Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 1)

Mundigada, no tourism brochure will ever let you find this. Hidden far from any big town or city, Mundigada is an obscured tribal village at the foothills of Belghar in Odisha’s Kandhamal Highlands. At Mundigada you turn into wanderlust, a seeker of knowledge and listener of intense human stories.

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Rustic Panorama in and around Mundigada

As the name suggests, Mundigada’s history is steeped in mysteries. It was once at the heartland of barbaric human sacrifices.

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Sacrificial Posts, Grafitti and Other Remains of Mundigada’s Barbaric Past

Also, Read Here:

A JOURNEY THROUGH KONDH TERRITORY, A TRIBE THAT ONCE SACRIFICED HUMANS

A story goes:

‘Once upon a time, the ground was all wet, and there was only earth, and there were only two females on the earth, named Karaboodi and Thartaboodi, each of whom was blessed with a single male child. The names of the children were Kasarodi and Singarodi. All these individuals sprang from the interior of the earth, together with two small plants called Nangakoocha and Badokoocha, on which they depended for subsistence. One day, when Karaboodi was cutting these plants for cooking, she accidentally cut the little finger of her left hand, and the blood dropped on the ground. Instantly the wet soft earth on which it fell became dry and hard. The women then cooked the food and gave some of it to her son, who asked her why it tasted so much sweeter than usual. She replied that she might have a dream that night, and, it, so, would let him know. Next morning, the women told him that, if he would act on her advice, he would prosper in this world that he was not to think of her as his mother, and was to cut away the flesh of her back, dig several holes in the ground, bury her flesh, and cover the holes with stones. This her son did, and the rest of the body was cremated. The wet soil dried up and became hard, and all kinds of animals and trees came into existence.

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A partridge scratched the ground with its feet, and ragi (millet), maize, dhal (pea) and rice sprang from it. The two brothers argued that as the sacrifice of their mother produced food in such abundance, they must sacrifice their brothers, sisters and others, once a year in future.

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KANDHAMAL – HERITAGE IN WOOD

A god, by name Boora Panoo, came, with his wife and children, to Thartaboodi and her two young men, to whom Boora Panoo’s daughter was married. They begat children, who were divided equally between Boora Panoo, the grandfather and their fathers. Thartaboodi objected to this division on the grounds that Boora Panoo’s son stand in the relation of Mamoo to the children of Kasarodi and Singarodi, that if the child was a female when she got married, she would give a rupee to the Mamoo, and that, if it is a male that Boora Panoo’s daughter brought forth, the boy when he grew up would have to give the head of any animal he shot to Mamoo (Boora Panoo’s son).

Travel Tips

Mundigada is a small village located in Tumudiband Block of Kandhamal District at a distance of 5 km from Tumidibanda and 50 km from the Subdivisional town of Baliguda. Connected by excellent road and bus service, the state capital of Bhubaneswar is 350 km away from Mundigada. At Mundigada, you can stay at Sathi Ghara Mountain Home, a homestay specially designed for knowledge seeking travellers.

 

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Then Boora Panoo built a house, and Kasarodi and Singarodi built two houses. All lived happily for two years.

Then Karaboodi appears in a dream and told Kasarodi and Singarodi that, if they offered another human victim, their lands would be very fertile, and their cattle would flourish. The two men with their eight children sought a victory for twelve years. At the end of that time, they found a poor man, who had a son four years old, and found him, his wife, and child good food, clothing and shelter for a year.  Then they asked permission to sacrifice the son in return for their kindness and the father gave his ascent. The boy was fettered and handcuffed to prevent his running away, and was taken good care of. Liquor was prepared from grains, and bamboo, with a flag, hoisted on it, planted in the ground.

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Next day, a pig was sacrificed near this post, and a feast was held. It was proclaimed that the boy would be tied to a post on the following day and sacrificed on the third day. On the night previous to the sacrifice, the Janni (priest) took a reed and poked it into the ground in several places. When it entered to a depth of about 8 inches, it was believed that the god and goddesses Tada Panoo and Dasa Panoo were there. Round this spot, seven pieces of wood were arranged lengthways and crossways and an egg were placed in the centre of the structure. The Kondhs arrived from the various villages and indulged in a drink. The boy was teased and told that he had been sold to them, that his sorrow would affect his parents only, and that he was to be sacrificed for the prosperity of the people. He was conducted to the spot where the god and goddess had been found, tied with ropes, and held fast by the Kondhs. He was made to lie on his stomach on the wooden structure and head there. Pieces of flesh were removed from the back, arms and legs, and portions thereof buried at the Kondha’s place of worship. Portions were also set up near a well of drinking water, and placed around the villages. The remaining of the sacrificed corpse was cremated on a pyre set alight with a fire produced by the friction of two pieces of wood. On the following day, a buffalo was sacrificed, and a feast partaken of.

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Next day, the bamboo post was removed outside the village, and a fowl and eggs were offered to the deity.

The following stanza is still recited by the Janni at the buffalo sacrifices around Mundigada, which has been substituted for that of a human victim:

‘Oh! Come male slave; Come female slave. What do you say? What do you call out for? You have been brought, ensnared by the Haddi. You have been called, ensured by the Domba. What can I do, even if you are my child? You are sold for a pot of food.’

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Mundigarh today is free from this barbaric culture. But a walk through its corridors will immerse you with countless such stories in the abode of nature.

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To be continued.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Kandhamal – Heritage in Wood

They call themselves children of Kui Dina (Kui Country) and for outsiders, it is Kandhamal (named after Kondh Tribe). Thousands of square miles of rolling hills and dense jungle, Kandhamal is a nature lover’s paradise. Her forest is rich in majestic Sal trees followed by Piasal, Kendu, Gambhari, Kusum, Harida, Bahada, Amla, Mango, Tamarind, Mahua, and many more.

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The forests of Kandhamal can be classified as dry and wet deciduous forests depending upon the season you visit. On its deep valley mountain floors, there are hundreds of villages of Kondh Tribe scattered around the deep jungles. The 19th-century British romanticists referred to this area as ‘Kondhistan’.

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The Kondhs speak in a Dravidian language called ‘Kui’ which is spoken in an extreme nasal form.

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The utilisation of forest wood is an integral part of their heritage. Their houses are made of wooden posts plastered with mud. Their settlements are fenced with wooden posts erected in a line, some time for hundreds of meters.

Also, Read Here:

BARBARA FOREST – A BLEND OF NATURE, INDIGENOUS CULTURE AND ARCHAEOLOGY

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When you get into their huts you will be surprised to discover most of their material objects, such as plough, yoke, spade, pounding posts, and bells for cows and goats, are made of wood.

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However, what strikes you most is their Meriah Sacrifice wooden posts. The Kondhs in the interior hills practises Meriah sacrifice (earlier they would sacrifice a human, now a buffalo).

Also, Read Here:

A JOURNEY THROUGH KONDH TERRITORY, A TRIBE THAT ONCE SACRIFICED HUMANS

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The term Meriah is a corrupt form of the Kondh term ‘Mervi’, which refers to the Kondh God Mervi Pennu, a brother of the Earth Goddess Tari Pennu. The Kondhs believe that buffalo sacrifice would give them good crops and protection against all diseases and natural disaster. The buffalo is purchased and brought to the middle of the village. After worshipping earth goddess and the victim, the buffalo is tied to a wooden pole.

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The victim is decorated with flowers and vermillion. Then the Kondhs bring their knives and tangi (axe) and after getting intoxicated they sing and dance around the victim for a few hours. Then at a particular moment, the priest (Jani) signals and all of them (numbering between 30 and 50) hit the buffalo at the same time. The blood stuck to the instrument is considered auspicious and the instrument would prove ultimately to be very lucky, efficient and productive that year.

