Festivals of the Bhuinyas of Orissa

Kailash Chandra Das

    The Bhuinyas are widely distributed over India. They are found in varying numerical strength and social status in Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhotanagpur, Assam, the united Provinces, Central India Agency and the Madras Presidency. (Risley 1892: 108-116; Roy 1935:I) In the 19th and 20th centuries their principal stronghold was in the Northern Tributary States of Orissa (Keonjhar, Bonai, Pal Lahara, Gangapur and Singhbhum). According to Dalton, they are a dark brown, well-proportioned race with black straight hair, plentiful on the head, of middle height, figures well knit and capable of enduring great fatigue. (Risley 1892:III) In Orissa the Bhuinyas were over one Iakh and fifty thousand in number in the l960s out of which seventy-two thousands were in Keonjhar (Pattnaik 1961:804). Due to their extensive settlement in Keonjhar and Sundargarh zone the area is called Bhuinya Pidha. They had lasting contribution to the Orissan cultural life in the early and medieval phase. They were associated with countless traditions. They had great contribution, to the refashioning of Hindu culture in Eastern India in the medieval phase. The political and cultural history of medieval Orissa when properly analysed tells the connection of the Bhuinyas with several dynasties (royal families) of Keonjhar, Bonai, Gangpur and Singhbhum. There was cultural interaction between the Hindus and Bhuinyas in the medieval Orissa. The Bhuinya priests have religious, and ritual authority over the Hindu temples of Bonai, Gangpur and Singhbhum zones. Therefore it is necessary on our part to understand the cultural significance of the Bhuinyas in the context of wider analysis of Orissa History. In this paper my emphasis is on the festivals of the Bhuinyas on the basis of the information furnished by older sources.


   In order to comprehend the festive occasions of the Bhuinyas, the true nature of their religious belief should be first appreciated. The Bhuinyas believe in the presence of an invisible spirit, which interprets this world of man and is capable of controlling the forces of nature and the course of human life (Roy: 206). In order to propitiate and conciliate the supernatural beings, whose help was indispensable for their existence they worshipped many gods and goddesses (Roy: 207-208; Mishra: 1316: 249 – 254). The faith in supernatural beings for success in all undertakings such as hunting, fruit gathering, forest clearing and agricultural operations, led them to adopt many rites and festive occasions. The festivals observed by them are partly due to their generative attitude towards supernatural objects, which they consider as the main source of their living, and partly due to their desire for harmony with the Hindus. Their festivals have also served as a marker of their amusement.

   Some public feasts and festivals ,which they observe round the year, are extremely important in their economic lives so as to ensure safety and prosperity in their seasonal occupations. Such festivals are the following.

1.The Magha Paraba or Magha Jatra Festival: 

   It marks the end of the agricultural year. It is a festival of rejoicing and thanks giving for the blessings of the out-going year while preparing to enter into the fresh labours of the coming year with its manifest dangers. (Roy: 233 – 234). For this occasion an open space outside the settlement is cleaned, and four newly cut logs of wood brought from the jungles to form a small quadrangle on the ground. It is then roofed over either with logs of wood as in Keonjhar and Pal Lahara or with grass, leaves and straw as in Bonai. At mid-day the Dihuri (Priest), with each eye covered up with a rice-flour cake, in some places, but uncovered in other areas, sets fire to this quadrangular shed while all present shout, "Hari Bol" (calling God). In some Bhuinya villages, on this occasion, the hut burning is done with fire generated by the friction of two pieces of wood. All fire in other houses, is extinguished and new fire is lit from this ceremonial fire. With this new fire Jau (rice boiled in milk) is cooked for offerings to the Ancestor-Spirits. On this day no Pauri Bhuinya will allow fire to be taken out of his house by anybody. This ritual of hut burning does not appear to be a rite of purgation or purification to which similar hut burning by sterile women in several parts of India has been attributed by Crook. (For the reference see Man in India, February 1919, pp.18-25). According to Roy the present rite may be a mimetic representation of jungle clearing for purposes of Koman cultivation and is intended to have magic influence on their agricultural operations. The ashes of this burnt hut are also believed to have a magical virtue. The Pauris of Keonjhar and Pal Lahara States note the direction from which the echo of Hari Bol appears to reverberate and conduct their- Koman or jhuming operation on that side in the ensuing; year and it is believed to promise success. Every one present puts a mark (tika) on his forehead with the ashes of this burnt shed. The remaining ashes are taken up by the Pauris present and some take their share home and some keep it in the Manda house. The ashes are believed to bring them luck. In the Bonai area some one carries the Dihuri  home on his back and others follow him. Arrived at his home the Dihuri   pours a little water on everybody’s feet and brings rice-flour cakes, which, he distributes to all present. Since morning, the men have all kept fasting and when every one returns home an exceptionally, good dinner awaits him. But in the 1930s in every village of Keonjhar only the Dihuri   observes the fast. Next morning the Dihuri   bathes and goes to the spot where the extemporized hut was burnt and there scatters, a handful of paddy-seeds over the ashes and leaves the place. Then two other Pauris of the village go there with a plough; one of then hold a plough and the other drives it over the ashes sown over by the Dihuri  and then go away. The Dihuri  with a number of villagers who have remained in fast since morning go to the Darbar by the side of which Boram and gai-sri have their seats. There the Dihuri  offers some rice, and sacrifices a few fowls to Boram and gai-sri and then cocks the meat of the fowls. The Dihuri  and the other villagers take each other rice and a new earthen vessel to the place and every one boils his own rice and eat a it with a little of the cooked meat given by the Dihuri.

