DEITIES OF ORISSA: A case of Hindu and Tribal convergence

Kailash Chandra Das


    The tribal people have lasting contribution to the reshaping of Hindu rituals and religious beliefs for many centuries. The sacred centers of Lingaraj of Bhubaneswar, Jagannatha of Puri and Kapilash provide interesting examples of co-existence of the Hindu priests and tribal priests. (Dash 1998; Dash 1997:143-159) The deities worshipped by the tribal people in some cases have been transformed into Hindu forms. Besides the anthropologists have detected the true tribal nature of many of the Hindu deities. A study of different versions of the popular Mahabharat of Sarala Das has led us to assert that most of the village deities in Orissa have a strong tribal affinity. In some cases, deities belonging to the tribes have continued in their original shape and tradition of worship to be performed by Hindus and tribals equally.. They have been regarded as the symbols of a common culture. Their worship articulates the feeling of oneness and social harmony in Orissa. I propose to focus on two female tribal deities of western parts of Orissa whose worship is still an important part of Orissan culture.


    The Paudi Devi of Singhabhum and Kantakumari of Bonai and Keonjhar are very famous in the religious life of Orissa. The two are well connected with the Bhuiya tribe, yet many tribes of Orissa have venerated them. Paudi is a female deity. She is annually worshipped once in the month of Jyestha (May-June) and again in Asadha (June-July) on any two days fixed by the villagers. (Singh Deo 1954)

    Paudi Devi was the patron deity of Singhbhum and Porhat from the region of the third king MahaRaja Achyuta Singh. Throughout the whole of Singhbhum-Sareikella and Kharswan there are Paudi Sthans scattered over here and there. She has been taken as the symbol of unity. (Das 1931:39) Although Paudi is a Bhuiya deity, Pandit Krishna Chandra Acharya has accepted her as a Sakta deity. According to an interpretation of Acharya, Kali stands on the chest of Siva on Her one leg (Pa) by mistake (hudi), hence Kali is Pahudi Devi or Paudi Devi, paudi being a corrupt version of Pahudi. (Acharya 1935:19) According to another interpretation of Acharya, Parvata in Oriya language is called Pahada. As Durga is the daughter of Parvata She is called Parvati. So She being Pahada-Kanya is also called Pahadi which has been corrupted as Paudi. (Ibid, p.19) This interpretation appears to be consistent with the culture of Bhuiyas who are connected with Pahada (hills),  habitation of a section of Bhuiya being  the hills. The object of their worship later on became known as Paudi and after several stages of Hinduization the deity has been the object of veneration by the Hindus and the tribals.

    In the worship of Paudi a clay image of a horse and another of elephant, in miniature form, are purchased from the potters and placed on the spot of worship as offering. Besides the villages there are two important centers where the rite takes place with much more éclat. The first important site is at Porahat near the town of Sareikella where the goddess Pauri is worshipped. Once a year on a particular day all the leaseholders of the State (whether Hindus or not) assemble with sacrificial animals and rice which they offer to the goddess. The second important site is at Ahrabandh, at Karaikela, where there is a large circular stone known as Pauri. Once a year the tenants and the leaseholders assemble and sacrifice animals, which are taken to the spot.

    The worship of this deity is confined to Singhbhum, Bonai and Keonjhar and it is not found in any part of Chhota Nagpur or Bihar. On a fixed date after the Sukla Chatruthi of the month of Bhadra (August-September) each year, the product of the new harvest is first offered to Ma Paudi at Pauri mela near Seraikella. (Singh Deo 1954:14) This is called Nuakhia Jantal. None in the whole of Singhbhum will take new rice before it is offered to the Goddess. After the Nuakhia Jantal at Seraikella other similar Jantals follow in other Paudi Sthans throughout Seraikella-Singhbhum which is sometimes described as Paudi-mati or the land of Ma Paudi. These ceremonies lead towards the cultural unity of the lands of Sri Paudi. (Ibid.)

    There is another Jantal on the Jyestha Sukla Chaturthi, the day Paudi Devi was installed at Porahat during the reign of Achyuta Singh I and similarly installed at Seraikella. This day is  known as the birthday of Ma Paudi. Such Jantals are also held at Kareikela, Karnagiri Guda, Gambaria, Ujanpur , Tentoposi, Banskata, Porahat, Kharswan, Icha and other places. In every ten years there is a huge gathering at Paudi Mela just outside Seraikella town. People from all areas far and near assemble in thousands and offer sacrifices at the altar of Ma Paudi. It is the greatest local festival of the land and is also named by the name of Dasandi or decennial Jantal , which literally means national unity in the name of Paudi. 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 glorious 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 people must meet, worship the common goddess and feel that each and every one of them is of the same nationality and culture.

