The Mother Divine
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Chamlal Mookerjee

To many, the words "religion" and the "Santals" Seem to be contradictory terms* obsessed as they are by their superior culture. But as the anthropologist works amongst them, he is struck with elements of other worldliness in their outlook on life and their primitive attempts to solve the mysteries of life that baffle us in our sojourn in this planet. We remember that an educated University man belonging to this tribe asked us during our investigations in Mayurbhanj, "Do please tell us if we have any religion?" He was not to blame. A long period of missionary tutelage had led us to look upon these tribals as savages belonging to a sub-human species and centuries of neglect created the inferiority-complex which saw nothing but superstition, "sin" and "Satan" working in them and their ideologies.
In giving the readers a brief account of the religious ideas of the Santals, the first deity that strikes our attention is Thakur Jiu (Sing Bonga or Dharam), the creator of this world, according to Santal belief. This religion of a fainéant supreme deity struck Rev. Skrefsrud and other ethnographers, as being a theological conception behind their spiritual ideas. We closely questioned the Santals of Mayurbhanj on this point. There were some who were ready to identify him with God, the only one and no second, but hundreds of Santals remained dumb-founded when asked to say whether their Supreme deity, Thakur Jiu, was shapeless. As one goes deeper one finds one Self in a bog. The educated Santals living under Hindu influence will readily identify their Supreme deity with the Hindu idea in the Upanishads, whereas Christian Santals will attribute to him Biblical ideas. One thing however is clear. The Santal does not bother very much about the Supreme deity; as he is too good to interfere with men, and is a passive deity after all.

Risley doubts whether a Hindu name "Thakur" can form part of the original system of Santals, and his exercise of supreme powers leads him (Risley ) to associate the deity with a later stage of theological development. But when everything is said, the fact remains that the Santal of the modern times is not a fetish-worshipper and whether his present belief is borrowed from Hinduism or not, it cannot be dogmatically asserted that the Santal has no God, the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer in his pantheon.

The Santals have several village spirits, whom they worship during all public festivals. They are supposed to preside over particular rural areas in which they live.

Their Chief Presiding deity is Marang Buru ( Maran = great, Bum =hill ), Literally he is the great Mountain of the Santal traditions and possesses the widest possible powers, being associated with good and mischievous godlings.   He must be offered a white fowl and if a goat is offered, it must be white and non-castrated. He should be propitiated with a liberal offer of rice-beer during all Santal festivals, and birth, death and marriage ceremonies in the tribe. A second village-deity is Monrenko-Turviko {Lit. the five-sis ) who is now a single entity, but addressed in the plural. They preside over the welfare of the village. The younger sister of the deity is Qasae era and yet another ( sister ) is called Jaher era, after whom the Holy Grove of the village is named Jaherthan. Jaher era is worshipped for the general welfare of the village, so that children may have good health, crops may grow in plenty and youths and maids of the tribe may be married quickly. For propitiation, Bhe needs a brown hen; and if a goat is offered is her honour, it must be a red she-goat. During all public festivals, huts are raised in the Jaherihan (Holy Grove) to worship these village-deities.

Apart from these village-spirits, the Santal people their hills with numerous super-human agencies, called pats. These powers inspire them with a fear and naturally, they are propitiated so that they may not do the Santa Is any harm.

The enquirer into Pat spirits comes across a host of names dotting the whole countryside, all deriving their names from the hills, big or small, they are supposed to reside in. The chief hill-spirit is Berha Pat worshipped primarily for success in hunting. MangarPat is worshipped for similar reasons, but the times are gone when he received a human sacrifice as the law of the land prevents it. Budha Pahar is invoked for success in journeys along with Pauri Pat, a female deity. The aid of Sula Pat is sought during litigations and Chandra Pat is offered sweets, bananas, hens and uncastrated goats if there is no rain. Last but not the least, comes Burn Bonga, the horrible deity who delights in human blood. Although human sacrifice is now a rare phenomenon even to be stealthily indulged in blood-curdling traditions linger of human victims being decoyed and sacrificed by the Santals to wreak private vengeance or to gain riches.

Apart from the hill and village spirits, the Santals worship Basuhi or Basiimata for the welfare of agriculture, during the month of Ashar, with offerings of fowl and goats. Such worship does not form a regular feature of the tribal calendar, but are occasional invocations during apprehended crop failure-
Coming to the worship of Ancestor Spirits, we see that if the idea of death has profoundly puzzled humanity, the Bantals are no exception to the rule. In their own way, they have built up a theory regarding the disembodied spirits which regards them with awe and reverence. Thus it is that we see in all festivals public or private, Haramko or Burha-Burhi (the Old man and woman) are offered a cock and hen respectively together with a liberal share of rice-beer. The reverence paid to the dead relatives by the Santals will also be amply illustrated by the fact that the departed spirits of the dead brothers and unmarried sisters receive supplementary worship after the propitiation of Burha-Burhi.

As we review the Santal gods and godlings, the question naturally arises if the religious practices of the Santals are not some form of an active worship of some deities and lesser spirits, together with a vague belief in souls and a future existence connoted by the term "Animism". One is puzzled, as Risley was, as to what is the exact idea of the Santal when he thinks about the spirits, say of the hills. Is it reverence for the spirit of the flesh? Does he think that he is in danger of being ruined by it?   Risley says 'No'.   According to him, when a Santal  thinks of a tiger-spirit, he does so from the "vague dread of a mysterious tiger-power or tiger-demon,  the  essence and archetype of all tigers whose vengeance no man could hope to escape."

It must be noted, however, that the conception, of abstract power in itself, independent of a material vehicle, is difficult for the aboriginal mind: Thus to the Bantal, Thakur Jiu or Dharnta is not an abstract conception, but a real entity, with feelings and desires akin to man. For his Ancestor spirits in particular, he exhibits filial devotion which may be linked to. the Hindu worship of the Pitris. That is a religion not of undiluted fear in the presence of the mysterious powers of the dark.

The very name of the Supreme Deity, Thakur Jiu, connotes a moral order of things. In Ancestor-worship, in endearing terms of primary human relationships as "Basumata", we find something that removes the Santals steps higher than the Animists. That emotion and thrill play a conspicuous part in the religious practices of the Santals, cannot he doubted by the person who has observed them with an eye to see. It may be that they have borrowed these from their neighbors as culture-loans. But even as Pre-Dravidian practices have been digested and assimilated beyond recognition by the Hindus, these ideas, even if borrowed, have been for a long time past, the religious life and blood of the tribe.

So it is that the latest Census reports have given up the term "Animism" in describing the religion of the Santals, and for want of a better expression we should characterise it as "Spiritism" a term used by Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Roy, in designating the religion of the Kharias, a Munda tribe.