Rituals And Festivals Of The Ho Tribe

Dr. Basanta Kumar Mohanta


    Some of the eastern Indian states like, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal possess a large number of tribal population. These three states being contiguous have many tribal communities such as Santal, Munda and Ho, spread over these three states. This paper deals with the rituals and festivals of the Ho tribe spread in two contiguous locations of Saraikella-Kharsuan (erstwhile West Singhbhum) district of Jharkhand and Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. Of the two core villages from where the data are mainly collected, Rabankocha, is an uni-ethnic Ho village situated in Jharkhand and the Badhatnabeda, a multi-ethnic village,  located in Orissa . While the Orissa village is exposed to urban and mining environment, the Jharkhand village is comparatively interior and less exposed to the urban influences. The Hoes of these two villages have much commonality in terms of cultural and religious beliefs and practices.

The People

    The Ho is one of the major tribes of Jharkhand and Orissa. The Calhan area of Jharkhand is the original place of their inhabitant. In due course of time they spread towards its neighboring areas of Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal and even a few to Assam. These Hoes belong to the Proto-Astrologic group. They are of short stature, dark complex with broad and flat nose. In the Ho language the word 'Ho' means a man and accordingly any human being can be designated as a Ho. From the field situation it is clear that the term 'Ho' is only used by this community to identify them, whereas the other neighboring communities address them by the term 'Kola'. The Ho belong to the Munda branch of Austro-Asiatic languages and allied to Sandal and Mandarin dialects in certain respect. In Jharkhand (as it belonged to erstwhile Hindi state of Bihar till recently) the Hindi language based on Denair script is used for inter-community communication where as among themselves they speak Ho dialect. The Ho of Orissa use both Hindi and Oriya languages and Oriya script. They have a strong belief in religion, spirit and super natural powers. They worship different Gods and Goddesses residing in nearby jungles and hills. The Singhbonga or the Sun God is the supreme deity worshipped by them, who is mainly responsible for the rain, crop, life, and other necessities related to life. Besides Singhbonga, the Ho also worship a number of other deities like Marangburu, Goodie era, Japer era etc. The worship of both benevolent and malevolent spirits is also practiced among the Ho. They celebrate both traditional and adopted festivals. Their traditional festivals are mostly associated to their agricultural activities. The Ho traditionally being a part of an elaborate political system, have a strong traditional base with corresponding political offices to maintain social control. Thus, the Ho of Jharkhand at the lowest level were places under Piers, which were under a Mankind (a divisional headman). Each Ho village has their own headman called Munda. Birth is considered as an important landmark in Ho life cycle. Though a father plays the main role in procreation of a child, it is believed that a child is a gift of Singhbonga. The Hoes practice tribe endogamy and clan exogamy. Marriage within the clan is strictly prohibited and the offenders are treated outcaste from their society. Traditionally, the Ho believe that person dies not because of its old age or disease but because of the evil spirit and black magic. The Ho both bury and cremate their dead. Each clan has their separate burial place, located close to their house.

The Studied Villages

    The first studied village Rabankocha is a traditional village situated under the jurisdiction of Gobindpur (Ranger) block of Saraikella-Kharsuan . This studied village lies in between 22035’ to 220 37’ NL and 86002’ to 86003’ EL The total village area is surrounded with different hills and hillocks. This village itself is located on the foothill of Hatboro. Across the Hatboro the village Gadded is situated at the northern side of the village. The Denature and Baridunuri hills stand on the eastern part of the village. Badkadal, Chard and Human are three multi-ethnic villages situated at the other side of the Jonesboro. The Hatboro covers the entire southwestern part of the village. Another hilly village named Kalajharana is situated on the north-western part of the Hatboro. The hills located at southern side serves as a state boundary of Jharkhand and Orissa states.

    The second studied village Badhatnabeda is situated near the mining town of Badampahar in the Bamanghati subdivision of Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. It is a multi-ethnic village lies in between 22003’ to 22006’ NL and 86000’ to 860 02’ EL. The village falls under the jurisdiction of Kashmir (Badampahar) block and Badampahar police station. It comes within the area of Rairangpur tahasildar and Kathabharia branch post office. The village is well connected by an all season metal road with the Rairangpur-Jashipur branch of state highway near to the Jhaldunguri chaw from where the villagers go to their local town Badampahar through a connecting road.

