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


Tales Through Iron

Shampa Shah

Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya is dedicated to the depiction of how humankind evolved in time and space. Primarily an open air museum spread over 197 acres, its various exhibitions – ‘Tribal Habitat’, ‘Coastal Village’, ‘Himalayan Village’, ‘Desert Village’, ‘Rock Art Heritage’ and ‘Mythological Trail’-present a continuity from prehistoric rock shelters to contemporary ways of life in close natural environs. Mythological trail hosts a collection of adivasi and folk myths of India- depicted in two and thee dimensional forms. The concept of the exhibition was to document the vast treasure of oral, intangible heritage in a way that it would not get lost in files and volumes but would strive for a live contact with people. These myths have been depicted by the artists and craftsperson of those very communities to which the myths belong. At present there are about 40 exhibits on display which about 60 artists have worked on. The materials used have been varied, ranging from clay, stone, bronze, and terracotta to paints. From among these 40 exhibits the iron mural depicting the Lohar origin myths forms one of the entrance to this exhibition. (The Kingdom of Lohripur and the Lohar Origin Myth Artist ¬ - Shri Hiralal, Nandlal, Bhagguram, Santosh, Panchuram and Jailal Region ¬ - Bastar, Chhattisgarh Dimension ¬- 14 feet x 12 feet Material -¬)

Iron King Sabarsai of Loharipur had twelve sons and one daughter. When time came the eldest son, Logundi was crowned the king and Angarmati became the wife of all the twelve brothers. In Loharipur the roads and houses were made all of iron and when the brothers began work in their foundry, everything burned aglow. People there ate molten iron for food. So once when there was drought, and the whole world turned up at the house of the God, Lohripur people remained oblivious of it all. This unsettled the God a bit and made him suspect Logundi as possessing more powers than Him. Sukhi Chamarin knew the trick to cool off hot iron, so accompanied by her, God entered Lohripur and asked for food. When they were served molten iron soup in a bowl, they were scared and asked for water to wash their hands. Sukhi Chamarin realised that her tricks would not work with this virgin iron. In Lohripur they had never heard of water. They had to go to the next village in search of it and meanwhile God vanished. God's trick however played havoc with the people. No sooner had they touched water, than they lost their ability to eat hot iron and died as soon as they ate their food. Angarmati however stopped after her first spoon, ran to a Gond house and jumped into the pitcher of butter-milk. She saved herself and also her son who was born after some time. He was called Jwalamukhi. When he grew up, he decided to avenge his father and uncles death. Jwalamukhi made a big iron cage, went to the sea 'shore where the sun and moon played everyday and caught them in his cage. Immediately there was darkness all over and a terrible chaos. The Gods had to descend from the heavens to look into the matter. It was only after they apologized to Jwalamukhi and acknowledged him as the bravest man. The sun and the moon were then released.

Iron Mural
On this iron mural two other myths related to iron smithy have also been depicted. According to the other story; making of iron tools such as pair of tongs and hammer, was rendered possible, taking inspiration from a dog sitting cross legged and a woodpecker. Another myth links the craft of iron smithy with the epic story of Mahabharat thereby establishing its antiquity. Draupadi and Bhim were passing by a jungle when a lovely flower carried by the wind alighted on her. The fragrance of the flower was such that Draupadi wanted the flowering tree to be planted in her garden. On enquiry, people told Bhima that the tree bearing the rare flower was none other then the Saal tree (Shorea robusta) which was kept locked inside seven iron castles in the kingdom of Lohripur as its wood yielded the best quality coal. Bhim taking the help of a boar dug tunnels right from the sea up to the castles. The forceful waves threw open the castle gates and the seeds of the Saal tree dispersed all over the world. Besides these myths the fabulous iron mural which also serves as a gate carries the over powering ambiance of nature. All the individual figures in this iron mural are made from a sheet iron by beating, cutting and folding i.e., each figure is made without a joint or welding. The mural has also been fitted with oil lamps which can be filled and lighted on special occasions. Traditionally the Lohars make agricultural tools and a variety of beautiful lamps which carry images of nature besides the oil bowls. Their myth of origin has been depicted on these traditional lamps.

The museum tries to highlight such exquisite pieces of indigenous art before people.

Source : Photographs by the Author


References :

News Clippings

News Clippings 


1.Andhra police terrorising tribals: Naxal outfits TIMES NEWS NETWORK

    Berhampur, April 18. – Pro Naxalite organisations here have alleged that Andhra Pradesh police is terrorising villagers in the tribal villages along the border.

    The Daman Pratirodh Manch has urged Orissa government to immediately stop Andhra Pradesh Police personnel from ‘Illegally’ entering Orissa Villages and allegedly terrorising the tribals.
    According to the organisation, the Orissa government should also make it clear why it has not yet objected to launch a tribal agitation if the Orissa Government fails to put a stop to this.
    Substantiating its allegation, the Manch has said that on 7 April, an Andhra police team entered the Pedaguda village near Ramnaguda in Rayagada district and threatened the tribals living in the village.
    The convener of the organization, Mr. Dandapani Mohanty, said he along with some activists of the Andhra Pradesh Civic Liberties Organization went to the Pedaguda village to inquire about police atrocities.
    According to Mr. Mohanty, on 7 April, a group of around 100 grey hound personnel from Andhra along with CRPF personnel reached Pedaguda and accused the villagers of sheltering Naxalites. He alleged that several tribals had been beaten up by the police team. Dasuru patika, Bidika Kusia, patika Indira and a 65-year-old-woman, Droupadi Bidika, were injured in the incident.
    Mr. Mohanty said such action by Andhra police within Orissa’s terriotorial limits is not new. According to him in 1998, Andhra police had allegedly committed atrocities at Gata and Kapadanga villages. A pregnant woman had been killed in the incident.
    He further alleges that in December 2002, Andhra police had alleged killed a resident of Rekhapadar village called K. Nilakantrh and in March 2003, they had alleged police had a hand behind the death of Tadungu Kasu, a resident of Sunki area. The Manch also alleges that Andhra police had also arrested Kui language poet, Dasuram Majhi, from Orissa and kept him in custody for more than 16 months.
    According to the facts available with the manch, Andhra Pradesh has filed false cases against more than 200 persons living in villages near the Andhra-Orissa border such as Kandachampi, minajhola, Kinarmada, Paudapai, Bhagudi, Pandartala, Rekhapadar, Sikabadi, Bhoimada, Peadaguda.
    It is alleged that several innocents of Orissa are detained at the jail in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

2.Angry tribals halt bhumi puja, injure ADM

JAJPUR, May 9. — A day after chief minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik had asked the police to maintain peace in industrial areas and boasted of having created an environment conducive to inviting investments, Kalinga Nagar Industrial Complex, the hub of all steel-related projects, was rocked by violence today.

    The scheduled bhumi puja of Maharashtra Simplex Steel Plant, one of the many proposed projects at Kalinga Nagar, near Duburi was halted midway by a violent mob of tribals and locals who pelted stones and attacked police as well.
    They were demanding jobs or compensation from the company.
    'Additional district magistrate Mr. S Gopalan and several other officers were injured, some of them seriously, and had to be rushed to hospitals.
    Armed with traditional weapons, the mob ran amok at the 'bhumi puja’ site. Four platoons of armed police were also dispatched to quell the violence.
    No arrests have been made so far, Jajpur superintendent of police Mr. B Mishra said.
    Reliable sources said the finance minister, Mr. Prafulla Ghadei, who was scheduled to attend the 'bhumi puja’, returned from Jajpur town this morning.
    Sources said that the mob, comprising local residents and tribals was agitated at not being "taken care of" and were demanding enhanced compensation.
    The violence was its way of showing off its strength.
    It also insisted that the company should enter into negotiations with it on several issues such as providing it jobs or adequate compensation.
    Trouble began since this morning but the ADM had spoken to the residents explaining that the 'bhumi puja’ was being conducted after a MoU had been signed with the state government.
    But this did not convince the locals, many of whom were reportedly supporters of a ruling party heavy weight.
    They alleged that local BJD leaders had fried to appease them with promises of jobs, additional compensation work orders such as the supply of construction material but past experiences had made them wiser.
    An executive of another plant in the area said that such violence occurs when industrial houses fail to live up to people's expectations.