Throughout this event, the Kondhs assign the buffalo the supernatural soul carrier. Inside many Kondh traditional houses you will find buffalo horned wooden posts showing nice carved designs (clan marks), which are worshipped as symbols of the household ancestors.

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Interestingly, the Hindu God of Death, Yama is also associated with water buffalo acting as a mythic vehicle (vahana) to the ether world. Archaeological interpretations also suggest that sacrifices of buffalos were seemingly performed by the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation for some unknown religious rituals. Today, not only Kandhamal but in many parts of Eastern India, buffalo acts as the chief sacrificial animal in a class of structurally related death and ancestor worship ceremonies.

Travel Tips:

Baliguda is at the heart of Kandhamal strategically located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Rayagada, Kandhamal and Kalahandi. Most of the Kondh villages are around Baliguda, which has also decent staying options. The village of Podpada is before Baliguda (20 km) on the highway from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 7 hours in a private vehicle to reach Baliguda. There are also comfortable night buses. The other option for stay is at Daringibadi, a popular tourist place among Indians located at a distance of 50 km from Baliguda.

The Baliguda region of Kandhamal, which also forms the core of Kui Dina, was under the rule of the Gangas from the 10th century and under the Bhanjas of Ghumsar from 18th century until the time it was annexed by the British in the mid 19th century. During the reign of the Bhanjas (18th-19th centuries), Kandhamal also saw architectural activities, similar to the coastal plains of Odisha.

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One major aspect of the architectural tradition is the extensive use of wood carvings in-ceiling and doorjambs, similar to ones found at Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda.

The Nrusingha Temple at Podapoda Village on the highway that connects Phulbani with Baliguda is the only remains of rich wooden heritage. Though mostly gone, the temple has been known for its wooden gems featuring Tantric rituals and geometrical motifs on its lintel. Unfortunately, its roof is replaced with tin sheets now. Depiction of peacocks forming a circle at the central part of the lintel is a major draw. Besides, there are representations of garudas and monkeys noticed in the interior of the structure.

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ILLUSTRATING RAMAYANA KATHA – BIRANCHI NARAYAN TEMPLE AT BUGUDA

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The wooden heritage of Kandhamal is truly unique, but sadly many of its priceless treasures are in a sorry state of preservation due to lack of patronage and loss of interest among Kondhs. To save them we need a strategic plan inviting heritage conservationists, historians, travel professionals and of course involving local stakeholders, such the community members of Kondh Tribe and non-Tribal communities.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gonasika – Odisha’s Dreamtime Stories

The scenery is lush as far as your eyes can stretch! There are mountains of incredible beauty soaked with the floating clouds of the monsoon. You are reminded of Kalidas’s Meghadootam here, each rain-bearing cloud acting a messenger of love and passion. Numerous streams flow through them cascading the slopes and the valley floors. Mysterious forests of Sal trees once filled with tigers and leopards wrap this Dreamtime landscape. You hear countless elephant stories when you talk to country souls of this enchanting land.

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As I drive through this unexplored Shangri-La in Odisha’s Keonjhar, I am dragged to her myths – long ago, the land where I am now was floating for millions of years. However, with god’s grace, the hills of Gonasika and its neighbouring hillocks were stable. In good old days there lived a rishi in Gonasika. He was a bachelor. One day while he was resting he heard someone approaching him. There was a girl of Asur Tribe who had come in search of solitude. Both fell in love at first sight. In no time they got married and in course of time delivered seven sons and seven daughters. Now the problem was how to settle them. The hill of Gonasika was inadequate for their shelter and provides food. They required cultivable fields.

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With no other options, the couple prayed to the Almighty.

Dharam Devata appeared and instructed the rishi to slaughter the Kapila cow and sprinkle her blood to make the earth steady. The rishi brought the cow to Gonasika and killed her. Then he sprinkled her blood on the earth. The earth thus became stable making it suitable for rishi’s children. They were first Juangs on earth.

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After killing the cow, the first Juang family relished the meat and buried the head in the middle of the hill, but suddenly water sprang from the nostrils of the cow and gave birth to the sacred river Baitarani.

Travel Tips 

Gonasika is located at a height of 3000 feet from sea level in Keonjhar District of North Odisha. Surrounded by lush mountain valleys and majestic hills of Chotanagpur Plateau, Gonasika can be approached by road from Keonjhar (25 km) through the National Highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. It takes about 2 hours from Keonjhar through a leisure drive with a number of stopover in-between. There are no stay and food options at Gonasika. We recommend Nature Camp at Sana Ghagra near Keonjhar for accommodation, which can be booked through online.  While there are plenty of Juang Villages around Gonasika, we recommend the village of Kadali Badi which has retained some of the anarchic characters of Juang culture. It is situated at a distance of 7 km from Gonasika.

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The Juang, an aboriginal tribe of Keonjhar revere Gonaskia as their original mother and the place of their origin. Their villages are around Gonasika and Kanjipani on hilltops or slopes or on valleys amidst hills and forests all around. The Juang villages are located near streams and River Baitarani. Mostly settled farmers now they were portrayed very differently by the 19th century British historians and anthropologists as the wearers of leaf dresses. They are medium in stature with a long head, prominent cheekbone and broad nose showing affinity with the tribes living in the Mon-Khmer region of Mainland Southeast Asia. Their language is Mundari belonging to Austro-Asiatic language group spoken in parts of Eastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia.

Also, Read Here:

BONDAS – THE LONELY SURVIVORS AMONGST EARLIEST INDIANS

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During the time of Hunter’s visit in 1877, this account reveals – ‘the men wear a single cloth. The women had not even this, but simply strings around their waist, with a bunch of leaves before and behind. The life they live best is to wonder about the wood collecting wild products which they barter for food.’

Today, this may sound a fairytale as the Juangs have gone a long way of progress, thanks to various government initiatives.

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SITABINJI – A MYSTICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND SPACE

The central attraction of a Juang Village is the dormitory house, called Majanga or Manda Ghara, which also serve as a guesthouse and general assembly place. Their traditional musical instruments and weapons are also displayed here. In front of the Majanga, there is a spacious ground or plaza where the Juang boys and girls dance with their changu (circular drums).

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Believers of animistic religion, Juang offers sacrifices of fowls to the Sun God when in trouble and to the earth for a beautiful harvest.

Houses of Juang are small which can accommodate a married couple and their one or two children. Goats are kept in separate sheds made of wooden plants.

Also, Read Here:

A JOURNEY THROUGH KONDH TERRITORY, A TRIBE THAT ONCE SACRIFICED HUMANS

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Close to a Juang village live two or three Gouda (cattle and sheep/goat herders) families. They heard the cattle of Juangs and supply milk to them.

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A visit to their land will expose to the diversity of their agricultural practises. The valley floors and the mountain slopes are filled with varieties of crops like beans, millets and pulses. These add as supplements to their rice diet. They also are fond of eating the meat of all animals except sloth bear, snake, tiger and vulture. During Akhand Shikar or ceremonial hunting on Amba Nuakhai (new mango) eating ceremony they chase other animals in the forest. However, today most of the forest is gone, thanks to the population explosion, infrastructure creations and mining.

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Gonasika is Odisha’s own Dreamtime stories with its myriad beliefs and tales. It is truly a traveller’s paradise interested in people and the deep-rooted beliefs in their landscape, forest, rivers and wildlife.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bondas – The Lonely Survivors amongst Earliest Indians

This is the story of the land where Odisha meets Andhra and where the Machkund River has been rippling away for millions of years. Four thousand feet above sea levels, the Konda – Kamberu range, an arm of the Eastern Ghats surrounds this land. Locked on either side by mountains and interspersed valleys, here has survived an aboriginal tribe for thousands of years. Its children call themselves Remos, which means brave men. However, for people living in plains, they are known as Bonda, which means naked or savage.