Concept of Saran

    The Ho, the nature worshippers believe in Saran religion. The word Saran is derived from the word Sir (arrow). The place of worship of the Ho is known as Seneschal or Jarhead which is nothing but a sacred grove, where a set of old Sarcoma (Sal) trees exist. This Seneschal is usually present at a little distance of the village. In his first monumental work "Munda and their Country", Ray Abrader S.C.Roy (1912) has mentioned that "Although the greater portion of the primeval forest, in clearings of which the Munda villages were originally established, have since disappeared under the axe or under the jar-fire. Many a Munda village still retain a portion or portions of the original forest to serve as Saunas or sacred groves. In some Mandarin villages, only a small clump of ancient trees now represent the original forest and serves as the village-Saran. These saunas are the only temples the Munds know. Here the village- gods reside, and are periodically worshipped and propitiated with sacrifices"(1995:242). To describe Saran religion, Dalton (1872:56-57) and Dehorn (1906:124) have mentioned that it is composite in nature but as per Roy (1918:1) it is an organized system of spirits set on a background of vague animism, which institutionally recognizes the deities and ancestral spirits.

Concept of Bongo

    The Ho believe in a number of gods and goddesses as well as some benevolent and maleficent spirits who reside in and around the hills, forests, agricultural lands and their village premises. They also worship their Buras Bury (ancestral spirits) inside their aiding (kitchen). The Ho call all their deities and spirits as Bongo and according to them these Bongos are non-anthropomorphic. Thus, Bongo is the generic term, which is used to signify power and spirit. The same term (Bongo) is also used by the Sandals and Munds of the region. According to Bodding (1942) "All the spirits worshipped by the Santhals are called Bongo". Similarly, Mital (1986:69) has mentioned that "The Bongos among the Santhals are not bound by temporal bodies. The Bongo world of the Santhals includes the benevolent ancestral Bongos as well as the malevolent demons which are worshipped and appeased out of deviation and fear. The major element of Santhal religion is the belief that they are totally of Bongos surrounded by Bongos. These Bongos reside in the house, village, forest and even on the mountain". Similarly, Roy (1918) has mentioned that Munds worship two types– one Manita-bongas and other spirit. While describing about the Bongos of Ho, Majumdar (1950:264-267) has mentioned that "the word Bongo is a generic name, and is applied indiscriminately to refer to gods and spirits. The real meaning of Bongo is a power, a force, and the religion of the Ho may be called Bongaism. This power is so distinctly conceived by the Ho, that the belief in particular spirits may be destroyed without affecting their belief in Bongaism. The power, which we have called Bongo, is possessed by every individual, every animal, every plant, and every stream, rivulet, tank, rock, tree, forest field and mountain. It is possessed in greater or lesser degree by man, which gives him power over or makes him submit to others. When a man possesses a personality and weilds authority over others, he is a Bongaleka, i.e. a man like a Bongo. Bongo does not have any shape. It can take any form. Although the Ho believe in the beneficence of their Bongos, they also know that these Bongos can, and do punish or chastise them. Earthly failures, bodily afflictions, and materials losses are accounted for by the fact that they often disregarded the traditional rules of conduct, and fail to follow the mode of life, which alone can ensure a peaceful and happy existence on earth. Whenever they fall victims to a disease or an epidemic, when their crop fail, or their dexterity in hunting and fishing are of no avail, they first blame themselves and not to the Bongos". From this discussion, it is evident that the Ho believe both in benevolent and malevolent spirits. Some of the important Bongos of the Ho are Marangbonga, Singhbonga, and Dessauli .

    The religious head of the Ho is known as Dehuri/Deuri, who is a mediator between Hor (man) and Bongos. He works as a priest and officiates in all the village or community level worships. The sources of diseases, illness, drought and any other calamity etc. appear to him through dream. He is not able to know about the role of a Bongo directly in his day-today life, but he gets to know about them only through dream.

    The Ho worship these Bongos during different festivals as well as at the each mode of their life cycle rituals. As per the hierarchy or position of the Bongo they offer them flowers, arua rice, bel sakam, tulsi sakam and illi or diang and sacrifice sim (chicken) of different colour, boda/merom (unsterilised he-goat) etc. Serious illness is thought to be an influence of Bongo. The Ho worship them and sacrifice different types of birds/animals to get relief from it. According to Prasad (1961:107-108) and Duary (2000:184) the size/type or grade of sacrifice varies as per the quality of diseases. Initially they sacrifice a sim, if it does not give a good result then a merom is sacrificed. If this sacrifice of merom fails to produce relief then the sacrifice is increased one after another like a sheep or even a calf, cow or buffalo are then sacrificed.

