The Making of the Saunti Tribe

Dr. Biyotkesh Tripathy

Origins: Children of the Forest
Origins: from Uttar Pradesh
The History of Keonjhar, Goddess Tarini and the Saunties


Origins: Children of the Forest

[M 30. Tribe: Saunti. Village: Karanjiapada, Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: Biyotkesh Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 57, Side A. O. Tr. Pp.: 4000-07. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 38. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Myth-Legend.]Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy
Teller: Raghunath Dehuri

I had asked my uncle about from where we had originally come. He had told me that we had originally lived in a forest. Not to speak of where our seat was, [even] where we came here from is, perhaps, unknown to us. He said that we had lived in a forest. We lived in the forest as children. The children played every day in "siali" vines. When they were thus playing, the king of Keonjhar came hunting one day. When he came hunting, he saw them playing on swings. When he saw them swinging, he asked, ‘Who are playing here?’ The king was watching the children play from a distance. He then said, ‘If we take them to our place, they can surely improve in the future. At least they can serve our people and animals somehow by worship and begging.’

Then he thought about how to take such small children. He was a little worried. When he went to catch these children, they vanished. At this time a woman appeared before him. She told the king, ‘You cannot take them like this. You come with your army and followers. When you do that, they will go with you of their own will. If you want to carry them away, they will not go.’ When the king got this answer, he went back home and returned with his soldiers and followers. On reaching the place, he again saw the children playing on the swing in that forest. [When approached], they again vanished. Again, the woman appeared.

She said, ‘Since you have come according to my bidding, the children will go to you according to their volition. You go back. The children will go by themselves and reach inside the palace you might have built for them.’

So the king went back. When he reached home, [he found that] the children were in the palace [built for them]. Seeing this, the king was astonished. Really.

Slowly the children started growing up. When they had grown up, [the king] said to them, ‘These our people who are living here, [save them] from cholera and small pox. [Give them] cows, bullocks, goats, sheep, buffaloes, and all such things so that they can live. You live by worship and alms.’

Then the king ordered every village to perform ritual worship. This is still continuing among us by tradition. He has given land [for cultivation and homestead]. We have been living on that. The other subjects are also living like that.

After that, as those children grew up, their families grew, for the king had given those children of the jungle women to mate. Thus the tribe grew in number. Taking land they started living. What else? Their work was to be Dehuris [priests]. They performed pujas and did cultivation.


Origins: from Uttar Pradesh

[M 50. Tribe: Saunti. Village: Kapundi, Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: Biyotkesh Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 58, Side A. O. Tr. Pp.: 4087-98. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 41. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Legend.]Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy
Teller: Gautam Bisoi

The Saunties came from Uttar Pradesh. When king Purushottama Bhanja won his victory and Gobinda Bhanja had given [Goddess] Tarini, they held a great yagnya [fire sacrifice] for the greatly extended kingdom. As a result, [when they looked for Brahmins], there none in Orissa. When there were no Brahmins, the king said, ‘Go,’ and sent his messengers to Uttar Pradesh. He told his Minister, ‘Go and bring Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh.’

So, the Minister went. [When he reached there and made his king’s request known], the king of Uttar Pradesh said, ‘It’s good that you have come, but what offer have you brought from your king? What can you give [to these Brahmins?’]

The Minister replied, ‘I can give nothing.’

[So, the king of Uttar Pradesh expressed his inability to comply with the request.] When this was said, the Minister returned disappointed. Having returned, he told his king.

Purushottama Bhanja asked, ‘What happened?’

‘This is what happened. I could not give them any assurances. They are asking for wealth and people to serve them.’

So the king again wrote a letter. Again the Minister went. He handed over the letter to the king [of Uttar Pradesh]. Saunties were the people who provided service for the Brahmins. In Uttar Pradesh they were called Dalapanthi [followers of the group]. When the king of Uttar Pradesh summoned the Brahmins [and explained the situation to them], the Brahmins said, ‘How can we go alone? If our helpers do not go, who will provide things for us? Who will make arrangements for our food and give us even a drop of water?’

When the Brahmins responded thus, the king asked, ‘Then, what do you want?’

‘We want the people who provide service for us [to go with us]. Those who will give us a drop of water that we can drink. Since there are no Brahmins there, no [acceptable] helpers will be available there. So we shall have no one to serve us. Who will provide things for us? So, give us people to serve, we shall go with them.’