3.Tribal musical tools fast vanishing

Baripada, May 2: Several tribal ethnic musical instruments are fast vanishing into oblivion, primarily because the instruments are made from hides, skins or body parts of animal, included in the Grade Schedule of the wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
    Santhal social activist and general secretary of Mayurbhanj-based Society for Research and Development of tribal Cultures (SRDTC) Gurva Soren said besides the Santhal, other tribals too find it tough to replace their musical instruments as the animals, from whose hide these were made protected under the Act.

    Citing the case of ‘changnu’, a musical instrument used by the primitive tribals likes 'Bathudi'. 'Juanga' and 'Khadias', Soren said these were made from the hides of monkeys or deer both of which found a place in the Graded Schedule of endangered species.
    The Khadias, who lived inside the dense forests, believed that the tiger would not attack them if they performed the ‘changnu’ dance and music in the night inside the forest to the accompaniment of their traditional musical instrument. If the ‘changnu’ vanished, the tribes' cultural ethos would also disappear, Soren remarked.
    Similarly, Santhal's musical instruments 'kaandra' is made from an oval-shaped; hard shell of the freshwater turtles, an endangered species protected under the Wild-life Protection Act.
    Yet another instrument of the Santhals 'sakwa' (bugle) is made from the horns of the Indian Bison. The sound generated by this bugle could travel miles to alert the members of the community about a social congregation or to attend a prescheduled hunting excursion.
    Animal hides were also being used for making the 'dhumsas' or the 'kettle drums', the scholar said adding that yet another musical instrument called 'khanjani' used mainly by the Vaishnabs was prepared from the belly hide of the large Bengal Monitor Lizard, a seriously threatened species which has been included in the Schedule of the Wildlife Protection Act. Soren said. The soft musical tune would be lost if the hides of the animals are replaced with the skins of goats and cows.
    Besides, the instruments would lose their sanctity thus being disallowed to be used in me religious rituals or the 'jahira poojas'. The suggested documentation of the sounds of few instruments still left with the tribes. He also proposed a research study on how replacements could lie done with bides of other unprotected animals without losing the original musical charm.

4.Tribals oppose sanctuary plan

    PHULBANI, April 19. — A large section of tribals residing over a forest area of 339 square-km in the Kotagarh and Daringibadi blocks of Kondhmal where a wildlife sanctuary is supposed to come up are now determined not to leave their home and land.

    The tribals, who the administration claims, are already being instigated by a particular NGO working in these areas have indiscriminately felled hundreds of trees of valuable species in a few villages in Kotagarh and Daringibadi blocks and set fire of timbers, causing serious damage to forest wealth.
    According to the divisional forest officer, Baliguda territorial division, Mr. G R Patra, the Center had issued a notification in 1981 under Section 18 of the Wildlife Protect Act, 1972 for the establishment of a wildlife sanctuary in Kotagarh area and asked the state government to take steps in this regard.
    The government notification had prohibited the felling of trees, poaching of wild animals and other deforestation activities. After the initial resistance, the residents had kept silent. Their present protests helped the forest mafia, which has been active in Kotagarh, Daringibadi and Tumudibandh blocks and are out to loot the forest wealth. – SNS

5.Tough times for tribals, say activists

    Bhubaneswar: The tribals are in for a tough time with Orissa heading for industrialization, predicted human rights activists. Around 50 rights activists and 15 retired judges from across the country are taking part in the National Consultation of Retired Judges programme, which began here on Friday to discuss issues concerning rights violations.

    Colin Gonsalves, co-director of Indian People’s Tribunal, said the state government should take the local people into confidence before launching any project in the tribal areas. "No government ever listens to the people before evicting them to take up development work. This practice must j change," he stressed.
    Citing the instance of the Utkal Alumina project in Kashipur in Rayagada district, Gonsalves said though the tribals are not interested in the project, the state government is going ahead with it by deploying police to foil all protests against the company.
    Among other things, the eviction issue will figure prominently in the four-day meet where IPT is associated with the programme. "One of the sessions will be dedicated exclusively to issues like the displacement of tribals, starvation and environment degradation. Besides, we will discuss organizing public hearings on burning issues of rights violation," further informed Gonsalves. Public hearing is a major tool, which can bring forth major issues to public knowledge, he added.

6.From tribals to temples, a treasure trove for tourists

By Dikhya Tiwari

Bestowed liberally with bounties of nature, Orissa is a reservoir of tourism potential. Be it for its majestic monuments, bountiful rivers, beautiful beaches, luxuriant forests and rich wildlife, exquisite handicraft or even traditional tribes, the State attracts a large number of tourists from all over the globe. In fact, it is well said "but for the snows of the Himalayas, Orissa can offer all that the International tourists want."

Cultural Tourism

: Orissa is a crucible of culture. The cultural heritage of the State is mirrored in its breath-taking monuments ranging from 2nd century B.C. to 13th century A.D. The golden triangle embracing Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri has acquired international acceptability. The sky piercing spire of mighty Lingaraj, sculpted archway of Mukteshwar, breath-taking architecture of Rajarani, the double-stored temple of Bhaskareswar and the 2nd century B.C. and honey-combed caves of Khandagiri and Udaygiri have been gifted by our ancestors for posterity. The Sun Temple of Konark is a heritage monument whose sculpture defies human comprehension. And of course the famous temple of Jagannath of Purl is one of the greatest pilgrim centers of the country.

Besides the monuments, handcraft, Patta, dhokra works, appliqué and textiles form important segments of the cultural fabric and speak volumes of unique craftsmanship.

Coast and Lake

: Nature has endowed Orissa with a Ions coastline of 480 km, punctuated by captivating beaches, which provide ample opportunities for enjoyment round the year.

The sea beach of Puri is rated as one of the best in the world. Close by is the virgin beach of Balighai. The other important beaches are Chandaneswar at Chandipur in Balasore and Gopalpur in Ganjam.

Shimmering in the luxury of its blue expanse, relaxes India's largest brackish water lake, the Chilika. The tourism potential of this lake entirely rests on its ecosystem. It is a natural habitat for winged visitors and a delight for tourists.

Forest and Wildlife

: The State is liberally clothed with forests, which are bristling with colourful wildlife. Important green covers are the Similiual forests (Mayurbhanj), which besides being a tiger reserve, is known for its orchids and waterfalls, the mangrove forests of Bhitarkanika (Kendrapara), the largest nesting around o^ Olive Ridley sea turtles, the thick forest near the Tikarpada gorge (Angul) across river Mahanadi and the forests in Kandhmal district rich with wildlife.

Tribal Tourism

: Tribal culture forms a colourful spectrum of Orissa and draws the attention of visitors from all over. The ancient tribals like Bondas make good study for researchers. Santhalas and Sauras are known for their paintings and musical instruments. No wonder, Orissa with its variety of destinations and rich cultural heritage is a premier destination for both domestic and foreign tourist.

7.Court Marriage amongst Juang tribals
(Source: Dharitri dated 24th April 2005)

    The traditional juang marriage is changing. Once inconceivable, the juang youth have begun taking shelter of the court to solemnize their marriage. The bridegroom Pitambar Juang (age 25 years) belongs to Talabali village of Banspal Block and the bride Chandrika Juang (age 20 years) belongs to Khajuribani village of Harichandanpur Block of Keonjhar District in the state of Orissa. They registered their marriage on 19th April 2005 in the office of the Legal Aid Centre managed by an NGO I.N.V. Advocate Sudhansu Sekhar Panda who heads this Legal Aid Centre claims that this marriage has been solemnized with the consent of the families of both the bridegroom and the bride. 

8.Birth Centenary Year of Pt. Raghunath Murmu is observed
(Source: Dharitri dated 4th May 2005)

    Pt. Raghunath Murmu who gave Olchiki script to Santhali language, had he lived, would have turned 100 this year. The tribal employees of Khurda Railway Division organised a cultural programme on 3rd may 2005 to observe this occasion. Mr. Megharai Murmu, Sr. Divisional Personnel Officer presided over the meeting. Mr. Ramji Malhotra the Divisional Railway Manager and Mrs Pinki Malhotra Chairperson of Eastcoast Railway Women’s Welfare Organization graced the occasion as the Chief Guest and Guest of Honour respectively. Mrs Manak Murmu conducted the cultural programme on behalf of the tribal women. 

