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Religion & Social Systems


Paul Olaf Bodding, who had studied extensively on Santali language and spent most of his life to understand the life and culture of Santals, observes in  the preface of Santal Dictionary [1929-1936],
"If their (Santals') traditions are to be believed, their ancestors - or at all events, some of them - at one time of a much higher civilization than the Santals of today and themselves administered a country of their own"


Santal Myth

Santal Myth:
There is a belief among the Santal society about creation of world. They believe that primitive world was filled with only water and God had the problem in creating the land, where man can live. The land is normally considered opposite to water. He created all amphibian animals that can operate both land and water; therefore, he created seven animals -crab, crocodile, alligator, eel, Pawn, earthworm and tortoise. For creating land, God invited the kings of all these animals to solve help him out. Every one was coming one by one; they all had not got any success. Lastly, earthworm came and succeeded to create land. It is said that the King of earthworm after seven days and seven nights ate the bottom of water and excreted in on the back of tortoise who is swimming at the top. The tortoise anchored himself on the both side firmly and brought up the earth and thus earth was shaped.  That is why there is a belief among Santals that earthquakes are result of movement of tortoise. In other words, when tortoise moves or shakes, earthquakes occur in earth. Santal myth about the creation of world is substantially different from myth associated with creation of world among the other indigenous peoples of India and in many sense it is unique that it ascribe the creation of earth with the help of amphibian animals, specially the earthworm and tortoise. This is all about the story of creation of earth.

There is another interesting myth about creation of human beings. Again here, this myth is substantially different from the many similar myths that are prevalent among the other peoples. Unlike others, Santal myth is more associated with natures, animals. Although, Santal do not strictly believe that they have descended from Animals, however, they assume that there is some connection between animal and human being. It reflects many other Santal beliefs and myth. According to the myth, God created two heavenly birds - Has and Hasil-out of his hair. Then these two birds started flying in the sky. These bird could survive early state of earth, where all earth was covered with water, as they could mediate the opposite elements heaven and earth. It is believed that they flew below the sun and above the earth thus making the contact between the both worlds. After flying several days, they built the nest on the earth and laid the eggs. They are cosmic eggs, out of which two creatures; human male and human female are born - Pilchu Haram and pilchu Burhi. Both these myths creation of world and mankind refer the birds and animal as ancestors. Thus Santal concept of life begins with animals. Therefore, clans' names are after the name of animals.

Totemism :
After creation of earth, Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Burhi gave birth to seven sons and seven daughters. In later stage they married among themselves thus forming a seven exogamous clans. With the passage of time, five more groups were formed. A total 12 clans is found among the Santals. They are Hansdak', Murmu, Hembrom, Soren, Kisku, Tudu, Marndi, Baske, Besra, Chonre, Puria and Bedea.  A affiliation or sacred contact is believed to link these clans and their respective totems.  Therefore, each of the names of clans are derived from either from the plants or animals species. There is a belief that is prevalent among the Santals that totems have some connection with the deeds or birth of ancestors of the clans. Hansdak' clan members claim to be of the highest status as they have derived from the name of their clan from first ancestors. The term Has designates wild goose while dak' in Santali means water. This clan is, therefore, linked to the original state of world and first ancestors. It is the most senior among the all clans of the Santals since it is related to myth of creation. Moreover, swan or goose is not just animal. It builds nest on earth, walks on earth and flies on sky.

Next in order are the Murmus who are represented by the Nilgai or the antelope. According to the myth of genesis of this clans, it is said that ancestors of this clan hunted the first the antelope as animal and in other words, it is this animal which was first sacrificed by Santals. Since this time, Santals started hunting and eating of animals and subsequently become fond of hunting and eating of flesh. The antelope being purely a land animal is responsible for the destruction of Santals among the Santals as opposed to swan who combines the four elements and stands for humanity and creation of human beings. The Hansdak' and the Murmu are the two superior clans of the Santals. As the story goes, Hansdak' are given the status of advisors and the Murmus are the priest.

