Santhal Mythology | Creation Concept [ Briefly Explained ]

Santhal Mythology Creation Concept

Social Mythology And Creation Concept

All the major races in the world have their own beliefs with regards to their creation as also that of the universe and human beings.

The Santals too have their own unique and elaborate creation and origin myth. The religion practiced by the Santals is animistic but it does not imply of it being pagan as is believed by those who boast of a text-based religion.

A complete analytical account of the creation concept was told by Kolean, recorded by Skrefsurd (1887) and translated into English by Rev. Bodding in 1942. In the absence of any script, the rich traditional heritage continued to low for generations through oral renditions alone.

Santhal Mythology

The Santals are great storytellers and have a daily practice of surrounding their elders to hear stories. There is no doubt about the history of the Santals being one of the world's oldest tribes.

They are the most researched tribes. Anthropologists are of varied opinion about the time of their existence on the earth.

But given the documented versions, the Santals emerged between the food gathering period that is nine million years before now and the early agricultural period that is about nine thousand BC of the history of human civilization.

Yet with a history as old as this they cannot pride themselves of a documented history for they have no ancient books written by them, as they were not literate.

Santali Culture And Tradition Santali Jaher Gar
Photo Credit: KalingaTv

Their culture is based on oral tradition as also their religion, which has only now been documented, by sociologists and anthropologists. There are some peculiar straits in their character and personality.

They hold an unassailable religious faith revolving around their gods such as Maran Buru, Moreko Turuiko, Jaher Era and Gosain Era, which can warmly be felt in their daily chores and customs.

These Gods are represented in nature, trees, mountains, forests, and stones. Yet they have no organized religion, no temples and not even a time and place for worship. They have a strong stigma towards spirits (Bonga) who are considered to be omnipresent and malevolent. Their lifestyles are guided under the watchful eye of these spirits.

They have elaborate appeasement sessions for these bongas and every home has a specified area to worship and appease the bongas.

Unlike the sister customs and cultures of their neighbors, worshipping is not one of the prime facets of life and yet they have a dogmatic belief in supernatural and eulogize the powers of the Almighty in every stage, event, and even their destiny.

Contradictions indeed but yet that is what is a reality with the Santals. Rituals and beliefs are interwoven in their daily and routine life.

They have garrulous vocations related to their festivals, their cleansing ceremonies are done at their birth, marriage and on their death and their traditional outlook and belief in the continuation of life after death.

The Santals call themselves " Hor Hopon", It means the child or children of human beings. It is the diction of others that they are known as Santals, Santhal. Saontar and Sotar to be regionally classified. In the State records, they are mostly found either as Santal or Santhal.

The Santals have been in India since time immemorial and complementing their antiquity an eminent anthropologist P.C.Biswas writes in "Primitive Religion, Social Organisation Law and Government among the Santal, 1935 that " If there is any culture which still carries on the impress of the underlying philosophic speculation and order of the thought that was widespread in India prior to the rise of the Dravidian culture, it was very likely the belief and social order of pre-Dravidian Santals…So in the pre-Aryan and pre-Dravidian culture of India the Santals…. Stand in the limelight".

Different researchers have recorded various versions of creation narratives and different writers have made use of them with moderate variations. One of this is contained in the Santali book " Horkoren Mare Hapramko Reak' Katha " which was first published by Rev L.O.Skrefsrud in 1887 (Santal Mission of the Northern Churches) as a guide for the Santals, especially in the customary matters and also on account of its ethnological value. P.O. Bodding re-edited the book in 1916 and 1929.

The renderings in the book is a faithful translation of the narrative of an old guru Kolean, the elder, whom Skrefsrud found to be the best authority he has been able to locate. Kolean belonged to a village called Pabea in the district of Manbhum to the southwest of the Santal Parganas. The other one is authored by Rev. A.Campbell titled "Santal tradition" published in 1892.

Santali Sohrai Festival Drawing Santali Culture

The man was born towards the direction of the rising of the Sun (The East). In the beginning, there was only water and below water was the earth. Then Thakur Jiu (The Lord) created living beings in water - the crab, the crocodile, the alligator, the raghop boarfish, the sole prawn, the earthworm, the tortoise and others.

Then Thakur said ' Whom shall I now make? I will make a man". He decided to make two of them and he proceeded to make one pair of the earth soil and he completed them. As he was going to pour life in them, the day-horse ( Sin' sadom or the horse which has been kept closed) came down and trampled them to pieces and left. The Thakur was grieved.

He then decided that he would not make them on the earth instead he shall make birds. He then proceeded to make Has and Hasil (Swan and the female ) pulling the material from his chest. Thereafter he breathed on them and they became animated and flew upward. They moved about flying but could not alight anywhere. They alighted on the hand of the Thakur.