9.Andaman Tribes at Risk of Extinction
Stanley Theodore in Hyderabad
(Source: The Statesman – 17th May 2005)

    May 16. — The Andaman & Nicobar tribes are in great danger now than ever before due to inbreeding among them, director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Dr. Laiji Singh, said.
    "Many animals are crtically endangered due to inbreeding. What holds good for animals holds good for humans too. The tribes in these islands are at great risk of extinction." he told a press conference.
    The six tribes in the 572 islands are regarded as the "windows to the past" in the sense of how the world's population evolved after the first batch of migration out of Africa and towards India 50,000 to 70,000 years ago.
    The Great Andamanese is 20-member strong, Onge — 98, Shompens —180, Jarawa - 200 and Sentinelese — 250. The only tribe with relatively substantial numbers are Nicobarese — 22,000.
    The tribes are hunter- gatherers and need natural habitats like forests to exist. Dr Singh said during his interaction with Onges they expressed happiness at going back to the jungles instead of living in settlements organised by the government.
    The Sentinelese are primitive, hostile and strongly dislike any interaction with the world. After the 26 December tsunami there were fears that they were wiped out, but fortunately several of them survived.
    Dr. Singh led a path breaking DNA study of these tribes, barring the Sentinelese, to lend weight to the "out of Africa" theory. The five-year study showed that the tribes do no share genetic similarities with mainland Indian tribes, but with the African population.
    "The evolution of the tribes may be due to the initial penetration of the northern' coastal areas of the Indian Ocean by modern humans in their out of Africa migration. Therefore they are the windows to the look into the past and hence they need to be persevered," he said.

10.Andaman Tribes throw light on historic Journey
By Pallava Bagla
(Source: The Indian Express: 13th May 2005)

    New Delhi, May 12: In a discovery that could help rewrite the history of human evolution, scientists from Hyderabad have come up with startling evidence that India could very well have been the first stop in the long march from Africa. And that this journey happened through sea rather than land as is now widely believed.
    While scientists from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) tracked this migration using modern molecular biological tools, vital clues came from an interesting source-lhe Onge and Great Andamanese tribes of Andamans.
    Reporting their work in Thursday's issue of the prestigious American journal Science, the scientists in association with an Estonian team-were able to reconstruct this prehistoric story of human colonisation by comparing DNA collected from living humans.
    Hunting for long-forgotten signs that erase fast when populations intermix, the seven-member CCMB team-led by Lalji Singh and Kumaraswamy Thangaraj-zeroed in on the Onge and Great Andamanese who have been living largely in isolation.
    Since no fossil records are available, the team used a novel approach of studying the latent molecular clock that is embedded in DNA.
    They recorded the tell-tale signs of his migration by way of unique mutations in DNA found in the powerhouse of cell scalled mitochondria.
    Using blood Samples, they compared the complete sequence of the mitochondrial DNA extracted from five members each of the Onge and Great Andamanese, all part of the negrito group of inhabitants of the islands.
    To their surprise, the team foundthat the Onge and Great Andamanese resembled the African population more closely. This, according tothem, could have happened only if the Onge and Great Andamanese were almost direct descendants of the first human beings.
    The CCMB findings suggest that when humans started migrating, one group used the coastal route to reach the Andamans and continued to survive in pure populations-all intervening signatures have been erased by time.

11. Green Brigade Joins Tribal Cause
(Source: The Statesman: 18th May 2005)
    BHUBANESWAR, May 17. — After a brief lull, the decade-old agitation against the construction of an alumina plant in Kashipur received a boost with a fact-finding team comprising Prof. S Parasuraman, director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, Ms Manimala and Mr VT Padmanabhan, all environment, activists from Kerala supporting the tribals' cause.
    Talking to reporters following their return from Kashipur, the team said it was shocking how tribal rights to land and livelihood were being trampled on by a private company and the local police. They also alleged that the local residents were being kepi in the dark and there is no alternative source of livelihood being provided to them. Those who oppose the alumina project are subjected to police atrocities, they said.
    Mr Parasuraman felt that it was high time that the state government discusses all issues with the affected in the 22 villages and an environment impact assessment by an independent agency should be conducted. Incidentally, a proposed alumina plant of Utkal Alumina International Ltd has been hanging for a decade owing to a people's resistance movement. Of late, however, the government has been claiming that people had agreed to avail compensation and that the project would be carried out. The project is a highly mechanised one and is a 100 per cent export-oriented project. Hence, it will not benefit local residents.
    They regretted that the state government had no proper rehabilitation policy and was turning land holders to landless wage-earners. They also pointed out that tribal land cannot be acquired just to help a company make profits-extractive industries or mining-based industries instead of benefiting locals cause them more harm than good and the World bank has recently decided to stop funding such projects, Mr Parasuraman said. He expressed apprehensions about large scale damage to the environment in the area. The hillocks serve as watersheds but mining activity will destroy this and the streams may dry up, he observed. The teams visit was organised by Indian Social Action Forum. It has demanded the withdrawal of police and paramilitary forces from the villages, talks with people and stop total intimidation.


Photographs : 

References :

Dance Forms of the Bhuiyas

    An important aspect of tribal culture in colonial and post-colonial Orissa is the art  of dancing and singing. Most of the dancing items of the tribals of the colonial phase are missing in the present time. For example, Dali Dance was very popular among the Sabaras of Dhenkanal in the colonial era. It was popular in the areas along the river Lingara (a branch of Brahmani). The dance involves three persons. One person play Jhumuka badya (a musical instrument) and another two carry on the head a burning pot like object (Agni khapara). (Sambalpur Hiteisini, 13th September 1899) Similar dance practices of the Bhuiyas and the Mundas are not visible at present day society. Some dance forms of the Bhuiyas of the colonial phase are still in existence and they constitute a significant part of the cultural life of the Bhuiyas of Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Singhbhum zone. Many writers have highlighted the cultural activities of the Bhuiyas of these areas. Keshab Chandra Mishra in his series of articles on the history of the Bhuiyas in Oriya published in Utkala Sahitya had given emphasis on their dance practices. (Mishra, Utkala Sahitya, Vol. XIII, Sala-1316) He had emphasized the dance practices of dhangada and dhangadi on festive occasions and he had not appreciated their dance poses and forms in his article. Naba Kishore Das, a noted Oriya essayist, in an interesting poem had referred to the dance practice of the Bhuiya Youth. The poetry narrated how the unmarried girls (dhangadis) from distant villages would come to Bhuiya Pidha (centre of the Hill Bhuiyas of Keonjhar) and had gathered at Manda ghara (Common House) for dancing with the dhangadas (unmarried young men of Bhuiya tribe). The poem runs like this –

(Das Naba Kumar, "Promise of Bhuiya Girl" in Oriya, Janmabhumi, Cuttack, 01-05-1941,1st Year, Second Issue).

    Rabindranath Mishra in another Oriya article on the Pauri Bhuiyas of Bonai in Janmabhumi has also stated about the Changu pita Nrutya (Changu Dance) of the Bhuiyas and Uchka Nata in Bonaigarh in the colonial phase. (Janmabhumi, Oriya periodical, Cuttack, 1-7-1941, First Year, Sixth Number) Prananath Pattnaik, famous Communist leader- and left writer in an elaborate focus on the: neglected life of the Bhuiyas in Nabajiban in 1961 had well appreciated the pattern of dancing of the Bhuiyas of the past and the present. (Pattnaik, "Abahelita Bhuiya Adibasi", Nabajibana, March-April, 1961, P. 804 - 815) Famous Anthropologist Sarat Chandra Roy had also given an account of the dance practices of the Bhuiyas in the colonial phase in 1935. On the basis of these documentary sources a humble attempt has been made here in tills article' to present the dance practices of the Bhuiyas of Orissa for a comprehensive cultural history of the tribals of Orissa.

    Like many primitive tribes the Bhuiyas are fond of dancing and singing. Dance and songs bring great enthusiasm for the Bhuiyas' dull and cheerless life. It was the chief source of enjoyment in their hard and dreary existence. Dances are not only the means of intense emotional satisfaction and crude artistic expression; they also serve as an expression of social solidarity and rejoicing. (Roy, P. 286; Pattnaik, P. 810-812) They also promote courtship and marriage. Occasionally they also serve as a means of inducing in individuals of a psychic temperament a kind of auto-hypnotism. Besides its social and religious significance the dances appear to have a magical import and some economic value.

