(Last Updated on : 28/12/2013)
Religious life of Indian tribes
portrays the indigenous religious rites and rituals which have been followed by the innumerable tribes residing in India, since ancient periods. Amongst the 68 teeming million citizens of India who belong to tribal groups, Indian tribal religious concepts, terminologies and practices are as wide-ranging as the hundreds of tribes. However, members of these groups possess one thing in common: they believe in the constant insistency to remain united under religious faiths and customs. The tribes that make a transition, moving ahead from hunting and gathering and towards a sedentary agriculture are generally low-status labourers. These men always encounter their ancient religious forms in disintegration and their place being filled by practices of Hinduism
, Islam, Christianity
, or Buddhism
. Whatever be the cases or worries, religious life amongst Indian tribes is an exemplary situation, wherein everybody follows the essential norms.
The religion of Santhal Tribe
s of West Bengal
is considered to be the most popular. Amounting to about 4.2 million, these Santhal tribals practise manifold spiritual practises, which are quite popular amongst the several other tribal religions of the country. Religious life in Indian tribes first begins with the Santhal religion, according to which, the supreme deity is 'Thakurji', who ultimately commands over the complete universe. However, the primary reverence of belief falls on a court of spirits ('bonga'), who supervise various aspects of the world. These spirits must be appeased with prayers and oblations in order to ward-off evil influences. These spirits operate at the village
, household, ancestor and sub-clan levels, along with evil spirits that induce disease. Going by religious beliefs in Indian tribal life, such evil spirits have possibilities to inhabit village boundaries, mountains
s and the forest.
A distinctive feature of the Santhal village is a sanctified grove on the perimeter of the settlement, where numerous spirits live and a series of annual festivals
go on. The most important spirit residing amongst Santhals is 'Maran Buru' (Great Mountain), who is conjured up whenever offerings are made. Religious beliefs in this Indian tribe instruct that the Maran Buru first dictates the Santhals in sex and brewing of rice
beer. 'Jaher Era' or Lady of the Grove is the divine consort of Maran Buru. Certain rituals are observed every year, which are intrinsically associated with the agricultural cycle, including rites related to birth, marriage, funeral rites, petitions to spirits, etc. Animal
sacrifices are common, especially birds
. Religious life in this Indian tribe is dictated by the religious leaders, who are male, specialists in medical cures. They like to practice soothsaying and witchcraft. 'Oraon
' and 'Kharia
' tribals are believed to observe similar religious customs.
The smaller tribal communities exhibit a comparatively less clarified version of spiritual hierarchy, manifested through animism or rather a unique collection of spiritual energies which are followed by some social groups. The religious ideals of Indian tribes deal with Mother Nature and ecological systems. The Naga tribes
live in the mountains of north-east India. They believe in a specific earthquake God who created the earth out of the waters by earthquakes. The sons of this God now keep a vigil over mankind and punish those who perform wrong deeds. Religious life in this Indian tribe is quite quaint and secretive, compared to the others. Other deities without name or form reside in the mountains, forests, rivers
, who need mollifying, for their hostile attitude to men. Omens and dreams are also generally believed in. Witchcraft is widely practised and some men are also believed to possess the capability to turn into tigers.
Some tribal groups sacrifice dogs or pigs when making a wood carving; otherwise the carver will soon fall ill or die. This most likely belongs to the older tradition of only allowing a man to carve a human figure in a 'morung' (bachelors' dormitory) when he had taken a head. Head-hunting was a significant practice, since fertile crops depended on a sprinkling of blood from a stranger over the fields. Reincarnation is believed by many Naga tribes and the dead are buried in the direction from which their ancestors have arrived. The doctrine of 'genna' (tabu) involves the entire social groups: villages, clans, households, age groups, sex groups, in a series of rituals that are regularly practised; this genna ritual is also the result of an emergency such as an earthquake.
s are one of the largest tribes of western India, living in parts of Rajasthan
. Many Bhils are Hinduised. Religious life amongst this Indian tribe is known to be much varied and curious. There exists a myth of descent from a tiger ancestor. The Jhabua
Bhil and others believe in 'Bhagavan' or 'Bholo Iswor', who is a personal supreme God. They also believe in minor deities who have shrines on hills or underneath the trees. Worship of Bhagavan is generally performed at the settlement's central sanctuary. There lies a human-oriented cult of the dead amongst the Bhils, whose main ritual is named 'Nukto' and is practised in front of a dead person's house. Nukto purifies the spirit of the dead and merges it with 'Bhagavan'. 'Gothriz Purvez' is the collective ancestor. The perception of a spirit-rider is crucial in Nukto and Gothriz Purvez accompanies the spirit on part of its journey to the after-world.
The Todas are a tiny pastoral community living on the 7000 Nilgiri Hills
in southern India. Religious belief in this Indian tribe is in the 1600 or 1800 superior Godlike beings, the two most important being 'On' and 'Teikirzi'. On is the male god of 'Amnodr', the kingdom of the dead and he had procreated the Todas and their buffaloes. He was himself a dairyman. Teikirzi is a female deity and more imperative to the people. She once ruled when she lived in the Nilgiris and is known to have established Toda social and ceremonial laws. Most other deities are hill-Gods, each linked to a particular hill. There are also two river-gods belonging to the two main rivers. Toda religion is based primarily upon the buffaloes and their milk
. The temples
are the dairies.
Many tribes in India demonstrate considerable syncretism with Hinduism, like the 'Kadugollas' of Karnataka
, who worship gods such as 'Junjappa', 'Yattappa', 'Patappa', and 'Cittappa'. In reality they are more devoted to Shiva
, who dominates their festivals and religious observances. Local deities are still of significance, though, the 'Bedanayakas' of Karnataka worship 'Papanayaka'. This deity is supposed to have lived 300-400 years ago as a holy man among them and who performed miracles.