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Santhal tribe is the largest tribe in India, found mainly in the Indian states of Jharkhand,

West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. Santhals, also called Satars, are among the most
backward of the ethnic groups of India`s neighbouring country Nepal. This tribal
community dwells in the Jhapa, Sunsari and Morang districts. A significant minority of
Santhals is also there in Bangladesh. The people of this community also address
themselves as Hor. These people love to reside in the fringes of rivers and forests. They
possess their own unique culture and religion and are mainly animists. Fishing and
hunting are among their most favourite occupations. Thakurjiu is their ancestral deity and
Maranburu is their paternal guardian deity. Arrows and bow are the traditional weapons
of the Santhals and the most favoured meat of these people is pork. A majority of the
Santhals have engaged themselves in labor and farming. Santhals belong to the human
families of the Austro-Asiatic group and have also been addressed as a subgroup which
speaks a language of the Munda family and the language spoken by them is known as
Santhali. Santhals possess their own script, and the same was developed in the year 1925
by Dr. Raghunath Murmu and the script is called Olchiki.

History of Santhals
This tribal community belongs to the age of the Pre Aryans. The Santhalis were well-
known fighters in the time of the British rule in India. People of this community waged
war versus Lord Cornwallis` Permanent Settlement in the year 1855. During the later
parts of 1850, one of the tribal heroes named Sidhu was able to gather about ten thousand
Santhals in order to run a parallel government against the British. The first Santhal leader
was Baba Tilka Majhi who raised weapons in the year 1789 against the British.

Santhals racially belong to the protoastraloid racial group, they belong linguistically to
the Mundari group of Austro-Asiatic linguistic family and they may be economically
classified as plain agricultural type. They are conscious with regard to their heritage and
identity and for this reason they form a feel of solidarity amongst themselves. The
internal solidarity of the Santhals is often dependant on their standard of likeness, which
is a common cultural characteristic, which binds all Santhalis together. They live in
harmony and peace among themselves.

Population of Santhals
The Jhapa district in Nepal has the highest population of Santhals and Morang district has
slightly less. The population of Santhals as per the 2001 Census was 42,689. The
southern region of the state of Bihar is known as `Santhal Praganas` due to the Santhal
tribe`s density in this area. These tribes have multiplied from proto-Australoid origin. It is
also believed that they had come from the Districts of `Santha` and that is why they are
called as `Santan` or men of Santha state. The Munda-Santal of northeastern India and
Nepal comprise of nine different, but very closely related people groups. These Santhals
are politically distributed throughout Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. A majority of the
tribes live in the hilly regions of Chota Nagpur Plateau, situated in the southern regions
of Bihar, while others live in the plains. Apart from this, the Santhals have scattered
themselves all over India as industrial and agricultural laborers.

The seven groups who occupy territory farther north include the Santhal (of India and
Nepal), the Bhumij, the Mahili, the Koda, the Ho, and the Agariya. Two from the seven
groups are the Gadaba Tribe and the Juango, and are settled in the southern parts of
India, close to the coastal regions of Bay of Bengal.

Language of Santhals
The Santhali language is part of the Austro-Asiatic family, distantly related to
Vietnamese and Khmer. The history of the Santhals may be traced to Africa from where
started the human migration. It was found that humans from Africa started to migrate
towards the Eastern part of the world or Asia. The Santhali script, or Olchiki, is
alphabetic, and does not share any of the syllabic properties of the other Indian scripts
like Devanagari. This Santhali script uses five basic diacritics and 30 letters. This script
possesses 6 vowels and 3 additional vowels, generated by the use of Gahla Tudag.

Santhals did not have a written language until the twentieth century and for this reason
the script of the Santhalis is developed recently. A distinct script was required to
accommodate the Santhali language, combining features of both the Indic and Roman
scripts. The modern Olchiki script of the Santhalis was devised in the year 1925 by
Pandit Raghunath Murmu. Pandit Murmu wrote more than 150 books addressing a wide
range of subjects. Darege Dhan, Bidu Chandan, Sidhu-Kanhu and Kherwal Bir are some
of the most acclaimed works of Pandit Raghunath Murmu. Among the Santhalis Pandit
Murmu is known popularly as Guru Gomke, a title which was given to him as an honour
by the Mayurbhanj Adibasi Mahasabh.

Economic status of Santhals


The day-to-day life of the Santhals encircle around the area of the forests in which they
live. The Santhalis fulfill their basic requirements from plants and trees in the forests.
They also engage themselves in fishing, haunting and cultivation in order to sustain their
livelihood. People of this tribal community have the unique skills in constructing musical
equipments, baskets and mats from plants and this quality is passed safely from a
generation to other.

Religion of Santhals
Santhals do not possess any temple and they worship no idols. These tribes follow the
religion called Sarna. Goddess and Gods of Santhals are Jaheraera, Marangburu and
Manjhi. They give respect to the spirits and ghosts like Lakchera, Kal Sing, Beudarang,
etc. Santhals have village priests called the Shaman Ujha and Naiki. The common
practice among the Santhalis is animal sacrifice to Gods in order to appease the
Goddesses and Gods.

Culture of Santhals
Dancing is very much loved by the Santhalis. It is the most prominent component of the
Santhals` festivals and fairs. After a day long work, Santhals take rest by enjoying very
light music along with dance. The women of this tribal community dress themselves with
a white saree with red borders and they dance in the sequence of a line. The Santhals play
music very well by using an open chest (korom), Tirio (a flute made of bamboo having
seven holes), a short neck (hotok), Dhodro banam (consists of a belly called lac which is
covered with animal skin on which rests a bridge (sadam, lit, horse), and a head (bohok),
Phet banam (a fretless musical instrument having three or four strings), Tamak, Tumdak,
Junko and Singa.

Festivals of Santhals
The Santhal tribes generally celebrate the Karam festival which comes every year in
September and October. This festival is celebrated to please the God to bless them with
more wealth and decrease their enemies. A tradition followed by the Santhals is to grow
the Karam tree out of the house after the completion of the purification process. Some of
the other major festivals observed by the Santhals include Baba Bonga, Sahrai, Maghe,
Ero, Namah and Asaria. Santhals also enjoy the haunting festival known as Disum
Sendra on Baishakhi Purnima.

Traditionally, the Santhals possessed an organized system of judiciary in order to manage


and get solution of several problems inside the community. These tribes make every
necessary effort to solve various social problems by themselves which arise inside their
community. The Santhal community`s head is known as Manjhi Hadam. He is considered
to be the chief of the judicial, executive and various other functions in the society. Manjhi
Hadam is helped by other office bearers including Jagmanjhi, Jagparanik, Paranik, Naike,
Gudit, etc, who work according to their fields in order to solve diverse problems. After
child birth, the Jagmanjhi and after a person`s death the Gudit and various other persons
are present. The village head, Manjhi Hadam looks into the judicial cases and the
bestowal of justice. The Disham Manjhi is above the Manji Hadam and Diheri is above
both.

The people of this tribal community generally prefer to live in concentrated settlements
close to forests and rivers and are segregated into twelve groups known as Thars. As
these tribal groups are divided according to their professional specialization, it resembles
a type of social system. The priests of the Santhals are Murmu and Murdi are the
businessmen, and the Hemram are judges and Kisku are the rulers. The Soren among the
Santhals are soldiers and Tudu are musicians. The Santhal organizations are Proganna
Council (Pramatrabaisi), village council (Manjhibaisi) and the highest council
(Labirbaisi).

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