   It is only after this ceremonial burning of newly cut logs of wood and the ceremonial ploughing, and scattering of seeds on the ashes that the villager may cut wood or fell trees from the jungles, begin new clearings of their hill-slopes, and begin fresh agricultural operation. Any person who wants to cut wood before the festival will be required to propitiate the Boram spirit by sacrificing fowl. It is particularly on this occasion of the Magh Jatra festival that Pauri boys (especially in the Bonai areas) from ceremonial friendship with one another. Similar ceremonial friendships are customary among the Mundas, the Birhors and allied tribes. The different forms of such artificial friendship are known as Maitra, Sanga, Jamdair and Maha-prasad. This will indicate the linkage of this non-tribal plain people with the tribals.

The Makara Jatra

   It is observed only by the Bhuinyas of village Kuria in the Bonai areas and it was not known among the Pauris of Keonjhar and Pal Lahera in the I930s, (Roy: 238). But now it is a very important festival of the Bhuinyas. On the full moon day in the month of Paus, Bhuinyas from different villages of Kuira pragana as also some Pauris from Pauri Pragana assemble from village Kuira to celebrate the festival. Those who come from other villages come with cakes and other food for their day's meal, unless they have friends or relatives at Kuira with whom they may have their meals. In every house at Kuira cakes are made and those who can afford to do so kill fowls and goats. In the morning the Dihuri  offers water, molasses, flowers and arua (sun dried) rice to a sacred stone in an open field outside the village. This stone is called Nageswar Mahadeva. In the after noon on an open space in front of the asthana of Nageswar Mahadeva men dance the Paiki dance. It is after this festival that servants are released from their years engagement and new servants appointed. The Makar Yatra is essentially a harvest festival and is really a festival of the Kuira Pragana Bhuinyas among who wet cultivation of lowland rice is extensively practiced and who appear to have borrowed this from the semi-Hinduised Bhuinyas and other tribes and castes of the plains. The only genuine harvest festival of the Pauris appears to be the Magha Jatra festival.

The Karam Jatra Festival

   A few Pauri families celebrate the Karam Yatra in between the month of Asvin to Agrahaana (October – mid December) after their low–land paddy has been harvested, but before it has been thrashed. Tow or three days before he festival, the Dihuri  and Naik meet at the Durbar one evening and fix a date for the Karam Jatra and notify the day to the villagers. So, that they may provide themselves with rice and molasses for the occasion. On the morning of the day fixed, the Darbar ground is cleaned with cow dung and water, a mud altar is prepared and a canopy of leaves and twigs is put over it. The Dihuri  who fasts the whole day, goes in the evening to the jungle, cuts a Karam (Nauclea parvifolia) branch and brings it to the Darbar. A number of girls who have also fasted go there with arua rice, Frankincense and molasses and hand over to the Dihuri  who offers these to the sacred branch. Then the karam branch is planted on the altar while women go on making the hurhura sound (by rotating tongue). The girls own bow down before the karam branch say, "O Karam Raja, O Karam Rani, We are making Karam Dharam". Then some old man who knows the legend of karam and Dharam recites it to the girls. That evening cakes and other delicacies are prepared at each house. Guests from other villages are entertained at different houses and feast, dance, drink and rejoice through out the night. Next morning the Dihuri  after making ablutions again offers rice and molasses to the sacred Karam deity. Then he takes up he branch and hands it over to the boys of the village who carry it from house to house. At each house the women wash the feet of Karam Raja by pouring water at the lower of the Karam branch and present boys with cakes. The boys finally immerse the Karam branch in the water of some stream or water-channel, return home and take the cakes, Kesab Chandra Mishra in the first and second decades of 20th century wrote about the festival in Utkala Sahitya in a different manner. (Mishra: 251).

