Place for Advertisement

Please Contact:


Primal Elements in the Santhal Musical Texts
Onkar Prasad

In traditional vision, man is a replica of the cosmos. He is constituted of five basic elements — sky, air, fire, water and earth. His life-cycle, mode of thought and pattern of behaviour are all governed by the cosmic laws. This primal vision of man is found to be fully integrated both in textual and oral traditions. While in the textual tradition it has been very systematically and analytically presented, in the oral tradition it remains unexplored. In this chapter, folk songs collected from among the Santhals of Bolpur-Sriniketan in 1991 have been dealt with.

The study centres on some of the basic postulates such as whether the Santhals in their primal thought follow an evolutionary scheme with regard to the basic elements, i.e., sky, air, fire, water, earth,1 whether the Santhals view themselves as constituted of five or four basic elements and whether the primal elements are referred to in songs connected with cosmogonic practices of the Santhals.

The Santhal Myths

Archer (1974), who made an extensive use of the Santhal sung-poetry to understand the life and culture of the Santhals observes:

Santhal poetry is Santhal life;

Santhal life is Santhal poetry

[Archer, 1974: 346]

This observation, showing the embeddedness of the Santhal life in their sung-poetry, suggests that methodologically it would not be wrong if the sung-poetry of the Santhals, connected with cosmology, is studied as evidence of their thought and feeling. It is worth mentioning here that songs dealing with the cosmology cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of the myths behind them (Bowra, 1962). The two Santhal myths of origin, originally collected by Skrefsrud (1887) in the Santhali dialect and later translated into English by Bodding (1942), are given here.


Towards the rising of the sun (the east) was the birth of man. At first there was only water, and under the water there was earth. Then Thakur2 Jiu created the beings that live in water, the crab, the crocodile, the alligator, the raghop boar fish, the sole prawn, the earthworm, the tortoise and others.

Thereupon Thakur said : "Whom shall I now make ? I will make man". Then he decided to make two of earth. He had just finished making the two, and when he was going to give them souls (life) the Day-Horse3 came down from above, trampled them to pieces and left. Thakur became awfully grieved by this.

Then Thakur said : "I will not make them of earth; I shall make birds". Then he made the two Has Hasil birds4 pulling (the material) off from his breast. He placed them on his hand; they were looking very beautiful. Thereupon he breathed on them, and they at once became alive and flew upwards. They moved about flying, but as they could not find a place to alight anywhere, they therefore always alighted on Thakur’s hand. Then the Day-Horse came down along the gossamer thread to drink water. When he was drinking water he spilt some froth of his mouth and left. It floated on the water; thereby foam was formed on the water.

Thakur then said to the two birds: "Do alight on the froth." They did so. When they had alighted they moved about over the whole sea, the froth carrying them along like a boat. Then they implored Thakur : "We are moving about, that is so, but we do not find any food."

Then Thakur Jiu called the alligator; he came; and the alligator said to Thakur: "Why did you call me Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "Would you be willing to bring up earth?" The alligator answered him: "If you tell me to do so, I might bring it up." Then having gone down in the water he went on working, bringing up earth; but all was dissolved.

Thereupon Thakur called the prawn. He came. Having come he said to Thakur: "Why did you call me, Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "Would you be willing to bring up earth?" The prawn answered him: "If you tell me to do so, I might bring it up." Then he went down in the water; having gone down he went on working, bringing it up in his claws; all the earth was dissolved.

Thereupon Thakur called the raghop boar fish.5 He came. Having come he said to Thakur: "Why did you call me, Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "Would you be willing to bring up earth?" The raghop boar fish answered him: "If you tell me to do so, I might bring it up." Then having gone down in the water he bit (the earth); he was bringing some of it in his mouth and some on his back; all the earth was dissolved. Since that time the boar fish have no scales on their body.

Thereupon Thakur called the stone-crab. He came. Having come he said to Thakur: "Why have you called me, Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "Would you be willing to bring up earth?" The crab answered Thakur: "If you tell me to do so, I might bring it up." Then having gone down in the water he went on working, bringing it up in his claws; all the earth was dissolved.

Thereupon Thakur called the earthworm. He came. Having come he said to Thakur: "Why did you call me Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "Would you be willing to bring up earth?" The earthworm answered Thakur: "If you tell me to do so, I might bring it up, provided the tortoise stands on the water."

Thereupon Thakur called the tortoise. He came. Having come he said to Thakur: "Why have you called me, Thakur?" Thakur said to him: "No one is able to bring the earth up. The earthworm has promised to bring it up, provided you will stand on the water." The tortoise answered Thakur: "If you tell me to do so, I might stand." Then he stood on the water.