    There is no distinction of caste or creed. A Ho or a Munda, Sanatal, a Bhuiya, a Brahman, a Karan, a Kshatriya, a Mahato, a Ghasi must all unite together in the name of god and feel that they are Seraikellians - SinghBhuyans first and tribes, races or castes afterwards and all must sing to the glory of Sri Paudi Devi. During the course of long ten years when parties and factions quarrels and strife’s appear to disrupt the body politic comes the great Paudi Mela to unite anew the common bonds of fellowship and culture and create communities of interest and purpose for the whole land. Sri Ma Paudi rightly stands as the symbol of unity and culture of Singhbhum.

The peculiar feature of Ma Paudi's worship is that it is conducted by Bhuiya priests. The long association of Sri Paudi Devi or Ma Paudi with the tract in Bonai and Keonjhar known as Paudi and the Bhuiya sect known as the Paudiya Bhuiya of Kenojhar, Bonai and Singhbhum who have derived their name after her.The alternate name of Ma Paudi as Hingulakshi and the interpretation of her name Paudi of Pa and Udi which are purely oriya words suggest that she is an oriya divinity. The main festival of Sri Paudi Devi’s temple followed ever since till the present day is the Sohala Puja or pujas performed with much ceremony for sixteen days from the day of Jimutavahana Astami in Bhadra up to the day of Mahastami preceding the great Dussera festival in Aswin (September - October). Such Puja is followed in Orissa in the Vimala temple of Puri and Viraja temple of Jajpur. In this way Paudi worship is a significant part of Bhuiya culture and Hindu culture in Singhbhum, Bonai and Keonjhar.


    Another deity called Kanta Kumari was also the central part of Bhuiya religion and culture in Bonai, Gangpur and Keonjhar of Orissa. The Raja of Bonai also participates in the worship of this Kanta Kumari.

    According to the kavya Khandadhar of Harihara Mahapatra, in ancient times Bonai was very famous for big size Kankadas. There was the worship of this Kankada as a deity in Bonai. The people of Athagarh had stolen away the deity Kankada from the khandadhara zone of Bonai and the people of Bonai became angry and in course of their quest of deity in Athagarh found the deity Kantakumari. (Mahapatra 1952:22 ). According to Sarat Chandra Roy (Roy1935: 105 ) , a renowned anthropologist, the name Kanta Kumari is applied to a roundish fragment of some old metal object which was dug up by some cultivator and taken charge of by the Paudi Dehuri of village Jolo near the Khandadhar waterfall about sixteen miles from Bonaigarh. From its quaint shape it came to be regarded as the receptacle of mystic power or divine energy and consequently the image of a deity. (Ibid.)

    The Dehuri keeps the such image in some secret spot during the whole of the year and brings it out only on the occasion of a great festival. The Pauri Bhuiyas  from the Keonjhar state also attend the festival. Sarat Chandra Roy had seen this festival in Bonai in the 1930 and his report is a very important source of information on this deity (Ibid., p.106-117). On some day after the 8th day of the new moon (Krishnastami) day the Dehuri of village Jolo comes to the Raja’s Garh ( King's Fort) at Bonai.  The Raja (King) takes out from his store-room one earthen vessel filled with unhusked rice of a wheatish colour, seven pieces of turmeric and a little vermilion and hands these over to the Dehuri. With these the Dehuri returns home on the following Mahalaya or new moon day. The Dehuri, then, goes to the hiding place of the image, and after making the customary offerings carries the image in a small bamboo-box to his own house at jolo where the headmen of several Pauri villages assemble. Next day after bathing the image in cold water and making offerings of arua rice, fowls, molasses etc. to the deity, the Dehuri of Jolo carries the image Kanta Kumari in a procession accompanied by the headmen of different Pauri Bhuiya villages and followed by a band of musicians playing on their drums, pipes and flutes. That afternoon on their arrival at village Haldikudar-a panch-sai-gharia Bhuiya village, the Bhuiya Gaontia or headmen of the village anoints the image with turmeric paste and offers sacrifices to it. Then the image is taken to the house of every other villager who may wish to make sacrifices and offerings to the deity. This is followed by the party proceeding to village Khutgaon and halts that night at the house of the Jagirdar or landlord of that place known under the title of Mahapatra who is a Hinduized Gond. The bamboo-box containing the image of Kanta Kumari is hung up inside the house.