Then the horse of the daylight came down to drink water. When he was drinking water he spilled some froth of his mouth and left. It floated on the water; thereby foam was formed on the water. Thakur thereupon said to the two birds to alight on the foam which they did.

 Now they would travel all over the ocean by the foam which carried them as a boat. Then they implored Thakur," We are moving about, that is so, but we do not find any food".

This made the Thakur call the alligator. He came and Thakur told him to bring up the earth. The alligator said. ' if you say so, I can bring it up" It went down to the bottom of the sea and as he was bringing up the earth ( on his back) all got dissolved in water. Thakur -Jiu called the prawn. He was also told similarly to bring up the earth.

He complied with and went down to the bottom of the Sea and as it was bringing earth with its pincers, all were dissolved in water. This made Thakur Jiu call the raghop boarfish. He came. Thakur asked him whether he would be willing to bring up the earth. The fish agreed and having gone down in the water he bit the earth. He was bringing some of the earth in his mouth and some on his back but in the deluge of water, all the earth got dissolved.

 Thereupon Thakur called the stone crab and the Thakur likewise requested him. It went down the sea and while it was on its way back with the earth with its claws, all the earth was dissolved. The same procedure was followed with the earthworm whom the Thakur called thereafter.

It promised to bring the earth provided the tortoise stands on the water. The tortoise agreed to the request of the Thakur Jiu and as he stood on the water Thakur chained his four legs in the four directions. The tortoise became immovable on the water.

 Then the earthworm went down to reach the earth while his tail rested on the back of the tortoise. He started eating earth from down below and through his tail, it reached onto the back of the tortoise. It continued to heap earth on the tortoise till he brought up enough for the whole earth. Thereafter Thakur leveled the earth with a harrow.

While harrowing, the earth got heaped up in some places; this became mountains. Then when the earth had been brought up and leveled, the foam that was flowing on the surface of the water stuck to the earth and as Thakur sowed sirom seed (The dhubi grass) on this foam, the sirom plant sprang up first.

Santali Music Instruments Santali Traditions

After this the Karam tree (Adina cordifolia); thereupon the rope sarjom, the labar atnak, the ladea matkom and after this, the remaining varieties of vegetation. The earth became firm thereafter. Thereupon, having made a nest in a clump of the sirom plants, the two birds laid two eggs.

The female bird would sit on the eggs and the male bird would locate and bring food. After some days from those two eggs, two human beings were hatched, one boy and one girl.

Whereupon they implored Thakur . " how can we bring them up ". Thakur Jiu gave them cotton wool and said to them " whatever you eat, squeeze out the juice of it in this cotton wool and give it to them to suck it. In this fashion, they grew up and started toddling.

 As the two human beings were growing, the anxiety of the birds also grew, concerning where to keep these two. So they sought Thakur again. Thakur told them," Do fly around and find a place for them to stay".

Then they flew towards the setting of the sun; they discovered Hihiri Pipiri. Having returned they told Thakur of this.

Thakur told them to take them there which they did. The names of these two human beings were Haram and Ayo. Some people call them Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi. They grew up eating sumtu bukuc grass and sama ghas. They had no clothes, they were both naked, yet they felt no shame, and they lived in great peace.

One day Lita (is said to be the real name of the principal Bonga of the Santals, always referred to as Maran Buru) came and called them out. " Where are your grandchildren, how are you? I am your grandfather, I have come to see you, you are quite well, but one of the greatest joys you have not realized yet. Brew rice beer, it is very tasty " He taught them the preparation of the ferment for rice beer and showed them the herb.

They dug its root and brought it. Under the guidance of Lita, the procedure of preparation was religiously followed. The brew was prepared and was served in three cups of leaves. One of these was offered to Maran Buru as a libation and they drank the remaining two cups. While drinking they began to flirt with one another. They drank it all up and were quite stupefied. The night advanced and they slept together. When it was daybreak, Lita came again and called them out.

They regained consciousness and recognized that they were naked which made them greatly ashamed. They told Lita that having been intoxicated they have done something wrong. Lita assured them that nothing will happen and he went away smiling.

Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi made coverings of banyan leaves to cover the bodily part which modesty requires to be covered. In the course of time, they got seven sons and daughters. The name of the eldest boy was Sandra, followed by Sandhom, Care, Mane, and Acaredelhu. The eldest girl was Chita followed by Kapu, Hisi, and Dumni. The names of others were forgotten.

The story of creation went on like this. The story goes on to describe as to how the community grew, how the first generation of the community was destroyed by Thakur Jiu by fire from heaven because of their sin and how one pair survived the disaster and how the next generation grew up and wandered from place to place. Kolean's report of the creation and the wanderings of the people ends here.

According to a statement towards the end of the book, the dictation was finished on the 15th of February, 1871. P.O.Bodding added some more stories after rendering the views of Kolean on grounds that some Santals had actually narrated things, which Kolean did not mention, and " This does not exclude the possibility of our learning something from other sources ".

