Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rituals And Festivals Of The Ho Tribe

(Part II)
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 Para
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.
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