Traditional Festivals

    As a settled agricultural community, most of the festivals of the Ho are associated to their agricultural activities. Their festivals may be divided into two types namely, traditional and adopted. Apart from their domestic traditional rituals, they also worship different bongos communally either in their clan or village levels in different festivals. The traditional Ho festivals are communal in nature where the socio-religious as well as the recreational activities are performed simultaneously.

    Some traditional festivals of the Ho, where their Bongos are worshipped in both family and village/community levels are described below.

(a) Mage


    It is the principal festival of the Ho tribe. It is celebrated in the month of Mage (January-February), when the granaries are full of paddy. For welfare of the villagers, the Ho worship the Singhbonga and Dessauli along with some other Bongos of lesser importance during this festival. Different villagers celebrate this festival on different dates, but at one place it is celebrated for six days. The village Dehuri, with the help of other village headmen, fixes the date for festival and later it is declared in different public places and weekly market centers. Sometimes, they also send special messengers to different villages to invite their relatives. During the fixation of the date, they always take care about the date of the same festival of their neighboring/relatives' villages. They always try to give an opportunity to the people of their neighboring villages and relatives to come and attend their village festival and vice versa. During this festival, the Ho take illi or diang, sing Mage songs, and dance. "Songs with high dose of sex themes were sung by boys and girls from the Marring pare day onwards" (Das Gupta 1978:80). The youth of both sexes visit village to village and participate in their Mage festival which also provides them a scope to get acquainted with one another, which ultimately helps them to select their life partner. " In spite of this folk belief, the festival is otherwise thought to be recreational and smoothens the process of selecting life partners" (Mishra 1987:60).

    According to the nature of celebration each day of the festival is named separately like, (1) Gawamara or Gawal, (2) Ote Illi or Ate Illi (3) Loyo or Sange Illi, (4) Marring Para or Marring Musing, (5) Basi Para or Mage Basi or Basi Musing and (6) Hanr Magea or Hanr Bongo or Har Bagia which are briefly described below.

(1) Gawamara

or Gawal

    The first day of Mage parab is known as the Gawamara or Gawal. On this day, the Ho worship their ancestral Bongos in their house for the betterment of their cattle. Besides this, no such communal worship is made. In the morning they gather at the house of Dehuri with grass saim ba, pulses, illi and busumhasa (soil from white ant mound) and places all these items on a spot besmeared with cow dung solution. A cow-boy, who imitates or symbolically represents a cow, moves around the spot for seven rounds after uttering some incarnations and take a little amount of illi from the spot. Following to it, the villagers take some grass from the spot and keep it at their cattle shed.

(2) Ote Illi (or) Ate Illi

    On this particular day, the Ho offer illi to their Bongos. For this offering one member, preferably the head man, from each family carry a pot full of illi to Demur's house, where Dehuri and his wife sit on the Michaela/gander, each holding a push (sale leaf cup). The villagers give their illi to Josie (assistant of Dehuri). Then Josie pours a little illi in the push of Dehuri. Dehuri utters prayers in mind and offers it to different Bongos like Singbonga, Dessauli and Maghebonga. There after the Dehuri and his wife take a little illi from the push followed by the other villagers present there. Following to it dancing and singing continue until the late night.

(3) Loyo (or) Sange Illi

    It is the day of purification when the Ho clean their courtyard, houses and granaries and plaster them with the cow dung solution. They also sprinkle this cow dung solution over all their utensils, agricultural implements as well as on the other daily use artifacts. The Josie cleans the jahera (the sacred grove generally located on the out- skirt of the village which is believed to be the place of their village bonga-Dessauli) along with the courtyard of Dehuri. Besides this, the Ho donor perform any kind of work in this day. They spend their time on dinning, drinking , singing and dancing.

(4) Marring parab (or) Musing-musing

    This is the day of the main festival, when the Ho sacrifice some sims (chickens) to their Bongos and perform other rituals. In this day, Dehuri observes fast. Besides, he is not allowed to make any sexual relation with his wife in the night before. The village youth decorate the place of worship in the morning and in the mid day the Dehuri goes to their nearest water source for having purificatory bath. The Jomsim and the other villagers accompany him along with different musical instruments. After bath, they all come to their worship place with procession. They bring with them some dried rice, sim, puh, illi, da (water) and a weapon to sacrifice sims. Dehuri scatters some sun dried rice on the ground for the sims. It is believed as auspicious if these sims swallow these rice freely. Then Dehuri sacrifices these sims before different Bongas. The white sim is offered to Singbonga, red is to Dessauli and black is to Nagebonga. The first two sims are sacrificed, where the last one i.e. black sim is not killed and is let free. The villagers then stone it to death. At the time of worship both Jomsim and villagers assist the Dehuri in different aspects where the female members look it from a little distance. Then the villagers cook these sacrificed sims at Dehuri’s house and take along with illi. Dancing and singing with obscene song narrating the different organs of both sexes or inviting each other for sexual relation is followed by it and continues till the late hour of the night.