When he had taken his stand, there Thakur chained his four legs in the four directions. The tortoise became immovably quiet on the water. Then the earthworm went down to bring up the earth; he reached the earth. Now he had put his tail on the back of the tortoise and with his mouth down below he began eating earth, and this he brought out on the back of the tortoise. Then it was spread out and fixed like a hard film. He continued to bring up earth; he brought up enough for the whole earth.6 Then he stopped.

Thereupon Thakur caused the earth to be harrowed level. By continual harrowing some was heaped up on the implements; these became mountains. Then, when the earth had been brought up and levelled, the foam that was floating on the surface of the water stuck to the earth, and as Thakur sowed sirom seed7 on this foam the sirom plant sprang up first (before all other plants). After this he let the dhubi grass8 be sown and then next to come up was the karam tree,9 thereupon the tope sarjom, the labar atnak, the ladea matkom,10 and after this all kinds of vegetation. The earth became firm. In all places where there was water, there he let sods be put, and in all places where water was bubbling up, there he let it be closed up by pressing pieces of rock down on it.

Thereupon, having made a nest in a clump of the sirom plants, the two birds laid two eggs. The female bird sat on the eggs, and the male bird looked for and brought food. Continuing in this way they hatched the eggs : "O mother! Two human beings were born — one boy and one girl". Then both of them sang :

O dear dear, on the sea,

O dear dear, these two human beings,

O dear dear, have been brought into the world,

O dear dear, these two human beings,

O dear dear, where are they to be put?

O dear dear, you two please tell him,

O dear dear, the great Thakur Jiu,

O dear dear, the two have been brought into the world,

O dear dear, these two human beings,

O dear dear, where are they to be put?

So they implored Thakur saying: "How shall we two support these two human beings?" Thakur gave them some cotton and said to them: "Whatever you two eat, press the juice out of these things and make a place on the cotton wet therewith, and put this into their mouths to suck." By sucking and getting food in this way they grew and commenced to walk. But as they were growing the anxiety of the two birds increased. Where to put the two when they grew up?

So they besought Thakur, and he said to them: "Do fly round and find for us a place for them to stay. Then they flew towards the setting of the sun; they discovered Hihiri Pipiri. Having returned they told Thakur of this. He said to them: "Do take them there." Then they took them along carrying them on their backs. They put them down and left them there. What became of Has Hasil, this the ancestors of old have not told us; therefore we do not know.

The names of these two human beings were Haram and Ayo.11 Some people call them Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi.12


The sons of man (i.e., the Santhals) say, it is told, that at first this earth did not exist; it was sea, and it was dark; but the spirit of Isor (god) was flying round over the water, and Isor was alone. (The expressions used show that the narrator must have been in contact with Christians.) From heaven above, it is told, Isor came down along the gossamer thread to bathe; having bathed he again passed along the same gossamer thread upwards to heaven. It is told that Isor or Chando (the sun) has no parents; and when the sun rises we call this to be born, and about the setting of the sun we say: "Now he has entered the body of his mother; but the parents of Chando or Isor are sarag (heaven) and patal (nether world)." As he was coming down and passing up one day, some thought came to his mind; he had just put his clothes down and had had his bath. Then he created those that stay with him; he created Jolmae rani (the water-mother queen), Kalibhanj rani, Bintoria rani, Jhimoli rani (the earthworm queen) and several others that stay with him.Thereupon he created the five — the six — Jaher era (the lady of the sacred grove), Gossae era (the goddess of the sacred grove), thereupon Maran buru and Mahadeb to stay with him.

When he afterwards came down to bathe and was sitting there rubbing himself, he rubbed out who knows how much dirt from his collar-bone; he was pressing this with his fingers and of this he made two very beautiful birds and put them down near his clothes. When he had bathed he brought up with him a little water in the hollow of his hands and was sprinkling this on his clothes; some water spattered on the two birds and this became their gift of life. They at once flew upwards. And, it is told, as he saw that they were very beautiful, he sang (in corrupt Bihari):

The Has Hasil birds are flapping their wings,

Up to heaven, father, they went,

In the heavens they are strangely flying round.

And, it is told, because he has also told us of this wonder, we sprinkle flour-water (refers to part of the ceremonies at the name-giving festival), and after this the midwife tells us the race and sept or country. When the two birds became tired of constantly flying, from high up they caught sight of Mahadeb floating on the water; then flying down they alighted on him, because they did not find any other place to alight on. Everyday they alighted on him, and by constantly doing this they worried him, and by letting droppings fall on him they covered him with filth.

