the little arrowheads for filling the figures in his painting. He had heard the elders talk so much of the arrows that were used by the wild animals.
The figures in Ramsingh’s painting are also painted in a very peculiar way. They can be called amoebic, in the sense that they seem to change shape constantly; a mountaintop may very beautifully lend itself to a human face. The painting entitled ‘the dream of the squirrel’ is exemplary in this context. Two squirrels have come to a river to drink water. They are scared all the time of being caught. As they drink water, they dream of turning into a fish, a tree, a bird, but along with it they also see the net cast in the waters for the fish, children throwing stones at the birds. In the end they decide it best to remain squirrels! In the painting, the tails of the squirrels turn upwards to become the fruit laden branches of the tree, on which perch the various birds. The space between the two is at the same time, the lake wherein the fishes swim as well as the trunk of the tree. It’s curious to note the ingenuity of the artist to weave the dream of the squirrels with their own bodies. And an appreciation of this particular work goes a long way in telling about the artist.

Source : IGRMS News, Volume 2 No. 1, January 2005


References :

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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