Oraon Tribes

     Tribal in India constitute around 8.2 per cent of the total population. Oraon is one of the tribal communities found in India , which mainly depends on agriculture for earning their living. They are also known as Kurukh tribes. This Oraon tribes conversation with each others in Kurukh, Sadri and Hindi. Due to mixing nature live in close association with their adjoining  tribes like Munda and Kharia.These tribes are mainly found in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa and majority of the population of Oraons can be found in Northwestern engaged in the occupation of tea cultivation. Oraon Tribes also in Andaman Nicobar Island in India . In the ancient days, Oraons used to make their living by chopping timber and selling forest products.

 

            Every village has a headman and hereditary priest, a number of neighboring village constitute a confederation, the affairs of which are   conducted by a representative council. The tribes divided into number of clams(titals) associated with animal, tree, plant and minerals totems. These are a total of 14 clams in oraon tribal community like Bara, Lakra, Kachhap, Ekka, Kindo, Oraon, Bhagat, Kujur, Toppo, Kerketta, Xaxa, Xalxo, Kispotta, Barva, Tigga, Barla, Baxla, Beck, Minz, Tirkey, Runda, Linda. This tribal community in India is also known world wide as they still believe in following age old custom of human sacrifice. These sacrifices are carried out during the famous Sarhul festival celebrated before cultivation of crops, as a mark of respect to please the local deity.  

House: The construction of houses, household items and other artifacts too show a linkage with the environment. Chotanagpur is a land of forests. Many products are obtained  from the forest. Some of these are major products and others are minor ones. The Oraon house is usually made of mud walls and tile roofs. All the same, house construction requires the use of timber and bamboo.

Forest Produce: It is for minor products that we find greater concern among the Oroans. The Oraon household includes such items as mats, cots, wooden stools, baskets, cups, plates, cushions, rope, mortar and pestle and oil presses. All of these are made from forest products. Hunting implements such as bows and arrows, slings, spears and swords are made from forest products. Similarly, fishing tools such as baskets and traps of various kinds are made of bamboo. Fishing nets are made of twine. Umbrellas are made with the handle and ribs of bamboo covered with gungu leaves. Even the hooded waterproof coat is made of the gungu leaves.

Medicine: Knowledge of the treatment of diseases is another sphere where we find a close relation between the Oraon community and its environment. Treatment of diseases is invariably based on the use of medicinal herbs found in the region. There are about 34 kinds of disease which are treated with such medicines. These include pain (headache, toothache, stomachache, eye pain, ear pain, migraine), fever (high, ordinary, malaria), wounds, constipation, diarrhoea, dysentery, epilepsy, rheumatism, insomnia, tetanus, eczema, etc. These are treated with medicines based on leaves, roots, the bark of trees, and with plants which grow wild in the jungle. Some of them are grown in their fields by the people themselves.

Religion: The Oraon are not nature worshipers. They are the most assorted people, borrowing freely from neighbouring cultures elements quite alien to their primitive tradition. The Oraon religious system has been largely influenced by the Munda and the Kharia religious traditions. The Oraon eclectic tendency is again manifest in their borrowing from Hindu beliefs. For instance, in their religious context, the Oraon call the sun as 'Biri Belas' (Sun King), when any superficial observer notices such thing, s/he might immediately conclude that the sun is one of their deities. But as a matter of fact, they consider the sun only as symbol of God's glorious power and brightness. No Oraon identifies the sun with Dharmes. In the same way, a stone, a pool of water, a river, a cluster of trees, a hillock, etc., are never considered as objects of worship, but only as the dwellings of the spirits to whom they turn to for help in their misfortunes. 

If we observe and investigate the Oraon religious practices, we find that Oraon religion has also given place to environmental features like in some other religions. These features are considered as the residence of spirits and are focal of ritual worship. Such common features in Oraon religion are the sacred grove, some trees, a mountain, a hill, a river, a tank, a well and a stone. The symbolic light, fire, sacred color, direction, position, sound number, time and motion are also involved in Oraon religion .

