When it comes to the festivals of Adivasis, all we know is that they drape themselves in white saree with a red border, come together and dance the Jhumoor. But unlike the traditions of patriarchy that exist today, most of the festivals of the tea tribe people are centred around women folk and this reflects a lot about their history. The Adivasis were considered as the architects of some of the oldest civilizations of the world like Harappa and Mohejodaro and whose glory can be compared with civilizations of Rome, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt. There are historical materials that show ancient democracy, socialism, equality among men and women and most significantly, they used to live communities that encouraged sharing their resources. This bonding reflects through Jhumoor where the girls, wearing their traditional attire, hold one another and match their footsteps in a synchronized way.
There are two main festivals of the Adivasis in the tea estates of Assam: Tushu Puja and Korom.
All the women march while one of them holds the idol of Tushu on her head. The drums are played and others dance as they welcome Tushu to their home. But this was never the Tushu their forefathers worshiped. Tushu was never meant to be idolized and worshiped. As per the ancient tradition, a choudal was made of wood and it was celebrated. Then with the passage of time, it was personalized as a mother and worshiped, then, it used to take the shape of an idol. But now, the idol is celebrated like any other Hindu goddess who is worshiped.
The credit for the same goes to Sri Chaitanya Deva and his followers who traveled across the tribal belts of Bankura and Purulia spreading the message of Vaishnavism. This started influencing the Adivasis. Then emerged the whole Brahminical school of thought the credit of which goes to the media that was governed by the upper caste elites. Before television entered the households of Adivasis, there used to be community previews of television series and movies. Most of them were of gods and goddesses like Maa Santoshi, etc. This started making the Adivasis develop faith in idol worship. There was a time when everyone started walking for Bol Bam. This trend started with the famous film Baba Taraknath; after which even the Adivasis, who worshiped nature for generations, started walking for Bol Bam with barefoot. Thus, media played a significant role in transforming the idea of faith in the minds of the Adivasis.
Another important festival is Korom. Korom is the festival where the Adivasis worship nature. Oraons celebrate this festival in the form of ‘Jaani Shikaar’. As per tradition, they leave a pig to run in the open and the women run after it. They hunt it and later make a feast of it. Men are prohibited to participate in this whole ritual. But at the end, they can participate in the feast. Thus this whole festival revolves around women. Durga Puja, one of the most famous festivals of India that celebrates the victory of a woman over the evil found a contrary interpretation among the tribal folks. Folklore says that Durga was a man and he was killed by a woman and the woman took the place of Durga. Durga was an Adivasi and he is the same Adivasi who is popularly known as ‘Mahishasur’. Jaani Shikaar is actually a protest voiced by the Oraon women by reflecting it through a metaphorical fight. Similarly, Santhals celebrate Dasai Nritya also known as Dasai Puja which is held during Durga Puja to voice the protest of Adivasi women through aggression.
The festival of Adivasis reflects environment and war and these establish the foundation of their culture.
(Sumantra Mukherjee is a National Media Fellow, and this article is a part of his work which is supported by National Foundation for India.)