The Kiskus have kingfishers bird as their totem and come third in the hierarchy. They are regarded as kings and are given the Royal status. Hembrom are fourth in order and have betel nut as their totem. It is believed that the ancestor of the Hembrom clan was born with a betel nut string around his waist. There are also those who believe that their ancestor was actually born under a betel nut tree, which is totally hard and solid.

Marndis are linked with grass or type of weed and are traders. The Sorens are soldiers or warriors and are linked to the constellation of stars. The Tudus are musicians and have accepted owl as their totem. Baskes are cooks and associated stale rice. They have believed to offered stale rice to the Gods and are thus prohibited from eating it. Bedeas have sheep as their totem and believed to have no personal own much like the animal they revere. They are not found in now days and believed to mixed with other clans.  Lastly are the Paurias and Chonres who have pigeons and lizard respectively as their totems. It is found that in most of the cases that the only animals the clan members could hunt were made heir totem, which perhaps restricted them endangering the species.

So strong are their feelings towards these totemic species that they respect them as their won clan members. If any of the clan members sees a dead totem, he observes the death rituals. Eating or hunting the totem is prohibited. According to stories of about the restriction of marriages among the different clans. The reason lies in the nature of the totems and the elements they are connected with.   In first place the marriage is forbidden between the water and land i.e. swan(Hansdak') and antelope(Murmu). It is restricted between "lower heaven" and "lower earth" i.e. Kingfisher and weed (Kisku and Marndi), also "upper heaven"(Hembrom) and "upper earth"(Soren). Secondly, marriage is prohibited between three heavenly birds (Owl, hawk and pigeon ). The totem also defined some relationship between consumed and consumer. The pigeon that is the prey of the hawk along with the lizard eats Rice and the owl also hunts this lizard. Therefore, initially the Chonres did not marry with Besras and Tudus. But presently this restriction is no longer followed and the marriages take place between all clan members.

Each of these clans is further divided into several sub clans; Each one upholds a distinctive myth and set of customs that differentiates it from the others, including kinds of food taken, ornaments, worn and worship of the spirits or Gods (Bongas). Even the sacrifices vary during the rituals vary from one sub-clan to another. The names of the sub-clan are derived from plants and animals. Out of the 16 sub-clans that were available in the area, nine trace their origins to certain animals. For examples, Chilbinda hansdak' derived its name from the ancestor who killed an eagle, "Jihu hansdak"  from Jihu or babbler bird. Sole-Hemborm do not eat eels as it is believed its ancestor had been saved by it while ferrying flooded river. The kahu-Besras are prohibited to kill crows.  The totem exercises powerful influence on the habit of the Santals.

Santal Administration

Village administration:
The cultural analysis of the Santal village administration would pave the way for a clear understanding of the economic and political stratification and their history and evolution in ancient India. This indeed, will give an idea about the contribution of Santals towards modern social system. The Santal society is characterized by democratic equality. Wealth matters little in the day-to-day life. The clans are regarded as equal to another clans and there is no class distinction either in status or occupation. The village is generally multi clans and each clan has sub number. The Santal villages are social and political entities with great cohesion and continuity. Each village has well established political organization with a secular headman called Majhi who is a man of great prestige. The village council controls the entire social system of the Santals. The village council or Atu Mone Hor is consisted of Majhi (village headman), Jog Majhi (Deputy village Headman), Paranik (Assistant to village Headman), Goddet (secretary to village Headman), Jog Paranik(deputy Paranik), Naeke (head village priest) and Kudam Naeke (Assitant to village priest). All the villagers are member of the village council. Village council is the institution that settles all the disputes of the villages. Santal community as a whole maintains certain uniform customs and laws with relation to marriage, divorce, birth etc.  Majhi presides over the village council meetings when they are held to discuss the matters related to village. In event of disputes arises with different village, he acts as representative of village. Paranik is the principal assistant to Majhi and representative of Majhi. If Majhi dies without any male issues or brothers, then paranik will get the office.  and Goddet. No public sacrifice, no festival, no ceremony such as marriage can be done without Majhi taking initiative. Jog Majhi serves as the supernatant of the youth of the village and he is one the link between younger generation to older generation and he generally passing all the secrets to younger ones. In the absent of Jog Majhi, the Jog Paranik officiates. Equally important is the religious headman called Naeke and his assistant Kudam Naeke.