    The dance is associated with and reflects almost the whole of the Pauri Bhuiyas' life. In the open space in front of the mandaghar of the village may be seen, night after night, particularly in moon light nights, young men and women untiringly engaged in dancing till a late hour and sometimes till the small hours of the morning. On occasions of periodical religious festivals and social meetings particularly weddings, dances and songs continue for days without break.

    The Bhuiya young men sing songs and play upon their changu drums. The Bhuiya women are the chief dancers who take up the songs started by the men and dance to their tune. The Bhuiyas have various kinds of dances in most of which the dancers adopt a stooping posture, in some of which they dance in an erect posture. In some cases the girls and women veil their faces and in others they dance with their faces unveiled. In some occasions the dancers are arranged in one or more rows. In some other forms of dances they move in a circle. Though the Bhuiyas have no idea about the original aims of the dances, some of these dances may be presumed to have some magical object similar to those of the corresponding dances among their neighbors. The greatest and the most exciting occasions for Bhuiya dances are the dancing meetings of the bachelors of one village and the maidens of another. Many of their civics would appear to be suggestive of courtship and wooing. The partial and complete veiling of the faces of the girls and the young men gallantly advancing with brisk but measured steps towards the girls and the girls in their turn, coquettishly flirting backwards and again advancing a little forward may probably symbolize this.

    The Bhuiyas have a plurality of dance forms and practices. The most important Bhuiya dance form is Sangi Nat. It is prevalent among the Hill Bhuiyas living in the wild highlands of the inaccessible hill ranges of Bonai. The instrument used in this dance is Changu, which is a crude kind of tambourine nearly two feet in diameter. Large number of men and women young as well as adult take part. The women veil their faces with one end of their sari cloth and dance in a stooping posture holding each other's hands and moving three steps forward and then backward. The men sing and play upon their changu drums standing at right angles to the line of the women. But at intervals, as if by way of exhibition of gallantry, they advance a few steps forward and confront the line of the female dancers who thereupon recede backwards. Hip movements predominate in the dance. The men sing chhanda, chaupadi and other amorous songs mostly composed by the village composers.

    Another dance form is called Udka Nat in which the female dancers veil their faces and dance in a stooping posture, each holding the hands of the dancer to her right and the one to her left and each with her feet similarly joined respectively with those of her two contiguous companions. Dega Nat is another form of the Udka Nat where the girls dance without veiling their faces. They hold each other's hands as they dance in a stooping posture with one foot placed in front of the other, moving in a line and now and again wheeling round in a circle.

    A significant dance style of the Bhuiyas is Ghechapari Nat. It is also a stooping dance in which the dancers do not veil their faces. They arrange themselves in two rows, one confronting the other. Each girl holds the hands of the girl standing opposite to her in the oilier row. An excellent dance style is the Tuki Nat, in which, both young and old women may take part. It is distinguished by the agility of its movements. In the Buri Nat - all women, old or elderly join. The movements are so much slow that it is also called "the bashful dance".

    These are the important ordinary dances of the tribe some of which are either identical with or similar to the dances of several other tribes of the Central Hill-belt of India. According to S. C. Roy the most interesting Paudi Bhuiya dances are the dances in imitation of the movements of various animals and reptiles and birds of their native hills and forests. Some of these imitative or dramatic dances would seem to have originally had some magic motive behind them, but the colonial Bhuiyas appear to have no idea of it.

    The primitive Juangas have the same dances, as they are close neighbors to the Bhuiyas. But it is not certain whether one of the tribe borrowed them from the other, or whether they both inherited them from a common original ancestral stock. The songs that accompany these dances between both the tribes are composed in the Oriya language, which the Paudi Bhuiyas speak and the Juangs have no corresponding songs in their own Juang language. It indicates that the animal dances were developed by the Paudis from which the Juangs borrowed them. These dance forms are the following:

1. Sap-pari Dance, 2. Bora-pari Nat, 3. Baghapari Nat, 4. Bhalpari Nat, 5. Mrigipari Nat, 6. Hatipari Nat, 7, Gidha-pari Nat, 8. Gundaripari Nat, 9. Murgipari Nat.

    The Sap-pari Nat or Snake dance is a dance form in which a number of women kneel down on the ground in a straight row, bent forward their bare heads so as almost to touch the ground and in tune with the sound of drums and songs, slowly swing their heads sideways with short turns in imitation of the zigzag movements of snakes. In the Bora-pari Nat or Bora-snake dance the dancers similarly imitate one of the huge black Bora snakes that can hardly move their un-widely bodies but lie inert, stretching their bulky length and devour any creature that conies their way. In the Bagha-pari Nat or Tiger Dance a few female dancers dancing in a stooping posture represent deer grazing and a man represents a tiger attacking the deer. In the Bhalpari Nat or Bear Dance a number of female dancers represent a party of persons whom a man representing a bear attacks. Mriga-pari Nat or Deer Dance is a form of Dance where a party of female dancers represent a herd of deer’s grazing in the forest and a man is shown as shooting an arrow at them. In the Hatipari Nat or Elephant Dance a few women each with a twisted cloth hanging down in front of her head to represent an elephant's trunk and each with a boy on her back to represent the rider on the elephant, dance with the heavy leisurely gait of elephants. In the Gidha-pari Nat or Vulture Dance the dancers represent vultures wheeling round a carcass and one after the other peeking at it. The Guridari-pari dance or Sparrow dance is remarkable because a number of girls with light steps briskly dance about in a stooping posture to represent little birds frisking about. In the Murgipari dance or Cock dance girls with cloth sticking out of their heads as cocks' combs dance in imitation of cocks.

    Thus the Bhuiyas like other primitive tribes are very fond of music. Their musical instruments are a few and simple consisting of the invariable changu which they themselves manufacture with Karkar wood for the frame and a piece of goat’s skin for the sounding board and occasionally a bamboo flute. String instruments are practically unknown. The themes of the Bhuiya songs on the dancing occasions a re-limited to the common objects of their environment-the birds and beasts of their hills and the crops of their forests and the elemental feelings of the human heart, particularly the emotion of love. The Bhuiyas are a tribe of simple culture, but with the growth of civilization they have been considerably influenced by the Hindu culture. The songs used in some of the dance practices of the Bhuiyas are borrowed from the Hindu scriptures. The songs of love of Krishna - Banamali and Radha (later incorporations) are very popular on the dancing occasions of the Hill Bhuiyas who take intense delight in singing those songs.


References :

  • Sambalpura Hiteisini (Oriya weekly newspaper from Bamanda) 1899.
  • Das, Nabakumar, "Promise of Bhuiya Girl", 1st Year, Second Issue, 01-05-1941, Janmabhumi (Oriya Magazine)/ Cuttack.
  • Mishra Rabindranath, "Pauri Bhuiyas of Bonai", Janmablnimi, 01-07-1941, First Year, Sixth Number, Cuttack.
  • Pattnaik Prananath, "Abahelita Bhuiya Adibasi" (Neglected Bhuiya Tribe), Nabajibana (Oriya monthly magazine), March-April, 1961, p.804-815.
  • Mishra Keshab Chandra, "Bhuiya Jatira Itihasa" (History of Bhuiya Tribe), Utkal Sahitya, Oriya monthly magazine, Cuttack, Vol. XIII, No. II, Ill, VI, X.
  • Roy S.C., The Hill Bhuiyas of Orissa, 1935, Ranchi.
  • Sundargarh District Gazetteer, ed. N. Senapati and D.C. Kuanr, Government of Orissa. 1975.


Perspectives on Religious Syncretism in India

Das, Dr. N. K.

(continued from Perspectives on Religious Syncretism in India in vol.2, issue 8 )

    Tribal religion is also seen in the regional context. Regional centres of Hinduism have emerged in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, Guruvayur in Kerala, Kamakhya in Assam and Jagannath in Orissa, as symbols of cultural identity at the regional and national level in which local communities including tribes are involved. The relationship between tribal and Hinduism can also be seen in terms of the influence of Bhakti movements upon the tribal people. The spread of Vaishnav ideas started in the later middle age and penetrated deeper during the colonial period with the opening up of tribal areas and with the influx of Hinduised peasant Communities traders and moneylenders.