    Next morning the Gond Mahapatra sacrifices a goat to Kanta Kumari. From his house the image is taken by the Dehuri of Jolo to other houses in village Khutgaon At every house where it is taken either a goat or a fowl is sacrificed to the deity and other offerings are made. As the deity may not spend more than one night at any one village, the party proceeds that day to village Bichnapoit where they halt for the night at the public rest house known as Dera-Ghar. Next morning the deity is taken first to the house of the Naek of the village who is a Gond and then to other houses of the village where the presence of the deity is sought. At every house either a goat or one or more fowls are sacrificed to the deity and other offerings are made. Next the party proceeds to village Puigaon and there they halt for the night at the public Dera-Ghar. In the morning the deity is taken by the  Dehuri first to the house of the Gond headman (Naek) of the village followed by visits to other houses on owners' request and the deity receives sacrifices and offerings at each such house. Towards evening the party crosses the river Brahmani and reaches the village Jokaikela where they halt for the night at the house of the Kalo or the village priest who is a Pancha-sai-gharia Bhuiya.

    The following mornings after sacrifices are offered at the Kalo’s house the deity is taken to other houses in the village where offerings and sacrifies are made to the deity. In the evening the party proceeds to the village Jomkai and halts at the Manda-ghar for the night. Next morning after puja offerings and scarifies are made to Kanta Kumari at the house of the Gaontia or headman of the village who is a man of the Kolita caste, the image is taken to the house of the different villagers who may want to offer sacrifices to the deity. The party, next, proceeds to village Obodya and if the Astami Tithi (eighth day) has already begun, they proceed straight towards the Raja’s palace at Bonaigarh, otherwise they halt for the night at Obodya in the compound of the Raja’s khamar or  (King's) threshing floor where next morning a goat is sacrificed to the deity and then the image is taken to different houses in the village and at each such village sacrifices and offerings are made to the deity. At sunset, the party starts in procession and at about nine in the evening reaches the village Kontmel about a mile from Bonaigarh.  On the roadside of the village is erected an earthen altar on which sacrifices to the deity are to be offered. A canopy is set up over it, and lamps are lighted and carpets spread under it and seats placed for the Raja and members of his family as also for other respectable visitors.

    On the party arriving there, the Raja (King) and his kinsmen receive them. The Dehuri of Jolo comes up to the Raja with the image, salutes him and enquires of him about the health and welfare, first of himself, followed by that of his Rani (Queen), his children,  his servants,  his elephants,  his horses, and lastly of his kingdom. The Raja answers 'yes' to every question; and then in turn, the Raja asks the Dehuri about the welfare of himself, his children and lastly of the Pauris ; and to every question the Dehuri replies in the affirmative. Then the Dehuri places the image on a new cloth that the Raja holds in his hands for the purpose. The Raja, then, places it on a small silver throne, which is kept in readiness to receive he deity. When the Dehuri hands over the image to the Raja he addresses the Raja saying, "Here is your deity; we kept it in the hills. Examine and see it if the image is broken or intact". The Raja looks at it and says, "It is all right" and hands it over to the Amat who officiates as the priest of some of the Raja’s family deities. The Amat puts down the image on the mud altar prepared for the purpose where the Amat worships the deity with offerings supplied by the Raja, and sacrifices two goats supplied by the Raja, both reddish gray in colour and both with horns equal in size and both of the same height. The two goats are made to stand side by side and both are slain with the same stroke of the sword dealt at their joined necks by the practiced hand of the Barik (Barber). After these offerings and sacrifices made on behalf of the Raja a number of fowls and goats brought by men of surrounding villages are offered to the deity, and offerings of pumpkins, murki (pyramid-shaped cakes made of fried rice) are also presented. Everyone bringing the offering and sacrifices does so in the hope of being favoured with some desired boon from the deity and it is asserted that the boons, mentally prayed for at the time by the persons who bring the offerings, are generally granted. The image is next taken to a cross-road at Konjuli,where several persons of different castes bring offerings and sacrifices which are offered to the deity by the Amat.