Santal, the original habitants of India

This is a some points whcih exculsively proved our traditonal thinking that Santal and as whole tribals are the original habitants of India. An international study led by Michale J. Bamshad of the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics of the University of Utah of caste origins has found (the findings have been reported in a recent issue of the journal Genome Research) that members of the upper castes are genetically more similar to Europeans, Western Eurasians to be specific, whereas the lower castes are more similar to Asians. This finding is in tune with the expectations based on historical reasoning and the prevalent views of many social historians. In exercising their superiority over native proto-Asian populations, the Aryans would have appointed themselves to higher rank castes. The 18-member research team includes scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, India and Estonia. The collaborating Indian scientists were anthropologists Bhaskar Rao, J. Mastan Naidu and B. V. Ravi Prasad from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, and P. Govinda Reddy from the University of Madras. Here is some articles

1. "Fundamental genomic unity of ethnic India is revealed by anal ysis of mitochondrial DNA" by P. P. Majumder Current Science, Vol 79, 10 November, 2000
.2. "Ethnic populations of India as seen from an evolutionary perspective" P. P. Majumder , Journal of Bioscience,Vol 26, No 4, Nov, 2001
3. "Ethical Challenges as we approach the end of the Human Genome Project"  Editor: Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
4. "Genetic evidence on the origin of Indian caste populations" Michael Bamshad etl Genome Research, 2001

This web site contains all data related to regional language of India. You can have look at it.

The Adivasi (indigenous peoples) constitute the oldest and, often, the original inhabitants of this land. They constitute many different peoples with different languages. In the northern part of Bangladesh the Adivasis numbered 2.2 million in the late sixties but now have declined to 0.8 million. This decrease in their population is symptomatic of the continuing encroachment into their lands and their livelihood by the dominant Bengalis.


How did gender relations change, leading at some point to the establishment of patriarchy? Engels noted that the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male

On the  deciphering of the Indus valley script and the solution of the brahui problem by Anans M Sharan . This is one the much needed support to find the missing link of Indus script and Santhal.


Santal Society

Santals has wonderful socio-cultural mosaic, which often we round of it in the present caste rifted Indian society.  the following are the main socio-religious characteristics of the Santals:

  • Santals have separate religion and it is called "Sarna". Even Indian Constitution does treat Santals religion as separate one.
  • Offering during worship is made within the pictorial boundary known as khond as a mark of the mundane relationship of the supernatural power.
  • Image or idol worship is absent and there is no as such traditional temple that exists in Santal society.
  • Both burial and cremation are practiced. A chicken is dedicated to the dead body.
  • The society is devoid of caste hierarchy and therefore, the Santal's is a casteless society. By birth no person, family, clan group is superior or inferior. Santal women enjoys much more freedom than their counterparts in Indian Society.
  • Blood offering is prevalent in the community. Earlier practice of cow sacrifice is now restricted.
  • Priesthood is not appropriated by a particular clan group or a sect but is owned by the family members of the first settlers of the village. Occasionally selection of a successor of the old priest is held if he leaves no issue (male child). Mainly a divinated person makes such a selection and it is undisputed.


Santal's Social Life

Santal's Social life:
Santal social organization has very interesting characteristics. It contains flexibility in rigidity. Marriage is one of the important components in the dynamics of Santal society. It, indeed, have wonderful and interesting feature. Therefore, more details description is given here for Santal marriage to have understanding of Santal life, and their feeling and sentiments. It, to some extend, depicts the Santal way of life.

