Views & Reviews
Tribal Communities – Torch Bearers for Sustainability & Conservation
“Vibrant Cultural Values which we really need learn & Adopt from the Great Indigenous People”
India is a country rich in cultural diversity and traditions. The connection with nature has been an integral part of the Indian way of life, and it is evident in the country’s various festivals and celebrations
Halma – MP’s tribal festival helps to heal earth.
The tradition of Halma, which translates as ‘call for help,’ has been brought back from the brink of extinction and is now celebrated as an environmental festival in the heartland of India. The summer gathering of around 1,300 villages in Jhabua and Alirajpur districts of Madhya Pradesh is a must-see occasion. That’s when thousands of members of the Bhil tribe come together to celebrate Halma, the age-old festival of collective labour. Alma, which translates as ‘call for help,’ has been a traditional practice among the Bhil community. People from the tribe often volunteer to help an individual or a family during the construction or repair of their house. The assistance for manual labour extends to agricultural activities too and people even participate to manage the arrangements for a marriage within the community collectively. The traditional practice involves people coming together to construct lakes at different places, resulting in water rejuvenation in the area. It leads to an increase in water availability and enhancement of soil moisture. Residents of around 1,300 villages continue to practise the tradition separately too. Now the two-day event is celebrated every year between the festivals of Maha Shivratri and Holi in February or March. The dates are decided by the rural volunteers of Shivganga. The lakes have helped farmers to grow more than one crop on their land. Contour trenching has also been introduced to channelise it for optimal use.
Sarhul festival – Jharkhand
Historically, tribes in Jharkhand state of India have followed animistic beliefs and worshiped nature, particularly trees. They believe that trees have a divine spirit and play a crucial role in their lives, providing them with food, shelter, and other essential resources. The Santhals, the Oraon, the Munda, and the Ho tribes welcome their local New Year by worshiping the trees. This is known as the festival of Sarhul, which is a three-day spring festival that starts from Chaitra month in Shukla Paksha to Chaitra Purnima. During this festival, men and women dress up in traditional attire, dance to local songs, and carry out a procession in the streets. The festival is celebrated with great traditional fervour and is a way for them to honour and worship nature. The verbal meaning of Sarhul is worship of the Sal tree. Sarhul can also be redefined as worship of nature in which local people worship Sita, the wife of Lord Rama as ‘Dhartimata’. They also worship the Sal tree, which is believed to be the abode of Goddess Sarna who protects the village from all kinds of natural calamities and disasters. It is believed that people should not go into the forest until the ‘Sal’ trees start sprouting flowers. This signifies keeping nature in its pure state, free from human interference and killing wild animals is not permitted at this time.
Kailpoldu, Kodava Tribe, Karnataka
The Kail Poldu festival is celebrated in Coorg. The Kodavas are a warrior tribe and this festival is held to worship their weapons. The festival is usually held between September 2-4. The festival serves as a clarion call for the Kodavas to bring out their weapons and to prepare for guarding their crop from wild boars and other animals. On the Kailpoldu day, the weapons are taken out of the puja room, cleaned and decorated with flowers. The villagers gather in the meadows where shooting competitions are held. Earlier, hunting and cooking of the wild animals were part of the celebration, but these days the shooting skills are tested by firing at a coconut target in a tree.
The Karam festival-Jharkhand
The Karam festival relates to the plantation of the Karam tree (Adina Cordifolia). It is celebrated on the 11th moon of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (August/September). The celebration is extremely auspicious and represents fertility and prosperity. Indigenous people believe that the Karam tree was the first to grow on Earth. Its three branches signify those who have given birth, those who guard, and those who care. One of the most well-known folktales about this festival is that there were seven brothers who were farmers and worked extremely hard in the field. They rarely had time for lunch, so their wives used to carry their meal on the field. One day, when their wives did not come to the field, the brothers got very furious. They went home in the evening and saw their wives singing and dancing around the Karam tree. They uprooted the tree and threw it in the water. It is believed that as a result of this, they had to suffer and lost everything including their home and crops. The youngest brother looked for a remedy and visited the priest, who told him about Karam devta’s power. The youngest brother brought home a Karam tree and worshipped it with devotion and respect. The brothers regained all of their lost wealth. Since then, indigenous people celebrate the Karam festival every year, with brothers bringing branches of the Karma tree to place in the courtyard on the day of the festival. Karma — the god of the Karam tree — is represented by these branches. Throughout the entire festival celebration, people sing and dance in groups.
Hornbill is named after a bird, which is a symbol of respect among the Naga tribe. Hornbill is also known as the Festival of Festivals wherein a traditional cluster of 17 Naga tribes come together to promote intercultural harmony. It is held in the Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, which is some 10 km from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. The Hornbill Festival is an annual festival celebrated from 1 to 10 of December. It is Celebrated on Nagaland’s State Formation Day on December 1st, this festival is named after the Hornbill in collective reverence to the bird enshrined in the cultural ethos of the Nagas, carries an important message of environmental conservation along with reviving and protecting the cultural heritage of Nagas. It also promotes inter tribal harmony and provides a colourful mixture of dances, performances, crafts, parades, games, sports, food fairs and religious ceremonies.
Manipur Sangai Festival
Named after Manipur’s State Animal Sangai, an endangered brown antlered deer found in Manipur’s Keibul Lamjao National Park, the only floating national park in the world, this festival showcases the state’s indigenous dance like Raas Leela, Maibi and martial arts sports like Thang Ta (combination of spear and sword skills)
Take away from Sentinels of Mother Nature
They are experts in animal behaviour
They are world-class botanists
They manage their resources sustainably
They can accurately “read” their environment
They are the eyes and ears of the forest
They see conservation as a personal responsibility
Their connection to their land is part of their identity
They see animals as their kin
Caring for nature is central to their cultures and ways of life
Dr Ashwini Sirapanasetty is Obstetrics and Gynaecologist Surgeon and also a wife of Major Anil Kumar Sirapanasetty who is a Serving Army Officer. Her recent research work on Human Desires and Sexual Ethics has been selected for International Conference conducted by British Association for South Asian Studies. She is also a Tribal reformist.