Then Mahadeb thought: "Why did you Thakur Jiu, make these two birds? Look here, by constantly alighting on me they have been troubling me, and by dropping dirt they have also covered me with filth. I shall, at once tell Thakur Jiu this." He did so and said this to him. When Thakur Jiu heard this he said to Mahadeb: "Wait, let them alight for a while and also let them drop filth; we shall first have a talk about these two." Then he called together those he had created first and told them all about the two birds. He said to them: "Well, I have made these two birds, where shall we place them? For we have no place for them to stay." They then said: "To give these two a place to stay we shall bring up earth." And they said: "Well, whom shall we get hold of to bring up earth?" Again they said: "Who is master of the water?" They said: "Raghu boar." (the same as raghop boar); they asked him and sent Maran buru to fetch him. Here they sing to a buan melody :

O dear, dear, do go to him,

O dear, dear to Raghu boar.

O dear, dear, he will bring up the earth.

O dear, dear, he will make the earth appear,

O dear, dear, he will bring up the earth.

Then Maran buru called and brought Raghu boar. They asked him: "How is it, are you master of the water?" He answered: "Yes, I am." They asked him: "Would you be willing to bring up the earth?" He said: "Yes, because if you tell me to do so, I might bring it up." Then, it is told, they decked him up like he was at first; when they had done this, he became very glad and started singing to a sohrae melody.

Father, deck me out, Father, give me a cloth round loins;

Father, like the large prawn. Father, let me become grand.

Then, it is told, the boar at once with a great display entered the water; who knows how far away the earth was, he went along and reached there and took some earth on his back. When he was carrying it up, all the earth was dissolved and flowed away. He brought only some dal (Panicum stagninum): this they kept. They said to him: "You were unable to bring up the earth." He answered: "Quite so, Father, it has not been done through me." Then they asked him: "Who is, beside you, a master of the water?" He answered: "The master of the water is the sole icak’." ( a name for the large prawn). Then they sent Maran buru to fetch him. Here follows a song like the first to a buan melody, only with sole icak’ for Raghu boar.

The prawn was brought, and now follow the same questions and answers. They then said to him: "Come then, give up your head." For some reason or other they asked for and kept his head. The prawn entered the water, reached the earth, used his two claws, and took earth on his back; but it was all dissolved and flowed away; but in one claw he brought along the roots of the dhubi grass and in the other claw the roots of sirom. This they also kept. They asked the prawn: "Above you who is master of the water?" He answered: "Above me is Dato kuar master of the water." (Dato kuar, the crab prince, is another name for dhiri katkom and heard in Karam binti). They did not give the prawn his head back; therefore prawns have no heads even now-a-days.

Maran buru was asked to fetch the crab, and here follow the same questions and answers, and the same result. In one claw the crab brought the root of the karam tree, in the other claw the root of the lotus. They also asked for and kept his head; therefore crabs have no heads even now-a-days. They asked him who was master of the water above him, and he named Kachim kuar (the tortoise prince).

Maran buru was sent and fetched him. (They sing the same as previously, only with Kachim kuar as the name.) When they asked him whether he would bring the earth up he answered: "No. Father, I shall perhaps not be able to bring it up; but if somebody will bring it up I might keep it." Then they asked him who was master of the water above him, and he answered that it was Jhimoli. Maran buru was sent to fetch her. (Again they sing the same song with Jhimoli named.)

When Maran buru had brought Jhimoli rani (the earthworm queen), and they asked her whether she would bring the earth up, she answered: "Yes, I might bring it up, but who would keep it?" They said to her: " We have got a person who will keep it." Then these two took counsel together, and Jhimoli said: "When I bring it up perhaps enemies will eat me?" They arrange to prevent this; they made the stem of the lotus hollow and made her enter into this; they made Kachim kuar lie on his stomach on the water of the sea and placed the posterior of Jhimoli on the back of the tortoise. Jhimoli commenced to eat down in the water and was punging excrements on the back of the tortoise. She punged a tremendous heap. Then when Kachim kuar became tired of lying on his stomach, he suddenly moved, and all the earth was dissolved and flowed away. Then they said: "Oh, oh, the earth was brought up, but as the tortoise did not remain standing, it was lost." And they said: "Let us chain him." Then, it is told Chando from somewhere brought a chain; they fixed an iron post and chained his four legs. The Tortoise then said: "Don’t chain all my four legs; let me have one leg free, so that I may scratch myself with it. They therefore let one leg be free." It is told, when Kachim kuar sometimes scratches himself, the earth is moved. They tethered the Tortoise to the iron post, and as the Earthworm again ate earth she punged excrements on the back of the Tortoise, and this time the earth remained there.

When the earth had been brought up, they yoked the bull and the cock together to level it. They harrowed its level, and where here and there rubbish remained, these places became mountains or hills.

In the earth which was brought up they sowed grass and planted the root of the karam tree, and they arranged a garden to plant different things, fruits of all kinds and trees. Among all the trees the karam at once became very high, and when the Has Hasil birds saw this they left Mahadeb, flew to the karam and alighted there. They found their food in pools, but came to the karam to rest.