Santal Marriage:
The Santali name for marriage is called /Bapla/. In Santal society, marriage is one of sacred event of life and marriage adds up considerable respect in society. However, there are some traditions and customs need to be strictly followed in doing so. It is strictly forbidden for any Santal to marry within his or her own sept (Parish). He can marry into any other septs or sub-septs to which his/her mother belonged.  There are some septs, which never intermarry with another in consequence of some ancient feuds between them. For example, A Hansdak' male or a female never marries a Murmu female or male respectively. Similarly, a Tudu male never marries a Besra female and vice versa. These customs are no longer in effective prevalent in day-to-day life of Santals. However, myths and tales associated with feud are still told among the Santals.

Girls are married as adults mostly to men of their own choice. In Santal marriage, there is no restriction of age. The bride may be younger, older or of equal age with bridegroom. There are two types of marriage practiced by Santals- the marriage arranged by Raibar (match maker) is the regular form of marriage. Couple themselves arranges the other forms of marriages.

Raibar Bapla:
This form of marriage is most commonly practiced in Santal society, where parents of both side select the bride and groom. Once they liked each other, then Raibar (match maker ) is appointed to negotiate between them. Generally, bride's father asks for bride price, which is generally divided among the bride's father, bride's mother, Mother's mother and father's mother. The brother of bride will get bull from groom. It is customs that not fix the marriage date in the month of birth.

Sanga bapla:
In this form of marriage the divorced women or widow is married with a widower. Here, bridegroom and bride settle the negotiation and mostly male takes the initiatives. In this marriage, bride price is very nominal. The binding ceremony of the Santal marriage is the Sindurdan; Which is here done by not applying the Sidur directly on the parting of the hair of bride by bridegroom, but instead he smears a dimbu flower with vermilion and fix it in the bride's coiffure.

Kudam Bapla:
If a girl becomes pregnant, the young man by whom she becomes so is bound to marry her. Generally young man informs the Jog Majhi (Assistant to head man) of his offence and the girl confesses it to wife of Jog Majhi. Then they inform to parents of bride and bridegroom. As usual, bridegroom pays bride price and bull.  Bridegroom at the time of applying vermilion stands facing west and bride facing east.

Kiring Jawae:
If the couple belongs to the same sept, the headman calls for councils of village, and the decision would be always negative. Here boy's father has to bear the expenses of the marriage of the girl to another man. Then headman arranges the marriage for girl far away from village and name of boy is always secret.

Ghardi jawae:
When a man has minor sons and grown up daughter, he procures Ghardi-Jawae to get in his agricultural work. All expenses of marriage is borne by bride's father. At ordinary situation marriage the bridegroom 's friends are called Bariat; but in this it is the friends of bride that are called so. In this kind of marriage the bridegroom pays nothing for his bride but lives with father in-laws and work for him without wages for five years. When man procure a Ghardi Jawae to get help his agricultural works, in such cases, the girl's father sets aside a bit of land for this Ghardi Jawae and help him to get additional land Once five years of service is over, the Ghardi jawae is free to depart.

Tunki Dipil Bapla:
Poor men perform this type of marriage. As they have not sufficient money to bear the expenses of the regular marriage (Raibar Bapla), they resort this type of marriage. The bride is brought to the house of the bridegroom with small basket on her head; a few friends and relatives accompany her to her house. The bridegroom in the presence of these persons applies vermilion on her head and couple then lives as husband and wife.

Itut Bapla:
Forward young men who are not quite sure whether the girl fancy will accept them and take this means of compelling her to marry adopt this.  This type of marriage is looked down up and rarely occurs. Generally double bride price is paid and the marriage is still legal. But if girl declines to live, then she must take divorced in full moon and cannot marry as spinster.

 Nirbolok Bapla:
This form of marriage can said to be female variety of 'Itut" Bapla. A girl who cannot get a man whom she likes in the regular way, takes pot of rice beer and enters his house and insist upon staying there. They do not adopt any physical force to expel her from house. It is said to quite fair and usually effective to throw red peper on the fire, as by inhaling smoke she will be compelled to run away. If she passes this endurance test without leaving house, she is held to have own her husband and family is bound to recognize her as husband.  This type of marriage also rarely occurs in Santal society.

