Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The People

Tribal Religion

Religion plays an important part in the life of tribals. Their belief in gods and goddesses, in bhuts and spirits is engrained in them from their childhood. The worship of these supernatural beings is supposed to protect them from all evils and calamities, both natural and supernatural enhance the fertility of their community, domestic  animals and agricultural fields. Religion also serves to engender and strengthen group consciousness and solidarity among them. 

Every tribal village has in one of its corners a sacred grove called Jaher or sarma. The village has a priest, he is known variously as the pathan, the deuri, the naik,  the kelo and so on. It is he who performs all worship on behalf of the whole village. He is chosen from among the most ancient families of the village for a term which varied from tribe to tribe and place to place. He is held in high esteem  by the villagers and enjoys manifold privileges.

People living in tribal villages have a deep-rooted faith in evil spirits, demons and witches. This accounts for  the prestigious position held by spirit doctors in tribal villages. They are popularly known as Mati or Ohja. These spirit doctors are believed to cure people of the diseases and miseries caused by malevolent spirits. They are also regarded as physicians possessing knowledge of medicinal herbs and capable of curing the diseased by means of herbs as well as magical incantations.

The Santhal  Pantheon 

Religion is in extricably woven into the social life of the Santhals. It  has strengthened the social unity of these tribal  people, inspired in them a sense of social responsibility and endowed them with a strong consciousness of the righteousness.  They have no temples or idols for purposes of worship. They look up on natural objects like hills and dales, trees and groves with great reverential awe. The Santhal Pantheon is essentially hierarchical in character. Singbonga is the Supreme Being and the omnipotent deity who ranks highest in this hierarchy. He is believed to be the creator and destroyer of all creatures inhabiting both the visible and invisible world. There is no idol to represent him nor any temple or shrine for his worship. Inferior  in status to Singbonga is the deity called Marang-Baru, the guardian of the Santhal village who is invoked on all ceremonial occasions. Other deities are Jaher-Buri and deities known as 'five and six'. All the deities are worshipped by the Naik, village priest. He is held in high esteem  by the villagers and enjoys a number of privileges denied to common folk. The Santhals have an extra priest called Kadam Naik who performs such functions as are entrusted to him by the chief priest. The mati or Ojha is a spirit doctor possessing knowledge of the herbs as well as other malevolent spirits.

'Dharmes' of the Oraons

The Oraons  believe in hosts of  Gods, goddesses and the spirits of their ancestors. Dharmes is the omnipotent deity to them who creates and destroys the world whenever he likes, he is not worshipped in any shrine or temple. The Oraons have a sacred grove for the worship of numerous other deities who are said to belong to ten different grades. They are worshipped offerings and sacrifices by the village priest popularly known as the Pahan on behalf  of the entire village.

In olden days the Pahan used to be the sacerdotal as well as the secular headman of the village. Later the office of the secular headman grew very important and was entrusted to another member of the same class to which the Pahan belonged. Sometimes the Pahan has to perform so many varied functions that he is given an assistant called the Pujar. A large number of the Oraons believe in witchcraft and worship Hindu gods. The worship of the Devi Mai seems to be greatly in vogue in most of the Oraon settlement. The Oraons have borrowed this practice from Hindus. They have assimilated it so fully in their religion that one is apt to mistake it for an indigenous custom. They worship goddess collectively on behalf of the entire village. In many Oraon villages a small mud-built house roofed with tiles for the worship of this Hindu deity.

The Mundas 

The Mundas are polytheists and worship numerous deities and spirits. Singbonga is their Supreme Being, he is not merely a spectator of their deeds but possess the authority to punish evil-doers, he ranks highest in their Pantheon. The spirits of their ancestors are called Orabongako-the house hold gods.Hatubongako or the village gods occupy the most significant place, they are regarded as the guardians of the village and their  help is invoked in agricultural and other economic operations. All the deities are worshipped by the village priest known as the Pahan on behalf of the entire community. 

The presence of the spirits of the ancestors is very real to the Mundas. The Mundas really feel that they are constantly with them in the  house. A few days after a man dies, his spirits is brought from the grave by an elaborate ceremony to live in the house which was his during his life time. To the Mundas, there are gods or spirits  in many natural objects such as mountain-peaks, waterfalls and trees.

The religion of Hos 

The Ho religion resembles that of the other tribes in Bihar. The village priest of the Hos known as Deuri performs all religious rituals, on behalf of the entire community. He is held in high esteem by the villagers and enjoys numerous privileges. He is not required to propitiate malevolent spirits or deities, this task is assigned to the spirit doctor known as the Deona among the Hos.