Baiga - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Baiga worship a plethora of deities. Their pantheon is fluid, the goal of Baiga theological education being to master knowledge of an ever-increasing number of deities. Supernaturals are divided into two categories: gods ( deo ), who are considered to be benevolent, and spirits ( bhut ), who are believed to be hostile. Some Hindu deities have been incorporated into the Baiga pantheon because of a sacerdotal role that the Baiga exercise on behalf of the Hindus. Some of the more important members of the Baiga pantheon include: Bhagavan (the creator-god who is benevolent and harmless); Bara Deo/Budha Deo (once chief deity of the pantheon, who has been reduced to the status of household god because of limitations placed on the practice of bewar); Thakur Deo (lord and headman of the village) ; Dharti Mata (mother earth); Bhimsen (rain giver); and Gansam Deo (protector against wild animal attacks). The Baiga also honor several household gods, the most important of which are the Aji-Dadi (ancestors) who live behind the family hearth. Magical-religious means are used to control both animals and weather conditions, to ensure fertility, to cure disease, and to guarantee personal protection.

Religious Practitioners. Major religious practitioners include the dewar and the gunia, the former of a higher status than the latter. The dewar is held in great esteem and is responsible for the performance of agricultural rites, closing Village boundaries, and stopping earthquakes. The gunia deals largely with the magical-religious cure of diseases. The panda, a practitioner from the Baiga past, is no longer of great prominence. Finally, the jan pande (clairvoyant), whose access to the supernatural comes by means of visions and dreams, is also important.

Ceremonies. The Baiga calendar is largely agricultural in nature. The Baiga also observe festivals at the times of Holi, Diwali, and Dassara. Dassara is the occasion during which the Baiga hold their Bida observance, a sort of sanitizing Ceremony in which the men dispose of any spirits that have been troubling them during the past year. Hindu rites do not, however, accompany these observances. The Baiga simply hold festivals during these times. The Cherta or Kichrahi festival (a children's feast) is observed in January, the Phag festival (at which women are allowed to beat men) is held in March, the Bidri ceremony (for the blessing and protection of crops) takes place in June, the Hareli festival (to ensure good crops) is scheduled for August, and the Pola festival (roughly equivalent to the Hareli) is held in October. The Nawa feast (thanksgiving for harvest) follows the end of the rainy season. Dassara falls in October with Diwali coming shortly thereafter.

Arts. The Baiga produce few implements. Thus there is Little to describe in the area of the visual arts. Their basketry may be so considered, as may their decorative door carving (though this is rare), tattooing (chiefly of the female body), and masking. Frequent tattoo designs include triangles, baskets, peacocks, turmeric root, flies, men, magic chains, fish bones, and other items of importance in Baiga life. Men sometimes have the moon tattooed on the back of a hand and a scorpion tattooed on a forearm. Baiga oral literature includes numerous songs, proverbs, myths, and folktales. Dancing is also an important part of their personal and corporate lives; it is incorporated into all festal observances. Important dances include the Karma (the major dance from which all others are derived), the Tapadi (for women only), Jharpat, Bilma, and Dassara (for men only).

Medicine. For the Baiga, most illness is traceable to the activity of one or more malevolent supernatural forces or to witchcraft. Little is known of the natural causes of disease, though the Baiga have developed a theory about venereal diseases (all of which they place within a single classification). The most frequent cure cited for the cure of sexually transmitted diseases is sexual intercourse with a virgin. Any Member of the Baiga pantheon may be held responsible for sending sickness, as may the mata, "mothers of disease," who attack animals and humans. The gunia is charged with the responsibility of diagnosing disease and with the performance of those magical-religious ceremonies required to alleviate sickness.

Death and Afterlife. After death, the human being is believed to break down into three spiritual forces. The first ( jiv ) returns to Bhagavan (who lives on earth to the east of the Maikal Hills). The second ( chhaya, "shade") is brought to the deceased individual's home to reside behind the family hearth. The third ( bhut, "ghost") is believed to be the evil part of an individual. Since it is hostile to humanity, it is left in the burial place. The dead are believed to live in the same socioeconomic status in the afterlife that they enjoyed while alive on earth. They occupy houses similar to those inhabited by them during their actual lifetimes, and they eat all of the food that they gave away when they were alive. Once this supply is exhausted, they are reincarnated. Witches and wicked persons do not enjoy such a happy fate. However, no counterpart to the eternal punishment of the wicked found in Christianity obtains among the Baiga.

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