Bondo - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Hinduism has had a profound impact on Bondo religion. Its impact may be noted in the structure of the pantheon and the nature of ceremonial. The Bondo religious system represents a syncretic blending of indigenous beliefs with Vaishnavite Hinduism. Bondo retain belief in a supreme being (Mahaprabhu) who is identified with the sun, under whom is arranged a hierarchy of demigods, who exercise influence over natural phenomena (e.g., streams and forests) and domestic habitations. Furies and the spirits of the recently deceased are believed to have the ability to destroy crops, send wild animals, disturb cattle, and inflict disease on humans. It is believed that the demigods dwell in trees and stones and so the Bondo have erected stone shrines in their honor. The most important of all stone shrines is the sindibor, dedicated to mother earth, which is the site of most important social and religious ceremonies. The services of a shaman are used to discern the nature of any difficulty when the malevolent activity of supernaturals is believed to be the cause. Priests officiate at the rituals necessary to alleviate this distress and restore prosperity. Religious ceremonial includes an array of magicoreligious acts (e.g., incantations and manual gestures) and ceremonial accoutrements (e.g., decorated altars, booths, leaf cups, plates, ceremonial dolls, and carts).

Religious Practitioners. The egalitarian spirit of Bondo society, according to Elwin, has prevented a proliferation of sacerdotal officials from taking place. There exist, nonetheless, two levels of priestly activity. The first takes place at the household level (e.g., at funerals and certain festival observances), while the second takes place at the village level. Those that fall into the latter category are the responsibility of the sisa. Each village has at least two such priests (a chief priest and his assistant) and at least two unmarried boys who serve as liturgical assistants. The sisa's authority is limited to his own sindibor. His duties include the performance of sacrifice on public occasions and during festivals. His home houses the kinding-sagar (sacred drum) and his spouse has ritual duties associated with the brewing of a special kind of rice beer. She is also associated with the hunt. The sisa must be appointed annually (by popular election) and may be removed from office should he fail to dispatch his duties properly. The dissari (shaman/medicine man) also plays an important role in the religious life of the Bondo. The individuals who function in this capacity are believed to be descendants of the original inhabitants of the land and as such are felt to be acquainted with the deities indigenous to the area. The claim to the dissari title must be substantiated by the quality
(i.e., accuracy and efficiency) of the claimant's counsel and prognostications. This is not an institution unique to the Bondo. This office is found among many of the Bondo's neighbors (e.g., the Gour, Didayi, Gadaba, and Kond). The ministrations of the dissari are required for the most part during times of distress (e.g., sickness and domestic trouble). The dissari determines the nature of a problem by means of trance and prescribes measures for the alleviation of the problem. These may be performed by a member of the afflicted party's household or by the dissari. While the hereditary transfer of the offices of sisa and dissari is possible, there is no Bondo law mandating that such action must occur. Sorcerers (usually male) are also known among the Bondo. Among their supposed repertoire of powers (which are believed to be largely evil in nature and negative in manifestation) is the ability to conjure up violent storms.

Ceremonies. Magicoreligious ceremonies accompany almost all stages of the Bondo agricultural calendar. Some of the more important of these are: the Sume Gelirak festival (held in January and associated with the reaping and threshing of the rice harvest); the Giag-gige festival (held in April and associated with the completion of work in the fields); the Gersum-gige festival (held in July and associated with the weeding of the fields); the Feast of First Fruits (held in August or September and associated with the maize crop); the Dassera festival (held in October and associated with the reaping of millet); and the Gewursung festival (held in October or November and corresponding to the Hindu festival of Diwali). In form and practice, Bondo ceremonial includes the following elements: the construction of ritual appurtenances (e.g., booths, carts, dolls, and altars); the presentation of sacrifices (e.g., fruit, grain, eggs, fish, crabs, fowl, cattle, goats, and pigs); a sacrificial feast; the use of special gestures (on the part of the officiant); and repetition (presumably of manual acts and spoken formulas) in order to guarantee the efficacy of the ritual.

Arts. Dance is an important element of certain Bondo ceremonial observances (e.g., weddings, festivals, and funerals). Instrumental music accompanies dancing on these occasions. Instruments include drums, gongs, horns, and flutes. Vocal music is also included in these rites. The corpus of Bondo songs is substantial. Compositions reflect usage in a variety of social settings (e.g., the hunt and courtship). The visual arts include carving, decorative weaving, and tattooing (to a limited extent). Items for personal adornment (chiefly bracelets and necklaces) are manufactured for the Bondo by Ghasia and Kammar metalworkers. Finally, Bondo oral literature also contains a substantial number of folklore motifs.

Medicine. The Bondo acknowledge the existence of several disease-causing gods (e.g., those related to smallpox, pneumonia, cholera, and stomachache). These show evidence of Hindu influence. In addition, even Mahaprabhu, who is seen as a benevolent force primarily, may also cause sickness. It is the responsibility of the dissari to diagnose and prescribe the ritual means of relief for illness.

Death and Afterlife. It is believed that after death, the human sairem (ghost) and jiwo (soul) are separated from the body. The sairem wanders aimlessly in the afterlife until the gunum ceremony (in which a stone memorial is erected) is performed. Upon the performance of this ritual, the ghost is admitted into the company of the Bondo departed. The jiwo rises to dwell in the presence of Mahaprabhu until it is reincarnated. These beliefs show a blending of indigenous and Hindu elements.

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