   According to Mishra Karam Jatra was celebrated by the Bhuinyas for making good harvest for the year and hope their wants will be satisfied. They plant two branches of Karma Plant in the ground and call them Raja and Rani and perform their marriages. On the occasion a snake and a bird are taken to the spot. The mouth of the snake is sealed so that it cannot bite. Then they are placed before the women. The birds are tied with the branches and they are killed by throwing stones.

Akhin Parva

   This is the annual hunting festival of the Bhuiyas. It is held on the third day of the moon (Akshyaya Tritia) in the month of Chait (March). The preceding evening, the Dihuri  informs the villagers that they are to start on the annual Akhin or Akhin Pardhi expediting on the following morning. All men wishing to join the hunt assemble at the Akhra in the morning armed with their bows, arrows ad axes. In Bonai before they start every man in the party offers a piece of turmeric to Basuki Mata(snake goddess), but in Keonjhar and Pal Lahara, this is seldom done. The Dihuri  leads the party. Arrived at the jungle a few men reputed as daring and fearless act as shooter or ghataris who hid themselves behind branches and twigs put up as screens and remain seated with their weapons ready for use. The rest of the party acts as charaharis or beaters who drive the animals of the forest towards the ghataris. As soon as any game is bagged, the Dihuri  or other leader takes a little blood of the game ad offers it to Boram and gai-sri, saying-here we offer you the blood of slain animals. May we have many more now and ever." The man who has shot the animal then offers a little of its blood to his own ancestor spirits (Pitris).

   When the hunt is over, all go with the spoils of the day to the Naik’s house. There some female of the Naik’s family washes the feet of such hunters as have succeeded in bringing down an animal, ceremonially kiss their hands and anoint forehead with turmeric paste. The two hind legs of each game are presented to the Naik as Akhni-Bheti (present o he hunt) and the Naik in return gives them either a new cloth if he has none, some amount of money depending on big or small animal. The man whose arrow has killed the particular animal gets the present of the cloth or money meant for it. The rest of the game is divided amongst the different families of the village. The quantity of game bagged is regarded as an indication of the good or bad out turn of the next harvest. Similar annual hunting festivals are customary among most Munda tribes.

The Am-nua Festival

   It is celebrated in December or January when the mango blossoms have come out. On a day fixed or notified beforehand by the Dihuri , the latter makes his ablutions in the morning, threashes new rice, and with the arua rice thus prepared and a little frankincense, molasses, mango blossoms and rice flour, he goes to the seat of Gai-Sri and there offers these to Boram and Gai-Sri. A number of villagers attend the puja, after having had their ablutions. Then the Dihuri  will prepare jau by boiling arua rice in water with mango-blossoms in a stone vessel. A little of this jau is first offered to Gai-Sri and Boram, and then a little is given to every villager present. Until this ceremony has been performed in the village no villagers  eat mangoe or other new fruit of the season or manure his fields.

Tirtia Muti:


   On the third day of the moon (Akshya Tritiya Day) in the month of Baisakha, the ceremonial sowing of paddy seeds is performed to ensure good crops. Each cultivator separately perform for his own benefit, as this is called the tirtia muti ceremony. The man observes continence on the day preceding the ceremony and eats only one meal consisting of arua rice boiled in an earthen vessel ad taken in the daytime. Next morning either his wife or some other woman, who is not in her menses and has not slept with her husband but has observed continence and fasted the preceding night, bathes her and husks some arua rice. The man too bathes in the morning and carries this arua rice and some paddy seeds to his Koman or field patch on the hill slope or to other land. Those who have no rice field will, all the same, ceremonially sow a few paddy seeds on the Tirtia Muti day on his Bari Lad where merely vegetables, maize, gondlie etc. are grown. Offerings of arua rice are made to each of the principal deities Dharam deota, Basu-Mata, Boram and Gai-Sri by placing a handful of rice on his rice field (koman) or bari land. In the case of a rice field, arua rice is also offered to lakshmi by placing a handful of it over the paddy seeds in the basket; those who only grow maize, gondle etc. and have no rice cultivation omit this offering to Lakshmi. Now the man scatters the paddy seeds and either ploughs the land or just uses the ploughshare to turn up the soil a little, even though there has been no rain yet and the soil is too hard for ploughing. Still on the Tirtiya Muti day the Pauri cultivator must not omit this ceremony. Should he do so, he is sure to have bad luck. Most other tribes in Orissa celebrate similar sowing festivals.