As time passed they had intercourse with each other and found a clump of sirom grass to lay their eggs. Having made their nest in the clump of the sirom grass they got two eggs. As they were sitting on these they became fecundated, and a voice was heard from their inside. Being frightened by this the two birds left sitting on the eggs. Maran down 10 buru then said to them: "As you know, I saw that you had laid eggs there; why are you not sitting on them?" They told him: "We were sitting on the eggs; but there is a kind of sound in them; fearing this we are not sitting." Maran down 10 buru then said: "Well then, come along, we shall hear whether you are telling me the truth or not." Then they all went there and listened. The voice was like this (a song, buan melody):

O dear, dear, in the sea,

O dear, dear, dal grass came into existence

O dear, dear, on the dal grass.

O dear, dear, sirom came into existence;

O dear, dear, on the sirom,

O dear, dear, the Has Hasil birds are making a nest

When Maran buru heard this he said to them: "O, don't be afraid of this; sit diligently on the eggs, you two." And by their continued sitting on the eggs two human beings came into existence, and they sing to the same melody:

O dear, dear, with what to support the two

O dear, dear, with what to keep the two?

O dear, dear, with milk to support the two,

O dear, dear, with cream to keep the two.

Maran buru told Chando this, and Chando gave Maran buru milk and said to him: "Do support the two human beings, and take care of them." Then Maran buru was given over to the two, and he supported them, until they grew up. He taught them to work and instructed them. But where the two birds went and what happened to them, we do not know. But where the Has Hasil birds were born, and where they laid eggs, and where the two human beings were born, this place we call Hihiri Pipiri.

These two myths, which differ slightly from one another in their account of cosmogony, are expected to be helpful in understanding the songs under discussion.

It is worth noting again that the usual song-form of describing the matters relating to cosmology is the karam13 but they are also described in other forms of Santhal songs viz: baha14, dasae15, don16, lagre17, sohrae18 etc. However, a study of the latter forms of songs, specially the don, would be more meaningful than the former in understanding the way the Santhals perceive the primal elements in different contexts of their ritual practices and also their underlying principle of cosmogony.

The Cosmogonic View

As revealed through a don song rendered during marriage, this universe was invisible in the beginning. There was darkness all round and it was foggy everywhere. The universe could be seen only after the sun produced light out of anger.

Song 1

Sedae ma dinre

Jolomoy ma jugre

Candoe tahekana serma cetan

Nutre tahe tahe

Kurha re tahe tahe

Cando aris lena

Aris akan tey marsal keda

Long ago

The sun was above the sea in the sky

The sun became angry

By living in the dark

And by living in the fog

His anger produced light.

As the Santhals believe, in the beginning of creation there were nothing except the sky and the ocean. Whereas the sky had the sun, the moon and the stars, the ocean had some aquatic animals like the earthworm, the turtle, the fish, the crab, etc. When the supreme being wanted to create man, he could not do so. Instead, he created the two celestial birds. But the birds had no place to sit on except on the head of the supreme being. They had found the space below the sky full of water. This belief of the Santhal is reflected through a don song rendered at the manjhithan19 on the day of the Karam festival.

Song 2

Dakma cetan re

Serma lata re

Has hasi cerekin

Rak' homorok

Tokarikin aboka

Tokarikin japida

Has hasi cerekin udau langayen

Thakurak bohok rikin aboka

Onde gekin japida

Has hasi cerekin jiwetgeya

Water is above

It is below the sky

The two, the Has and the Hasin weep

Where will they sit ?

Where will they sleep ?

The Has and Hasin are not tired of flying

They will sit on the head of god

They will sleep there

The two, the Has and the Hasin are alive.

In a another don song rendered on the occasion, the primeval birds are later described to have been sitting on the white foam floating on the cosmic ocean.

Song 3

Umin maran jolompjre

Dak’ma talare

Pondge photo dombol dombol

Nelkin mese daina

Koyok kin me

Photo cetanre barya cerekin nelok kana

In the middle of water

Of that very vast ocean

The white foam undulates,

See O sister !

Look at the pair of birds

Parching on it.

According to the Santhal myth the white foam referred to in the song is nothing but the froth from the mouth of Sin Sadom (Horse of the Day) on which the birds were told, by the Supreme Being, to alight. It is said that the Sin Sadom would come down to the sea along the gossamer thread to drink water. The belief of the Santhals is expressed through a song rendered in the late evening or at night of the second day of the Sohrae, known as Bongan.20

Song 4

Serma khonak sin sadom

Jolamoy tey phedok kan

Nui sona sadom dore

Tokoe ren co ?