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This is a magical land with waves of mountains leaning against each other. Clouds kiss their peaks. Singi Arko (the sun and the moon) disseminate their light below through the clouds, mists and sky-touching trees. There are plentiful streams dancing down from the mountains all around the year. Hidden among these creations of God are the settlements of Remos. Here they have roamed for ages, far away from civilisations, cradling their deadly weapons from one forest to another and one mountain to the next. Within this time frozen land Singi Arko plays their favourite game, creating day and night year after year.

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A story goes: it was time when there lived no humans. Dhartin was the first man on earth. Wherever he walked there was tubuk, the soil. Overhead, there was Singi Mahapuru, the Sun God, and on the ground, Tubu Jang, the Earth Mother.

Travel Tips

Bonda Ghati is located in the southern part of Koraput in Malkangiri District. However, tourists are prohibited in Bonda Ghati. To meet Bondas the only possibilities are various weekly haats or markets in different places around Bonda Ghati. Aunkadelli near Machkund on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh is the best option, which is held on every Thursday. Surrounded by hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture.  The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.

However, when the earth was born there was no soil, no rocks, only the waves rolled across the dark water. The world was a vast pond. And in it lived an enormous wild boar. With his tusks and snout, he raised the tubuk from the bottom of the pond and scattered it on the surface. Wherever the soil dropped down, the earth appeared and wherever it did not fall there developed rivers, streams and waterfalls. The boar stepped onto earth and jumped into the sky. Singi Arko did not exist then. Everything was lost in darkness. The wild boar turned to face the earth and made another huge leap, landing on the top of a young salap palm. He cut two tender branches of the tree and tossed them into the sky. They became Singi Arko. Then the boar took an armful of salap flowers and scattered them in the sky. The stars appeared and eventually the world was created. But there were still no men.

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Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

From nowhere appeared the first man Soma and the first woman Sanki. Each roamed alone through the jungles. Then one day, Soma and Sanki met. They wore no clothes or ornaments. They did not ask each other from where they came, because at that time the earth was one. The Earth Mother Tubu Jung had not been split into different countries, different villages. Hand in hand they wandered away through the jungle. Loves grew between them and from their union were born the first remos.

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Their land came to be known as Bonda Ghati which consists of 32 villages. Mudulipada is their capital.

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Deomali – Offbeat Wonderland

There is an exciting story of how Mudulipada became their capital.

After the earth was created, both men and women wandered freely in jungles feeding on fruits and roots. But there was a problem. The women had to find a private place for delivering babies.  Once, a pregnant woman saw a green salap tree on the gentle slope of a mountain. The tree was covered with thick branches.  Under her cool shade, she delivered a son and a daughter. A deer arrived around that time nearby. The hungry Remo ran after it with his bows and arrows and did not return for a long time. The woman waited patiently and finally doubted on her husband’s selfishness. She thought, her husband might have killed the deer and eaten its flesh without remembering her. She too was hungry. Without bothering about her two newborn babies she went in search of her husband and finally met him.

The babies cried aloud out of hunger. The salap tree under which they had sheltered had a soul. In those days the salap trees did not produce any juice. It had nothing to feed babies with. However, under cover of the earth, its roots had reached the ocean. The tree prayed with great devotion to the Ocean God for help. The Ocean God was pleased and gave the tree a little of its bounty of the water. The water spread through the roots, the trunk and branches of the tree and dripped into the open mouths of the crying babies. It was the juice of the salap that kept the babies alive. They grew old and strong. They became husband and wife and gave birth to 12 son ad 12 daughters. The 12 brothers built their huts in 12 villages and it was these 12 villages that made up the Bonda country. The eldest brother was Nangli Bonda. He established his home in Mudulipara, which became the capital of Bonda country. Some of their descendants became the Gadaba branch of the Bondas and spread into the foothills.

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South of Mudulipara is Pinajangar, a lofty mountain range hanging precariously above the Duduma Falls, near the weekly haat or market at Ankadelli.  On every Thursday both Bondas and Gadabas descend here in groups to buy and sell their daily needs along with selling the salap drink. Here the travellers meet Bondas who are distinguished for their colourful costumes and shaven heads.

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When a Bonda boy becomes 5 years old, he puts on a ghusi, a loincloth. At 5, a girl begins to wrap a short ringa around her waist, like a skirt. Her neck and chest are almost hidden under massive strings of beads. She wears beads around her head as well, and on her hands, up to the elbow, she has heavy metal bracelets. Long heavy metal earrings dangle from her ears.

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A legend goes: On those days the perennial Kingubodak Stream gushed down the hillside in the village of Mahulipara. The mango trees along its banks drifted in the cool shade. Sita Thakurani took out her clothes and ornaments and plunged stark naked into the stream’s flowing water. Just then a group of Bonda women descended from the nearby mountain. They did not walk naked then. They had worn clothes and their long hair were oiled and combed into sleek buns.

As Sita Tkakurani emerged from the stream, a hornbill flew overhead screeching as though laughing at her nakedness. The Bonda women could not ignore its call. ‘Phish,’ they burst out laughs. Sita Thakurani cried out in rage. “Can you being women, laugh out at the sight of a woman’s body? The whole world shall laugh at you in Kali Yuga, the evil times to come. Naked you shall be to everyone! And not a hair shall cover your heads, you shall walk with your heads shaven, bare from head to foot. But beware! If you try to cover up your nakedness or grow hair on your scalps, not a blade of grass will grow on the mountains! Bonda people will be destroyed”.

The Bonda women screamed. Their tears softened the goddess’s heart. She pulled out a single thread out of the border of her sari. ‘Take this a weave a garment for yourself, to cover up your shame in the Kali age. But let it be no wider than the length of this thread, and wear it below your navel and above your thigh’.

(Extracts from ‘The Primal Land’ by Pratibha Ray)

The Bonda tribe of Odisha are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India, who sometime in the ancient past migrated and settled in an area of about 130 sq km in the wild Jeypore hills, in the present Malkangiri District.  The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group. Their children are named after the day on which they were born.  The women prefer to marry men who are younger by at least 5-10 years so that the men can earn for them when they grow old. In the past, the Bondas used to hunt and forage for food in the wild. However, now Bondas practice shifting agriculture in the hills not only for consumption but also to sell the produce in the markets.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

Deomali – Offbeat Wonderland

If you are touring Puri or Gopalpur-on-Sea, perhaps you are not told about the other side of Odisha, which is higher in elevation than Panchamarhi in Madhya Pradesh or Mt Abu in Rajasthan. Deomali or the God of the Mali tribe on Odisha-Andhra border is Odisha’s highest point at 1672 m. A solid rock mass, the peak is a vast tableland overlooking the beautiful countryside of Koraput, a utopia far from the maddening crowd.

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Deomali during an overcast morning

Rich in animals and high altitude plants including a variety of orchids, Deomali until recently was practically unknown. However, the plateau at its base has been a cradle of indigenous culture and farming heritage of local tribes, such as Mali, Gadaba, Paroja, Kondh and many more.

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Agricultural Communities around Deomali

Deomali is a land of captivating beauty. However, tribal communities that inhabit en route Deomali make the journey more engaging and educative. These communities are considered the original inhabitants of India. They have been carrying forward a legacy of rich and distinct cultural traits for many generations. One of their essential assets is their rich agricultural biodiversity treated of global importance.