(5) Basi parab (or) Basi musing (or) Maghe basi

    It is the day when the Ho gives good-bye to their all invited Bongas. They offer the cooked food and illi to their ancestral Bongas at their aading. In this day Deonwa (the diviner or medicine man) worships the Bongas at his courtyard and sacrifice sim.

(6) Hanr Maghe (or) Hanr Bonga (or) Har Bagia

    It is the typical day of this festival when the malevolent Bongas are driven out from the village. In the mid-day the village boys come in groups and hit the roof and wall of houses with sticks with the belief that it expels all types of diseases and miseries from the village. They collect some rice, vegetables and sims from villagers and finally all gather at the out-skirt of the village, where they sacrifice sims and make a feast. Likewise, they finish their Maghe parab.

(b) Baha (or) Baha parab

    In the Ho language, "Ba" means flower and from the name of the festival it is clear that this festival is related to the flowers, particularly with the indigenous flowers like Sarjom ba or Sal flower. This festival is also known as Phulbhanguni and is celebrated in the month of Chaitra (February-March) in honour of the village deity Dessauli. It continues for four days and each day has a separate name of importance. The first day is known as He sakam diang, second day is as Marang musing, third day is as Basi musing and the last day is as Bala badni.

    The Ho collect Sarjom sakam (Sal leaf), Sarjom ba, Tila ba and Icha ba etc. from their nearby jungle on the first day of the festival, where as on the second day the Dehuri worships the Dessauli, Gram siri and Singhbonga as well as sacrifices sims and boda/merom (unsteralised he-goat) to these Bongas. He offers some ba to the Bongas and distributes other to the villagers. On the third day the Ho worship their ancestral Bongas at their aading, while the last day is meant for the expulsion of their invited Bongas. Eating, drinking of illi, singing and dancing are the other major parts of this festival. Irrespective of age and sex every Hos enjoy this festival. In brief, it is a traditional, flower festival when the nature is worshipped in village level to invoke good flowering.

(c) Rajasala (or) Raja parab

    It is a regional festival of enjoyment, which falls during the Yethe chandu/Yoisthya (May-June). The Ho celebrate it in family level for two days. In this festival neither any sacrifice is made nor any worship is done. It is the time of rest and during this festive period any kind of agricultural work is strictly prohibited. Group dancing, singing and taking of illi is the major features of this festival.

(d) Hero parab

    It is essentially related to the agricultural activities which is celebrated for three days during the hero chandu/ashar (June-July) for sufficient rains and bumper crops. On the first day of the festival, the Ho collect, Sarjom sakam from jungle and clean their houses and courtyards. On the second day Dehuri worships Dessauli Bonga either at their paddy field or at the Kolom or threshing ground or at their courtyard. He offers arua rice and bel sakam (wood apple leaves) and sacrifices a sim or a boda/merom to her. After that the other villagers follow the method of worship of the Dehuri and even who does not have any landed property worship the Bonga in the same manner. In the evening, they offer the cooked food and illi to their ancestral Bongas at their aading and then the recreational part of the festival starts. On the last day Dehuri worships their Bongas and initiates sowing seeds on the land which is followed by the villagers.

(e) Bahtauli parab

    This festival is also connected with the activities, which falls during the Bahare chandu or Sarvana (July-August). In this festival Dehuri, worships the Dessauli Bonga at Jahera for protecting their paddy fields from the insects and pests as well as for yielding bumper crops. There is no particular date for this festival. Before its celebration the Dehuri worships the Dessauli Bonga at Jahera and fixes a date, which is accepted by all the villagers. On the day of festival the Hos offer a tiril sakam (Kendu leaf) and sacrifice a sim at Jahera. On the preceding day each family erect a twig of tiril tree in their own paddy fields.

(f) Jamnawa parab

    It is a harvesting festival. During this festival, the Ho communally offer the newly harvested paddy to their Bongas. On this day the Ho consume their new rice first, even if they have harvested it much before. This festival is equivalent to the Nua Khai or Nua Khia parab of the Oriyas, which is celebrated in the month of Aswina (September-October) of each year. Like some of the other festivals it has also no fixed date. The Dehuri, the Munda and other headman of the village as per their convenience fix the date. Even some times it is also evident that the Ho from the same village celebrate it in different days.

    On the fixed day the Dehuri worships the Dessauli Bonga along with some other Bongas and sacrifices sim for them. Sometimes, some other headmen of the village can also perform this worship. The villagers worship their ancestral Bongas at their aading and offer them flattened rice prepared from new paddy crop along with illi. The time of the rest part of the festival is spent through eating, drinking, singing and dancing, which continue till the late night.

(g) Kakamontanri (or) Kalam parab

    It is also an agricultural based festival, which is celebrated prior to threshing of their paddy, during the Kalam chandu (December-January) of each year. It is a family level festival where worship is made to Dessauli Bonga, Singhbonga and Marangbonga. In this festival, the Ho worship the above said Bongas at their threshing ground for the purification of paddy straw. During this worship the Ho place all of their agricultural related implements like, Siu (plough), Moi (long wooden field leveling implement) and sickle etc. at their threshing place and spray turmeric mixed water on these as well as on the paddy with the help of tulsi (basil) sakam and mango twigs for purification. At last they sacrifice three red sims, one white sim and a black sim to their Bongas.

Adopted Rituals and Festivals

    Though traditionally the Ho believe in Sarna religion, now-a-days syncretism is noticed in their religious activities, where they follow their main religion along with the religion of wider pantheon i.e. Hinduism. The 1981 census in Bihar (including present Jharkhand) returns 81.65% of the Ho under ‘other religion’ shows a majority of their population as followers of a tribal religion. In the same census the religious status of the Ho is, 16.52% are Hindus, 1.43% are Christians and rest are the Muslims, Sikhs and others whereas in Orissa returns 81.49% of the Ho as followers of Hinduism, 0.87% as Christians and 3.70% to others. Similarly in West Bengal 97.69% as followers of Hinduism, 0.87 % as Christians, 0.22% as Muslims and 1.22% as those who profess ‘other religions’. From the comparisons of 1961 and 1981 census data it is evident in Bihar (including present Jharkhand) that the traditional tribal religion are increased from 73.30% to 81.65 %. The Ho who professes Hinduism decreased from 26.15 % to 16.52%, which is reverse in case of Christians, which increases from 0.55 percentages to 1.43%. Similarly in Orissa, 13.94% tribal have returned as ‘other religions’. From the comparison of the above census data it is also evident that the population of Hindus is on the decrease from 99.97% (1961) to 81.49% (1981). As per 1971 census 12.79% of the Ho has been returned under ‘other religions. This also includes their traditional religion of tribe. Here we noticed a slow resurgence of tribal faith (Singh 1994: 406-408).

    After coming in regular contact with the wider Hindu pantheon, some of the Ho adopted several festivals, but they do not neglect their traditional ones. Though the process of syncretism in the ritual sphere of religion is noticed among the Ho, the level of syncretism varies in different areas depending on their different socio-cultural contact and ecological environment. The Ho of Kolhan area (West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand) are more traditional as compared to the Ho of Orissa. Further, the Ho of bordering area of Kolhan area are not much exposed like the Ho of other part of Orissa and because of this, the level of syncretism varies as per their exposure. For example, the level of syncretism is less among the Ho of Jharkhand as compared to the Ho of Orissa. Similarly, it is less among the Ho of Bamanghaty and Panchpir sub-divisions of Mayurbhanj district and Champua sub-division of Keonjhar district of Orissa, which are located at the immediate neighborhood of Kolhan area, as compared to the Ho of other parts of Orissa. Because of this, the Ho of the above said areas of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Orissa celebrate very limited Hindu festivals like Durga puja, Biswakarma puja, Ganesh puja, Swaraswati puja and Ratha yatra (Car festival) etc, where as the Ho of other parts of Orissa are more Hinduised who directly or indirectly participate in most of the Hindu festivals. Some times they give less importance to their traditional festivals. Similarly, some of the Ho, particularly those who work in different town areas with different people of wider pantheon, celebrate the Hindu festivals at their working place and also participate in traditional festivals in the village.

