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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Circulation of cultural tropes in indigenous Adivasi India

Location Jakobi 2, 336
Date and Start Time 02 July, 2013 at 10:30


Lidia Guzy (National University of Ireland) email
Uwe Skoda (Aarhus University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The panel seeks to explore various aesthetic and cultural expressions - such as local narratives, performing arts, musical traditions or religious beliefs - in terms of cultural continuum and circulation of cultural tropes between indigenous, tribal Adivasi communities and pan-Indian traditions.

Long Abstract

The indigenous peoples (Adivasi) of India constitute around 10 % or even more of the Indian population (1,21 billion). Given the fact that India has the largest indigenous population in the world, more than six hundred socio-culturally autochthonous Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian language and kinship groups have on the one hand successfully retained their particular indigenous worldviews on the other hand have successfully coexisted within larger hegemonic trans-regional South Asian traditions. The panel seeks to explore various aesthetic and cultural expressions - such as local narratives, performing arts, musical traditions or religious beliefs - in terms of cultural continuum and circulation of cultural tropes between indigenous, tribal Adivasi communities and pan-Indian traditions.

Papers addressing various aspects of aesthetic and creative expressions of cultural circulation between Indian Adivasi communities and trans-regional south Asian cultures are invited to participate.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Creating tradition in eastern Gujarat: the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha

Author: Gregory Alles (McDaniel College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the manners in which a little known Swaminarayan lineage, the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha, provides a means for adivasis in eastern Gujarat to create traditions that adapt the adivasi cultural heritage to conditions of the present.

Long Abstract

A dynamic common in adivasi communities in Gujarat for more than a century has been a tension between adivasi traditions that involve meat eating, animal sacrifice, and alcohol consumption, on the one hand, and on the other "mainstream" values that see these activities as immoral and in need of elimination. Although presented by some adivasis as well as caste Hindus as a contrast between degenerate and pure Hinduism, this dynamic also parallels tensions between the Brahmin-Baniya Vaishnavism dominant in the state's center and the Rajput veneration of lineage goddesses historically common in its periphery, where adivasis also by and large live. Among adivasis in eastern Orsang district, located along the eastern border of the state, several distinct communities are active in promoting a "refined" form of Hinduism. One of the most successful is the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha, a Swaminarayan lineage little known among academics. It largely attracts people with more formal education and residing in relative proximity to the main road that runs from Vadodara through Chota Udepur to Alirajpur (Madhya Pradesh). This paper will identify the manner in which adivasis engage in the Pragat Purushottam Sanstha. Although loyalty to the movement does entail vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol, it is clear from ritual performances that it does not involve a complete abandonment of adivasi traditions. Rather, participation in the movement provides a means for adivasis to create traditions that do not abandon but rather adapt the adivasi cultural heritage to conditions of the present.

Origin, migration and present habitat of the Oraons: a major indigenous or Adivasi group of Jharkhand, India

Author: Rabindranath Sarma (Central University of Jharkhand)  email

Short Abstract

The Oraons, a major indigenous or Adivasi group of Eastern India has a number of folk elements are associated with their origin, migration and present habitat. There is a long history which is orally transmitted through generation to generation.

Long Abstract

The Oraons are a Dravidian language speaking people, representing the largest indigenous group in Jharkhand with roughly 19.60 percent of the total population. The Oraons are found in in the districts of Ranchi, Gumla, Lohardaga, Latehar, Palamu, Garhwa, Hazaribagh, Dhanbad, Santhal Pargana and Singhbhum.

According to the tradition, Konkan is said to be original home of the Oraons. Owing to the overpopulation and external pressure, they migrated from the west coast of India to north India. After some time, they settled down as agriculturists and landowners in the Shahabad district of Bihar. Driven by successive external settlements, they took shelter on the Rhotas plateau. They fortified the place but could not make it impregnable. Probably they were driven out by the Cheros.

While moving out from Rhotas, the Oraons split up into two branches. One branch proceeded down the Ganges and settled in the Rajmahal hills. Another branch proceeded south eastwards and settled and settled down in Palamu and northwest of Ranchi district, then occupied by the Mundas. The Oraons with better equipment and better knowledge of agriculture multiplied rapidly and became predominant in the northwestern and central part of the Chotnagpur plateau.

This is an attempt to explore the origin, migration and present habitat of the Oraons, from the Folkloristic point of view.

Khongjom Parva: a tradition negotiating changing scenario

Author: Mayanglambam Sadananda Singh (Manipur University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper attempts to hightlight the remifications of the growth and developments of Khongjom Parva tradition of manipur in the first place. And in the second place underscore is drawn to show the impact of the dynamics of social and technological changes on Khongjom Parva.

