Munda - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Hinduism is an influence, though the Munda are not among the main guardians of Hindu traditions as followed by the Brahmans. The great deity, as protector and judge—sometimes identified with the sun (e.g., Kharia Dharam, Remo Singi-Arke, the Singbonga of the Munda, Santal, etc.), sometimes depicted as a "diluted version" of Hindu gods (e.g., Mahadeo, Bhagwan)—should normally be distinguished from the creator (Munda Haram, Santal Marang Buru), especially since the former typically destroyed men through fire or flood in order to recreate them whole and pure; sometimes, however, the two deities are linked rather like the different incarnations of Hindu gods. There are in all tribes numerous spirits (called bonga in Chota Nagpur), both benevolent and malevolent. They include agricultural gods and goddesses, spirits of trees, hills, forests, the village, village boundaries, ancestral spirits (especially malevolent if uncared for or allowed to wander rather than being "brought back" to the hearth after their funeral), other household and lineage deities (some secret), clan deities, deities associated with snakes, tigers, monkeys, and other wild animals, the ghosts of women dead in childbirth or Pregnancy, the ghosts of suicides or people killed by tigers, and shamans' tutelaries. Christians are in a minority in most tribes, though their proportion approaches 50 percent among the Kharia. There are hardly any Muslims.

Religious Practitioners. Most tribes have both priests, concerned with village rituals and life-crisis rites, and shamans, concerned with illness, malevolent spirits, divining the fate of the dead, divining reincarnation, etc. Usually there is one of each to every village, though only the priest, not the shaman, sits on the village panchayat. Unlike the priests, whose offices are basically hereditary in the male line, shamans "emerge" by demonstrating their powers, becoming possessed, etc. Sometimes priests and shamans come from different tribes. Some shamans are female, but no priests. In most tribes domestic ritual is performed by male household heads.

Ceremonies. The most important life-cycle rites are those concerned with birth, marriage, and death. Initiation and puberty are usually much less marked, if at all, and it is marriage, if not parenthood, which really makes one a full adult Member of the tribe, with the right to sit on the panchayat, etc. There are also numerous agricultural rites (fertility, sowing, transplanting, harvesting), as well as rites to promote success in the hunt (usually in March), to safeguard the village against disease and other misfortune, to honor the supreme deity and clan deities, etc. Tribals often imitate, or take part in, local Hindu festivals.

Arts. On the whole, the Munda are not renowned for artistic expression, though there are some exceptions, such as the wood carvings of the Kharia and Sora and the wall paintings of the Gadaba and Sora, mostly done for a ritual purpose.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to the actions of malevolent spirits, who may be ancestors who have not been sufficiently appeased, or to the temporary withdrawal of soul substance from the body, etc. Shamans are frequently called in to divine the cause, often with the aid of their tutelary spirits, and to effect a cure through the sacrifice of a fowl, goat, or other animal.

Death and Afterlife. There is no particular delay in disposing of the dead. Whether cremation or burial is followed depends on the tribe; the inauspicious dead (accidents, suicides, very young infants, etc.) are usually disposed of in a different manner from "normal" deaths; they are buried where cremation is the norm or buried with the opposite orientation from a normal burial. The person generally has at least two souls, sometimes more (e.g., a Juang has five). One is linked to the personality of the deceased and has to be "brought back" from the funeral ground to join the ancestors behind the domestic hearth. The other—commonly called jiv, really another term for "soul substance"—is usually reincarnated in a same-sex agnatic descendant, preferably a grandchild related in the direct line, though sometimes it is a collateral ascendant who is reincarnated, especially if there are several siblings. A person is usually given the name of the ancestor deemed to have been reincarnated in him or her.

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