Sin cando ren kanae dak

Nui phedok kan

Dak nu katet gecoy

Ruar calak kan

The celestial horse of the day

Descended on the sea from the sky

To whom this horse of gold belongs?

This belongs to the sun

It descends to drink water

It returns after drinking water.

In a don song rendered during marriage, the sky is described to be without water and the earth without soil in the beginning. Later, as the Santhals believe, the air lifted the water up into the sky and the earthworm lifted the soil up that, finally, resulted in the formation of the cloud and the earth respectively.

Song 5

Sermare dak banu

Dhartire hasa banu

Sange dharti sajaw banu

Hoe doe rakap keda sermare dak

Lendon hasae rakap ket

Sangi dharti sajaw ena

There was no water in the sky

There was no soil on the earth

Truly the earth was not fully arranged.

The air lifted the water up into the sky

The female earthworm lifted the soil up

Thus, the earth was properly arranged.

When the earth was created, it was not dry but marshy. It became dry only after the air was created by the Bird King. This vision of the Santhals of the physical nature of the world is found in a don song rendered at the manjhithan on the last day of the Karam festival.

Song 6

Laha pahil dharti losot ge

Thol thole tahekan

Cekate dharti rohor ena.

Losot’ hawet lagit ponkhiraja

Hoy may benaw ket

Ona hadar hoy tege rohor ena

In the beginning

The earth was marshy

How could the earth become dry?

To make the marshy land dry

The Bird King created the air

With that hard blowing air

It became dry.

In some songs the Santhals express their quest to find the origin of the earth and man. As they believe, the earth was created first by the earthworm with the help of the turtle. Later, their first ancestral couple Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi sprang from the eggs of two celestial birds, a goose and gander. Thus, the Santhals do not consider earth and man to be direct creations of god. If the sky and earth stand for god and nature respectively, then man is on the side of nature and hence a product of the earth or nature (Mahapatra, 1984:61). This belief of the Santhals is revealed through a Don song sung just after the Karam festival.

Song 7

Tokoe jonom dharti

Tokoe jonom pirthimi

Tokoe jonom dharti

Manewa hor

Horo jonom dharti

Lendet’ jonom pirthimi

Has-hasi cere jonom

Manewa hor.

From what did the earth originate ?

From what did the earth originate ?

Form what did man of this earth originate ?

This earth originated from the turtle

The soil originated from the earthworm

A pair of swans gave birth to man.

In a dasae song, like man, the cow and the spirit are thought to have originated from the earth itself. In this song the direct role of the Supreme Being in the creation of the terrestrial animal is again being denied. The earth is also believed to be the perennial source of creation not only for living beings but also for non-living beings — the spirits dwelling in the nether world. The song is rendered during dasae daran (begging expeditions) of the Dasae festival.

Song 8


Oka redo ho guru ho

Gaiko janam len guru ho

Gaiko janam len

Toka redo ho cela ho

Bonga upal len cela ho

Bonga upal len

O Preceptor, where did the cows come from ?

O Preceptor, where did the cows come from ?

O Disciple, where did the spirit come from ?

O Disciple, where did the spirit come from ?


Dhiri rarure guru ho

Gaiko janam len guru ho

Gaiko janam len

Sinje buta re cela ho

Bonga upal len cela ho

Bonga upal len

O Preceptor, the cow has originated from the stony place

O Preceptor, the cow has originated

O Disciple, the spirit has originated from under the bel tree

O Disciple, the spirit has originated.

The Santhals believe that world-creation is followed by the world-destruction. The latter is, however, not the ultimate reality, for it leads to the renewal of the world-order. This belief of the Santhals is revealed in a baha song rendered on the first day of the Baha celebration. The song refers to the event of the sengel dak (fire-rain) that continued for five days and five nights21 at the instruction of the Supreme Being and was later, according to a myth, followed by the raining of water, which is symbolic of a new birth order resulting from the catastrophe-like fire-rain as mentioned above.

Song 9

More sin more ninda

Sengel dak doe jari leda ho,

Manwa toka redo ben tahekan

Menak menak dhiri dander

Menak menak dhiri kahar do

Ona relin tahekan

Ona relin sunduc tahekan

For five days,

And for five nights

O man, where did you live ?

Where were you hiding ?

We (two) were hiding in a cave

We (two) were hiding in the cave

We (two) were hiding there

We (two) were hiding there.

Primal Elements Constituting the Human Body

In Santhal thought, a human body is considered to be constituted of three fundamental elements of the universe — air, earth and water. But in Santhal songs available to me, only two of them, i.e., air and earth, are described as essentials of human body. Reference to water is made in metaphorical terms, viz., ‘water like the spring of life’, etc. A don song rendered at the time of performing the ritual of Cumaura22 during marriage illustrates this point.