Travel Tips

Deomali Peak is located on Odisha – Andhra border near Semilguda Town, which has decent staying facilities. You need a personal vehicle to travel the peak and the surrounding villages including Nandapur. Start early in the morning and return before the evening falls in. There is no food facility at the peak. Plan accordingly. You can alternatively stay at Chandoori Sai or Desia, both award-winning resorts influenced tribal architecture.  They will also arrange your trip to Deomali with prior information.

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It is one of the areas where rice was originated. Even today, the region is celebrated for the genetic diversity of Asian cultivated rice. The traditional varieties grown here are thought to be harbouring dominant genes for biotic and abiotic stresses, aroma and palatability. The tribal communities around Deomali may not be aware of their merits, but their understanding that has evolved naturally with the changing environment and agricultural practices are recognised by FAO as a GIAHS site (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site), India’s first.

Also, Read Here:

Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

We started our journey to Deomali on a fine morning of early June from Semiliguda, a small industrial town, 30 km from the peak.

The morning was overcast and delightful. Our first stop was at Kunduli from where we had to leave the highway and take the mountain road to Deomali. Kunduli is also known for the haat (weekly market), where you get the first glimpse of Koraput’s agricultural diversity, organically grown vegetables and fruits sold by the Mali women clad in their colourful saris and elaborate jewellery. They are the most beautiful among all the tribal women in the region. The nose is straight and sharp, the lips are thin. They tie long saris that are given a knot at right shoulder and hangs 2 to 4 inches down the knee. You will be simply drawn to them for a chat and tempted to buy a dozen of banana or raw cashew for your day’s consumption. The bananas are the best you would have ever eaten.

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Mali Women ay Kunduli Haat

Mali people were originally gardeners and residents of Kashi. They had been brought here by the Rajas of Jeypur to serve the erstwhile kingdom.

From Kunduli, the peak is about 20 km and you are already at a height of 1000 M from sea level. After driving about 5 km we stopped near a mountain slope field where a group of men and women were seen engaged in farming ginger spices on red soil. Perhaps once it was a forest now cleared for agriculture.

Also, Read Here:

Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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All of a sudden it started raining and it was a different adventure driving through the mountain though it was risky. Before we entered to the curving ghats we stopped. For a moment the rain subsided and then we started driving again to the hilltops.

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However, once we were at Odisha’s roof, it started pouring with thunderstorms. The temperature was dropped down to 16 degree Celsius, at a time when North India was suffering through a heat wave close to 50 degree Celsius. However, the wind speed was very high and frightening. There was not a single soul near the peak. The rain lasted for two hours and we were held doing nothing. Once the rain receded we started exploring the peak and then started descending.

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The descent from the peak was an experience of a lifetime. At every turning, there was a surprise waiting for us to be unfolded.

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One of the major attractions for me was the land use, how the local communities tap the mountain streams to irrigate their terraced fields where you see different crops growing simultaneously, rice, millet and corn being the principal crops. While rice and millet are traditionally grown for thousands of years, corn has been introduced recently. On the edge of each farming plot, you see rows of banana trees and occasionally trees of jackfruits. In some parts, rice had already been sown offering a dazzling mosaic of green and golden hues to your eyes.

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We never realized when we had hit the highway again. Our next stop for the day was nearby Nandapur, the former capital of Jeypur Kingdom and an important centre for Jainism in the Medieval Period.

Nandpur was an influential centre of Jainism in the past. The nearby village of Subaie has a cluster of 10 Jain Temples from the 8th century CE. The Tirtha was dedicated to Jain Tirthankar Rsabhanath. Part of Bastar – Koraput Jain civilization at Subaie you find a number of sculptures of Rsabhanath and Mahavir having influence from South India.

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It is known from the Jain scriptures that much before the Christian Era Jain preachers had explored the dense forest tracts of Bastar – Koraput to spread their religion among hill tribes.

The Mali tribe of Deomali – Nandpur has a deep influence of Jainism. For instance, they are traditionally vegetarian. Even today Malis worship many of the Jain idols as their Gram Devtas.

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Nandpur is also well-known for its Batish Singhasan (32 steps throne). According to folklore, Nandapur was once inhabited by pastoral tribe, Gaudas. One day a Gouda boy while taking care of his cattle came across the plateau where present-day Batish Singhasan stands. He would sit there playfully and deliver judgments like a scholar or a great king. However, once out of this place, his behaviour would change to that of a common man. One day the king of Nandapur discovered him delivering sound judgements. He decided to build his palace here in the line of Batish Singhasan of famous Vikramaditya.

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Nandpur is also endowed by nature. A short drive took us to Rani Duduma waterfall hidden in the dense forest and hills. Cloaked in mysteries, the tribes worship her as Mother Goddess; however, don’t take risk bathing here as the force of cascading water can drown you at any moment.

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Deomali is unquestionably one of Odisha’s best kept offbeat wonderlands where culture unites nature set against a timeless romance.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 2)

On our day 2 at Lanjia Saura Hills

After a sumptuous breakfast at Gunupur, we headed towards Lanjia Saura hills again through the mountain zigzag road. Our destination for the morning was Rebingtal, a large village of about 500 people in 8 lineages facing the broad expanse of paddy terraces stepping downwards from the village. Rebingtal was my second visit in a span of one year. In 2018 during March I had come here to meet Laksmi Sabara, a woman Shaman. Through her, I had learned about Sauras’ dialogues with the dead, the most unique aspect of Saura belief and culture.

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Only a couple of decades before the spread of modernization and the digital revolution it used to be a daily scene – living people conducting dialogues with dead, who would speak to them through the mouth of a Shaman in trance.

Also, Read Here:

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

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According to Saura belief, a person who dies becomes a Sonum. Various kinds of illness and even deaths are caused in some ways by Sonums. By attacking the living people the dead transfers some experiences to them which they themselves underwent at the time of deaths. They do this by ‘eating the soul’ of the living victim in order to absorb him/her thereby causing him/her a kind of illness or death. However, the dead do not only attack the living and harm them. They also nourish and protect them. It is the interplay of these two contradicts attitudes, respectively aggressive and nurturing which lie at the core of Sauras’ relationship with their deceased.

Travel Tips 

Puttasing, the largest Saora village is located at a distance of 25 km from the nearest town Gunupur. The entire stretch is picturesque with rolling mountains of the Eastern Ghats, verdant valleys, paddy fields, dense forest and mountain streams. These are no bus services, however public jeep services available hopping between Saora villages and Gunupur. At Puttasing is located the head office of Lanjia Saora Development Agency, which has a small guesthouse which can be booked with prior information. Otherwise Gunupur, the nearest town or Rayagada, the district headquarter, 70 km away and Paralakhemindi, 60 km away are better options. Gunupur is connected by rail and road from Bhubaneswar, while Rayagada has better rail links with most parts of India. The nearest airport is at Visakhapatnam, 215 km away.  Bhubaneswar, the other nearest airport is 333 km away. 

According to their beliefs, the Shaman, mostly a woman, in this case, Lakshmi Sabara, who communicates with the dead. Her soul leaves her body and goes to separate domestic life, with husband and children in the underworld. While she is in a dissociated state of trance, the body is available for a succession of the dead who speak one at a time through her mouth. A sequence of dialogue can last up to several hours and range from causal gossip to extremes of emotions. They also include moments of good humor amidst hullabaloo laughter.

Also, Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

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As soon as someone dies, whatever the hour of the day or night, the women of the family start preparation for the mourning. Guns are fired. An orchestra of drums and oboes is assembled to play the death beat. All the men of the lineage abandon their jobs and gather together to chop down a tree and build a pyre on the lineage’s cremation ground. Meanwhile, the Ancestor Woman strips the body of the dead, wash it in cooling turmeric powder and dress it in good, clean cloths. A man from the village’s pyre – lighter lineage lights and tends the pyre.