    Eschmann and other scholars (Eschmann 1986, Das 2003) have observed that Brahmanical incorporation of tribal deities and "Cults" occurred more frequently in post-Buddhist times. In fact no notable research is yet available about Buddhist-tribal culture contacts in Budhist era. Many western Orissa tribes exhibit remnants of Buddhism, assimilated within tribal religion. Ever since medieval times when bhakti cultscame to gain ground a process of Hinduization came to occupy centre-stage. Brahmans thus started creating Rajput myths for tribal chiefs. Slowly tribal royal deities were also being absorbed, transformed and rechristened as Hinduistic deities. According to Eschmann (1986) "High" Hinduism or great tradition and tribal religion or little tradition are not directly confronted. They are combined through several intermediary stages within regional tradition.

    According to Eschmann "Hindudization acts intelsely only on the level of Hindu village cults, that is in such village communities, where tribal groups constantly live together with caste Hindus. The next decisive stage of Hinduization is reached, when an aboriginal cult-either from the intermediate stage of a village cult, or directly from the tribal level – becomes incorporated into a Hindu temple. Such a "temple" is distinguished by three characteristics, daily performance of puja, recognition by all castes and more than local importance" (emphasis added).

    Eschmam further says, "the temple level may be adefinite stage of Hinduism, but not necessarily the end of the process of Hinduization …. one may identify the foci with the main stages of Hinduization – tribal cult, tribal cult with elements of Hinduization, Hindu village cults, temples of subregional importance, and great temples of regional importance". Eschmann has rightly observed that tribal goddesses are often identified with Durga, who continue to accept animal sacrifice and assures fertility and even though they retain their original tribal names. Second stage is calling a Brahmam to impart the prana pratistha –mantra. Mangala, Pitabali, Hindula, Baunthi and Stambhesvari are some such tribal goddess of Orissa. Stambhesvari has existed as a tribal goddess since about 500 AD. She was tutelary deity of the Sulki and Bhanja dynasties and widely worshipped in West Orissa (Kulke 1975). Stambhesvari or Khambhesvari (in Oriya) "lady of the post", is also represented and worshipped through stones. In the shrine at Bamur, Khambesvari is represented by a simple stone worshipped daily by a Dehuri priest of Suddha, a tribe.

    At village level, a deity of tribal origin is widely worshipped either as a gramapati or gramadevi. Cult is tribal. It is represented by a uniconical symbol,  worshipped by a non-Brahman priest. The Khond priestof Khambesvari, however, soon after worship, becomes Ubha (possessed). Thereafter the priest performs the sacrifice and cooks the bhoga to be offered to the goddess, whereas the bhoga which at the end of the festival is to be shared by all is cooked by a Brahman specially called in (Eschmann 1986). In yet another example Eschmann (1986) further explains involvement of "Harijan" (scheduled caste) for "the killing of the sacrificial animals and drumming" with the tribal Dehuri and Kalisi (1986). In many temples of Hindudized mother goddesses, stones or pebbles are worshipped along with the main image in the garbha griha. Infact, stones or wooden posts stand outside such temples (which are worshipped too) in front of whom the "sacrifice" is performed, and to them the blood is offered and not to "the main image" (emphasis added). While Eschmann describes this tendency "to separate the sacrifice from the main cult" as a case of "intensive Hinduization" we may conveniently call it a case of partial Hinduization at popular level hence a perfect case of syncretism. In the same area Buddhist elements in the cult of Tara-Tarini indicate incorporation of tribal cult into Buddhism. A small Bodhisattva image is worshipped together with the goddess in the garbha-griha. Tarini is also the name of a tribal or semi-tribal goddess worshipped in Keonjhar area (Eschmann 1986). This example further exhibits a strong tribal element intermingling with another major religion, i.e. Buddhism.

    K.S.Singh (2003) has reported that the tribal world today particularly in middle India has become thecontrol over the tribals abundant resources and over their ways of life and religion.Both Christianity and "Sanatani" form of Hindus are locked in conflict which goes back to the colonial times when aided by the resources of traders and merchants from Hindu heartland, efforts were made to check the spread of Christianity supported by superior resources. Tribals are Hindus, they said, even as they tried to impose the Hinduism on the tribal people, whose religion though close to the local forms of Hinduism still had distinctive features going back to their separate, isolated and distant existence. In post-independence years, as Christianity has spread, the Hindu backlash has intensified. Hanuman cult has become more visible with his image installed at most unlikely places. The Oraons are being represented asthe devotees of Ram (O Ram). Political and commercial interests have continued with this form of penetration. The tribals have been influenced, First by the resurgent forms of both Hinduism and Christianity in their area. Second, there has been a going back to the roots, a revival of tribal's own traditional religion, which centered on the sacred grove (Sarna). New trends are also noted in the area.

    One, Christianity in tribal areas has indigenised itself by liberally borrowing from local traditions. Second, there has been a greater appreciation of the need to preserve the similarities with local forms of Hinduism.

    The processes of sectarianism and syncretism have variously affected the tribes of India in different historical phases. While studying the process of Christianization in tribal societies of Jharkhand at the inter-generation level, Sahay (1990) has brought, to light the process of combination, retroversion, and indigenization at work but he avoids to describe the situation from the vantage of syncretism which is inherent in the indigenization process. Some sections of the Christians seem to be apprehensive as they see the loss of vital elements of the Christian tradition in indigenization. In fact, "syncretism", the watering down of what is distinctive to Christianity by admixture with beliefs and practices from other religions, is regarded as "the most obvious danger" (Grant 1961 : 41-42).

    North-East India, earlier known as Kamarupa and Pragrjyotisha came to be called as Assam even though Manipur, Tripura and NEFA regions had their distinct tribal identities. Right from pre-colonial era, tribal religions had continued to flourish and the Hinduization process had been sluggish. Gait has elucidated this process succincity: "In the Brahmaputra valley large sections of population are still outside the pale of Hinduism at the beginning of this century,---in the lower stage of conversion where their adopted religion still sits lightly on them and they have not yet learnt to resist the temptation to indulge in pork,fowls and other articles regarded by the orthodex as impure. The reason seems to be that in the early days the Hindu settlers confined their attention to the king and his chief nobles. They wouldconvert them, admit the nobles to khastriya rank .

    They would not interfere with the tribal religious rites as to do so would call forth the active animosity of native priest; nor would they trouble about the beliefs of the common people who would continue to hold to their old religious notions. If the dynasty lasted long enough, the influence of Hindu ideas would gradually filter down-- as actually happened in the case of Ahoms"(1967). Hinduism came to be propagated in most parts of Brahmaputra valley gradually only after the advent of Shri Shankar Dev. More than a Hinduization process, the penetration of Buddhist religious tradition through pre-colonial era cultural contacts with Tibet appears to have greater impact among the hill tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. In fact Buddhist penetration from South-East Asian regions is observable in the Buddhist Traditions among the Tai-Khampti and Singpho tribes. The colonial rulers generally encouraged Christian in both plains and hills regions, except Arunachal Pradesh. Christianity not only introduced a new belief system but also a new cultural identity, which got politicised often (Das 1989).

    Since A.D. 1126, Buddhist Tantriks, Sahajiyas and Naths form Bengal and Mahayana Buddhists of Northern India had gradually penetrated into Assam. Shakti cult had established the ethos of indulgence in wine, meat and animal sacrifice and a variety of esoteric practises. Several branches of the Vjrayana and Sahajyana orders of the Buddhism mixed with magic and monistic philosophy had been merged. In such environment of the fifteenth century, Sri Sankar Dev (1449-1569) introduced a neo-Vaishnatvite sect. For both the tribal and non -tribal people of Assam, he was preacher,philosopher,poet and social reformer. Following the then prevailing Buddhist institutions, Sankara Dev designated his form of initiation as Sarana and divided it into three categories as Nama Sarana, Guru Sarana and Bhakta Sarana corresponding to the Budddhists' Dharma-sarana, Buddha-sarana and Sangha-sarana. His congregational prayer house came to be called Nama-ghar where he installed 'holy book' on a wooden pedestal and where the kirtan is held. Sri Sankar Deva preached the idea of salvation through faith and prayer rather than sacrifice. He discarded idol worship and established monotheism.The Namaghara /Kirtana ghara complex came to be known as Satra (Das 2003b). Many tribal communities became members of different Satras. For its survival however the neo-Vasihnavism sect in Assam compromised with many pre-conversion cultural traditions of tribal adherents in different phases. The growing number of the neo-Vaishnavite monasteries-satras-continued to provide an outlet to the people to become bhaktas (devotee – followers). Tribes of central and upper Assam, were generally fascinated by diverse offshoot sects which grew often under the influence of Eka Sarna-Nam-Dharma, such as Matak, Kalasmhati and Mayamara. These sects often advocated varied ideologies through their Nama Gharas. With the introduction of the institutions of Nam-ghar and Satra the 'temple culture' came to an end in Assam. While in Mayamara Satra (religious centre) a secular orientation is emphasized, the Matak followers of same sect came to reject the Brahman priesthood and Brahmanical ritualism (Das 2003b).