Bihira or Bihura or Asarhi Puja

   This puja (worship) intended to ensure reasonable and abundant rainfall and a bumper harvest. In the month of Asara (June-July) the Dihuri  calls the villagers to the darbar and fixes a day for the performance of Bihira Puja. On the morning of the appointed day each villager gives some paddy to him. The Dihuri  then bathes, takes the rice and goes to the seat of Gai Sri and prays for abundant rainfall and good crops. The sacrifice of a goat or of a fowl is made every year. In some villages sacrifices are made on this occasion to other village gods as well.

Gamha Punai or Gunta Punai

   Two or three days before the full moon in the month of Srabana (August) the men of the village assemble at the darbar and request the Naik and Dihuri  to borrow on their behalf some rice and molasses for the Gumha punai festival, the loan to be repaid at the next harvest. At this time of the year, most Pauris have no rice or other grain left in his house. A day or two before the full moon the Naik and Dihuri  procure the necessary rice etc. or advance tem from their own stock if any and the villagers who need them divide these amongst themselves according to their respective requirements and means or repayment. The day before the full moon, paddy is threshed and hushked in every village, and those who possess any cattle give tem some salt to eat and anoint their horns with sesame oil. On the full moon day, Pithas or cakes are prepared in each house with rice flour, and a hearty meal of boiled rice, pulses etc is prepared and eaten. In the evening the Pauris who possess any cattle wash their hoofs when the cattle return home from the jungle, anoint their foreheads with turmeric paste and feed them with raw rice and puffed rice (called khai). Lamps are lighted in the cattle-sheds that night. On the Gumha Punai day and the day preceding it their cattle are given absolute rest by the Pauris.

Bar and Nua Khia Festivals:


   The Bar and the Nua-khia ceremonies are intended to make the reaping and eating of the new rice innocuous. On a day fixed before hand at the durbar, the dehuri bathes in the morning, pours libations of water and makes offerings of rice, molasses and frankincense to Boram and gai-sri. He then proceeds in company with other villagers to the Goda or upland paddy fields of the village and cuts a few sheaves of Goda paddy fields from their fields, including his own, if he has any. Each cultivator now goes to their own fields, offers a little arua rice, water molasses and frankincense to Dharam devata and cuts a few sheaves of paddy which are taken home and kept suspended from the roof and make salutation, by bowing to these sheaves. Subsequently they reap their boda upland crops. To or three days later the Dehuri goes to the Durbar and sacrifices one or more fowls to Boram, cooks the meat and eats it alone. Then in a new earthen vessel he boils new boda rice supplied by the villagers, offers this jau first to gai-shri and then to his own ancestral spirits. He first eats a portion of Jau himself and gives the remnant to other members of the family to eat. After this the other villagers may eat the new rice. Before doing so every Pauri must offer a little of it to his own ancestral spirits in the Bahitar of his house. Here it may be noted that the principal deities (Boram or Dharm and Basuki Mata or Thakurani and the Patries) of the Pauri Bhuyans still receive homage from the low land Bhuiyans and most of the same festivals are still observed by both. The low land Bhuiyans have also adapted some of the rites and deities of their neighbour Hindu. Thus instead of the sacrifice of fowls and animals, offerings of milk, ghee and sweets are offered by the plain land Bhuinyas to some of their deities.