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The following morning, the Ancestor Woman pours water on the ashes ‘to cool the soul’. Then they bury the ashes on the cremation site while the funeral shaman leads the dead person’s soul into that person’s house. There she enters a trance and his soul passes into her body and is interrogated by bystanders about the circumstances and cause of his death. After some weeks or months of the death, his/her heir carryout the main step in the funeral sequence. They sacrifice buffaloes for the deceased to eat and plough with it in the underworld. They also plant an upright memorial stone at the lineage’s stone planting site, to join the many stones stacked up there, leaning against each other, from previous funerals. During the following three years the deceased is commemorated collectively at certain seasons along with other recently dead people.

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We did not get a chance to witness the death ritual but satisfied looking at the menhir cluster near Sagada Village. The site has been carefully restored by the local administration to upkeep the Saura heritage.

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The religious world view of Hill Saoras is strongly reflected in their mural heritage. The icon painted in walls of the dark interiors is called Idital or Itaalan, which means writing or painting. Until recently the wall facing the door in all most all the Lanjia Saora houses used to have a sacred and ritual icon. Today, only a few have survived.

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Idital is the home of the spirits and deities. The mural depicts images of ancestors and gods in different levels and according to the hierarchy of positions. The objects and images drawn in the Idital are Sonums in the form of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, trees, guns, archers, gunmen, even vehicles such as bicycles, cars, buses, and trains having the mythical and religious linkages with the tradition of Lanjia Saouras. Peacock (maaraa) is frequently seen in this ritual art. There is also a sacred pot called daanki hanging before the icon is used for keeping rice, pulses and other crops with the meaning to give food for the ancestors and gods.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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The pot is called Sonumdung which means food pot of the Sonums. Many in-house rituals are performed near the icon out of which first harvesting festivals of Raganabdar (red gram) and udaanabdar (mango) are compulsory to perform near the Idital. The art is regarded as sacred in Saora religion which represents the house of deities and spirits.

Saoras are fun loving people. Drinking tadi (a local wine) in groups is part of their life. The wine drips out overnight from toddy trees into suspended pots. The sap of the alin keeps flowing by incisions made at the inflorescences of the tree. It is fermented by airborne yeasts to produce foaming toddy which is rich in vitamins and mildly alcoholic.

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It is usually the evening after finishing the day’s chores, the Saura men and women get-together for the drinking party. They spend hours at leisure with friends and relatives to celebrate their evenings with tadi in hands. However it was morning hours, we were welcome to the drinking site on a hill slope surrounded by wooded forests. The drinking site was a circle of flat stones set up as seats around a hearth. The first man who arrived at the site lit the fire. In a few moments, space was filled by his companions, all in their traditional clothing. They poured their tadi into a large pot set over the fire. When the drink was at right lukewarm temperature, one of the men dipped in a gourd ladle and passed it to his neighbour on right, who drank it, refilled it and passed it on again. I also had my term.

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For recreations, Lanjia Saoras are always ready. All around the year as Saoras say, work keep continue and does not leave them completely free. They are always busy with some work. But whenever they get breaks while in the fields or in the forest, they enjoy the dance and singing. When you drive through their hills in dark night hours you would be enthralled listening to their enchanting music coming from the hilltops accompanied with songs and dances. Their musical instruments include drums, gagerai, tretepe, and jambugrai. During a performance, the surrounding environment of forest and fields get enthralled and romanticized. It is the women folk who sing and dance but the music is led by men only.

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But for us it was before the tadi party they performed their dance wearing their traditional costumes and attires, for women, a waistcloth with gray borders hardly touching up to their knees and blouse. A major draw of these women were their traditional pieces of jewelry, necklaces of beads, round wooden plugs pierced through their ears, spiral metal rings as ear lobes, hairpins of bell metal, brass rings around their necks and metal anklets and finger rings. The male dancers were marked with their long ended loincloths and had decorated their heads with white fowl feathers and peacock plumes. While dancing they carried swords, sticks, umbrellas and other implements and blew whistles and made peculiar sounds.

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We also participated in their dance from time to time.

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Our trip to Saura heartland came to an end after a traditional meal of country chicken curry, rice, and cabbage.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

A 6 hours drive from Bhubaneswar through the coastal highway following the Google Map brought us to a place that was in the middle of nowhere. We were in the northernmost part of Andhra Pradesh overlooking the high hills of Odisha’s the Eastern Ghats. The narrow semi-tar road came to an abrupt end. But the Google Map was still indicating to drive further. We did not know what to do next. Upon asking the villagers they told – how travellers like us are often fooled by the technology-driven world while driving to Puttasingi, the heart of Lanjia Saura kingdom. We turned back and drove for 7 km and then hit the Main Road. Then we drove in a different direction and passed by several small villages and towns, tribal and non-tribal on serene Andhra –Odisha border.

After a two hour drive through plains and ghats we got the first sight of Lanjia Saura habitat in deep interiors and mountains of the Eastern Ghats that once used to be inaccessible. The drive was scenic on the highway.

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But as we entered the hill trek it turned out to be a nightmare. For 20 km drive through the mountain trek it took nearly 2 hours, it was a big risk but finally, it paid off.

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Lanjia Saura is an autonomous tribal group that shares common values, style of life and exclusive symbols of identity among its members. They are part of the larger proto-Austroloid racial group (Austroloids include aboriginal people of Australia, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia) having dark skins, wavy hairs, and short heights. Proto-Austroloids are thought to have been among the earliest to migrate from Africa to Indian Subcontinent and Australia about 60,000 years ago.

Also, Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

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Lanjia Saouras speak in Saora language, which is a part of Mundari branch of Austric language groups. According to linguist Sidewell, Mundari language probably arrived on Odisha coast from Indo-China about 4,000-3,500 years ago. Scientists have different views on the meaning of the word ‘Saura’. According to some scholars, the term Saora appears to have come from Sagories, the Scythian word for axe and according to others, Saura has been derived from Saba Raye, the Sanskrit term for carrying the dead body. Both the terms denote their habit of carrying an axe always on shoulders with the traditional occupation of hunting and subsistence farming. However, according to their popular legend, Sora is derived from ‘So’ meaning hidden and ‘Ara’ meaning tree. Hence Sora or Saura are the people who have been living inside the forest. Forest is the collection of trees and Hill Sauras build their settlements surrounded by thick forests. The Hill Sauras are called Lanjia Sauras because of their male dress style in which the ends of the loincloth hang like a tail at the back. The term ‘Lanjia’ means ‘having a tail’.

Travel Tips:

Puttasing, the largest Saora village is located at a distance of 25 km from the nearest town Gunupur. The entire stretch is picturesque with rolling mountains of the Eastern Ghats, verdant valleys, paddy fields, dense forest and mountain streams. These are no bus services, however public jeep services available hopping between Saora villages and Gunupur. At Puttasing is located the head office of Lanjia Saora Development Agency, which has a small guesthouse which can be booked with prior information. Otherwise Gunupur, the nearest town or Rayagada, the district headquarter, 70 km away and Paralakhemindi, 60 km away are better options. Gunupur is connected by rail and road from Bhubaneswar, while Rayagada has better rail links with most parts of India. The nearest airport is at Visakhapatnam, 215 km away.  Bhubaneswar, the other nearest airport is 333 km away.  