    The image is then carried in procession  to the house of the man of the Sundhi (Liquor seller) caste followed by to that of a man of the Kansari (Brazier) caste where special offerings are made to the deity. This is followed by the  image being taken to the altars of the deities Nilji and Kumari, in succession, where too sacrifices are offered. Finally the image is ceremonially installed in shed prepared for the purpose in the Raja’s palace compound where sacrifices are again offered.

    The following morning which is the ninth day of the moon, after sacrifices of a sheep and a goat, the deity is carried by the Raja himself into the inner apartments of his palace where the members of his family make offerings of sweetmeats to Kanta Kumari and finally on an inner veranda of the palace the Amat baths the image in liquor and makes offerings of rice, sweets etc. and sacrifices one or more buffaloes, one or more sheep and sixteen or more goats to the deity. After being taken to the Raja’s Chhatra-gambhira (room in which state umbrellas are kept) the image is taken first to the houses of the different kinsmen of the Raja and then to houses of other residents of Bonaigarh and finally to the Amat’s house. At every house where the image is taken sacrifices and offerings are made to the deity. The Amat now hands over the images to the Dehuri of Jolo who in his turn carries it from house to house in Baharagarh, a quarter of Bonaigarh, just beyond the immediate vicinity of the palace. Finally it is taken to the bank of Brahmani where the Raja’s Behera hands over to the Dehuri a goat and a fowl, which the Dehuri sacrifices to the deity and the pan Behera who by reason of his being an untouchable is not allowed to touch the image or even offer flour or rice to the deity with his own hands, offers from some distances seven cakes called Neem Chakuli made of rice. This privilege is allowed to the pan Behera, as it said, an ancestor of this pan had first discovered the image.

    The Dehuri of Jolo places the images in the bamboo-box and accompanied by the whole body of Pauri headmen, crosses over to the other side of the Brahmani where they pass the rest of the night at the house of a certain man of the Keouta (fisherman) caste. Such is the rigidity of custom with this people that even if, in any year, the day dawns by the time they reach the Keouta’s house, the party must lie down in the house for a short while to keep up the practice which has now acquired force of an inviolable rite. On getting up, the men bathe themselves and bathe the deity, and the Dehuri makes offering to the deity of rice, flowers etc. and when available a goat is sacrificed. Then the Dehuri takes the deity in procession from house to house where sacrifices and offerings are made. Then the party proceeds successively to villages Nalai, Tankjura and Brahman-gaon, Amatpani, Kurda, Bhugru, Godrua, Dhuri, Kolaiposh, Joribaha, Konta Kudar and finally on the Kojagar Purnima day returns village Jolo.

    Arrived at Jolo, the image is kept suspended on a tree in the jungle. Almost all the adult Pauri Bhuiyas of  nearly sixty villages of the Pauri praganas of the Bonai state assemble at Jolo on the Kojagar purnima day with goats or fowls and rice and offerings. In the course of the day the deity is taken in procession to the Dehuri’s house and placed in the angan (courtyard) which has been cleaned with cow dung and water. There the offerings and sacrifices brought by all the Pauri Bhuiyas of the country are given by the Dehuri to the goddess. The rice and the meat are then cooked and the people are treated in a hearty feast. After they all disperse, the Dehuri and another member of his family take the image to its hiding place which is kept secret even from the other members of the Dehuri’s family. The reason assigned for taking one member of the family to confidence by the Dehuri, is in the event of Dehuri’s death the other man may know where to find the image. The Dehuri of Jolo collects a decent sum as fees paid to him for the puja at the different houses where the image is taken during the journey to Bonigarh and back. Part of this is spent in the feast of the assembled Pauri Bhuiyas on the Kojagar purnima day and part in drink while the assembled Pauris wait on the bank of the Brahmani opposite Bonaigarh to take back the image of Kanta Kumari from Bonai to Jolo.

    This annual tribal gathering originated in a mere accident, namely, the discovery of a peculiarly shaped piece of metal. But it led to a great socio-religious congress of the tribe. The Kanta Kumari festival is an interesting part of the social history of early and medieval India. The participation of the Bonai Raja in the worship of Kanta Kumari, the goddess of the semi-savage Pauris is an interesting aspect of the study of Aryanization and cultural harmony between the tribes and castes. A serious study on the origin of the priests like Dehuri and Amat and an interpretation of the festivals of the Pauris of Bonai, Gangpur and Singhbhum will indicate the tribal root of Orissan Hindu culture. Seen in this perspective the Pauri devi and Kanta Kumari provide interesting clues for reinterpreting the Hindus and tribals


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