    In some cases it is also observed that some of the educated/retired (from service) Hos, who are living in their native village, worship their traditional Bongas like, Singhbonga, Marangbonga and Dessauli etc. during their festive occasions and simultaneously they also worship the Hindu deities both in their family and village levels. Example may be cited of Mr. Satrughan Bari (M/42) of village Sunamara of Jamda block of Mayurbhanj district, who is a retired army  person  believes and worships his traditional deities at his village but when he purchased a bajaj kawasaki motorcycle in 1999 he bought it to his nearest Hindu temple to take blessings of deity. Besides, before he starts his motorcycle he utters the name of a deity, who is from Hindu religion. Similarly, lord Ganesh and Devi Saraswati are being worshipped each year regularly in their village school officiated by a Hindu priest. Another example may be cited here, that of Miss Subasini Singh (F/37), who is working as a nurse at village Kulgi, is highly qualified and she is living with the adherents of wider Hindu pantheon. She speaks and writes Oriya for communication and worships Hindu deities like lord Ganash, devi Saraswati and devi Laxmi etc. each day in her house. Her villagers celebrate Saraswati puja in their village. They also perform Soni-mela in their houses. Once she was also worshipping Sontoshimata continuously for fourteen Fridays for fulfilling some of her desires. We may also summarize that women folk in simple tribal societies are more prone to adoption of multifarious religious traditions seeking fulfillment of their desires. Duary has studied the Hos of Chaibasa area where also we noticed element of synthesis of dual religious beliefs. He has obversed that " many Ho people go to the local temple twice or thrice a week to make offerings of fruit, flower and incense like their Hindu brethren. Like wise whenever they purchase a new vehicle they visit a Hindu temple preferably the Kali temple to seek her blessings" (2000: 187).

    Tusu vasani

is the main attraction of the Makar Sakranti or Makar parab which is celebrated, basically by the Hindu caste people, in almost all part of south Jharkhand and north Orissa in the month of January. This festival is also popularly known as Tusu parab. During this festival the villagers prepare an image of Tusu devi and worship her. On the fixed date the villagers from all neighbouring villages gather their Tusus in a common place nearer to any water source, where they sing Tusu songs and dance. Finally they immerse their images. The Hos of Mayurbhanj district in general and the Hos of Bahalda, Tiring, Jharadihi, Jamda, Gorumahisani, Rairangpur and Badampahar area in particular also participate in this Tusu parab directly or indirectly. They go to their nearer Tusu vasani centres like Ranibandh, Satikudar (Rairangpur), Ghumal, Gambharia, Kulgi, Bahalda, Basingi, Mahulpani and Paharpur etc. on different fixed date and enjoy the festival with great joy.

    The use of different types of colour papers, ribbons, flags, plastic flowers, colour powders is also evident during their different puja and festivals. "In some cases the Ho people also use the mango leaves, tulsi sakam (basil leaves) and da (water). It is probably borrowed from the neighboring Hindu society" (Duary 2000:187).

    According to Majumdar most of the malevolent Bongas of the Hos are not their own and seems to have come from some Hindu equivalent deities found among the neighbouring Oriyas. As per him the Gara Satamai of Ho is not other than the Devi Nai Bhagawati of the Oriya, which is perhaps a name for that spirit that presides over the tanks and ponds. Satamai is the impure word of Sat-ma, the stepmother, and the actual mother being Nage- bonga or the river goddess. At the time of analysing the Kar-bongako like, Suni kar, Rahu kar, Dinda kar and Chuhar kar he argued that "Kar is not a Ho word, it is the same word as Kal, the destroyer, and is associated with ‘time’. The word Kali that signifies the goddess of that name in popular Hinduism is derived from the same word Kal. Suni kar, Rahu kar are none other than the planets Sani (saturn) and Rahu, known to the Hindus as Kal…….The word Chandi (Another name for Kali) is taken from the Hindus, particularly from the Oriyas. For example, Bisai Chandi (poisonous), Ranga Chandi (blood thirty or red), Chinta Dain and Kaltud (a corruption of Kalketu), Jugini-bonga is none other than Jugini, who with her counter part Dakini is said to accompany Kali or Chandi" (Majumdar 1950 :255-256). From this statement of Majumdar it is clear that most of the deities worshipped by the Hos during the different festivals are not of their own, but are borrowed from their neighbouring Hindus. We see here a long process of adoption of several deities from the dominant Hindu neighbours and moulding the original names to tribal pattern of vocabulary.