Customs: The major customs among the Oraons, as with any other community, are connected with birth, marriage and death. The linkage of customs with the ecology is best reflected in customs connected with marriage and death. There are many customs preceding marriage with which the environment is very closely connected. There is the custom of men going to the forest to fetch firewood and women to fetch sal leaves for preparing cups and plates. The preparation of the marriage mat and marriage baskets of various sizes are other customs. Setting up a marwa is, however, the most significant. Nine sal saplings with leaves on top are planted in the courtyard in three rows. The middle one of the second row differs in its height. Also planted are branches of bamboo, sidha, bhelwa, mango and mahua. The mango suggests perpetuity of descendants, the bamboo symbolises progeny, the sidha fidelity of husband and wife, the bhelwa protection from the evil eye and the mahua, love between the couple. The marriage ritual would be incomplete without this invocation of trees and plants. During funerals the Oraons practise burial and cremation. Bodies are buried when crops stand in the field. In this custom, various shapes of branches cover the bottom of the grave, lengthwise and crosswise.

Festival: Important festivals of the Oraons pertain to the forest, hunting, agriculture and cattle. Besides these, there are socio-religious gatherings known as jatras, which take place at the commencement of different seasons. It is not possible to discuss all their festivals. I shall confine myself to a few for the purpose of illustration.

The spring festival, known as sarhul, is celebrated when the sal tree is in full blossom. In this festival the Oraons perform the symbolic marriage of the sky with the earth. This is done to ensure the fertility of mother earth. On this day a propitiatory sacrifice is offered to the old lady (the village goddess) who is believed to abide in the sacred grove of the village. Phaggu is a festival which is observed towards the end of February or the beginning of March. On the evening previous to the feast, a young castor ( Palma christi) plant and a semar (Bombax malabaricum) branch are planted in an open place. Around these some hay, firewood and dry leaves are heaped. The village priest sets fire to the hay. When fire burns at its brightest the young castor shrub is cut into pieces with an axe. Immediately the young boys of the village light torches from the bonfire and throw the burning torches at fruit trees, saying, ‘Be loaded with good fruit’.

The Karam festival of the Oraons falls within the socio-religious domain. The Karam festival is classified as an agriculture festival. In this sense, it is highly symbolic as it is also associated with the idea of ‘productivity’ or ‘fecundity’. The idea of fecundity applies to the agricultural produce or crops as well as to the recently engaged girls of the village who venerate the Karam deity residing in the Karam tree. Thus the Karam festival also becomes an occasion to petition God for perpetuity of the clan or community through the fecundity of the participating girls of the village. The Karam festival also becomes a motif because the communitarian fervour is invoked and enforced through the sacred and secular observance of it.

The Karam festival is celebrated usually on Bhado Ekadashi, on the eleventh day of the bright full moon (Purnima) of the month of Bhado (August-September). The Karam tree, scientifically called Nauclea Parvifolia is the center of the proceedings at the festival. The preparations, for the Karam festival, start around ten or twelve days before the festival. The girls, who wish to participate in the festival, sow barley in their homes. They keep it inside their homes, in shade, away from direct sunlight. They also sprinkle water mixed with turmeric over it due to which the germinating barley acquires a golden yellowish tinge and looks beautiful. The idea behind this ritual is to revive in their memories, the day of the ‘great escape’ of the Oraons from the enemy tribe Cheros in the Rohtas fort in the Shahabad district of Bihar. The whole process of germinating barley seeds is a ritual and so is replete with the singing of songs to the germinating seeds by the girls of the village who keep watch over the germinating barley like mothers watch over their children. The barley or jawa in the pot is an image of the impregnated earth (or the womb of the earth) fertilizing the jawa seeds and producing shoots or jawa flowers. The image is extremely pertinent in the context of the Karam festival. During this period, the girls participating in the festival abstain from consuming non-vegetarian food to maintain the auspiciousness of the Karam festival.