Song 10

Hasa hormo ho hoe livi

Jian jhardak do chilkau kana

Jivi ban hilok do hasa dhurire mesaw abon

Jian jhardak do mesaw cabak

The body is soil

And life is air

The water of the spring of life overflows.

The day the life goes out

We turn to soil

The water of the spring of life also sinks into the earth.

In another don song, water is again referred to in metaphorical terms like the one mentioned earlier. Moreover, of the other two elements — air and earth — air assumes the greatest importance for a human being to survive and is thought to be located in the chest of the human body.

Song 11

Saru sakam dak do saru sakam dak

Nasiak koce tege duru coa

One onaka gecon koram hormo

Hoe ho nundun lenkhan

Hormo hiri coa dharti rege

The water on the arum leaf

Drops down with its slight bending

Similarly with the coming of the air

Out of the chest

The body falls upon the earth.

The exigency of air for the survival of organic life is further emphasized in sohrae song rendered on the day of Jale23 when the villagers move from house to house to collect tolls.

Song 12

Hoy hoyte dare bancak

Hoy hoyte horko bancak

Hoy hoy tege daina

Jiwet’ menak bon

Hoy gebon ader jonak

Hoy gebon odok ka,

Hoy cabak’ khac ge boeha babon tahena

A tree survives with the air

Man survives with the air

O sister, we are alive for the air

We inhale the air,

We exhale the air,

O brother, we will not survive

If the air is exhausted.

Another don song categorically refers to earth as one of the constituents of the human body.

Song 13

Serma renan ninda sisir

Cando rakap lenkhan ban tahena

Manwa hasa hormo horo goc lenkhan do

Hasa dharti rege mesaw loa

The night dew of the sky does not exist

With the rising of the sun

Likewise after death,

The earthly body of man

mixes with the earth.

However, if man is like other products of the earth, water is one among the three basic elements that constitutes man. In the following two don songs, one rendered after the Erok24 (sowing festival) at the manjhithan and referring to air and water; and another rendered after the Hariar25 (sprouting festival) and referring to earth and water, the paddy-crop, a product of the earth is considered to be constituted of air, earth and water. Hence this derivation of the Santhals with regard to the paddy-crop may equally stand for man.

Song 14

Wealth, Wealth

Where is your mother ?

Where is your father ?

My mother and father

Are wind and rain

My milk is water trickling.

[Archer 1974 : 22]

Song 15

Wealth, Wealth

O mother wealth

Where was your birth ?

I was born

In the soil

I was born

In the splash of water.

[Archer 1974 : 22]

From the two songs 14 and 15, associated with agricultural rites of the sowing of paddy seeds and transplantation of paddy seedlings, it is revealed that for the work of gestation and germination accomplished by nature, the union of wind and rain and water (sky ?) and earth is inevitable.

In yet another don song rendered just before the Erok festival the paddy seed is described to be weeping for its marriage with the earth which is necessary if the earth, which returns to sterility when left to itself, has to be made reproductive. But this is not possible unless the rain from the sky mixes with the earth and makes her wet.

Song 16

The paddy is weeping

The paddy is asking

When will be my wedding ?

When the water of the sky

Drenches the earth

Then will be your wedding.

[Archer 1974 : 22]

It becomes explicit from songs associated with agricultural rites that water is most essential for production. If it does not rain during the rainy season, the peak period for agricultural operation or even after it is over, it would mean a lack of cooperation between the sky and the earth and would result in hunger for all. To bring about the union of the sky and the earth the Santhals observe a cosmogonic practice — the marriage of frogs called Rote Bapla. It is believed that this act of ritual mimesis will bring rain. This occasion is marked with the singing performance of lagre music and dance.

Song 17

In the sky the clouds rumble

O god, on the earth dust flies.

O god, the ears of the corn dry up

The hearts of men are breaking

O god!

The song indicates that the union or marriage between the sky and the earth is possible only through the mediating function of water. This function of water is further observed in the context of marriage specially when the rite of sindaradan (act of affixing vermilion to the bride) is observed. In song 19 the mediating function of water between the groom and the bride — the male and the female — can be clearly marked.

Song 18

More goten ul sakam,

Mimit’ lota dak

Chitkaw amkan com banco,

Hordom bondi yidin jonom jonom

Five Mango leaves,

And a pot of water,

I do not know

If you really sprinkled water over me

I do not know

If you really wetted me or not

But you made me a prisoner

For entire life.