    Certain sections among the Ahoms continued to perform their tribal religious beliefs and practices (Das and Gupta 1982). There are villages in upper Assam inhabited by Ahom tribal priests (Mohans and Deodhais). With the adoption of Vaishnavism, the so called elite sections of the Ahoms lost their "tribal" identity and acquired a Hindu-caste like identity, though a viable occupation based jajmani centred caste system never grew in Assam, and some occupational/professional castes only minimally existed in Assam. There are family rituals like damak diya, which resembles Hindu sraddha ritual. There are some typical Ahom rituals such as Rik-Khvan (meant for Ahom god Leng dom) wherein several old deities are collectively worshipped. The Ahom priests use Tai language during worship (Das and Gupta 1982).

    Umpha-puja is a community festival. They also worship the apical tribal ancestor during me-dam-me-phi ceremony. The Ahoms celebrate janmashtami and tithi of Sri Sankardev in the namghar. This is more common among those Ahom sections such as Changmais, Bhuyans and Chetias. The Tai priestly sections of the Ahom are least Hinduized. They continue to have faith in supernatural powers whom they venerate and also sacrifice pigs and fowls in their honour. 

    The Bodo-Kacharis, whom Endle (1911) described as "animistic", constitute the largest tribal group of plains of Assam. Various cultural, linguistic, religious and political movements have been launched among them since the independence of India. A prime factor in development of cultural distinctiveness among the Bodo Kacharis has been the spread of "Brahma" sect among them. Kalicharan Mech, founder of Brahma sect, wrote a book Saraniya Kriya. The basic tenets of Brahmaism are contained in the phrase "chandrama surjya narayane jyoti" (May the sunlight dispel all darkness and lead us to Brahma). A basic mantra of new religion has been "Om sat guru". Some scholars have described Brahma religion as a cult (Saikia, 1982). According to the ethical dictums of the Brahma cult, neither idolatory nor sacrifice are permitted (Saikia, 1982). The followers of the Brahma religious tradition abstain from drinking rice beer and eating fish or meat. The impact of Brahma movement has since declined in many areas. The Rabhas are found in south Kamrup and south Goalpara districts of Assam and also in North Garo hills districts of Meghalaya, where they have five distnict ethnic segments, Rongdani, Maitori, Pati, och. The Rabhas are traditionally a matrilineal tribe but, prolonged contacts with the Hindu communities have ushered in cultural change and thus some of the Rabha sub-tribes have adopted Hindu kinship traditions, though inheritance and descent rules continue to be matrilineal. Thus the mother property is inherited by the daughter and father property by the son in many areas. The Pati and Dahor sub tribes of Rabhas are Hinduised sections, but they continue to worship tribal deities too. Majumdar observed different degrees of sanskritization among different sections of the Rabha (Majumdar, 1968). Thus, the Pati Rabhas belonged to the top and thengdani Rabhas to the bottom of ritual order. In Garo hills the Rongdani Rabha have retained their traditional tribal deities which are worshipped. These Rabhas have not been affected to any considerableent by neighbouring Hinduized tribes (Majumdar, 1968). However, the Kachari neighbours have adopted two deities of the Rongdani Rabhas. The Rongdanis did not adopt any deity from the Hindu pantheon (Majumdar, 1969). If we compare religious practices as well asthe social framework of the Rongdani with those of theKoch and the Hajong, we witness that there is a gradual infusion charactrized by absence of matrilineal clans and adoption of Indo-Aryan kinship system (for example, treating the mother's brother's daughter as a sister). Thus we find the Rongdani in their pure tribal form,while the Hajong emerging as a purely Hindu caste, albeit at the lower end of the hierarchy; and the Koch occupying an intermediate position, because in them we find good blending of Hinduism with forms of pre-sanskritized tribalized social framework represented by prevalence of matrilineal clan organization (though considerably weakened) combined with a matching kinship terminology. So, here is a tribe, which has aligned itself with the Hindus, though ,strictly speaking remains outside the sphere of the Hinduism. In conclusion it can be said that while Rongdani Rabhas are yet to enter the Hindu society the Hajong have drastically sanskritized their religion and between them are placed 'tribe' like Koch oscillating between two poles in a true syncretistic spirit. Here we witness the archetypal North east model of religious syncretism (Das 2003b). The Koch community of Kamarupa was originally a tribe, like the Ahom (Das 1994). The term Koch however became a common caste name for several "Hinduized" Assamese tribes. Guha (1991) observed that to become Koch meant more than mere religious conversion. It meant the adoption of plough in place of hoe and mud – plinth dwelling in place of pile-house dwelling. (Guha 1991:19). In one example of cultural change we notice that while the entire Chapra section of the Koch substantially engrossed the Hinduism, the Song Koch refused to set off the Chapra mode. Majumdar (1968) observed different stages of absorption of Hinduism among different sections of the Koch. Thus the Chapra section showed total transformation of tribal religion and adoption of Hinduism, while other sections showed varied adoption of only some deities from Hindu pantheon. Majumdar has rightly concluded that – "the song Koch are only half way in the adoption of Hinduism" (1968). 

    The Karbis, like most tribes of Assam are pantheists. The religion of the Karbis may be described as "ancestor worship" oriented. Guru Lakhimon's discourse popular among the Karbis is a variation of Vaishnavism. He allowed followers to eat fish. He says through proper teaching, food and synchronized habit one can acquire satvik quality. Guru Lakhimon's initiation mantra is – Hare Hemphu. It should be noted that Hemphu is original tribal god of the Karbis. They don't worship any image nor do they follow any rituals (Parampanthi 1978). The Mishing religion today is not a unified system based on tribal beliefs. After migration and coming in contact with other religions of the plains, the Mishings have adopted the Bhakatiya panth, which refers to performing religious functions through the help of the Bhakatas. Despite great influence of Bhakatiya religion, the Mishings continue to venerate some tribal deities and celebrate tribal religious festivals such as Dobiurvie.

    The Mataks are followers of the Mayamara sect. They form a religious sect which consists of different tribes. Thus the Kachari, Moran, Ahom, Chutiya, Barahis, Britias and Kaibarta are all followers of same Matak sect. Mayamara Satra is the main religious centre of the Mataks. Though the Mayamara satra is based on the tenets of Sri Sankardev's eka sarna-nam-dharma, but the Mataks subscribe to Kalasamhati philosophy. According to this religious philosophy the Guru himself occupies an exalted position as that of God. Hence, no idol worship is done in Mayamara satra.

