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 Customs | Language | Community Law


Customs - Birth | Marriage | Death


Fertility and Birth

A barren woman is considered so inauspicious that it is believed that no other woman should take a bath where she takes her bath. They blame the woman and not the man in almost all cases. A large number of fasts, penances and other observances  aimed at the propitiation of several gods and goddesses including Shiva and Parvati and many local deities, devotion  to the spiritually powerful Sanyasis, bathing at and visiting some famous centres of pilgrimage-all these are done to remove the evil fate of barrenness.

In tribal society barrenness is also a matter of concern for the relatives and may lead to a divorce or marriage with a second or even a third wife. The preference for having sons is widespread in tribal and non tribal societies in Orissa. The ceremonies connected with child birth are more elaborate and lively in the case of the male child than that of the female one. The Hindu families of higher castes become anxious to have at least one male child, so that he will be ritually qualified to offer the proper oblations to the ancestral spirits. They believe that, unless such oblations are offered by a male descendant, who continues the patrilineal line of descent, the ancestors will be tormented in a special hell. 

Death and Funeral

Hindus of Orissa cremate their dead, but they make some exceptions. Young children, adults who die of epidemics or of snake bite, and sanyasi who has forsaken the world are all given  a burial  and in some cases floated down the river. In tribal  society the custom varies from community to community. Those who are Hinduised like Gond, the Bhuiyan and others cremate their dead whereas others bury them. But if a tiger kills a person he or she is not cremated, even if cremation is the usual custom. When a pregnant woman dies, the foetus is taken out of the womb and is given a separate burial. As the pregnant woman is universally believed to become a dangerous ghost which tries to snatch away babies out of her own frustration, her bones are broken and thrones and other inhibiting materials put in her grave in order to pin her down at the place where she is buried.

Whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim or tribal, all have the common belief of the immortality of the soul. Among the Hindus the soul is reborn in human or in some other form according to the balance of religious merits earned in the previous lives. The disembodied soul may go to heaven or hell in accordance with one's "Karmaphala" or the balance of the fruits of action through a series of former lives. Every year the ancestral spirits are offered "Shraddha" oblations at least once. The Muslim and Christian souls await the final judgment from God at the end of the world. But among the tribal people the soul usually goes to the underground world but always maintains contact with the living descendants, protecting or punishing  them by bringing illness or misfortune if they morally or spiritually go astray. 

Funeral ceremonies in almost all communities are so expensive that many tribal families get themselves literally bound to richer brethren or to neighbours for generations  because of the debts they incur to meet these expenses. On the completion of the funeral ceremony the close relatives, and among the tribal group, the whole village, indulge  in merriment.

Community Law and Criminality

Almost all the castes have the caste panchayat at various levels, at the village in whole or in a small group of villages, in a region and in a few cases for the caste group as a whole. This panchayat of sub-castes elders had the right to supervise the social  interactions  especially in taking of food  and drink from member of other castes  and avoiding sexual contact  with  members of the so called  lower castes. Besides this, the panchayat  used to sit in judgment  on cases of  choice of transgression  of marriage  regulations, divorce, and adultery  cases or in cases of partition in a family and in cases of choice  of occupation  and client etc. Further, the panchayat was competent  to ostracise members of the sub castes when  they contravened its regulations and injunctions and it could  also prescribe ritual expiations in case of some specific  sins  committed ( incest, killing a cow, killing of a Brahman, one's wounds getting gangrenous  and infested with maggots-all of which were considered great transgressions). Though the Hindu Raja was the highest court of appeal in social and caste, matters, and he had to rely up on his  family Brahman Purohit or the other learned Brahman Pandits, the caste panchayats were left much to themselves and led a semi-autonomous  and self-regulatory  existence. 

Each tribal community had at least a village  council looking after the village affairs, rituals social, economic  and political. Among the Oraons, the Mundas, the Santhals  and the Hos etc., there was an inter-village tribal organisation with a series  of officials holding hereditary positions as periodically  selected. Among the  tribes of Orissa murders are rarely committed for the gain of property. But murder for revenge is rather frequent, as also  murder for jealousy in sex.

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