To speak is to sing and to walk is to dance: meet the Munda tribes of Jharkand!!
Munda tribes are well known tribes that inhabit jungles of central west part of India. There is a settlement about 20km from Ranchi. I contacted the Tribal & Regional Language Department (TRL) in Ranchi University, few references were given. Basesar Munda was the contact person at Khunti, he arranged for a youngster belonging to the community, Jaganatha took me to the hamlet. Women were selling rice beer at the alley leading to the entrance, people sat scattered around in huddled groups. It was late afternoon. I was introduced to Pandu Munda, an ecstatic old man. Extreme respect is shown as people meet each other. They stretch their hand in sort of Namaste and Japanese bend, and say ‘jowar’. Indeed if you travel around Jharkand-Bihar region people many times use extreme reverence in their speech. For instance they tell a bus conductor “yahan rukiaga”; polite in Hindi is “yahan rukiye”, “rukiaga” is very polite. Contrast this with Delhites saying “yahan roko”, it is an order!
Pandu Munda was really into music, couldn’t control himself he got up and started dancing! (visit He explained that songs in Munda are close to nature, and of course expressions of love. Jada rithu, Basanth rithu and Barsath rithu are three seasons on which most songs are based. He ridiculed the Christians (many Munda are converts) for having similar songs for all occasion. Hindus, they use ‘dikus’ (commonly used insult) that is filmi songs. That, he said, has no charm or sense.Pandu he says means snake, and did a bit of snake act.
Munda tribes are one of the well studied tribal communities’ in India. Encyclopedia Mundarica is a sixteen volume work authored by Reverend John Baptist Hoffman (1857-1928) and other Jesuit scholars that described as “authentic account of munda land”. Another book “The Munda and Their Country” - authored by anthropologist SC Roy, first published in 1912, is considered authoritative documentation of Munda tribes and is a classic in Indian ethnography. The book is also referred for judicial matters regarding Munda tribes. Though must add his mention to Birsa Munda borders derogatory, as also there are unnecessarily lengthy, sometimes eulogizing, references to colonial Christian missionaries. I guess it falls into the pattern of pre-colonial sycophant Indian elite, clamoring for favor. Birsa Munda is a respected figure in Indian history as also in popular imagination of people. He fought against oppression and tyranny of colonial Britain. Indeed his name is used in India with reference. This picture is of a statue of him at Ranchi. Another book worth noting is Musical culture of the Munda tribe by Sem Topno.
Munda language (Mundari) is Austro-Asiatic, there is a indication that Munda language was formerly spoken in Gangetic valley. There is a striking point of agreement between the Munda language and Kanauri (which is spoken in the neighborhood of Shimla). That the Kolarian tribes (includes Munda), Khasis of Khasi hills, the Sakei and Semang of Malay peninsula, the Mon-Khmers of Cambodia, the Anamese of Cochin China, the Nicobarese , the aborigines of the Malacca and the Philippines, and several aborigines of Australia all speak allied dialects which seem to an intimate racial contact in the past, if not of common origin. It is conjectured that before the Aryan invasion, the Kols (the Kolarian aborigine tribes, that counts more than dozen tribes, Munda being a major component) occupied much of Gangetic plains. Brahminical texts broadly refer Kol tribes as Asuras (indeed in the context of things Lord Krishna came quite heavily on aborigine tribes!). Mundas do find mention in Kurukshetra war as part of kaurava army, as described by Sanjaya. Aryan warrior Satyaki boasts mundanethan hanishyami danavaniv vasavah (I shall kill these Mundas as Indra killed the danavas).
Mundas to this day sing songs bewailing good old days…
Sato jugu Kale jugu, Sato jugu taikena
Sato jugu Kale jugu, kali jugu hijulena
Sato jugu taikena, ilige-ko nukena,
Kale jugu tebalena, rengetao goetana
Neaiting sanaiya, ilige-ko nukena
Chakating moninga, rengeteko goetana
Then was the satyug, -now the Iron age
O gone the golden age of old!
Then reigned the satyug, - now the reign of kal
On the earth hath come with woes untold.