    The hills of north east India also present vibrant examples of Syncretistic religious traditions. The development of Christianity in the Khasi hills was seen as challenge by certain Khasis who organised themselves initially under the banner of an young mens association in 1899. During the same period Khasi elders like Babu Jiban Roy and Radhon Singh Berry formed a cultural organization called Seng Khasi. By 1909, Seng Khasi movement had crystallized its objective as : "to revive the true faith of forefathers". D.Sun has discussed the aspects of Syncretism in Khasi culture (Sun 2003). The Nagas are highly conservative, traditionalist and orthodox. At the same time Nagas represent a model of synthesis of tradition and modernity. (Das 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1993 & 1994). Despite large scale adoption of the Christinity the Nagas continue to celebrate host of tribal festivals and adhere to old cultural values. In his book The Angami Nagas, J.H.Hutton (1921) has fittingly described the Christian members of the Nagas as "pseudo-Christians". Most Naga tribes even after acceptance of Christianity continue to observe scores of tribal rites and rituals. Among the Zounuo-Keyhonuo Naga the Christian and non-Christian sections equally associate themselves with the agriculture related rituals conducted during "first sowing" and "first reaping". They also collectively celebrate Sekrenyie, the major tribal festival, which is performed on behalf of the whole village in the month of February. The Zeliangrong movement among the Zemi, Liangmei and Rongmei of Manipur and Nagaland has passed through several stages. The initial religious programme of this movement was aimed at abolition of irrational custom and superstitions. Gaidinliu led the religious cult Heraka established by Jadonang. Jadonang preached that there is only one high god in place of many tribal gods. He prescribed ceremonies, which resembled the Hindu tantrik cult practices (Singh 1972). Synthesis of Hinduism and tribal religion may be witnessed here. Manipur has three major cultural groups-Meitei, Kuki, Naga. The Meitei, Manipuri, are divided into two major religious sections, the Gouriya (the Vaishnavite) and Sanamahi (the adherents of tribal faith). Followers and non-followers of Vaishnavism came to be identified as Asengba (pure) and Amangaba (polluted). Many elements of Meitei tribal religion were, however, retained by the Meiteis. In fact the tribal religion, as observed by Saha (1982)' existed side by side with Vaishnavism'. The religion of the Gouriyas indeed displays syncretistic religious features. The rulers of Tripura originally belonged to the tribal Tripuri community. The original tribes of Tripura are the Tripuri, Riang, Noatia, Jamatia and Halam with their sub-tribes. They profess tribal religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Hinduism has immense influence on the tribes of Tripura on account of impact of Hindu refugees who came from then East Pakistan and later migrants, even though tribal religious practices survive. The whole population of Arunachal Pradesh may be divided into three cultural groups on the basis of their social and religious affinities. The first group consists of Buddhists such as Monpas, Khamtis etc. The second group consists of the Adis, Bangnis, Tagins etc. They practice tribal religions. In the third group the Wanchus and Noctes are included among whom we witness the spread of Vaishnavism to a partial extent. The Monpas follow the Mahayana Buddhism which centres around Tawang monastery. They also continue to follow old Bon religion. The Sherdukpen religion is blend of Mahayana Buddhism and tribal magical – religious beliefs. The Mijis have also come under the influence of Buddhism, though tribal religion survives among them (Das 2003b).

    Northeast India's cultural landscape, its regional cultures and tribal religions, with their local variants, stand out distinctly. We have noted that on account of multi-pronged culture contact, the regional cultures and tribal religions were considerably influenced, but the tribal religious beliefs and cultures of North East India are too strong to be obliterated easily. The fact remains that varied and differential spread of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity in the region never led to complete abandonment of native tribal religious convictions and practices. In fact, as reported elsewhere by this author (Das 2003) a certain degree of cultural oscillation always existed between opposed sets of religious traditions, and which shaped the unique syncretistic culture of the region, which remains vibrant.


    The Dalits, the ex-untouchable communities of India, have often contested the religious oppression and rigid religious authoritarianism in different parts of India. In order to seek spiritual democracy in different historical phases, they often adopted several regional sects and religious orders including the Sikhism and Buddhism. There are Dalit castes such as Mahar and Balahi (Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh) who have adopted Buddhism and Jainism respectively. The Balai (Rajasthan) have adopted Dadu Panthi sect.

    The sect shuns idolatry a d believes in the unity of god. The Balmikis of Delhi are divided into several endogamous religious groups, such as Hindu Balmiki, Sikh Majhabi, and Muslim Mussali (Singh, 1995 : 101-109). The Bazigars (Punjab) have adopted Sikhism.

    Earlier they venerated the Pirkhana. They visit gurudwara and at the same time they also celebrate  Holi, Diwali, Dashahra and Lohri (Singh 1995:200). The Banjaras (Himachal Pradesh) are divided into the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The Hindus and Sikhs inter-marry, hence there has been a great deal of admixture between their religious life and practices (Singh, 1995:130). The Beda Jangams are the Lingayats of Karnataka. They have five divisions based on different religious gurus. The disciples of these gurus (pithas or seats) avoid marital relations (Singh : 1995:205). The census enumerators, during 2001 operation, faced a piquant situation as all Lingayats insisted to be categorized as members of a separate religion "Lingayat dharma". Some Lingayats chose to be identified as Lingayat Hindu or Veera Shaiva Hindu (Times of India, Bangalore, February, 16, 2001). TheBedia (Orissa), called Bedia Kudmi, profess both the traditional religion and Hinduism. They were participants of Medi movement of Orissa. (Singh : 1995:211). The Bhangis of Gujarat consider Balmiki Muni as their god. They are also followers of Kabir, Ramananda and Nanak. The Chamar profess different religions and sects. In Himachal Pradesh, they are Ravidasis and also Nirankari Sikhs (Singh : 1995:311). In Haryana the Julaha are the followers of Kabir though some Julaha have adopted Buddhism, and some follow Sikhism and even Christianity. In Punjab they are Ramdaasi Sikhs (Singh, 1995:315). The Jatav are one of the foremost of the Dalit castes whose struggle for emancipation continues through varied movements. They refuse to be called Chamar. Most of them have dopted Buddhism. A common blend of beliefs and practices of Hinduism, Buddhism and "Ambedakarism" shapes their cultural life (Singh 1995:328). It has brought about a unique consciousness in every Jatav notwithstanding an individual's formal affiliation to a particular faith. The Dhanak of Delhi profess Hinduism and Satnam dharma. They are also followers of Arya Samaj, Radha Soam i and Kabir panth sects. The Satnamis of Chhattisgarh state also refuse to be called Chamar and they re gard Satnam-p nth as a distinct religion even though they continue to celebrate Diwali, Dashara and Holi festival without involvement of Brahman priests (Das 2000). The Bhagat movement in south Rajasthan propagated vegetarianism and cleanliness and considerably influenced the Gavaria. It has also prompted them to give up bride-price, alcoholism and polygyny (Singh, 1995;535). The Dhanak of Delhi profess Hinduism and Satnam dharma. They are also followers of Arya Samaj, Radha Soami sect, and Kabir panth etc. The Dom and Dombara of Karnataka are followers of Hinduism, but the Lingayat Jangams are their sacred specialists. The Doom of Punjab are either Sikhs or Hindus. There are also Arya Samajis among them (Singh, 1995;430-490). The Julaha of Delhi and Chandigarh are divided into two groups, Kabirpanthi and Julaha. The Kabirpanthi Julahas derive their name from Kabir. The Hindu Julahas also follow Kabir teachings. There are both Hindu and Sikh Julahas among them. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Kabirpanthi are also known as Bhagats. 

    The Khatik of Himachal Pradesh are divided into Hindu and Muslim, but in Haryana, they are also Sikhs. The Koli of Rajasthan follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Kabirpanth. The Christian Madigas of Tamil Nadu observe pre-conversion Hindu life cycle rituals and share water sources and burial grounds with other (Hindu) Dalits. The Mazhabi (Majhabi/Mazabi/Mazbi) of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh follow Sikhism. Some of them have become Nihangs (Singh, 1995 : 923). The Hindu religious customs are also observed by the Mazhabis in Rajasthan. During the nineteenth century, the Matu Sanga, on the one hand,and the Brahmo Samaj on the other hand, played important roles in uniting and uplifting the Namasudra of West Bengal. In Assam they are followers of Damodardeo Sect and Vaishnavism (Singh, 1995:980). The Koch in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura are Hindus. Many among them have become Muslims (Singh, 1995:740). They are also known as Rajbanshi. The Rajabanshis of North Bengal have spread into the Brahmaputra valley of Assam. The Rajbanshi took part in the Tebhaga movement of 1946, and now they are involved in a regional Kamatapur ethnic-separatist movement, mostly concentrated in North Bengal. The Mahars of Maharashtra call themselves Neo-Buddhists, after their adoption of Buddhism in 1956, under the leadership of Dr. B.R.Ambedakar, but elements of Hindu religion and caste system persists among them in entirety. The Neo-Buddhists are also referred to as Nav Buddhist. They are found in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab. They celebrate festivals connected with Buddhism and birth anniversary of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. In Karnataka they have converted from Mahar, Holeya and Madiga communities. But in Karnataka the Neo-Buddhists celebrate most of the Hindu festivals and venerate Hindu deities (Singh, 1995:999). The Panchama, the Fifth One, have beenarnas" and "untouchables", hence they are placed outside the four varna scheme, and hence they declare themselves the fifth Varna. Panchama is a generic term. It includes many endogamous groups. In Andhra Pradesh many Panchamas have embraced Buddhism (1995 : 1045). The Rehar of Himachal Pradesh are followers of a Shaiva sect, but they believe in supernatural powers residing in forest, high hills and water sources. They employ sacred specialists from the Brahman and Sipi communities respectively (Singh, 1995:1117). The Sarera (or Sarde/Sorehara) of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are mainly Hindus but Sorehara are Muslims. Again while some Sarera profess Hinduism, others are Sikhs. But they celebrate each other's festivals. The Sarera at Bungal worship Dadhani Baba and assemble there once a year. All religious communities of the region venerate the Baba (Singh, 1995 : 1167). The Thathiar of Himachal Pradesh are followers of Hinduism and Sikhism. Both the religious groups venerate Baba Achlecher Sahib and Kartik Rishi.

