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Tribal customs, traditions changing now: AU study

MOST PEOPLE believe that Indian tribal communities are still very close to nature and have not only managed to keep away from the effects of modernisation but have also successfully preserved their age-old traditions and customs.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2006 10:27 IST

MOST PEOPLE believe that Indian tribal communities are still very close to nature and have not only managed to keep away from the effects of modernisation but have also successfully preserved their age-old traditions and customs.

However, a study by Allahabad University's Anthropology Department has established that contrary to the popular belief, many a tradition and customs that had survived the changing times for centuries have undergone alterations resulting in change in their celebration of festivals and cultural events.

A Senior Research Fellow of the varsity's Anthropology Department, Surichi Tiwari, has carried out a study on the impact of modernisation on one such tribal community of the Mundas and visited Jharkhand on a study tour along with students of her department.

"The tribal community forms just 8 per cent of the total Indian population. As many as 50 per cent of the Indian tribal community including the Mundas, Oraon, Ho, Sauria, Paharia, Tharu, Gond and Bhil are found in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

Mundas are the major community among these and its members are mainly found around Ranchi with comparatively sketchy presence around Singhbhumi, Hazaribagh, Palamu and Dhanbad regions of Jharkhand," informed Surichi, part of AU's team planning a further in-depth major study on the Mundas.

She said that many an anthropologist believe that the Munda community members have been residing in and around Chota Nagpur for the past around 1000 years living in two types of villages— the Bhumihari and the Khuntkati.

"One such Khuntkati village is Sukri Serang located at Block Khunti of Ranchi about 78 km from the district headquarters. The members of the Munda community residing in the village are followers of two religions: Sarna Dharma and Christianity. Out of the total 55 families living the village, 27 follow Sarna Dharma, the main religion of the Mundas while 27 families have embraced Christianity," she added.

Suruchi said that the Sarna Dharma of the Mundas has bits of animism, naturalism, Totemism, Taboos, belief in powers of magic and ancestor worship.

"Sinh Boga' is the main God who, it is believed, lives in 'Sarna'.

She said that a study of their fests and customs revealed that effects of modernisation have started to have an impact on them in a big way. "Though the customs and traditions have been conserved by the Mundas, they have undergone changes in their basic observance," she added.

Surichi informed  that an age old custom of the Mundas is that of 'Jani Shikar' which is celebrated once every 12 years. The unique feature of this fest now is that members of both the religions, Sarna and Christianity, of the Sukri Serang village celebrate and observe the event.

The main story behind celebrating this festival is that once a Muslim ruler attacked the tribal community members living in Rohtasgarh with an aim of defeating and enslaving them.

"However, the tribals unitedly put up a brave fight and chased the invaders out of their area. To celebrate the occasion, the braves consumed a local beverage 'Handia' and became drunk. This led the enemy to re-attack in the night in hope of an easy victory. However, realising that the men were not in a position to fight, the women of the community donned men's fighting uniforms to take on the invaders. The attackers seeing the sheer strength of the fighters retreated without a fight and it is this occasion that is celebrated once every 12 years," Surichi said.

She informed that though this is a fest mainly of the Oraon community, it is celebrated by the Mundas with all the fervour during April and May.

"This fest of 'Jani Shikhar' like other fest of the community has undergone many a change in the recent years. "Though in its original avatar, the women members wearing men's dress used to hunt the first wild animal they spotted and used to display it by hanging it on a bamboo pole as a testimony of their strength and fighting skills. However, now with new laws, limited resources, financial constraints and vanishing jungles have forced them to transform the rituals into a simple ceremonial exchange of hunt," Surichi said.