The additional stories gathered by Bodding are marginal variations of the main story on the creation concept. The role of Maran Buru in the first story emerges at the end whereas in the updated version he has a predominant role in the formation of earth and in fact, has been substituted in place of Thakur Jiu in the first story, The other important addition in the later version is the story of how mankind was divided into separate races.

Bodding says that Kolean does not mention how mankind was multiplied and divided into various races and formation of sub-septs. The text which is open to ethnologists" is a genuine account of Santal traditions and institutions taken down from the mouth of Kolean who had learned it from his own teacher.

These traditional tales are being carried from generations to generations without any significant corruption, as "they are evidently the result of a comparatively long development ". There is a strong influence of Hindu culture and language in the renderings although the whole concept may not be categorized as Aryan.

The narrative penned nearly a century and a quarter ago has the same relevance to the present day Santals and to customs, which had the occasions to be influenced by such a rich culture. The history has also the distinction of being recited twice in connection with the life of every Santal, first at the Caco Chatiar, when a child is ceremoniously given full social right, and finally at the bhandan, the funeral ceremony, when the deceased is handed over to the next world and to the care of the departed ancestors.

The Santals as a tradition are a wandering lot and they do so even today. The nomadic state possibly owes to the fact of their dependence entirely on forest and the role of a particular chunk of the forest as a source of sustenance keeps changing. W.W.Hunter in "The Santals" say that ' in marked contrast to the Kolarians of the Munda and Ho divisions, the Santals, as a rule, care little for permanently locating themselves. 

A country denuded of the primeval forest which affords them the hunting ground they delight in and the virgin soil they prefer, does not attract them; and then, through their own labor, the spread of cultivation has effected this denudation, they select a new site, however prosperous they may have been on the old, and retire into the backwoods, there their harmonious flutes sound so sweeter, their drums find deeper echoes, and their bows and arrows may once more be utilized.

 The Santals have been influenced by the traditional role of socialism. As a first step towards this credence, they have the public ownership of land. At the founding of a new village, each Santal receives land not by individual seizure but by village decision, and it is only when he has brought his holding under cultivation, that he acquires a permanent right to remain in possession.

He has the alternative to exchange his land with another Santal but only under the sanctity of the approval of the village headman. This is required to be substantiated by the Sub-divisional officer. He cannot otherwise transfer the land out of his family. 

Despite an established system of land management. The tradition of their ancient migrations are rendered obscure by the accession of dissolving views to which this nomadic habit introduces us, but they nevertheless tenaciously cling to a wild and remote tradition of their origin…

But though prone to change, the Santals are not indifferent to their personal comfort and are more careful in the construction of their homesteads and villages than their cognates. Their huts, with carefully formed mud walls and well-raised plinths and snug verandahs, have a neat and, owing to their love of color, even a gay appearance.

Santali Gods and Godess Worship Santali Tradition and Culture

They paint their walls in alternate broad stripes of red, white and black- native clays and charcoal furnishing the pigments; Moreover, the houses are kept perfectly clean, and, by means of partitions, decent accommodation for the family is provided'.

Besides, there is also another aspect of their character where stability or concern for the future is always left to the almighty. The Santals consider the man as a creation of God who sends them to the earth at his own will and again decides on when they are to be called back. To an extent, such a school of thought would result in an emancipation that the sustenance of such a creation of God is the responsibility of God and they are mere performers of the duty entrusted to them.

Obviously, a tribe who do not accept his existence, sustenance and well being as his own creativity and a result of his own efforts shall find genuine excuses to while away his time in praising the supernatural.

They are, as a class, unable to accept complete civilization and as such lag behind their neighbors in maintaining their position amongst other communities. The problem of dire economic straits compels them to learn some vocation for a while but since a fixed vocation alike a fixed habitation is against their tenets they seek other pastures to lighten up their customary manners. There are historical pieces of evidence to show that the tribe migrated to save themselves from cultural onslaughts and preserve their freedom.

They pick up certain habits of the new surroundings only to be protected from being called aliens entirely. However, due to their alienated character, they do not understand how to gain maximum from the new adoption. To improve in this direction they will have to alter many of their ingrained habits as well as their mode of life.

Having been close to the Bengali culture for centuries for geographical compulsions they have not been able to adopt even a fraction of their traditional aspects of economic security. This again is interlocutory to the fact that they have not learned the value of money although the relevance of a paisa is important to them.

This economics appears to be far beyond their capacity and they suffer from it. And so in their forest surrounding they depend only on the barter system and not money based transactions. Rationally there, they are vulnerable to unequal transactions where the worth of the bartered element may not be worth the compensatory element is given away.