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Our first halt in the mountain trek was Tarabil village on the edge of a hill overlooking a deep valley. We had been recommended by experts to visit this village for an appreciation of traditional architecture. Here I recalled Verrier Elwin’s accounts, who had first mentioned the cultural traits of Hill Saoras or Lanjia Saoras.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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‘The Saoras live along long streets where they built little shrines. They erect menhirs and sacrifices buffalos for their dead. Male and female shamans serve their religious needs. They engage both in terrace and shifting cultivation. Their men wear a long, brightly coloured loin cloth and their women a hand woven, brown bordered skirt and usually nothing else. The women enrage the lobes of their ears and have a characteristic tattoo mark down the middle of the forehead. Most importantly, the Hill Sauras retain their own language’.

Elwin’s version of Hill Sauras has partly faded now thanks to the penetration of missionaries and Hindu right-wing institutions along with consumer-driven market forces. But if you explore after doing certain homework and accompanied by local resource persons you are sure to hit on a culture that appears to be the last link of our human stories from the time of Stone Age.

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Like every tribe, Lanjia Sauras have a myth of their origin. Kureitung Katabir is the source of their oral literature. According to it, the first Saora man took origin from Kureitung (bottle gourd) and after that they disappeared in the forests and hills and made their settlements.

From Tarabil we started descending to Puttasing, the largest Lanjia Saoura village and the centre of their administrative network. Around 4.30 in the late afternoon, we reached the office of Lanjia Saora Development Authority to meet Sri Krupasindhu Behra, a dynamic administrative officer appointed to oversee and initiate developmental work in Lanjia Saora villages. With him and Bira, an employee and a Lanjia Saora himself we headed to Maningul Village. On our way, we were amazed to see their terrace farming from the hilltop.

Also Read Here:

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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Called Sarabs, the terraced farms of Lanjia Saoras have inbuilt water management system. These are found on lower hill slopes and in some cases extend up to hilltops. The platform for each terrace is flat throughout and the fall of each terrace is packed with stone. The construction technique is highly sophisticated and skill full. No soil is carried down with water that flows from the higher terrace to lower terrace.

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Maningul today can be reached in less than 15 min from Purchasing if you have your personal vehicle. But only a couple of years ago it was inaccessible and had an archaic look. One had to take the zigzag path on the mountain terrain and dense forest to reach here. In the absence of medical facility, the people here depended upon the healing of Kundan Boi, the woman shaman of Lanjia Saoura community. Today the ageing Kundan Boi here is unwanted. The once shining Edital murals have decayed to extinction. Most households here are converted to Christianity. In place of the healing chants that have a strong connection with their thousands of years of heritage, you hear lousy Catholic Odia songs from the village Church.

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Even though there are signs of modernization and 21st-century version of development, you can still trace counters of Maningul’s past – its settlement pattern, belief system and architecture.

The Lanjia Saoras usually prefer to build their village on hilltops and hill slopes that are free from life-threatening floods and water logging in every monsoon. These sites are close to forest and water resources. Because of the zigzag nature of mountains, they first create a terrace to build their settlement on it.

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The funeral sites (Genuar) and cremation grounds (Kiatlo) are located outside of the village. The shrine of Manduasum used to be once located inside the village, which is almost extinct now. The deity of Manduasum according to Lanjia belief protects the village from the attack of wild animals or epidemics. The offering is made near the shrine to several deities and spirits. It is a taboo strictly observed by the people to eat the crops before celebrating the new eating festivals (abder) such as Raganabdar (red gram new eating) and udanabdur (mango new eating festivals). Offerings are made to Manduasum and Sandisum, who according to Saura belief take care of their protection and safety. Judisum is another co-deity of male and female, situated in the border between two villages to protect the life and prosperity of villages from the attack of malevolent spirits and forest deities who cause diseases and epidemics in nature and damage property of the villages. Offerings to these deities are made during all the harvesting festivals.

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‘Sing’ is the word for house in Soura language. A traditional Sing is a single roomed house, which is rectangular in shape and fairly high. The plinth of the house is made high but the roof is kept proportionally low. The house is a thatched hut, small in size with earthen walls and pillars, posts, beams and rafters. Walls are made of stone plastered with locally available red earth.

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The interior of a Saura House is dark and smoky as there are no windows for ventilation and penetration of sunlight. It is because of their fear for the ghosts and spirits. All the members of the family sleep at one place but after marriage, the newly married couple have to build a separate house for their independent living.

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For pigs and fowls, separate provisions are made. In one corner (immediately after the entrance) of the house, there are shelters built for pigs and fowls to protect them from the attack of wild animals. The shelter is called Gangusing.

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Gangusing is also built with the plinth, which looks like a cave to shelter their pigs and fowls. Inside the house, aloft (maadaa) is made upon the wall covering more than half of the space to keep the household belongings and valuable clothes, ornaments, money, agricultural products, seeds, food material and all other household items. Small agricultural implements and household weapons are kept near the entrance of the house.

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Against all this information loaded I tried to trace the authentic character of a Lanjia Saura settlement at Maningul, which you can see through these images. Beyond the western hills, Sun was all set to go down to the other hemisphere for the day. Pitch dark shrouded all over. It was time to retire for the day.

To be Continued

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be reached at jitumisra@gmail.com

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

‘Life is because of the Gods; with their sacrifice, they gave us life, which nourishes life’

An Ancient Mesoamerican Belief

In 1521 CE, when the Spanish explorer Hemán Cortťs conquered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan what amazed him was the high intensity of human sacrifices performed in the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in honour of their gods. Indeed human sacrifices in Aztec Civilization had been part of the long cultural tradition of Mesoamerica. Sacrificing a human was viewed as the highest level of the entire panoply of offering which the Aztecs sought to repay their debts to the gods. Even the stage where the sacrificial rites were performed had to be crammed with land’s finest art, treasure, and victims and then buried underneath for their deities.

Human sacrifices in Mayan and Aztec Civilizations have been widely debated in the scholarly world. Curiosity drags a countless number of tourists into dozens of Mesoamerican sites where human sacrifices used to be common sights once upon a time. But many would not know until recent past in yet another corner of the world, the Kondhmal region of highland Odisha, the Kondhs would openly kill a human with a belief for yields of good crops from their slash and burn hill slope fields.

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Weapons used for human sacrifice

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Sacrificial Posts in a Kondh Settlement

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The Kondhs are a Dravidian tribe who live predominantly in the forested mountains of the Eastern Ghats in central-western highlands of Odisha.

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The picturesque Eastern Ghats in Kondhmal, the Kondh Territory

Travel Tips

Baliguda Town is at the center of Kondh Territory, which is located at a distance of 300 km from Bhubaneswar (the nearest airport) and major city. Baliguda is connected by excellent roads and it takes 7 hours from Bhubaneswar. The nearest Railway Station is however Lanjigarh (120 km). From Baliguda tourists can visit Darigibadi, also known as Kashmir of Odisha and Belghar (60 km), the abode of Kutia Kondhs. Hotel Bivab in the town is the only stay option which is also most sought after by overseas travellers. Tourists can also visit Mandasur (40 km) near Raikia, which is known as Odisha’s own Silence Valley. Ecotourism bamboo cottages are available at Mandasur for comfortable stay. These community run cottages can be booked online through ecotourism website of Odisha.  

Kondhs mean Hilly People in Kui language. They are hardy, war like race of men, well accustomed to jungle life. Until recently with only slightest contact with the plains, the Kondhs had preserved their independence as distinct nobility, bold and fitfully laborious mountain peasantry of dignified manner, proud of their positions as landowners and tenacious of their rights. However, they remained conservative and backward. According to W.W Hunter, a British historian, who visited them in late 19th century, their vices were the indulgence in revenge, and occasionally of brutal passion.

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Today, a drive through some of the finest roads in otherwise one of the most remote areas of Odisha, you reach the Kondh Territory. What draws your immediate attention is their linear settlements ascending from hill slopes to the core of mountains surrounded by farmlands, slash-and-burn fields (locally called podu chasa), mountain streams and open and dense forest with no signs of urbanisation far and wide. A rustic rural life resembling a Prehistoric Era welcomes you to the world of Kondhs.

