The Tana Bhagat: An Observation in Contemporary Situation in Jharkhand

Dr. Nabakumar Duary

The Tana Bhagat movement is known as revival movement in Oraon religion in Chotanagpur plateau area of Jharkhand state in eastern India. The study manly highlights the present situation of Tana Bhagat in an Oraon belt in western part of Ranchi district. The study shows that the followers of Bhagat cult centering on the Sarna Oraon and Sadan Hindu religion. Recently the followers trying to avail the economic facilities and earned the prestige from the Government in the name of Tana Bhagat.



The study areas Chano and Mandar blocks are located under the jurisdiction of Sadar-sub-division of Ranchi district of south Chotanagpur region of Jharkhand state. The agricultural land, hills, hillocks, small streams, rivers and scanty Sal forest cover the area. It is an Oraon dominated area. The settled agriculturist and Dravidian speaking Oraon live with neighbouring less populated tribal groups namely bamboo artisan Mahal, settled agriculturist Munda and iron artisan Lohara and different Hindu castes in multiethnic villages. The followers of Bhagat cult are mainly concentrated in adjoining districts Gumla and Lohardana of Ranchi. The cult is confined in Oraon tribe. A major tribal population of the study area followed the traditional tribal religion called Sarna, then some followed the traditional tribal religion called Sarna, then some followed Christianity and only a few Oraon people followed the Bhagat cult. The German Evangelical Lutheran mission was the firs to appear in the tribal scene at Chotanagpur and started their operation in Ranchi in early 1845. They established educational institutions and hospital in remote tribal areas and their primary intention was to spread of Christianity among poor tribal people (Sahay and Duary 1998:23).

    It is commonly observed that each multi-ethnic Sarna oraon dominated villages have a sacred grove called jhakra, where propitiated the sureme deity Chala panchu or Sarna Buria or jharka Buria. The dancing ground Akhra is located in front of the house of informal education center youth dormitory Dhumkuria. There are Hindu shrines, village deity place called Gaon Devi Mandir of both the Sarna and Hindu and small Pali church of Christian Oraon. Each Bhagat family have a separate religious place near to their house, where they perform the worship and prayer regularly. All ethnic groups follow their traditional language, culture and tradition. However, they also interact to each other in different spheres of life (i.e. in socio-economic and religious) since remote past. In this context Professor Ram Dayal Munda stated that ‘the culture of Chotanagpur area over the years has attained distinctiveness by fostering a balance between nature and culture, egalitarianism in social structure, accommodative history, equal sharing of economy, secularism in religious pursuits, a democratic of economy, secularism in religious pursuits----“. The national wave of the political and cultural renaissance arrived in this area with the beginning of the Tana Bhagat movement under the leadership of Jatra Bhagat (Oraon) around 1914 spread like wild fire among the Oraon of Chotanagpur. Its main aimed to revive the real Oraon religion, Kurukh Dharam, kldfkl their villages of the old ghosts and sprits and raising their social position, by abandonment of what hey consider to be degrading practices, such as, the keeping and eating of pig and fowls, the use of intoxicants and the recognition of the one god Mahdeveo  Bhagwan to be worshiped by Bhakti (Vidyarthi 1981; 100). But now the Tana followers of study area have been changing their traditional culture, customs and norms due to the impact of neighboring culture of Sarna and Hindu. However, they are also very much interested in economic gain and earned the prestige in Government level.

Toward the Hinduism

    The  idea of Bhakti or loving adoration of a personal deity have been for over a century floating in the social atmosphere of the Oraon tribe and here and there lighted on congenial soil in individual souls and turned some into Bhuiphut Bhagats, some into Neha Bhagat, some into Visnu Bhagats and some into kabir panthi Bhagats, and originators and followers of this new bhakti cult called it the kurukh Dharam(real) or religion of the Kurukhs or oraons. (Roy 1972:246). In their hymns they frequently use the word tana i.e. pull and pulling, then there came to be Tanas or Tana Bhagat by their neighbourhoods. The word might nave originated in the mind of Jatra Bhagat at his time in the sense of pulling to gather all the Oraons into his fold.

    The Tana Bhagat followers are found in a few multi-ethnic villages in the study area. They mainly depend on agriculture, least interested in cattle rearing and keeping poultry birds. They pay more attention into grows vegetables and grains. Tanas have distinct identical characters in technique type of dress, food habit and uniqueness in belief system in their religion. The Tana followers wear white khaddar dhoti, white turban and some of them have beard, use rubber sandal and sacred thread and put the chandan tilak on the forehead. They never use the leather items, do not smoke tobacco, strictly avoid the handia and do not consumed alcohol, and any kind of meat. Even Tana followers do not take cooked food in the house of non-Bhagat family. In odd situation a disciple of Tana Bhagat eat dry food of cooked by own self of cooked by a teenage girl in a house of non-Bhagat family. Generally the followers do not prefer to marry a non Bhagat boy or girl due to difference of religious belief system and practice, which is not allowed in cult and also may be affect of their conjugal life. They also celebrate some traditional Oraon festivals and observed the life cycle ritual in the presence of community members and relatives. The ritual of marriage of the Tana Bhagat is quite different than those other neighbouring tribes. The married women do not use vermilion on forehead ad a married woman symbol. Instead, they use white sandal wood paste. They worship cow. As the Tana Bhagats are the disciples of Jatra Guru, they do not perform sacrifices, which is a common practice among tribes. They have a strong belief in Hindu deities and worshiped by the Hindu Brahmin and know the story of the Ramayana, Hanuman Chalisa and so on (Sahay 1962). These people regularly pray to the sun god after taking bath. It is Hindu influence of their religious belief system. Even the followers do not use either cow or bullock in their ploughs. They do not rear the cattle animals and poultry birds. But these people are very much interested to cultivate the crops and vegetables and to make own cloth in hand.