The Analysis

In this chapter I have been trying to give an overview of the Santhal vision of their phenomenal world of unseen and seen nature. The sources have been Santhal songs presented in different contexts of their ritualistic observances. It is observed that some songs, having a dimension outside the present, give an insight into the unseen reality of primeval time. In some songs, for example, it is told that in the beginning there was darkness all around and thus nothing was visible (Song 1), everywhere there was water below the sky and above the earth (Song 2), there was no soil on the earth and the earth was not fully arranged (Song 5), the earth was marshy (Song 6), etc. All these perceptions of the Santhals about the primeval time refer to the beginning of the world with abstract principle26 such as chaos and asymmetry.

Further, as revealed through some Santhal songs, the sky, water and soil had their existence before the terrestrial space was created by the earthworm (Song 3 and 7), air was created by the Bird King to dry up the terrestrial space which was marshy in the beginning (Song 6). Man was born when the earth became inhabitable (Song 7), and god rained fire for five (or seven) days when the descendants of the primordial couple were not living in concordance with the laws of the cosmos (Song 9). All these perceptions of the Santhals relating to evolutionary cosmology help in establishing the following chronology of earthly creation.

  1. creation of the sky (serma), the cosmic ocean or water (dak) and earth (hasa)

  2. creation of the aquatic animals including birds27

  3. creation of land

  4. creation of air (hoe)

  5. creation of trees and plants

  6. creation of man, and

  7. creation of fire (sengel)

As it appears in the process of dealing with the evolutionary cosmology through their songs and myths the Santhals follow a specific scheme.

It is also observed that the Santhals relate themselves to the basic elements which are thought to constitute the universe. In their vision a human body is constituted of the three basic elements — air, earth and water. But in songs available to me it is described to be composed of mainly two basic elements — air and earth (Songs 10, 11, 12 and 13). In these songs the entire body is said to be constituted of hasa (soil). Hoe (air) that makes the body move is said to be located in the chest. Reference to water, the third element, is made in metaphorical term. Life is viewed like the flowing water of a spring. But if the implicit statement of the Santhals made through the origin myth — that man is a product of nature — be accepted and if an analogy be drawn between man and other products of nature specially the plants (thought to be constituted of air, earth and water), then the same is equally valid for man and justifies indirectly the perception based on their inductive experience.

Further, from the study of some don songs associated with agricultural practices of sowing the paddy seeds and transplantation of paddy-seedlings it is clear that the Santhals visualize a relationship among the cosmic elements analogous to male-female paradigm. This perception is clearly marked in the dramatic enactment of the marriage of frogs held to draw sympathy of the cosmos through the union of the sky and the earth. But the dichotomy like air-water (Song 14), seed-earth (Song 16), sky-earth (Songs 18), male-female (Song 14), dry-wet (Song 16) etc., has, by principle of cosmogony, to be negated through the union of contraries28 for the return of fertility of the land and/or the woman. But this can be achieved only through the mediating function of water that brings together the sky and the earth, the male and the female, etc. Apparently because of this significant function water has assumed the property of sacredness in Santhal culture and is, therefore, considered auspicious in various contexts of rituals like marriage, etc. It is noteworthy that in contrast to water, the fire in the baha myth is described as an element of destruction.

It is interesting to observe that majority of the songs that deal with the creation and the body element are don songs of the marriage. This seems to be natural because the marriage-ritual symbolizes union of contraries without which any creation or recreation is impossible. Moreover, as observed by Mahapatra (1986), marriage is the occasion on which the Santhal song of cosmology is recited. The entire song is meant to put the occasion in a wider, universal context of society and tradition. Marriage as an institution, as he adds further, is referred to the beginning of human creation and the particular occasion of the marriage is sought to be viewed in the larger context of the creation of the world, the dawn of human civilization, the emergence of the Santhal community and its migration in historical times (Mahapatra 1986 : 146).

Besides, on its own, the don is rendered on many other occasions like the Karam, the Erok, etc., the karam is a usual song-form to deal with the history of world-creation. But the purpose of singing don after the recitation of the karam is to convey the message that creation is not a process of automation but must be preceded by the union of opposites. Erok is a celebration of sowing the paddy seeds, of introducing them into the womb of the earth. The rendering of don on this occasion does symbolize or mean a celebration of the union of the seed and the earth (Song 15).

Finally, a baha song referring to the continuous fall of fire symbolizes destruction, but only a part of the truth presented in the song. The destruction is not final. In the baha myth, of which this song forms a part, it is said that the fire-rain is followed by the fall of water to restore the world-order. Thus it may be said that the Santhals, in their thought, follow a basal principle of cosmic order, viz., creation, destruction and recreation.


1. In Santhali, sky, air, earth, water and fire are called serma, hoe, hasa, dak and sengel respectively.

2. Lit., 'the lord'.

3. The Sin Sadom is mentioned here. The Santhals connect the name with the sun.

4. Has is the Hindi name of goose or swan; Hasil is the female. Other Munda people have a similar story; the Mundas have only one egg, from which both the first human beings came.