Long Abstract

Khongjom Parva is a ballad singing tradition that has been existing over the past one hundred and twenty two years in Manipur. It emerged just after the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. The ballad started in praise of the great heroes of the War who sacrificed their lives for Manipur. The founder of this singing style was one Dhobi Leinou who witnessed the war, as he led the British force. His singing style has ever since been known as Khongjom Parva, which later on has extensively constituted among others the stories, parts or full, of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the heroic exploits of Manipuri kings, the legends of Moirang and more especially the Manipuri folk epic, Khamba-Thoibi.

Khonjom Parva is performance-based and its sessions are intended to give repast, recreation to the people in villages. However,the places occupied by the Khongjom Parva in the traditional Manipuri society has gradually been relegated to the vanishing line due to the impact of modernization. Yet, like other forms of folklore it still continues to live in other forms of modern media. On a broader level, the development of the modern form of Khongjom Parva song embodies and reflects interlocking dialectics - tradition and/versus modernity. And the corporate manipulation versus grass-roots spontaneity is able to negotiate with changes brought by time.

The paper will highlight the ramifications of the growth and development of Khongjom Parva tradition diachronically, and then underscore the impact of the dynamics of social and technological changes on Khongjom Parva.

Belief ascription and othering discourse among the ethnic communities in Assam

Author: Ülo Valk (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses relationships between different ethnic and social groups and images of the ‘others’ as expressed in belief narratives of Assam. It is based on fieldwork in Mayong (Marigaon district), where the Assamese people live in close contact with several indigenous ethnic communities.

Long Abstract

The ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of North Eastern India is extraordinary. More than 200 languages are spoken in the region; only in the state of Assam there are 23 officially recognised 'tribal' groups. The spread of Brahmanic Hinduism in North Eastern India is historically relatively late if compared with many other parts of India; in ancient texts such as the Kālikā purāna the region has been called the land of kirātas ('indigenous peoples'). Their influence on different forms of Hinduism (e.g. in goddess worship and tantric practices) has been noted by several researchers. The paper discusses relationships between different ethnic and social groups and images of the 'others' as expressed in beliefs and narrative traditions about magic and the supernatural in contemporary folklore of rural communities. It is based on fieldwork in Mayong - an area in Marigaon district widely known in Assam as the 'land of black magic' and more recently as a tourist destination, due to the neighbourhood of Pabitora wildlife sanctuary. The Assamese people of Mayong have lived in close contact with the indigenous Tiwa, Karbi and Khasi communities, which makes the area a hub of religious and cultural exchange.

"Facing" the deities: the birth of divine depiction in tribal Arunachal Pradesh

Author: Claire Scheid (University College Cork)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the recent introduction of pictorial iconographies in the Donyi-Polo and Rangfraa movements (two “institutionalized” indigenous religions of Arunachal Pradesh) and investigates their connections to more dominant Indian religions in conception, aesthetic, and production.

Long Abstract

Donyi-Polo and Rangfraa, two "institutionalized" indigenous religious movements in Arunachal Pradesh, both came to prominence in the late 20th century. Among the various processes of "formalization" that have added structure to these traditions (e.g., the documentation of a formal theology, the construction of prayer halls, the designation of official holidays, and the unionization of shamans) is the creation of visual depictions of gods and goddesses, previously never represented graphically. In the Donyi-Polo community, the move has been criticized by some who believe that this decision has contributed to Donyi-Polo merely succeeding by means of "copying the popular religion". This paper will explore why Talom Rukbo, the Adi activist who piloted the reformation, made the choice to invent and include these visual images of deities. It will also address the Rangfraa movement's decision to create a representation of "the Almighty Rangfraa", discussing the public artist competition held in search of such an image and the ultimate commission and production of a Rangfraa statue to be imported from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. This analysis of the new aesthetic of religious depiction within these indigenous revivals seeks to draw attention to the circulation of artistic philosophies and practicalities between certain tribal peoples of Arunachal Pradesh and the greater Indian subcontinent. In doing so, it hopes to elucidate how the "re-appropriation" of Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist iconographic traditions by the Donyi-Polo and Rangfraa reformations, while sometimes internally controversial, has helped the movements gain a sense of "legitimacy" outside of Arunachal Pradesh.

Cosmology and eschatology in the cult of the dead among Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh (India)

Author: Stefano Beggiora (University Ca' Foscari of Venice)  email

Short Abstract

This article proposes a full immersion in the shamanism and the special features of the worship of the dead and the funeral ceremonies (burial rite, mithun/mountain-buffalo sacrifice) of the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh of Northeast India.