The Santals are good tenants and are second to none in India in so far it concerns cleaning of the forest and also except in manuring, in making the soil ready for cultivation. The fact is accepted, known and taken benefit of by the other class of people. The wandering tendencies of the Santals have much to say to their tenets of simplicity.

As already said the Santals is the best clearer of jungles in India because of themselves originally belonging to the jungle. But they know nothing of agriculture nor do they develop such knowledge. Being bad in economics they got into the hands of moneylenders who would get on the fields cleared by the Santals after much labors at a measly pittance.

They did not have the knowledge that instead of borrowing money from the moneylenders in barter, large tracts of lands cleared by them at such immense labor could well have been manured for agricultural purposes to earn money instead of getting into the scheme of the clever moneylenders. Having lost the cleared lands they would endeavor to some other places always towards the rising of the Sun.

Although they were a prolific race but being brought to such a pass that they did not have enough land for sustenance either the whole family or some of them will go away to find a fresh track of the jungle to clear it afresh. And again the repeat happening of the moneylenders chasing them there too to further hoot them off to oblivion. The Santals always live in villages. They are never found to be dwelling alone.

Santali Jaher Santali Tradition and Santali Worship Of Gods And Goddess

The dwelling areas are invariably tracts of forestland. Since habitation is a changing factor for Adivasis, an account of the selection process for a site for building and establishing a new village is of interest. There are a long list and lengthy process of rituals connected with the setting up of a habitation. The architectural layout is also defined and so is the source of sustenance which is unfailingly nearby. A pre-determined forest area is discussed as a preliminary hunt.

Three or four men proceed with a leader to inspect the site. The moment they step into a forestland there are notional linkages with every event happening thereafter. For instance, the flying of quails is regarded as symbiotic to the fact that someday in future a village established here would be deserted. But if they see that birds are sitting quietly on their eggs, or if they meet a tiger or see footmarks of a tiger that denotes that the village found here shall be prosperous and thrive and that they must settle down contently.

The selected site shall thereafter be further investigated for a place where there is a high ground where rice fields can be prepared, and where water is readily accessible. A subsequent day is fixed thereafter for testing the omens. The rituals for this purpose consists of, one speckled and two white fowls, a little sun-dried rice, oil, sindur and water in a narrowly necked earthenware pot called "Thili".

The leader ventures into the forest to place these things in a sequential manner in the place where he intends to build his house. The other connected rituals are performed and the team led by the leader departs to spend the night elsewhere. They return the next morning to investigate the state of the things placed at night before depending upon the position, the impact of omen is decided.

The signal of a good omen convinces them of their decision to establish a village there. The leader, who is to become the headman of the village cuts down the first tree. Once the village is ready and farmland divided the exodus takes place.

These are generally done in the month of Phalgun and Chaitra (middle of February to middle of April) Running along the middle of the site a clear space is left for the village street and near the end of this is found the sacred grove. The form of architecture of a santal house is called Bangh Orak.

It is rectangular in form, its breadth being two -thirds of its length. Another form of the house is called Calom Orak having a four-sided roof. The houses invariably have a destined place called "bhitar", the closet for the ancestors. The houses have earthen walls.

These besides being cheap are easy to construct. The present-day Santal houses have placed as sheds for cow, sheep, buffalo, and goat. When the family grows bigger, more houses are built but not with the bhitar, the closet for the ancestors continues to be with the house first built. The Santals are always in the lookout for natural springs to fetch water.

Water from pools, tanks, streams, and rivers are also used. Individual families depending upon their status also dig wells. There the men gather ritually in the evening to have talks and women gossip there in the afternoon and discuss everything.

The Santals had a tradition of their ancestors which is peculiar in nature. It appears that each man used to occupy and owned as much land as he could cultivate in any one season. At the end of the season, all lands were given back to the village community for redistribution during the next year. A part of this system is still in vogue. The Santals do not learn the conventional method of agriculture and derive no benefit from the latest form of cultivation.

They don’t understand the benefits of weeding and manuring or of changing crops. They don't take proper care of their cattle. When paddy is harvested the cattle roam about in the fields freely. Possibly this attitude has been developed because of the uncertainty of permanent habitation which again is a result of their migratory tendencies.

Santali Traditional Cultural Dance

Another illustration of their migratory nature is proved by the fact that they do not gather too many household things in the course of their normal lifestyles. The Santals have no furniture or eating accessories like spoons or forks.

They generally prefer to spread out their food on the ground or the courtyard. This is generally neatly plastered with cow dung and dried and carefully cleaned before sitting down for food. A distinct Hindu culture has crept into their habits and that is that when there are no utensils to serve the food they use cups and plates made of leaves. These are used once and thrown away.

Usage of such utensils for more than once is considered unhealthy practice and against all norms of cleanliness.

Also, read: Santali Myth Of Human Origins

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