   All the Pauri Bhuinyas of Keonjhar, Bonai and Pal Lahera States meet in a large tribal gathering to associate together in a common religious festival at Bonaigarh once in a year in the month of September or October. It is the festival of the deity Kanta Kumari. (Dash 2001:6-II). This religious festival of the Pauris is of great social significance as it helps in bringing together not only all the Bhuinyas of the Pauri country but also other section of the Bhuinyas as well as some other castes of the Bonai state. The Raja of the Bonai state takes a prominent part in this festival. In the 1930s it has become a tribal festival of the Pauris and a territorial festival from all the castes and tribes of Bonai areas. This annual tribal gathering had originated through the chance discovery of a particularly shaped piece of metal. It has developed into a great socio-political and socio-religious congress of the tribes. Bhuinyas celebrate Dasahara festival. They worship Devi after the harvest.(Pattnaik:809) A part of the harvest is dedicated to the worship of the deity (Devi) and after this offering the Bhuinyas also celebrate the important festivals like Prathamastami, makara ustav, Agi-Jala Purnima, Dola Purnima, Pana Sankrati, Raja, Gamha Purnima and Rasa. In Keonjhar and Mayurbhanjh Prathamastami, Makara and Raja are very famous. These are also observed by Hindus.

   The worship of Paudi Devi, a Bhuinya deity that is confined to Singbhum, Bonai and Keonjhar is connoted, with a very famous festival. (Dash: 4-6), On the fixed day after the Sukla Chaturthi of the month of Bhadra each year the product of the new harvest is first offered to Ma Paudi at Paudi Mel near Seraikella. This is called Nuakhia Jantal. None of the whole of the Singbhum will take new rice before it is offered to the Goddess. After the Nuakhia Jantal at Seraikella other similar Jantals follow in other Paudi Stans through out Seraikella-Singhbhum. These ceremonies go to add towards the cultural unity of the lands of Sri Paudi. There is another Jantal on the Jyestha Sukla Chaturthi, which is observed in many parts of Singhbhum.

   In every ten years there is a national gathering at Paudi Mel just outside Seraikella town. People from all areas and near' assemble in thousands and offer sacrifices at the altar of Ma Paudi. It is the national festival of the land, a sort of miniature Kumbha Mela and is also named by the name of Dasandi or Decennial Jantal. After the Jantal is over people must not go out of the prescribed area but must cook their food within the space formed by two streamlets and the river Kharkai. It is a sight to see little fires springing up here and there. After the food is cooked the congregation must eat it there too, and one is not allowed to take out even a morsel of food outside the prescribed area. In every ten years the people must meet, worship the common goddess and feel that each and every one of them is of the same nationality and culture. During the course of long ten years when parties and factions, quarrels and strife appear to disrupt the body politic, comes the great Paudi Mel to unite anew the common bonds of fellowship and culture and create communities of interest and purpose for the whole land.

   On the occasion of the Bhuinya 'Jatras', Pauri boys also enjoy themselves in another way, They go in a body from house to house in their village and beg for rice cakes and rice and any other eatables. They eat the cakes together on the same day, and on a subsequent day enjoy a picnic on the bank of a hill stream. The festivals of the Bhuinyas are a great rallying force for all. The central element of the Bhuinyas festivals is their comphasising belief in unseen supernatural power which direct  the course of human life. The various rites and ceremonies are designed to establish friendly relations with such powers with the object of securing good luck. The Bhuinya priest, the Dehuris, play a very significant role in the festive occasions. The Dehuris were rooted in the primitive system of worship of the areas. At every religious festivals, the supreme spirit or Dharam Devata and the earth spirit or Basuki - mata or Basu-Mata are first invoked, though not ordinarily with any sacrifices and offerings. "Tare Basu-Mata Upare Dharam Devata" is an expression not only before all invocations to the deities and spirits but also used on all social festive occasions. Konta Kumari is a new deity who has attained almost to the position of a general deity in the Bonai areas. She is identified with the Hindu goddess Durga, the manifestation of the protective power. Thus Bhuinya festive moments are linked with their nature of religion and belief.


  • Dash Kailash Chandra .. 2002. "A study of two celebrated tribal Deities of Western Orissa" in Banaja, Academy of Tribal Dialects and Culture, Govt. of Orissa, Bhubaneswar. P. 3-11
  • Mishra, Keshav Chandra 1316(Sala) "Bhuyan Jatra Iitihasa" (History of the Bhuinyas), Utkal Sahitya e.d. Biswanath Kar, Cuttack, Vol. XIII, No X, p. 245-254
  • Pattnaik Prananath 1961 .. "Abahelita Bhuiyan Adivasi" (Neglected Bhuinya Tribe), Navajiban, ed. Chintamani Mishra, March-April, Vol. V, No. XII, p.804-815
  • Roy Sarat Chandra 1935.. The Hill Bhuinyas of Orissa, Man in India Office, Ranchi.
  • Risley H.H. 1892 .. The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Vol. I, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta