Karma is a harvest festival and is very sacred to the indigenous peoples in the Indian states of Odisha and nearby states: Jharkhand Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Assam. This festival is observed by tribesuch as Baiga, Oraon, Binjhwari, Munda, Majhwar, Ho, Khortha, Korba, Santhal, Nagpuri and many other tribal groups.
The Karma Festival (also known as the Karam Festival) is an annual tradition celebrated from August to September in the Hindu month of Bhadra. It is a cultural and religious harvest-related festival, epitomised by a karma tree.
As per the legends, Karma Devata is believed to be the god of wealth and fertility. This festival falls in the month of August/September (11th moon of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada).
This famous festival in Odisha, devoted to the god Karam or Karamsani, is celebrated with much zeal and ardour by the Odia tribes of Kisan, Bhumji, Ho, Binjhals, Kol, Bhuiyan, and Oraon. The presiding deity of this magnificent festival is represented by a branch of the Karma tree.
The ritual of this harvest festival calls for the locals to go to the jungle to cut branches of the Karma tree along with groups of drummers. Then the branches are borne back by young and unmarried girls who sing together to pay respect to the deity. These unmarried girls carry the branches to the village while singing, using cow dung to plant them in the soil and decorate them with flowers as well.
After the plantation, the priest of the village offers liquor and germinated seeds to please the deity for wealth and children and then narrates the whole significance of the festival to the entire village. This whole ritual of pleasing the god also includes animal sacrifice where a fowl is killed and his blood is given to the branch.
The festival is, however, celebrated in two distinct ways. Firstly, the villagers celebrate it on the street. Secondly, the man celebrates it in the courtyard where he invites all his loved ones and entertains them with the sound of drums and liquor.
Hundreds of unmarried devotees dance to the tune of drum beats in the evening to celebrate the Karma festival in the city.
Legends of the Karma Festival
As far as the legends are concerned, almost every tribe has its own one.
In the Ho, Bhumij, and Oran tribes, once there were seven brothers living together, it goes like that. While the six of them used to work in the area, the youngest was unemployed, and so remained at home. One day, the youngest brother and his six sisters were so lost in dancing and singing around the Karma tree that the wives of the respective brothers forgot to bring breakfast to the field. Being distressed by the incident, after returning home, the brothers threw the tree into the water. The youngest brother left the house in frustration, seeing this happening, and soon the six families began to have hard times. Their house and crops got damaged and eventually they starved.
The second folktale goes like, the youngest brother once saw that Karam tree floating in the river who then requested the god to restore everything. He then came back to his home and narrated the whole reason behind their current situation to their brothers. And since then the Karma God is being worshipped.
Another legend among the Pauri Bhuiyans, however, states that once a merchant returned from an expedition, when he bought from some other location, his boat was filled with precious metals. After the expedition had reached his territory, he waited for his relatives on his vessel to receive a warm welcome. When he arrived on the day of the Karma Festival, and everyone was busy enjoying the feast, no one came to visit him. He returned to his position in his rage and threw away the Karma tree. As a result, they became the victims of the Karma God’s wrath. His vessel fell into the water. He then began to appease the god upon consulting with an astrologer and asked him to recover all his properties.
The Karma Dance
Men and women, dance to the tunes of the pipes like Thumki, Chhalla, Payri and Jhumki. As the main musical instrument, the drum locally referred to as ‘timki’ is used and the dancers dance on the beats of timki with enthusiasm. In perfect rhythm and in to and fro form, the dancers change their feet.
They form a circle and bring their arms around the next dancer ‘s waist and begin to dance in a rhythmic way, bending towards the ground and jumping forward around a Karma-venerated tree. The dancers are dressed in ethnic costumes and jewels. There are several Karma dance sub-varieties, including Jhumar, Ektaria, Lahaki, Sirki, etc.
Combined with the charm of the youth, the dance performance is full of vigour and enthusiasm & the dancer are decked with vibrant costumes in the exuberance of red fabric, set in skilfully crafted ornaments made of small conch shells, takes the spectators as well as the performers to a mood of trance and ecstasy.
Karma dance is not only synonymous with worship, but in various regions of the world, it also has different forms.
In the name of business & growth, the Karma Festival reminds us of the importance of our climate, trees and nature in our lives at a time when the cutting and removal of trees has become a common everyday affair.