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Some western authors and Indian sociologists refer to adivasi beliefs as animism and spirit worship, and hold them to be distinct from Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. In Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Orissa states, their religion is sometimes called Sarna. The Jharkhand movement gave the Santals an opportunity to create a ‘great tradition’ of their own.[87] As Orans reported, “The movement is spoken of in the following terms ‘we should not leave our religion; we should continue to use rice-beer; we should have our worship at the sacred grove. We will call our religion Sarna Dhorom.’[88] Sarna is the Munda word for ‘Sacred Grove’ while Dhorom is the Oriya word meaning ‘religion’.[89]

Sarna involves belief in a great spirit called the Sing Bonga. Santhal belief holds the world to be inhabited by numerous spiritual beings of different kinds. Santhals consider themselves as living and doing everything in close association with these spirits. Rituals are performed under groves of Sal trees called Jaher (or sacred grove), where Bonga is believed to appear or express himself. Often, Jaher are found in the forests.

According to the mythology of the Santhal community, the genesis of the ‘Sarna’ religion occurred when the ‘Santhal tribals had gone to the forest for hunting and they started the discussion about their ‘Creator and Savior’ while they were taking rest under a tree. They questioned themselves that who is their God? Whether the Sun, the Wind or the Cloud? Finally, they came to a conclusion that they would leave an arrow in the sky and wherever the arrow would target that will be the God’s house. They left an arrow in the sky; it fell down under a Sal tree. Then, they started worshiping the Sal tree and named their religion as ‘Sarna’ because it is derived from a Sal tree.[citation needed]4 Thus, Sarna religion came into existence. There are priests and an assistant priests called "Naikey" and "Kudam Naike" in every Santhal village.

Demands for a separate religion code

Some Adivasi organizations have demanded that a distinct religious code be listed for Adivasis in the 2011. The All India Adivasi Conference was held on 01.01.2011 and 02.01.2011 at Burnpur, Asansol, West Bengal. 750 delegates were present from all parts of India and cast their votes for Religion code as follows: Sari Dhorom - 632, Sarna - 51, Kherwalism - 14 and Other Religions - 03 Census of India.[90]



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