Also Read Here:

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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A Kondh Village in Belghar Region

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Trees Uprooted for Slash and Burn Cultivation

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Houses are seen built on either side of a wide street in two facing rows. Houses share a common verandah and single ridge roof. The walls are decorated by women using geometric and floral motifs painted in red earth and lime. The shrine of the earth goddesses is located in the middle of the village street.

Also Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

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A Meriah Post in the Center of the Village

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The Kondhs of Odisha constitute several clans within the tribe; however the most prominent are three, the Desia Kondh, the Kutia Kondh and the Dongoria Kondh. Kutias are named after their house plans, which is about 2 feet below the level of the village road. They believe that in remote past they had emerged from a hole or kuti in the earth near Guma village in Belghar region. Their home is a wooden structure with a low roof and an excavated floor to make up for it.

Also Read Here:

Mishings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

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Today, the Kondhs have settled subsistence farmers, but they also depend upon forest resources and occasional hunting. The hills around their villages are covered with dense mixed forest and one of the common species in the forest is Sal, which has many fold use in their day to day life.

 

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Organic Turmeric for which Kondhamal is well-known

Patches of a forest close to their settlements are regularly cleared for slash and burn cultivation. The Sun is the supreme deity in the Kondh beliefs system and responsible for good happenings. They further believe that sunshine washes away all evils and hence each house must share sunlight of the day equally. In a typical Kutia Kondh house, the main room is provided with a ceiling, which serves as the storeroom. Apart from this over the hearth, bamboo poles are horizontally hung for drying grains and meat. The room is also used for cooking, sleeping and dining. Slash and burn cultivation is being carried out by the Kondhs from time immemorial.

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Shifting Cultivation – Patches of Forest Cleared

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The Interior of a Kondh House

The land for cultivation is selected by Dani, the priest along with village elites. A particular patch of forest is used continuously for three years for shifting cultivation. Then it is left fallow for more than five years to allow rejuvenation of the forest growth. Cutting of trees in the patch is done in the spring season by their respective family members and are left for some days to dry up. Care is taken while clearing forests; fruit-bearing trees and trees having herbal medicinal property is not touched. A specific variety of seeds is stored for podu chasa, which are first sown and then hoed. During weeding and flowering, certain archaic rituals are carried out to save the crop from natural calamity and infest of insects and locust. The harvest of crops usually takes place after the performance of rituals and sacrifices to appease the spirits linked with agricultural operations as different crops get ready in different types.

In the 19th century, when the Kondhs were first brought to light, their appearance and life were more archaic than what we find them today. Tattooing was largely practised and the Kondhs used tattoo all over their bodies with artistic designs.

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The men wore long hair which was tied with a red piece of cloth and decorated with feathers of a peacock or other colourful birds. Both men and women wore minimal garments. Since their area was infested with wild beasts such as tigers, elephants and bears, they lived together in a very unhygienic environment which often led to epidemics. Theoretically, each of the Kondh tribes sprung from a common father and it is governed by a patriarch who represents the common ancestor. The patriarch was also the head priest who could explain the cause of the natural calamity.

Natural calamities and epidemics that destroyed their crops and broke their confidence – they began to attribute to the deities, dead ancestors and sorcery. To escape from these misfortunes they developed magico-rituals administered by the priest, named as Jani. Human sacrifice was the most sought after rites among the Kondhs. It was a means of propitiating the earth goddess whose favours were needed to maintain the fertility of the soil. The Kondhs believed that the blood of the victims caused the redness of the turmeric, an important crop and his fears brought the rains.

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According to their folklore, the earth was originally a crude and unstable mass unfit for the comfortable habitation of humankind. It was not conducive for agriculture too. Then the earth goddess ordered to split human blood before her and the Kondhs compiled with this demand by sacrificing a child. Then the soil became firm and productive herewith and the goddess ordered men to repeat the rite year after year.

The victims of human sacrifices were called Meriah in Odia and in Kui Toki or Keddi. The victim could be a male or a female or a child. An adult man was costliest. They could be from any caste except Brahmins and their own community. The victim must be brought with a price otherwise they were considered not acceptable to Earth Goddess. They were always purchased from Panos, a secluded caste community who were attached to every Kondh village. The victims were procured often by kidnapping them in the plains. The Panos also moved into plains often and purchased a number of small boys and girls from the poorer section of the Hindus and sold them to the Kondhs who nurtured them until they were 7 years old. The price was paid in livestock, brass vessels, corn and even land.

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Kondh Jewelry made out of silver and brass

The Meriah sacrifice was classified as public and private. While the public sacrifice was offered by a tribe or a village as an entity, private sacrifices were offered by individuals. The public sacrifice was done twice a year, at the time of sowing and at the time of harvest, where they sprinkled blood in their field. Private sacrifices were done by families whenever sickness or great distress came upon them.

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Meriah Sacrificial Post in a Kondh Village

On the day of the sacrifice, a thick paste of turmeric would be first applied to the body of the victim and then tied in a sacrificial post in the middle of the field. Both men and women in high spirit would dance around the post holding each other’s hands to the rhythm of beating drums. Then the Jani would wound the Meriah with his axe after which the crowd would rush to the victim and stripped the flesh from his bones keeping the head and intestine untouched. They would then rush to their respective fields and bury them believing that this would fertilize their fields.

It was in 1836, Meriah sacrifice was first noticed by the British. But they could not immediately make an attempt to stop it for various reasons. It was stamped out only in the late 19th century and was replaced with buffalo sacrifice.

Today, the Kondh world has changed drastically with wide roads, electricity, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure creation. Literacy has picked up and modernization is noticeable. But as go deep into the interior of the mountains you will discover the remnants of the horrifying past of human sacrifices that are present in numerous Mariah posts and shrines of Tari Pennu. Their settlement pattern and mode of living are still retained from the earlier tradition.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

70,000 years ago! When the ancestors of modern humans left Africa for Indian Subcontinent what would have first attracted them is the lush green environment fed by region’s greatest gift of nature, the monsoon. Over a few thousand years they were spread and adapted to various geographical regions. Over thousands of years sustaining in their own environment, they created unique indigenous knowledge systems, where the understanding of local geography and accordingly developing ways of life constituted major aspects. Today, when the world is intertwined between development and environment, many of us are drawn to think of how the adivasi knowledge system can be implemented as critical models for earth’s sustenance.

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Armed with this understanding I set off my journey to Niyamgiri in South Odisha’s Rayagada District, the abode of Dongoria Kondh, an ancient tribe which has a link with early human migration to Indian Subcontinent. Dongoria in Odia means hill and Kondhs are the tribals who inhabit the hills of Niyamgiri. A century ago, their villages were surrounded by lush green forest where sunlight could not infiltrate even during noon time.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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The View of Niyamgiri from Chatikona

A myth narrates on the origin of Dongoria Kondhs in the mystical past.

Once upon a time, the earth was heavily populated. There was not enough land for cultivation and space for people to live in. As there was no alternative for the tribe, once people complained to Dharam Devata, the Sun God, who was their king. Dharam Devata was moved and immediately set up a committee to discuss a plan. They agreed upon an idea – destroying the entire universe and all living creatures in it and then create a new one in its place.

An antelope, which was soon to give birth, heard this conversation.

Around that time lived Duku and Dumbe, both brother and sister. Duku had been out for hunting and was returning home without finding a game. On his way he saw the antelope and when he was about to shoot heard a scream, a human voice coming from the animal itself. It was the kid in the womb who was talking to Duku.

