Tribal Population of Raiganj

Oraons Dancers and their Tradional Dances

Raigunj, located in North Dinajpur District, is inhabited mostly by Bengali speaking population. However, the area around the town is also inhabited by a large number of people belonging to Santhal and Oraon Community. 

Oraons of Raigunj

The area around Raigunj is also inhabited by a large population of Oraons. In some places they are also known as Kurukhs. Traditionally, they depended upon the forest for their livelihood and rituals, but now most of them are agriculturists.

Original habitat of the Oraons

It is said, that originally this tribe lived in Konkan region in Maharashtra; but they later migrated to other parts of the India. Many of them initially settled down in Chhotanagpur plateau. May be it is lack of resources that led them to migrate further to north and north eastern parts of the country.  Many of them were also forcefully brought by the British to work in the tea gardens.

Oraon Family Outside Their Home

We do not exactly know when or how they landed up in Raigunj area, neither do we known how many of them actually live here. However, according to 2001 census number of Oraons living in whole of West Bengal were 617138. Moreover, they have a distinctive language and customs to distinguish them from majority Bengali population of the area as well as from the dominant Santhal community

Oraon language in Raigunj

The language used by the Oraons is known as Kurukh. It belongs to the Dravadian Family and is related to the Pahari languages. However, they are also fluent in Bengali and Hindi. They live in close proximity with Santhals and therefore they are often mistaken for one.

Oraon religion in Raigunj

Sal Groves in Raigunj

Many of the Oraons in Raigunj have now been converted to Christianity. However, many also follow their indigenous religion known as Sarna.
A casual observer may take the Sarna Dharam to be nature worship. However, a deeper insight into the religion will throw a different light.  Oraons worship the Creator of this world as Darmesh. They use different natural entities such as sun, moon and stones to indicate His different attributes. For example, they call the sun Biri Belas. Loosely translated, it means Sun King.  However, Oraons do not worship him as an individual god but consider him to be the symbol of power and brightness of Dharmesh.

Sacred groves play a big part in their religion and most rituals are followed under its shade. It is believed that Dharmesh manifests himself in a sal tree.  Another unique point is that the Oraons have also freely borrowed different concepts from different religions and have assimilated them in their own religious beliefs. That is why a casual observer may find the religion to be akin to Hindu religion; however, that is not the case.

Oraon culture in Raigunj

Oraon Singers and Musicians

Just as any other tribal group, Oraons have a rich heritage of dancing and singing. Both men and
women participate in the dancing and no festival is complete without them. They also have many traditional instruments such as the mandar, nagara and kartal.  Consumption of an alcoholic drink called handiya is common practice here, especially during festivals. It is made out of fermented rice and during festivals it is distributed both to men and women in bowls of leaves known as Dona. Oerans have also inherited many mythological tales.  In fact, consumption of handiya stems from one of them.

Traditions and customs of the Oraon community are deeply linked with nature. Let us take up the case of Oraon wedding. Before the wedding ceremony men have to go into the forest to fetch firewood while women have to collect sal leaves to prepare cups and plates. Besides, the marriage mats and marriage baskets too need to be prepared. Moreover, nine saplings of sal tree as well as branches of bamboo, sidha, bhelwa, mango and mahua have to be planted at the wedding venue.  The marriage rituals also require them to invoke these plants.  

Making Cups and Bowls out of Sal Leaves

Oraon festivals at Raigunj

Oraons celebrate many festivals round the year. Among them, Sarhul, phaggu and Karam needs special mention.

Sardul WorshipSarhul is celebrated in spring when the sal trees are in full blossomsacrificed on this occasion. In this festival they organize a symbolic marriage between the earth and the sky so as to increase the former’s fertility. Earlier human sacrifices were regular feature of this festival, but now that has totally stopped.

Phaggu is celebrated in the month of Phalgun either at the end of February or beginning of March. In this festival a castor plant and a semar branch is planted and heaps of firewood and dry leaves are gathered all round them. The festival requires the village priest to set fire to the heap and once it starts burning brightly the castor plant is cut into pieces. Ones that is done, the young boys of the village light torches fom the fire and throw them towards the frit tress invoking them to bear more fruits.

Karam festival takes place on Bhado Ekadoshi in August-September, but the preparation starts around Dancing All the Waytwelve days in advance. In this festival barley seeds are planted in pots. However they are kept inside their home away from direct sunlight. Oraon girls sprinkle it with turmeric water and keep watch over it.  The girls also abstain from taking non vegetarian food. Songs and dances are regular feature of this festival. 

The social structure of the Oraons

The oraons are divided into a number of clans. They also have a headman, who is also a priest and controls the socio-religious activities of the village. These headmen also have some basic knowledge about harbl medicines. However, most people now prefer to go to government hospital for more serious diseases

Santhals of Raigunj

Santhals are the original inhabitants of the Chhotanagpur plateau. Today however, they have spread all over the country and according to 2001 census the number of Santhals living in West Bengal is 2280540. It is not exactly known how many of them actually live in this area.

St James Cathedral in Raigunj

Most Santhalis speak in Santhali language and their script is known as Ol Chiki. A large percentage of them has embraced Catholic Christianity. The St. Joseph Cathedral, located in Chotporua on Raigunj Balurghat Road, is one of the churches attended by ththem. However, many of the Santhals still adhere to their ancient Santhali religion and worship Moran Buru Bonga as the emissary of Thakur Jiv.

However, irrespective of the religion they follow all of them still adhere to their traditions and culture. In the inauguration ceremony of St Joseph Cathedral (November 2010), the Santhals performed their traditional dances, which were much appreciated by the guests
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