The Tribal Religion of the Orissan tribes is an admixture of animism, animalism, nature-worship, fetishism, shamanism, anthropomorphism and ancestor worship. Religious beliefs and practices aim at ensuring personal security and happiness as well as community well-being and group solidarity. Their religious performances include life-crisis rites, cyclic community rites, ancestor and totemic rites and observance of taboos. Besides these, the tribes also resort to various types of occult practices. In order to tide over either a personal or a group crisis the tribes begin with occult practices, and if it does not yield any result the next recourse is supplication of the supernatural force.
Rites & Rituals :
As most of the tribes of Orissa, practice agriculture in some form or the other, and as rest others have a vital stake in agriculture, sowing, planting, first-fruit eating and harvest rites are common amongst them. Their common cyclic rites revolve round the pragmatic problems of ensuring a stable economic condition, recuperation of the declining fertility of soil, protection of crops from damage, human and live-stock welfare, safety against predatory animals and venomous reptiles and to insure a good yield of annual and perennial crops.
The annual cycle of rituals commence right from the initiation of agricultural operation, for instance, among the Juang, Bhuyan, Kondh, Saora, Gadaba, Jharia, Didayee, Koya and Bondo, who practise shifting cultivation. The annual cycle begins with the first clearing of hill slopes during the Hindu month of Chaitra (March-April) and among others it starts with the first-fruit eating ceremony of mango in the month of Baisakh (April-May). All the rituals centering agricultural operation, first-fruit eating, human, live-stock and crop welfare are observed by the members of a village on a common date which is fixed by the village head-man in consultation with the village priest.
Thus the ideological system of all the tribes surrounds supernaturalism. The pantheon in most cases consists of the Sun God, the Mother Earth and a lower hierarchy of Gods. Besides there are village tutelaries, nature spirits, presiding deities and ancestor-spirits, who are also propitiated and offered sacrifices. Gods and spirits are classified into benevolent and malevolent categories. A peculiarity of the tribal mode of worship is the offering of blood of an animal or a bird, because such propitiations and observance of rites are explicitly directed towards happiness and security in this world, abundance of crops, live-stock, plants and progenies. Sickness is not natural to a tribal; it is considered as an out-come of the machination of some evil spirits or indignation of ancestor spirits or gods. Sometimes, sickness is also considered as the consequence of certain lapses on the part of an individual or group. Therefore, riddance must be sought through propitiation and observance of rituals.
Among all the tribes conformity to customs and norms and social integration continue to be achieved through their traditional political organizations. The tributary institutions of social control, such as family, kinship and public opinion continue to fulfill central social control functions. The relevance of tribal political organization in the context of economic development and social change continues to be there undiminished. Modern elites in tribal societies elicit scant respect and have very little followings. And as the traditional leaders continue to wield influence over their fellow tribesmen, it is worth-while to take them into confidence in the context of economic development and social change.
A General Introduction
Orissa has the largest variety of tribal communities, which are at various stages of socio-economic development. At one extreme are the groups which lead a relatively secluded and archaic mode of life, keeping their core culture intact, while at the other extreme there are communities which are indistinguishable from the general agricultural communities. The tribal people express their cultural identity and distinctiveness in their social organization, language, rituals and festivals and also in their dress, ornaments, art and craft.
In India there is an amalgam of 437 tribes, and in Orissa the number is sixty two. According to 1991 Census, in Orissa the total strength of tribal population is approximately seven million which constitutes 22.21% of the total population of the State.
Linguistically the tribes of India are broadly classified into four categories, namely (1) Indo-Aryan speakers, (2) Dravidian speakers, (3) Tibeto-Burmese speakers, and (4) Austric speakers. ln Orissa the speakers of the Tibeto-Burmese language family are absent, and therefore Orissan tribes belong to other three language families. The Indo-Aryan language family in Orissa includes Dhelki-Oriya, Matia, Haleba, Jharia, Saunti, Laria and Oriya (spoken by Bathudi and the acculturated sections of Bhuyans, Juang, Kondh, Savara, Raj Gond etc.). The Austric language family includes eighteen tribal languages namely, Birija, Parenga, Kisan, Bhumiji, Koda, Mahili Bhumiji, Mirdha-Kharia, Ollar Gadaba, Juang, Bondo, Didayee, Karmali, Kharia, Munda, Ho, Mundari and Savara. And within the Dravidian language family there are nine languages in Orissa, namely, Pengo, Gondi, Kisan, Konda, Koya. Parji, Kui, Kuvi and Kurukh or Oraon.
The tribes of Orissa though belong to three linguistic divisions, yet they have lots of socio-cultural similarities between them. These commonalities signify homogeneity of their cultures and together they characterise the notion or concept of tribalism. Tribal societies share certain common characteristics and by these they are distinguished from complex or advanced societies. In India tribal societies had apparently been outside the main historical current of the development of Indian civilization for centuries. Hence tribal societies manifest such cultural features which signify a primitive level in socio-cultural parameter.