    The popularity of Manasa Devi (A Hindu goddess, believed as a daughter of Lord Shiva who presides over snakes) is not only limited among the Hindus it is equally popular among the tribes (particularly of the Hos) of the region. The entire Kolhan area as well as its neighbouring areas are covered with hills and forests and the people of the region are very much dependent on their local ecology. Everyday they move in and around the dense jungle in search of games and other forest products. As different types of poisonous snakes are abundant in this forest ecology, there is much possibility of snakebites. Therefore, the Hindus of the region worship Devi Manasa for protection. In the earlier days, the Hos were trying to cure the victims of such accident by their own traditional methods. However, sometimes they were unable to protect the lives of the victims. Because of the insufficiency in their own method it encouraged a number of Hos to force to worship this Hindu goddess. Therefore, the Hos of the region adopted this alien goddess and started worshipping, which gradually got assimilated in their culture. According to Chatterjee and Das (1927:59) the people of Purti khili (of Ho tribe) of village Nohadi, which is situated near to the town of Saraikella, worship goddess Manasa to whom they offer sweets and flowers and before whom they sacrifice fowls and goats.

    The religious syncretism is again noticed in the Ho, which is adopted. There are many Akharas (training centres) functioning in different parts of the region where a number of tribal and non-tribal people are learning incantations (mantras) from their Gurus or teachers. According to Majumdar "a number of young men have learnt the spells and prayers to this goddess as a protection against snake-bite, and as a method of driving the poison from the system. The Guru or teacher is usually an Oriya Ojha, who teaches spectacular methods of invoking the goddess. Mantras which are nothing but names of Hindu gods and goddess with their modes of worship, the details of the offerings of which they are fond, and stories of the assistance they have rendered to this or that individual in times of calamity. They are muttered and sung in such a sing-song tune that very few could understand them. They were mostly in Bengali spoken in Oriya style"(1950: 360-361). According to Majumdar in every fortnight, two days before the Amabashya or the new moon the Guru set in meditation under a tamarind tree. He decorates his forerhead with vermilion and place plates of Arua rice and banana cut into small pieces on his either side. Besides these offerings he (Guru) also keeps a few leaf cups of illi (rice bear). If we analyse these offerings it will be evident that though the tribals adopted their alien deities, they worship them in their own methods which includes both the Hinduised methods of worship along with their tribal method of worship.

    All the tribal communities of the studied region have a very strong belief in witchcraft. Continuation of any kind of disease for a long time is regarded as the action of Dian (witch) or evil Bongas. These Dians are generally elderly women members of their society. Though some of the aged women are generally treated as Dian, irrespective of all age group they can learn the Dian bidya (the technique of witch craft). In the night of Amabashya the Dians go to their nearby Smashan (burial place) where they change their cloths and wear broom sticks at their waist and dance around the tree. Some times they supposed to have intercourse with the malevolent Bongas or spirits so as to acquire power to bring any type of natural calamity in their region or to harm their enemies or to kill. Ojha or Deonwa is the traditional medicine man among the tribes who tries to find out the causes of disease of the people and their solutions.

    According to Das Gupta, the belief in Dian among the Ho is due to culture contact of Hindu where they belief in their Bongas (both benevolent and malevolent) as well as sacrifice to them their indigenous procedure through Dehuri to get rid of the problems. He further stated that the Deonwas cult is not originally of the Ho and is borrowed from the neighbouring ‘low’ Hindu caste people. Most of these Deonwas belong to Gouda (milkman) caste of Hindu. The Guru of these Deonwas is again from the Hindu community, who trains the Deonwas in their Akhara. As mentioned above the Mantras are nothing but the names of different Hindu god and goddess, and which are rearranged with some Hindi words. It shows a clear-cut influence of Hindu cultural elements in the Ho community (1978:86-90).

    Whenever a Ho suffers from the severe disease they, usually, take the help of a Deonwa, who tries to detect the causes, whether it is happened due to some evil Bongas or Dian or some other causes. Some times, he first gives some herbal medicines and if he was unsuccessful, he tries to detect its actual cause. He usually follows two types of methods for identifying the causes. First of all, he checks the pulse rate at the hand where high pulse rate signifies about the influence of unnatural causes. Secondly, he grinds some Arua rice along with sindur either in a sarjom sakam or on a hata. Failure in traditional methods of treatment forced them to bring the patient to their nearby hospital. However, some times it is also noticed that they yet continue their traditional method of treatment simultaneously with the modern medicines.


    Most of the rituals and festivals of the present studied tribe are associated with their agricultural activities, which is celebrated during their different stages of agricultural session. Due to the regular contact with the wider Hindu pantheon, spread of education, popularity of printed and electronic medias, availability of easy communication facility they gradually have started to adopt some rituals and festivals of their neighboring people. They celebrate their traditional rituals and festivals at their village and house levels side by side participate in various religious activities of their neighbors. Finally, it may conclude that though some aspects of rituals and festivals of the Ho are highly influenced by the Hindu religion and practices their traditional rituals and festivals are still not much changed.