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‘Killing my mother is what thing you can do. This creation of which you are a part will be destroyed soon and I have overheard Dharam Devata’s plan to destroy everything and create a new world. The earth will shake and trumble and all the hills, mountains, trees, crops, houses, sheds of people will be destroyed. Nobody will be able to survive the wrath of Dharam Devata.’

On hearing this Duku shook with fear. He asked whether there was any way of surviving the destruction. The animal replied – ‘make a boat using the wood of simuli tree. The boat will stay afloat when the floods come. Take enough food to last for a long time’.

Duku rushed back and disclosed his experience to Dumbe.  Without wasting time he made a boat and both started sailing to an unknown world. The disaster hit, but both felt safe, thanks to the antelope’s words. They heard loud blasts from outside, the rushing sound of flooding rivers, screams and death cries, the thunder of falling trees and crashing rocks. They tried to imagine the catastrophe that they were saved from the animal.

At last no one survived except Duku and Dumbe. The gods and goddesses became clear that there was no one left to worship them or offer sacrifice. They took the matter to Dharam Devata. After hearing their complain Dharam Devata tore some hairs of his body to create a crow and gave life to it. The crow was sent in search of human beings. It flew far and wide and finally spotted Duke and Dumbe. Both made their way to the court of Dharam Devata where they explained how they escaped the destruction.

Dharam Devata listened patiently and then discussed with his courtiers and finally decided to request the brother and sister to procreate. But Duku and Dumbe did not agree to the idea as they considered it sin. Then there was another plan. The smallpox goddess Maa Budhi was sent to inflict Duku with smallpox and Dumbe with measles. The goddess followed the instruction and when the diseases were cured both Duku and Dumbe looked different and could not recognize each other as brother and sister. They became sexually attracted to each other. From their procreation were born the first Dongorias.

At the time Dongorias originated there was no Niyamgiri. The earth was devoid of any mountains and hills. There is yet another myth that narrates how Niyamraja became their king and their landscape was formed.

Travel Tips

Dongoria villages are spread over Niyamgiri Hills in Rayagada and Kalahandi Districts. If you are an outsider, you need special permission to visit any Dongoria village from the district collectorate of Rayagada in Rayagada town, 40 km away from Chatikona, the village on the foothill and the highway that connects Visakhapatnam with Raipur. But one can visit Chatikona Weekly Market held on every Wednesday morning when hundreds of Dongoria women and men descend in groups or in public jeeps to sell and buy forest produces and other domestic needs. Chatikona is well-connected by road and rail from Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam and Raipur (these cities also have airports). There is no staying option at Chatikona and the nearby town of Bisamkatak. However, a few options are available at Muniguda, further north from Chatikona. But Rayagada being a major industrial and business town has best-staying options. Hotels at Rayagada will also arrange packaged food for a day visit. Hiring a cab from Rayagada is a better option. 

While at Chatikona heritage seeking travellers can also visit the Dokra craft village at Jhigidi. 

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The Scene of Chatikona Hat (the weekly market) on a Wednesday Morning  

Dharam Devata once called a meeting to which all the gods, goddess and Dongoria representatives were invited. He wanted a king to be elected to rule on earth, one who would take care of the well-being of Dongorias and bring happiness and prosperity.

To select the right king Dharam Devata had called for a cucumber and pumpkin in preparation for the test. He placed them before the gathering and called each aspiring candidate to guess the exact number of seeds the vegetables contained and were likely to germinate. It was not easy to answer and all of them failed.

Around that time, Biribija ruled in the neighbouring kingdom. He had seven sons, but the youngest one was despised by all his six elder brothers and the king himself. Though Biribija disliked his youngest son, he admired his judiciousness and intelligence.

When they heard Dharam Devata’s invitation, all his six sons went to his court to try their luck. The youngest son, however, went secretly. In the court when the six elder brothers failed the test now it was the turn of the youngest brother, who had sat among the common people.

When he stood to answer, his brothers began to mock him. Unaffected by their harassment the youngest brother answered – ‘there are 180 immature seeds in each vegetable’.

To verify his claim, the gods sitting in the court directed him to cut open the vegetables so that the seeds could be counted. He was proved right. Dharam Devata was delighted and made him the king and named him Niyamraja. Dongrias were also satisfied as they finally got someone to look after their welfare.

Dharam Devata instructed Niyamraja on how to manage political affairs and encouraged him to associate with his people in a friendly manner and to give their welfare highest priority.

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Niyamraja took Sita Penu, the goddess of wealth along with him to the Dongoria kingdom. Dharam Devata had offered five different kinds of seed for cultivation on earth. Since Niyamraja wanted to present his people with an ever greater variety, Dharm Devata requested all other hill gods to supply him with the best seed available from their area. Niyamraja’s wish was fulfilled. When he reached earth, he did not find any hills. His wish was fulfilled causing hills and mountains of various shapes and sizes to emerge. He maintained himself in the form of a great hill. Dongorias had already begun to regard him as king of the hills. Then after he designed laws and principles on how to respond to nature’s cycle and respond her in all circumstances. From then on Dongorias have been following all the instructions and living their life as Mother Nature’s own children. Centuries have passed and unlike their other counterparts, such as Lanjia Soras, who have turned to Christians due to intense missionary activities, their faith in nature and Niyamraja have not been altered.

Also, Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 2)

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My first encounter with Dongorias was at Chatikona Hata, (hata is the tribal weekly market) besides the railway station at the foothills of Niyamgiri.

On my way to the hill slope in the early morning, I had the first glance of Dongoria women descending with their farm produces to sale in the market, jack fruits, banana, turmeric, tamarind, roots and tubers being the key items. Soon the market activity became intense with hundreds of Dongoria men and women either walking or in public vehicles descending from the hills, traders from the plain and a couple of foreign tourists. There were separate sections for different items, such as dry fish, poultry, forest produces, brooms, cloths and fabric, grocery, sheep/goat and many more. If you are a student of archaeology your mind would start twinkling as if you are back in time to thousands of years to the era of the emergence of early civilization.

 

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The market lasted for a mere three hours as it was approaching the summer season. By 10 AM, the Dongorias gathered in groups to ascent back the hills, some also got into public vehicles that hop between the Dongoria villages in the hills and Chatikona village in the plain.

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Being an Odia, I was fortunate to go up the hills and witness myself the Dongoria way of life. If you are an outsider you need special permission for the entry.

Once in the hill what draws your attention is dense orchards and perennial water streams. Their villages are located in rugged foothill fringes surrounded by deep and dense vegetation and forests. In the past, the Dongorias were not settlers at one place. They were nomadic moving from one place to another with the exhaust of resources. Because of their constant mobility, they have acquired deep knowledge about their environment and methods of exploiting them for their own sustenance.

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For Dongorias each hill is a living entity possessed by a particular spirit who is respected as the authority of the hill. From the spirit, god Dongorias seek permission before settling there permanently or temporarily. It is only after appeasement of the Hill God that the Dongorias begin to convert patches of lands into small settlements.

The top of a hill is covered with timber species or grass and is the abode of Lada Penu, the Mountain God. Although there are trees in the Penu Basa, they are not fell excepting when the wood is needed for festivals or house construction.

On the hill slope, Dongorias cultivate a variety of fruit-bearing trees, such as jack fruit, mango, pineapple, and seasonal crops such as cereals, pulses, vegetables and oil-seeds, all organic.

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Over the past decades, the Dongorias have lived in harmony with the forest. But today it is however not the case. You see all means of modernization penetrating into Dongoria world. The rise of materialism and increasing demands of the market have already started affecting the younger generation Dongorias, which was clearly visible during my visit. Now the big question is – how long they would remain as Mother Nature’s old children?

    Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com