5. The Santhals know a fish called so; this is the Silurus glavis. I do not know the English name.

6. The foreign influence in the story seems to be evident.

7. Sirom is Andropogon muricatus.

8. The dhubi grass is Cynodon dactylon.

9. Adina cordifolia, Hook.

10. Sarjom is Shorea robusta, Gaertn.; the prefix tope is used in the meaning of 'cut off', or 'short'; atnak is Terminalia tomentosa, W. & A.; labar means "highly coloured". Matkom is Bassia latifolia; ladea means 'crooked' or 'bent'.

11. Haram is the common word for an old or elderly man; ayo means 'mother', a word borrowed from an Aryan language.

12. Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi are the common designations of the first parents. Haram is the common word for an elderly man; budhi is the common word for an elder, especially married woman, it is an Aryan word; pilcu means small or tiny.

13. It is known after the festival is held in the name of a sacred tree, the karam (Adina cordifolia). The festival is organized by an individual Santhal with the object of bringing prosperity and pleasure in life. A specialist known as karam-guru is invited to recite the songs of karam on the occasion that deal with the history of world from creation and through ages according to Santhal tradition.

14. This form of song is named after the flower-festival, the Baha, that is organized in the month of Chait (February-March) to celebrate the beginning of the Santhali year.

15. It is named after the festival Dasae, celebrated in the month of Asin (September-October), when the Santhal boys have completed their course in medicine.

16. It is known after a dance performed during the marriage ceremony, the bapla.

17. It is rendered specially on the eve of the Corok puja (hook-swinging festival), but can also be sung on other festive occasions.

18. It is known after the festival Sohrae, held when the harvest is over in the month of Paus (December-January).

19. It is a sacred place in a village street erected in honour of the spirits of the predecessors of the village headman. The place consists of a raised mud-platform at the centre of which is a post with a stone at its base.

20. It is the second day of the Sohrae festival on which every head of the household offers sacrifices to abge (sub-clan spirit), hapramko (ancestral spirits) and orak bongas (household spirits) once a year to ensure their continuing protection.

21. In a different baha song instead of five days and five nights, god is said to have rained fire for seven days and seven nights.

22. It is a rite performed by the bride's mother during the marriage before the new husband and wife enter the house. At the door, the bride's mother waves the winnowing fan three times over the heads of the couple scattering the articles such as dhubi ghas, paddy and adwa caole behind their backs.

23. It is the fourth day of the Sohrae festival on which the Santhals move from house to house of the village to collect tolls and perform that act of mimicry.

24. It is an agricultural festival which is held in the month of Asar (June-July) before the sowing of the winter paddy. The festival is concluded by singing and dancing in the village-street.

25. It is an agricultural festival which is performed in the month of San (July-August) when the paddy seeds have sprouted new shoots. The festival is held before transplantation of the paddy-seedlings.

26. In philosophy, specially Greek, as L.H. Gray (1971) writes, cosmogonies are divided into three classes: (i) those beginning with a spiritual principle, (ii) those beginning with an abstract principle, and (iii) those beginning with a material principle. Overlapping of these three principles to some extent may be found in any culture.

27. The goose and the gander, to which the Santhals refer in their myth of creation, prefer to live in water most of the time. They seem to be originally aquatic creatures, which were later domesticated by human beings as terrestrial creatures.

28. Union of contraries, as Pierre Bourdieu (1977) writes, does not destroy the opposition (which it presupposes), the reunited contraries are just as much opposed, but now in quite a different way, thereby manifesting the duality of the relationship between them at once antagonistic and complementary, neikos and philia, which might appear as their own twofold nature if they were conceived outside that relationship.


Archer, W.G., 1974. The Hill of Flutes: Life, Love and Poetry in Tribal India: New Delhi, S. Chand & Co, (Pvt.) Ltd.

Bodding, P.O., 1942. Traditions and Institutions of the Santhals. Oslo Etnografiske Museum, Bulletin 6.

Bourdieu, P., 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice, Richard Nice (trans.). Cambridge University Press.

Bowra, C.M., 1962. Primitive Song. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Chattopadhyay, K.D., 1978. Tribalism in India. Delhi, Vikas Publishing House.

Gray, L.H., 1971. "Cosmogony and Cosmology (Introductory)", In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, James Hastings (ed.), vol. 4, pp. 125-26.

Mahapatra, S.S., 1984. "Structural Approach to Santhal Myth", In Tribal Language and Culture. Visva-Bharati, Department of Oriya, pp. 55-61.

Mahapatra, S., 1986. Modernization and Ritual: Identity and Change in Santhal Society. Calcutta, Oxford University Press.



Share on Google Plus

About Tudu Marandy and all


Post a Comment