Santhal Durga Puja of West Bengal symbolises revolt against BritishSulunga (West Bengal): There is no chanting of mantras or ostentatious decor, but simple prayers to the goddess. A goat sacrifice is also held to symbolise the fight against British colonial rulers. Welcome to the Durga Puja of the Santhal tribals of this West Bengal village.
Santhals are not known to follow Hindu rituals, but the ones in Sulunga village never fail to keep their date with Durga Puja as it marks the time when, over 100 years ago, their tribal leaders Brojo Murmu and Durga Murmu rose in revolt against the British.
Sulunga, some 240 km away from here, is in Birbhum district. There are over 10 Santhal households in the village, which has a total population of around 600.
"This Durga Puja is the only known traditional Hindu festival of the Santhals," claimed Tapan Murmu, a descendant of Brojo Murmu's family.
"Many years ago, our ancestors Brojo Murmu and Durga Murmu were inspired to overpower the British rulers by uniting our people by initiating the worship of Durga as the goddess of Shakti."
"The times have changed, and so have the circumstances but even today we worship goddess Durga, hoping goodness and prosperity will dawn upon us."
The Santhals worship idols of the goddess made by local craftsmen, but unlike those installed in city marquees, these bear a strong resemblance to tribal people.
"A tribal priest performs the rites, but it does not include the chanting of traditional Sanskrit mantras," said Tapan Murmu.
"Instead the priest chants - 'maa, fosol jeno bhalo hoy/gramey sobai jeno bhalo thake' (mother, let there be a good harvest, let the villagers be happy). These are the typical prayers offered to the goddess by Santhals."
The puja is, however, performed according to the Hindu almanac. This year Durga Puja is being held from Oct 13.
It is said that Brojo Murmu, who belonged to Sulunga, worshipped 'Mahishasuramardini' - the warrior form of the goddess - some 100 years ago. It was intended to unite Santhals living in the bordering areas of Birbhum and in the Jharkhand region against oppressive British rule.
Santhals represent more than half the state's tribal population,
Priest Robin Tudu, who has been overseeing the puja here for over two decades now, said: "An animal sacrifice is made on Ashtami, usually a white goat, as according to local belief a white goat symbolises 'gora sahib' (the whiteman)".
The priest said many atheists, including Communists, participate in this particular Puja.
Birbhum district Left Front chairman Arun Chowdhury said: "Many stories, some with strong folk traditions, are associated with this puja."
"Most local people believe that in 1907, the zamindari of this area was given away to one Kerap saheb from Bihar, who resorted to violence to collect taxes from poor peasants," said Chowdhury.
"Those who failed to pay the tax on time were forcibly sent to Assam, where they had to work as coolies (porters). However, Kerap saheb had once announced that if the defaulters convert to Christianity they would be exempted from paying taxes.
"While a few chose to do so, most revolted against the landlord under the leadership of Brojo Murmu."
"It was Brojo Murmu who introduced this Durga Puja. The puja has been performed every year since then," added Chowdhury. (IANS)