So, the king gathered together some poor people [and sent them with the Brahmins.]

When they arrived—these Brahmins and their serving people, the Saunties—the yagnya began. The Brahmins sat to perform the yagnya. The Saunties provided water and all the other things required for the ritual. Thus, the yagnya ritual was completed.

King Purushottama Bhanja asked [these helpers,] ‘What is your race or caste?’

When the king asked them, they said, ‘Our caste is Dalapanthi.’

‘Where from have you come?’

‘We came from here and there, each one from a different place.’

‘Okay. There you had been given the name of Dalapanthi, but in my kingdom you will be known as Saunti [since you have been gathered (saunta) from different regions.] You have come as the helpers of the Brahmins.’

Then Purushottama Bhanja said, ‘From today you have become Saunti.’

This tribe is the enemy of lies and betrayals. They are always truthful and never tell lies. So, the king gave them land here. He gave land to the Brahmins as also to the Saunties. These, all these titular land grants to the Saunties are from those days.

They were [also] warriors. They had many qualities and abilities. Whatever they said used to happen. If they shot an arrow from here, it would land in Bhubaneswar. If they threw a stone from here, it used to reach Bombay. Such power they had. That is why the Brahmins do not leave them. At last the king recognized their talent. So, the king asked them to go and live in this place. He gave land to all of them. Everyone lived there.

When war was fought for Singhabhuin with Bihar, our king at the time was Janardan Bhanja. When the war was fought, we had a man, a valiant warrior, a big man. His name was Radhamohan Mahapatra. His son was Bhakta Bisoi. He was taken. The king took all the warriors that we had to the war. Everyone was defeated. When Bhakta Bisoi went, the Tentaposhi War was fought. When the war started, he gave a loud war cry and then the trees and hills turned into warriors. So, the enemy was destroyed.

When he came from there, the king made him happy. He showered praise on him. He gave him an iron sword and some money too. Gave him ten "manas" of land at Rai Tihar. When he came back, Radhamohana Mahapatra was there in our tribe. They were looking after all our things. Government was not taking care of anything. British Government was there at the time. But they were looking after everything—who died, who went, who was lost. If someone became widow, Mahapatra was bringing her, selling her or even sending her to men who wanted women. Administration was like this. He died recently, in 1964. This is how he was ruling our tribe. So, we were suffering like this. And he used to force us to work without pay. This Radhamohana Mahapatra of our tribe, he was torturing us.

When our Orissa Government was formed, then our sorrows slowly receded. But, all the same, to speak the truth, Saunties have not been able to develop or advance. I mean, they are not able to advance because of their truthfulness and simplicity. Why, because, whoever calls them for work, they would go, whether he pays or not. When they went, what happened. ‘Wages? Come day after tomorrow.’ This is how the Saunties have been living in sorrow and difficulties.


The History of Keonjhar, Goddess Tarini and the Saunties

Teller: Jagadananda Das (Misra) [M 60. Tribe: Brahmin (Expert on Saunties). Village: Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: B. K. Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 59, Side B. O. Tr. Pp.: 4319-43. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 46. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing & emendation). Type: Legend-history-myth.] Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy

Trilochana Bhanja, the king of Keonjhar, ruled Keonjhar from 1461 to 1480. During his reign, due to some reason, a quarrel ensued between him and his son Gobinda Bhanja. So, the latter left Keonjhar and went to Puri, where according to convention established by the Gajapati [dynasty of Puri], all royal personages had houses at Puri. He lived in that house at Puri. As folk tradition says, the Gajapati king of Puri at the time, Purusottama Deba, waged the Kanchi War from 1474 A.D. to 1475 A.D. He lost in the First Kanchi War.

After he had lost, with that pain at heart, he sat in prayer before Jagannath. He was told [by Lord Jagannath] in a dream, ‘I and my elder brother, Balabhadra, both will go to the Kanchi War. But tomorrow, the man you see first on the Baisi Pahacha [the twenty-two steps leading up to the main temple], tie a silken sari on his head. He will go as your Commander-in Chief. And it would not be too much to call this Jagannath’s kindness or sympathy, that the first person Purusottama met [on the Baisi Pahacha] as he was returning from the audience [with the Lord], was Gobinda Bhanja. And the silken sari was tied to his head. In the Second Kanchi War, Gobinda Bhanja went as the Commander of the army. The war was fought at Kanchi. The king of Kanchi was defeated and died in the war.

