THE SANTALS - The largest tribe of Jharkhand

Wearing a beautiful green or white check saree, complemented with a ‘sikimala' (necklace of coins) hugging the neck, ‘baju' which is an armlet augmenting the charm, the jingling of ‘satul’ which is a santal word for bangles and beautiful and ‘painri’ adorn the traditionally dressed Santal women who interlock their hands , circling around a group of men dressed in a traditional hand loom loin cloth called ‘kacha’, shirt and a ‘banion’ along with ‘gamchha’ , dancing and singing together to the tune of their folk music. Santals have preserved their language and culture through dance and folk music. The folk song and folk dance of Santal tribe revolves around Santal religious practices. Let’s dive deeper to explore this vibrant culture of ethnic group ; Santals.

Originally known as ‘Kherwar', Santals united with ‘Mundaris' tribes. After their settlement in ‘Soant' or ‘Santh', they received the name ‘ Santhals'. Santal are one of the most populous tribal communities of India found in the state of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal ,Bihar and Assam . As the name suggests ; ‘santa' means peaceful and calm and ‘ala' means man, they are one of the progressive, brave and courageous communities in India. The rich and diverse culture of Santals which originated from the Austro -Asiatic linguistic group, is a result of their Pre- Dravidian ancestry.

Santal tradition has abundance of myths and beliefs. They believe in Supreme God and use a sanskritized term ‘Thakur jiu' for the creator. At present, Santals believe that ‘Sin bonga', the Sun God, is the supreme living God, who witnesses all the sins of the mortals. Whereas, their forefathers believed that ‘Sin bonga' is not the supreme God but one of His natural creation. Another fascinating myth is about the separation of human beings from God . This tale goes back to the first human pair ‘Pilcu Haram' and ‘Pilcu Budhi' who were initially innocent and pure but later they were tempted to drink beer offered by ‘Maran Buru'. As soon as they consumed the beer, they lost their innocence and sense of purity and entered the world of sins and then began their family and created tribes which were then divided into clans.

The folk music and dance of Santals offers vibrancy , joyfulness and enthusiasm. Both men and women of Santali tribe rejoice the dance. It reflects their unity and strength. The charming and engaging atmosphere is created by the variety of musical instruments used. The singers make it more engaging . Apart from the traditional costumes mentioned in the beginning of my article, the Santali men embellish themselves with the elements of nature like flowers and leaves. The colourful dresses too become the center of attraction of spectators.

The cultural and religious aspects of Santhals can be best understood in reference to nature. Settled agriculture is the most common practice of Santals. Agriculture is the pivot around which all their celebrations of life depend. All the seasonal rituals and festivals of Santals mark various stages of agriculture. In order to maintain their communion with deities, they organise various feasts. Dance and music are integral part of Santal way of living. They have music for every occasion. Their music includes devotional and festive songs . Songs of love , longing and hope too feature in their music. With their unique skills, Santals make musical instruments like ‘Banam' which is a string instrument carved out of single log of wood; ‘tirio' which is a flute made of bamboo. It symbolizes love and seduction; the two faced drum ‘tumdak'; ‘dhak' and ‘dehna'. This skill is passed on from one generation to other.

I want to bring to your notice, another absorbing story which is related to the musical instrument 'banam’, which I felt essential to write. The myth popular among Sathals revolves around the story of seven brothers who once decide to kill their sister in order to enjoy feast. After having killed their sister, six of them enjoy hearty feast while one of them overpowered by guilt couldn’t eat it and decides to bury it in an anthill. Surprisingly, an attractive tree grows there which gives out melodious tune. An onlooker enchanted by the music, cuts a branch and gives it a shape and starts playing it. At present, the popular folk fiddle comes in large variety.

Apart form their expertise in agriculture , hunting and gathering and musical instruments, Santals have exclusive artistic consciousness which is deeply rooted in their cultural traditions. It is a common practice to paint the walls of houses during festivals or ceremonies.

Their vibrant paintings are highly infuses with nature mysticism. They often depict multi-coloured birds, fishes, leaves, plants, mother, child etc. are brought together to project the love and union. Most of the paintings have village scenes at the backdrop; men and women dancing and singing surrounded by the green plants and trees.

Perpetual and hereditary rights over the land I found it worth mentioning here that Santals played a vital role in our freedom struggle; fighting against zamidari system where the perpetual and hereditary rights over the land were transferred to zamidars. In order to preserve their homes and tribes, the less sung ‘Hul' which is the Santal rebellion of 1855 took place. It is enthralling to witness how Santals with their traditional weapons like bow and arrow stood against the modern weapons of the colonizers.

With modernization and advent of technologies, many techniques and methods of Santals have undergone drastic change. The natural colours have been replaced by synthetic colours. But, Santals have successfully preserved and passed on their rituals, cultural traditions and practices to their generations. The sole responsibility lies in nurturing and cherishing the richness of Santal tribal community for ages to come.

Help us reach more tribes all over the India by Donating