Nationalist Activity

    During the freedom movement against the British, the Tana Bhagat were greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, played an important role in the freedom struggle and followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi for the demand of Indian Swaraj. Then the Bhagat people attended the many Congress session held at Gaya, Belgaon, Kokanda, Lahore etc (Sachidanda 1964). Even they traveled to long distances on foot and attainded the Congress and boycotted all foreign goods. It is reported that when the Congress Government was formed in Bihar, many provisions and facilities were made for Tana followers like to get back the confiscated land of the Tana Bhagat many primary and secondary residential school were established in Tana areas exclusively for Tana children. The Government provided many educational facilities to them. The Union Government made the provisions to the Tana followers who participated in freedom movement in India. These provisions are like free traveling pass in rail, get back their land etc. This incident takes place during the priministership of Smt.Indira Gandhi. Even a couple of years before and Act has been passed for the restoration of their lands to the Tana Bhagat. They also had given loan for purchasing the agricultural implements for encouraging to them in cultivation work. As a result, many Sarna Oraon people then converted in Bhagat cult through a ceremonial ritual in the presence of Tana followers. At that time the new followers adopted the Tana’s culture, customs and tradition. In this contest their main intention was to enjoy the economic gain and earned the prestige in the banner of Tana Bhagat. The followers availed all sorts of facilities and some of them went to local court for return of their lands. It is also reported that some followers of Tana Bhagat cult again returned to their original religion Sarna in later period due to failure in getting the benefits.

    There is a residential secondary Tana school, established in village Sanchipi in study area for Tana boys only. It ha a good campus, infrastructural facilities and run by the State Government. But the present situation has changed since last couple of years. Now some Sarna boys are studying along with Tana boys due to insufficient number of students. Therefore, the school administration has to admit the Sarn oraon boys in the school for smooth running of this educational institution and employment of teaching and non-teaching staff. It is an interesting fact that the Oraon students uses the Tana Bhagat as their surnames ultimately has been recorded in school’s record as well as in their educational testimonials and certificates of final examination and school leaving certificates. Some times the new surnames create a problem in Government service, social life and at the time of marriage fixed.

    The Tana Bghagats followed the path of demonstration with out violence of ideology of Mahatma Gandhihi. Even today the followers use the Gandhitupi as a symbol of Gandhian principle, according to Nathu Tana Bhagat. The Tana Bhagat people assembled at Birsa Chowk near Hatia near Ranchi (Heavy engineering Corporation) on 12th December 2002 and protested against violence, arms and Jharkhand high Court order quashing the domicile policy in the state of Jharkhand. They stated that this marked the beginning of a battle their rights and continuing the peaceful demonstration to get proper justice.


    The Tana Bhagat movement gained momentum and in course of time became anti zamindars, anti-missionary and finally anti-British. Even today many followers follow the Tana’s path of idealism against the contemporary situation. But few of them play the double role in religion i.e. Sarna and Tana Bhagat. This type of change occurred among the Tana followers due to the impact of neighbouring Hindu religion and culture. Although, there is continuous interaction process in their socio-economic and religious spheres has been turned as Hindu mode of tribal absorption.


  • Roy, Sarat Chandra 1985 Oraon Religion and Customs, Gain Publishing House, Delhi (First published in 1928).

  • Sachchidananda 1964 Culture Change in Tribal Bihar, Book Land Pvt. Patna

  • Sahay K, N1962 Trends of Sanskritisation among the oraon,” Bulletin of Bihar Tribal Research Institute ,vol.4,No.2.

  • Sahay Vijoy S. and Nabakumar Duary The fading Traditional Tribal Institutions of Chhotangpur : “A study of the Oraons and Mundas”, Vanyajati, Vol. XLVI, NO.4(20-28).

  • Vidtyarthi L.P. 1981 “A Socio-Cultural Profile of the Oraon of Chhotnagpur” Plural Societies, Vol.12, No.1&2(85-105).


In recognition of their contribution to the struggle for India’s independence, the congress Government took steps to accord some facilities to the Bhagats e.g. Returning back their confiscated land establishing schools exclusively for their children, giving free railway pass etc.