History has it again and again that native people or tribals of any region have always been removed from their ancestral localities and invading groups have overtaken their culture, traditions, language and religion. In India, the Aryan groups had invaded the sub-continent and marginalized the natives or the Adivasis. In addition to taking over their land and assets, there was a religious take over and probably the tribals were forced into the religion of the Aryans (history at this phase is quite unclear). Some thousand years later, we have the Indian Constitution conferring religious liberty as a fundamental right upon every citizen (Article 25-28 of IPC). Though we have seen a number of communal riots and pogroms since Independence, we have also seen the ignorance of marginalized cultures and traditions. One such culture is the Sarna Code, Sarnism or the Sarna Sthal.
What is the Sarna Code?
Sarna Code is a long demanded religious identity by tribal groups of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Chhattisgarh. Under this code, Sarna Sthals or sacred groves are the centres of all religious and ceremonial activities of tribal villages and communities. The followers of these rituals generally belong to the Kudumi Mahato, Kurukh, Ho, Santal and Munda groups. In recent years, people from these communities have been demanding a separate religious identity for them in the census.
A student belonging to the Santal community elaborated,
“We have very different practices from that of other religious communities; we worship the Nature the mountains, forests, water bodies and not the idols, we can bury or burn the dead bodies, our marriage is different. We want our own identity to be known. In the census, we are made to choose within the 6 columns of religion and we want our own column in the census.”
Rituals of the Sarna Code
Sarna is a place of worship around a sacred grove also called the Jaher Than, Gram Than or the Jaher Gar. Trees of Sal are considered in the sacred grove. The sthal typically has multiple trees like the mahua, neem, sal and banyan. The entire village gathers around the grove where ceremonies are performed at a public gathering. People from the community, the village head and priests actively participate in this ritual. The principal festival of the Sarna is Sarhul where the devotees worship their ancestors.
Demand of the Tribal Communities
The Sarna code is a “religion” based on nature. According to the people, they are not able to identify themselves with the practices of any of the major religions in India. Religious practices are something closely linked to our ancestors, culture, traditions and hence our emotions. Thus these tribal groups do not want to dissolve their individual unique cultures and want a legal identification of their religion.
The Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) is all set to form the new government in the state and has promised to implement the Sarna Code legally.
To read more about the Sarna Code and its legal implementation, move on to the next article- WHAT IS SARNA CODE AND WHY ARE THE TRIBALS DEMANDING IT (Sarna Code and the Census).