    The Shenva of Gujarat are Hindus, but many non-Hindu elements shape their religious life. The clan-deities are still worshipped during life cycle rituals. They are also followers of Ram Dev Pir. The Sillekyathas of Karnataka are also affiliated to Muslim Pirs, though they remain Hindus (Singh, 1995:1223). They even accept water and cooked food from the Lingayat, Brahman, Kurumba and the Muslim. The Adi Andhra of Tamil Nadu are also known as Thoti. They have been Hindus traditionally and they venerate Hindu god Murugan. However a large section of Thoti have become Christian converts. But the Hindu and the Christian converts continue to marry each other and the Christian converts continue to observe the Hindu festivals (Singh, 1995:22). The Arunthatiyar of Tamil Nadu are Hindus. A section among them has adopted Christianity, but pre-change religious practices survive among the converts (Singh, 1995 : 47). The Badaik are also called Chik or Chik Badaik. The Badaik priests are called Pahan. These priests are drawn from the Munda and Bhuiyan tribes. The Badaiks, as observed in the field by this author in Orissa, draw elements from both Hindu as well as local tribal religious practices (Das 1998).

    The above critique suggests that religious syncretism persists in an inconceivably vast number of Tribal and Dalit communities of India, in lesser or greater degrees. It is also noticed that mutual harmony exists between adherents of different religious dogmas and schools of thought and a definite process of syncretism is encompassing different ethnic and religious communities in all parts of India.


    In the study of religion in India, the major emphasis has been on descriptive account of religious customs and their association with ethnic groups, the themes of purity/pollution in relation to caste system, descriptive concepts relating to religious phenomena and the modernization processes. The more recent trend shows a departure from narrative recording to reflective analysis of the western discourse on Indian concepts used in Hinduism (Saraswati 2000). In a review of literature, Saraswati refers to nationalist phase and intellectual phase in the quest for indigenization or Indianization of anthropology. Theter phase developed in close alliance with Indology (Saraswati 2000). He further argues that there should not be a single system of classifying information on cultures. Notwithstanding the difference in material culture and intellectual power, tribal and non-tribal share the same ideas and experiences of existence.

    Anthropologists in India and elsewhere in developing countries have been doing pale imitation of their western masters. What is imperative is to throw new light on the many aspects of indigenous cultures of Asia and Africa. A new cultural anthropology has to incline strongly towards cross-cultural perspectives in which the knowledge system, in a wider context, has to be examined and compared. No living culture is to be viewed as static.


    India's epic and Puranic traditions have diffused throughout India and beyond and have been readapted, recreated and re-interpreted by tribal groups in local milieu in terms of local ethos. Even when the Mundas, Gonds, and Korkus have not become full Hindus they have internalized aspects of Ramayan/Ram-Katha in their folk tales. Centuries ago they imbibed these tales through the teachings of the mendicants called Gossains who travelled through tribal land (Singh 1993 :3). Some tribes also identify themselves with anti-heroes, such as Ravana. Elwin was first scholar who described the aboriginal Purana. Jesuit scholar Fr. Camil Bulcke collected not only tribal (Indo-Aryan and Dravidian) versions of Ram-Katha, but also Buddhist and Jain versions of Rama Katha. Right from Rajasthan and Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh, Western Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and some parts of northeast we witness unique versions of Rama Katha adopted, spread and recreated. The Munda tribe offers an indigenous etymological explanation of Sita-'found under (ta) the plough (si)'. Ravana is described as a noble hero who belonged to a clan of the Munda tribe. The Pradhan, an occupational group belonging to the Gonds, have an account of Lakshmana which is different from the ideal younger brother protrayed in the classic Ramayana. The Mech tribals in Assam trace the Hindu-Muslim conflict to their version of Rama-Katha, according to which Lakshmana ate beef, became a Muslim and begot two sons, Hasan and Hussian, who were killed by Lava and Kusha (Roy Burman 1958).Singh (1993) says the spread of Rama Katha and its readaptation illustrates yet another facet of India's cultural formation – the interaction of homogenizing influences with vibrant local cultural systems, which makes our pluralism a living and ongoing process.

    Rama-Katha has rich tradition of spread in parts of Assam and beyond. In order to suite their own cultural milieu, the Bodo Kacharis have rearranged , reconstituted and reconstructed the Ramayana. The Bodo Kacharis were influenced by the Assames version of Rama Katha which had been expounded by the Kathakas into a simple rendition for the unlettered masses.

    Rama Katha was carried outside India by the 2nd and 3rd century and was readily accepted by Mons, Khmers, Khotanese and Mongolians giving rise to newer versions of the epic incorporating local traditions. The Ramayana travelled to South East Asia and other remote areas through a band of intrepid missionaries like Matanga, Kashyapa, Kaundinya as also through sailors, traders and settlers who travelled overland through Assam to South East Asia. The local versions that have developed in Sri Lanka, Siam, Laos, Burma, Tibet, (even though they maintained the basic structure of the story), introduce slight variations by adopting and mixing strains from their local cultural milieu (Swami Bangovinda Parampanthi, 1993).

    The Khamti Ramayana is of Buddhist religious affiliation. The Khamtis are a Buddhist tribe living in the Lakhimpur district of Assam and the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh. In religious matter their links with the Burmese Buddhist centres are still very strong. The Khamti Ramayana has a tribal character a clear deviation from the Hindu tradition.

    The Rama of Khamti Ramayana is a Bodhisattva who manifests himself in this form to punish and subdue the sinful and tyrannical Ravana (B.Datta 1993). There are large numbers of old manuscripts among the people belonging to the Tai stock. The first Ahom king Sukapha (12th century) brought many manuscripts on religion and culture to Assam. The manuscripts had continued to be written in the Tai language even after the Ahoms conquered Assam. The Tai people who migrated later such as Tai-Khamptis, Khamyanas, Aitons, Tai-Phakes and the Turungs also brought many manuscripts, mostly related to Buddhism. LamaMang, The Tai Ramayana, was one such manuscript brought by these people with them (Shyam 1993). In these examples we witness a process of blending of elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, particularly observable in adoptions and reinterpretation of Rama-Katha.


    This paper is an attempt to comprehend the elusive and synthesized structure of Indian civilization through the vantage point of syncretistic religious and cultural traditions of India. The case studies and empirical evidences presented have shown how religious ideas, rituals and cultural traits mediate between diverse ethnic communities, religious communities, sects, and cultural regions and give rise to a complex unity. The complex cultural unity of India is built up through protracted inter-relationship of the diverse cultural traditions, both literate and pre-literate. An attempt was made here to provide meaning to and draw certain conceptual linkages by focusing attention on empirical situations that reflect the phenomenon of religious and cultural syncretism in varied degrees. This paper has tried to establish, on the one hand, the falsity of the presupposed singleness of religious allegiance of the adherents, and highlights, on the other hand, the multiplicity of religious suppositions and confessional observances forged by amalgamation of distinct religious customs and beliefs, which ultimately sustain and maintain syncretistic religious cosmos of Indian civilization. This paper has thus tried to provide a fresh perspective by challenging many popularly held beliefs about the rigidities of the faith and by highlighting the glowing sphere of inter - faith harmony, which is the need of the era. It has endeavored to present syncretism not only as a viable way of life, but also as a vigorous theoretical category.

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.

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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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