Gobinda Bhanja, having won the war, took away as memento the statue of Ganesha and Madanamohana that was there. He also carried away from there the guardian deity of Kanchi, Mother Tarini. Finally, he brought with him Commander-in-Chief of Kanchi. When they came, the king’s place was not at Puri but at Khurda fort. [He went there.] After six seven days of his arrival, message came from Keonjhar that Trilochana Bhanja had passed away. The cremation and death rituals would be performed when the prince arrived. So he had to leave precipitously. The Gajapati [king of Puri], very pleased with this victory crowned him as king and gave to him the subdivisions of Athgarh or Anandpur as a tax-free gift and declared him the hereditary Supervisor of the Jagannath Temple [at Puri]. When he was returning to Keonjhar—it was 1480—he established the Madanamohana statue at Trilochanapur Dandapat. And, as per folk tradition, when he looked back to see if goddess Tarini was following, when he did not hear her horse hoof sound [thus breaking his oath not to look back], she remained at Ghatagan [the place where he had looked back].

The naming of Ghatagan comes from that tradition. When Mother Tarini remained there, she had said, ‘You are unclean now as there has been a death in your family. You can’t do anything for me. I am staying under this tree. You hang a "ghata" [pot] of "ghee" [clarified butter] over me so that it would keep dripping on me. I shall be satisfied with that.’ Since the ghata was tied there the village was named Ghata Grama [Pot Village]. In course of time, the name changed into Ghatagan. Tarini stayed there.

The Ganesha he had was brought was installed in the Puri temple on the request of the Gajapati king. He is still there and is known as Bata Ganesha [Ganesha under the banyan tree].

Then he [Gobinda Bhanja] came to Keonjhar. He ascended the throne after the death rituals were completed. The crowning ceremony was over.

One day the royal congregation was organized. [Many people gathered.] At this time, the Kanchi Commander-in-Chief who had come [with Gobinda Bhanja] raised a question. He said, ‘O king, you had brought me with you. Just as you were the Commander of your army, I was a Commander too. You brought me as a Commander. I have not been badly treated in Keonjhar. I have been paid the respect due to me. But your Excellency is now the king of Keonjhar. I am staying with you. But I have neither my family or my own people with me, nor any followers. How shall I live?’

When the Kanchi Commander raised this question, the king ordered, ‘Bring a "jala" [a net.] A net was brought. The net was spread among the congregation so that it surrounded some people. Those who remained within the net [jala] were named "Bedhajala" [net enclosed]. And since they were from many communities and had been randomly collected ["saunta"], they were also called Saunti. Only Keonjhar is the birthplace of the Sauntis. The Saunti tribe or community was created here. After they were created, he [the Kanchi Commander] was given the title of Guman Singh. Jaigopal Guman Singh Bedhajala Mahapatra, such was his name. And he was made a landlord at Mushakhori and Kapundi with 120 "bati" [2400 acres] of land. And he was also appointed Commander-in-Chief by the king. This is the history of the birth of the Saunti tribe. Since they had been gathered from many communities they were called Saunti [deriving it from the word "sauntiba" which means "to gather"].

And in the time of the same Gobinda Bhanja, when Jagannath and Balabhadra were going [for the Kanchi war,] we have a folklore about Manika Gauduni. And there is another lore about hocking a "kudua" [earthen pot in which Jagannath’s offerings are cooked] in exchange for drinking water from "Gudia" [snack seller], thereby making them "touchable" from untouchable. The Gudia community was one from which even water could not be accepted. Jagannath and Balabhadra had pawned the kudua to them. With Manika Gauduni [cowgirl named Manika] they had hocked a gold ring. These liberated communities could now serve the Brahmins. Otherwise they could not serve Brahmins. At that time the kings were establishing "sasana" villages where a few Brahmins were settled. They governed the people living around them according to the legal and administrative system. As people providing service to them the first preference had been given to these cow tending people. They would serve the Brahmins and provide service to installed deities. When this tribe of Sauntis was created in Keonjhar they were given the privilege of serving the Brahmins.