The author is thankful to Prof. K.K. Basa, Director, Indira Gandhi Rastriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal and Dr. N.K. Das, (S.A.), Anthropological survey of India, Kolkata, for their encouragement and valuable comments to develop this paper.


 1. Ho Bongas and their nature of worship and Hindu parallelism.

Name of the Bongas

Nature/presiding over

Time of worship

Reason of worship

Offerings and Sacrifices

Corresponding names of Hindu deity


The supreme diety, creator

Prior to every worship,but specially during Maghe parab

Expression of devotedness

White sim (chicken)

Sun god


Clan deity

Irregular interval

To protect respective clan/clans from disease and drought etc

Sunned rice, sindur

( vermillion) and areca nut and sometimes a boda (unsterelised he goat) is sacrificed



(Buru means hill)

The diety of hill. Responsible for different types of danger in forest/ hills

Akhari parab

To protect them from evil sprits, accidents and other sorts of danger in forest/ hills


Bura buri

Ancestor spirits

Sarhul parab



Village deity

Every month

To protect the village and its inhabitants


, rice,flower and red sim

Dessauli bonga(Desh means country/ place)

Village deity, protector against diseases

Maghe parab, Baha parab, Haro parab and Jomnawa parab

To protect the villagers from small pox , chollera and other epidemics


blossoms, red sim and merom etc

Bagia bonga **

The deity of tiger and other wild animal

Akhari parab

To drive away danger from forest/ hills


Nage bonga

The river goddess (Supposed to be the wife of Singbonga )


To escape from the disease of ear and hydrocele

Pig , egg, haldi (turmeric powder)


Gara satamia**


Nai bhagawati

Suni kar**


Sani (saturn) kal

Rahu kar**


Rahu kal




Juguni bonga**



* As per some authors the marrang Bonga and Buru bonga are the two different names of same deity but as per the field information both are different from each other

** Malevolent Bongas

Table: 2 Name of the some important Hindu deities partially or fully worshipped by the HOs.

Name of the deity

Presiding over

Time of worship*

Officiated by**


Place of worship

Nature of worship


Supreme protector

4th day of bright fortnight in the month of Bhadrab

Brahmin priest

Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc.

On specific day celebrated at hone, teaching institutions and club etc

Clay idol and photo


Devine architect

Kanya sankranti tithi in the month of Bhadrab

Brahmin priest

Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc

Cycle/motor cycle garage, mills, industries etc.

Clay idol and photo


Symbol of great strength and power

Sasthi-ekadashi tithis of the bright fortnight of Aswin

Brahmin priest

Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc along with sacrifice

House, public places and clubs etc

Clay idol and photo


Goddess of wealth

Fullmoon day of Aswin

Brahmin priest

Paddy, Coconut, sweets, milk, flower and banana etc

Family and village levels

Cley idel and photo








Symbolizes the benign, gracefulness, and the most powerful form of the Matrusakti, the supreme mother goddess

New moon day of the dark fortnight of Kartik





Brahmin priest







Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc along with sacrifice.

Generally in public places

Clay idol


The goddess of learning

Sri panchami or Basanta panchami (Panchami tithi of bright fortnight of Magha)

Brahmin priest

Coconut, sweets, flower, milk and banana etc

Educational institutions, houses and clubs etc

Clay idol and photo


Believed as a daughter of lord Shiva, presiding over snakes


Brahmin priest

Sacrifice along with other offerings.

Clubs and public places

Clay idol and photo


Local goddess of Mayurbhanj

Tuesday and Saturday

Brahmin priest

Sacrifice along with other offerings.


Clay idol and photo


Local goddess of northern Orissa

Tuesday and Saturday

Brahmin priest and dehuri

Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc (coconut is very fond ti this goddess)

Temple and house

Idol (symbolic stone) and photo


Main deity of Orissa

Ratha yatra and other festivals

Brahmin priest

Coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc (coconut is very fond ti this deity)

Temlpe and house

idel and photo


Saviour god

Shiva ratri,Sravan month and raja sankranti etc

Brahmin priest

Ganja, coconut, sweets, flower and banana etc

Temlpe and house


*Though it is the special day of worship these deities are worshipped every day by some of the people at their house level and people pay visit to the temple both on the special days as well as on the other normal days as per their convenience.

** Officiate in special occasions, but the family members also worship these deities at their house in normal days.

Photographs : By the Author


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