Long Abstract

This article proposes a

full immersion in the worship of the dead and the funeral rites of the

Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The purpose of this study is to

examine, from a religio-historical and ethnographical perspective, the

fundamental aspects of a tribal religion which is rapidly disappearing

due to modernization and the social changes in act in the region. The

documentation of a magnificent funeral in honor of a recently deceased

chieftain will be the backbone of an analysis of the conception of the

cosmos and of the eschatology of the tribe. The collective,

interconnected rituals of the various ceremonies shall be described in

detail: oracle practices, the celebration of the memorial/funeral

tears, the sacrifice of the mithun (a local species of mountain

buffalo), the cult of the ancestors, and the ritual burial in an

underground funerary room. I will then proceed to interpret the symbols

included in the ritual praxis through the lens of local shamanic

tradition. From a socio-anthropological perspective, this culture

appears to have many ties with the traditions of other tribes of the

Indian subcontinent. However, it also presents unique archaic cultural

features, which are peculiar of the so-called Tani groups of Central

Arunachal Pradesh. Some cultural and religious simplifications and

their attempt to recover the power of the ancient niybus (priests)

through peculiar techniques, evidences how this tribal society is

rapidly changing.

Alternative perceptions of belief among the Khasis: the Weresnake and the Weretiger

Author: Margaret Lyngdoh (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will make an attempt to examine the significance of human-animal transformations within the greater Khasi world view. The folk epistemology of shape-shifting will also be analyzed in the context of the matrilineal social system.

Long Abstract

The Lyngngam, Muliang and the Nongtrai are sub communities of the Khasis residing in the Western section of the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Although, these sub groups share affinities in their way of life and traditional beliefs, they prefer to be recognized as separate sub groups of the greater Khasi tribe.

Belief in the Sangkhini or weresnake is central to social transactions among these communities. The Sangkhini is described to have the head of a cat and the body of a snake and is inextricably linked to the ecological system. They are accepted in the community and have social roles to play.

Parallel to this belief system among the Lyngngam, is the Bhoi tradition of the weretiger. The Bhoi sub-community of the Khasis reside in the northern section of the state close to the border with Assam. It may be mentioned that Ri-Bhoi remains isolated from the Shillong city and as such these tracts of wilderness have fostered narratives about streams, caves, hills etcetera.

Central to the belief system here is the existence of the Khla Phuli or were-tiger, in which men and women shift into the form of the tiger. The bigger were-tigers are called sansaram and the mostly female, smaller were-tiger is the khruk. This paper will make an attempt to examine the significance of human-animal transformations within the greater Khasi world view. The folk epistemology of shape-shifting will also be analyzed in the context of the matrilineal social system.

Thakurani Yatra: power, possession and poetry in north-western Odisha

Author: Uwe Skoda (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Exploring the popular, yet academically rather overlooked Thakurani Yatra - performed in Adivasi-villages in Odisha – the paper seeks to highlight three aspects: 1) the power of the goddess; 2) her presence in this annual ritual cycle and 3) the poetic, epical story narrated / sung in this context.

Long Abstract

The paper explores the popular, yet in the literature rather overlooked Thakurani Yatra - annually performed in Adivasi-villages in the former princely states of north-western Odisha. It seeks to highlight three entangled aspects: 1) the power of the goddess Thakurani exemplified in various ways; 2) the presence of the goddess and several other spirits at certain stages in this ritual cycle possessing participants and 3) the poetic - epical - story narrated and sung in this sacred context.

Itinerary non Brahmin priest-musicians of the Bora Sambar region of western Orissa

Author: Lidia Guzy (National University of Ireland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents the circulation of cultural ideas expressed in ritual music of itinerary non-Brahmin priest-musicians of the Bora Sambar region of western Orissa. Indigenous vernacular ideas merge with hegemonic pan-Indian concepts into a regionally unique configuration which will be explored.

Long Abstract

The Bora Sambar region is an example of the local predominance of non-Brahmin religious specialists. They are generally associated with a particular indigenous Adivasi community and bear diverse names and functions depending on their specific religious tasks. A wide range of non-Brahmin priests is engaged in the ritual handling of the inauspiciousness of death or in the cure of psychological and physiological ailment, interpreted as caused by non-empirical malevolent external forces. For the encounter with this spiritual world, non-Brahmin priests utilise music and the sound of their diverse musical instruments. Besides those priest-musicians preoccupied with encounters with the spirits of the dead, a variety of many other itinerary non-Brahmin priest-musicians and singers exists in the Bora Sambar region. They venerate local goddesses by playing specific instruments and often act as local healers. The paper explores the interconnectedness of vernacular indigenous concepts and pan-Indian ideas represented in the ritual music of the Bora Sambar region of western Orissa.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.