Men in that blessed ancient age of gold
Had naught to do but drink their ale
Now that the cursed kali reigns supreme
Dire death from hunger doth prevail
Oh for the days when men no cares did know
But drank their fill of home brewed ale
Woe to this age when men on earth below
Do daily die of famine fell
Many names of north Indian villages can be traced to munda or other kol origin. Munda call themselves Horo. Slowly after age long wandering, after being uprooted by the Aryans, the Mundas settled in the jungles of chotanagpur, what is now Jharkhand –the forest country, finally confined to present district of Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand (indeed the name Ranchi originates from Mundari word aranchi meaning short stick used to drive cattle). Walled by jungles they have been living in peace for past many centuries. The settlement was referred to as khunkutti hatu, and the boundary was clearly demarcated by the elders, beyond which was god’s land who kept vigilant. Within these demarcated land all property was common property, space of god is uncleared forest within the village (hatu bangako, was called sarnas. The supreme deity is “Sing Bongka” related to Sun). Gradually they became agriculturalist. The cutting of wood from the jungle was done on a chosen day and only some portion of jungle was used, in rotation. The head of the village was Munda, and he never had any superior rights but settled disputes. Even women actively partook in armed ventures under the leadership of Munda, as the situation demanded. Gradually group of villages came together as group –as pattis, to ward off enemies (the Dravidian tribe Oraons being the earliest). Each pattis was headed by a Manki. They followed an egalitarian system wherein the Munda, even the Manki, was only a chief among equals not a ruler. Unfortunately though, with the passage of time these have become hereditary. The mankis grouped to elect Raja, the relation was tenuous and slowly the rajas, and even the mankis, got hinduised and got themselves elevated to rajputs and clans, completely breaking the clan trust and values of equality. The Mundas repent their follies…
The thorn we have reaped
Are of the tree we planted
They have torn us and we bleed.
We should have known what fruit
Would spring from such a tree.
With passage of times during the medical period the zamindars started to oppress the Mundas, they sought refuge by converting to Christianity enmass.
The favourite drink is rice beer or ili, each family brew its own ili. Made from boiled rice which is fermented and mixed with some vegetable roots and is stored for about five days before its ready for use. Dancing and revelry is another of Munda passion, Akhra or dancing ground is generally located in the middle of the basti.
Kote karambu dumang sari
Jige ho lilib litiba
Ho lilib litiba!
Barigara karetalsari tana
Kuram ho dopol dopola
Ho dopol dopola!
Kote karambu dumang sari
Ho senoge sanais!
Barigara keretal saritanae
Ho Bridge monea
The dumang sounds at Kot karamba
My heart leaps up at the sound,
At the sound
The kartal rings at Barigara
My heart with glee doth bound
At the sound
The dumang sounds at Kot karambu
O haste my dear to the dance
To the dance
The kartal clanks the barigara
O rise my dear from the trance
To the dance.
For Munda work and amusement go together in their life. They say ….
kaji ge durang (to speak is to sing),
senge susun (to walk is to dance)
kumuni dumang (fish traps is a musical instrument)
imagine a set of people for whom every action is song and dance, even the household items are musical instruments!!!
Asar chandu tebalena –
Dola maire roa nalate.
Haturen horoko do oronglena
Midtarebu kamiabu panti pantige.
Dola maire alatalate
Honhopon tenda nuiabu.
Now asarh is here
O come my dear
Transplant the paddy seedlings green
The village call
Obey the call
Out streaming from the house seen
Will work in glee,
O sisde by side in rows so gay
When sets the sun
We will be gone
And take our wages for the day
Our wages taken
We’ll husk the grain.
Prepare and boil sweet rice for food
Our children dear
Will share the cheer
With us will quaff the gruel good.
(Thanks is also due to Anthropological Survey of India, Nagpur for letting me use the library. It though would help if they open it on time, I lost a day). The picture herein of me sharing rice beer with Pandu Munda and Jaganatha
From my scribble pad…
In the twilight
There is time for happiness
and there is time for sadness
and then there is a time between happiness and sadness
blurred feeling of life passing by
just about the dusk when the birds row to their home
embrace the setting sun
when the breath slows down
and a strange calm sooth the body