Divorce is a common sequel to Santal marriage and is granted at the wish of either husband or wife. The following are the grounds for which the Santal men and women demand the divorce. The husband can demand the divorce if his wife is proved to a witch, or is sexually immortal ad she does not obey him or she lives always in her father's house. The wife can claim divorce, if husband cannot supply sufficient foods, clothing, ornaments etc. Sterility is another ground for divorce. In case husband seeks the divorce, he cannot claim the bride price and he has to pay certain amount of money as fine. If wife demands the divorce then her father has to refund the bride price. The divorce is effected in the presence of the assembled villagers in the following way; The husband is made to stand facing the sun on one leg. He has a cloth rounded his neck each end which is held in the hand along with three Sal leaves. Then taking the name of Sin -Bonga he tears the Sal leaves in the token separation and upset a brass pot full of water. Wife repeats this too. There is belief that if the Sal leaves are not fully torn or the lotta (Brass pot) are not wholly emptied then the couple must again come together.

Birth and naming ceremony:
When Santal women get pregnant, she and her husband observe certain taboos. The husband during his wife's pregnancy never kills any animal nor participates in any funeral ceremony and does not come in contact with any dead body. The pregnant woman during the evening very rarely comes out of the house. She does not weep when the death occurs of her relative. On the day of moon eclipse, she will not come out of room. She should not sit on courtyard with her hair or cloth hanging downward. After the birth of a child, the house is considered polluted. So the Santals performs the Janam Chatiar ceremony. Until it is done, no other activities can be undertaken like hinting etc. The usual day for the ceremony is fifth day for male and third day for female child. After ceremony, the men and women and children of the village who have assembled at the house each a leaf cup full of rice water with the leaves of Neem (Neem dak' Mandi). Generally it tastes sour. On the fifth day, the children are given the name. Should it happen to be son and then he takes the name of grandfather. Should it be second son born, he takes the name of maternal grandfather and thus third from paternal grandfather's brother and fourth from maternal grandfather's brother and so on. The same procedure is followed for girls the female relations being in the same order.

Chacho Chatiar:
It is very important ceremony of the Santals that enables the individual to take his place in Santal society and participate in its rights, rules and ceremonies. Without this no Santal can be married or cremated.

It means outcasting Santal from society. This outcast takes place by the order of assembly of villagers. It is resorted when a Santal women indulges in any physical relationships with either Diku (non-Santals) or with a person of name sept. It is worth noting that relatively free sex is prevalent among the Santal society. If it is proved, then the assembly gives the order of outcast and they proceed to carry out the day after annual hunting. A man in the market who carries a branch of sal tree with leaves announces the date of Bitlaha. The person in the market on seeing him understands the matter and counts the leaves that indicate the no of days.

The day of Bitlaha, all female members of village kept themselves away from village.  In the early morning bachelors and other male members of the neighboring villages with flutes and drums, bows and arrows meet at the end of Village Street where culprit lives. Drumming is kept terribly high so that it can be heard from long distance. When crowd reaches the house of the offender they tie a short charred bit of firewood, worn out broom ad some used leaf plates on the pole of bamboo and fixed at the entrance of courtyard. Bachelors in undress do desecrate the rooms. The person who outcasted are not allowed to take food with others, and they cannot give their children marriage within the Santal community.

Jam jati:
By performing this ceremony, an outcasted Santal can be taken back in the society. The outcasted man and women go to the village street with twisted cloth rounded their necks and water in a lota. Before the headman and his assistance, the offenders acknowledge the offence and agreed to pay the fine for it. After taking water from lota and wash their mouth and pass it to all leading man who will repeat the same. After this they entered the village and the courtyard of the outcast who personally wash the feet of the leader of he people.

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