(Last Updated on : 02/03/2013)
Phagu Festival, an important festival of the Munda Tribe
, is celebrated in the month of Falgun i.e. February. The festival, said to have been borrowed from the Hindus, is celebrated to welcome the hunting season that begins on this day. According to the Mundas the festival is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Rama
Lachchman over Ravana
who abducted the former's wife. Among the Hindus the festival is connected with the legend of Prahlada
and symbolises the victory of virtue over vice.
One day prior to the full moon in Falgun the villagers assemble at a particular location and move about in search of a caster oil tree within the periphery of the village. The tree is then cut and kept on the eastern side of a garden. Later a hole is dug in the middle of a path or road or beside it where they plant the caster oil tree. This is followed by a grand feasting after which they again assemble and go move about from door to door with an axe in their hand requesting for thatch grass. Finally a great heap of grass is collected and then taken to the place where the caster oil tree had been planted. Some of the grasses are tied to the tree while the rest are put around it and set the tree on fire. No sooner the whole tree is ablaze the gathering make a rush towards it and try to cut it down with a single blow of their axe. The Mundas think the castor oil tree to be the object of their prey and try to cut it in a single blow thus imagining cutting the actual prey in a single blow. The hunting axe is regarded to possess some special value hence it is prohibited from being used in any other occasions excepting during hunting. These procedures of the festival are similar to the Hindu practice of burning the Sambat.
Another ritual associated with the Phagu Festival is the burning of silk cotton sapling on the day of the full moon. Later during sunset the silk
cotton sapling is carried to the Pahan's house who clears a patch of land in front of his house and smears it with cow dung
. Later the sapling is carried to the place where the caster oil tree was burnt. From there they go from door to door accompanied by the Pahan and the Pujar collecting thatch grass. Some thatch grass is tied to the sapling, few are planted and the rest of the thatch grass is placed on top of it providing it a structure of a hut. The Pahan puts there three heaps of pearl rice and grabbing the fowl he pronounces the sacrificial formula and requests the Birchandi-bonga to whom the sacrifice is offered, to redirect a few cattle out of his herd in order to enable the Mundas to kill some of them.
After the end of his sacrificial formula he offers a libation of rice beer over three rice heaps putting three little pieces of cakes made of rice flour before them. Finally the fowl is forced into the little hut of thatch grass and is set on fire to burn the fowl alive.
No sooner the sapling is ablaze the Pahan gives a severe blow on the sapling with his axe. The action is then imitated by the villagers. People then carry fire and thatch grass from burning sapling to all the village dari (spring) where is abandoned. The following day the dari (natural spring) is cleaned. The fried fowl is now brought out and cut to pieces and distributed to all present during the occasion. The fallen sapling resembles the head of horned deer. The sapling, in its upper portion is then divided into pieces. One piece is planted in a cleft and the other portions are given away to the villagers. The first portion resembles the head of an animal thought to be hunted while the distributed pieces of the sapling that have been distributed to the villagers are deemed to be the flesh as if a hunt has been done and the flesh distributed to all. One such piece is brought to the Pahan's house where he is cordially welcomed as if a hunter has returned upon hunting a big game. The following day the piece of the sapling is thrown away.
In few of the villages the burning of the caster oil tree and the silk cotton sapling takes place on the same day usually on the full moon day.