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Sohrai Parba: The Festival of Santhals of Odisha

Santhals of the Mayurbhanj district look forward to the Sohrai cattle festival every year, which is also known  as Bandhana. The festival is celebrated with great gusto by the Santhal tribe in the districts of Sundargarh, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj and also by Santhals from the surrounding states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar.

For the tribals in Mayurbhanj district, the festival, coinciding with the harvest of early varieties of paddy, is significant. The Santhals celebrate the festival while other cultures worship Goddess Kali, one day after the new moon (Amavasya) and it lasts for a fortnight.

Sohrai Art
Sohrai Art (Indrasphere, WordPress.com)

Steps of the Festival

The first step of the Sohrai or Bandhana festival starts with ‘Goth Puja,’ during which villagers give fowl and rice to the cattle. The deities are often served with cow-dung, sun-dried corn, vermilion, mithi (a kind of spice) and powdered corn. These are all set on a window and held in his right hand by a priest while he holds a pot of water in his left hand.

The priest is accompanied by a villager bearing a pot of rice beer and both continue towards the ‘goth’ (grazing ground for cows). The priest then chooses a ‘god’ spot, cleans it with cow dung and water, and on behalf of the community offers prayers. After the puja,’ Maran Buru’ and other tribal deities are given food, fowl and food beer. It is accompanied by a communal feast for which ‘Naeke’ (priest) prepares a delicacy with the scarified fowl ‘s heads, which is then presented to the gods.

Worshipping the cow
Worshipping the cow (Indrasphere, WordPress.com)

At the group feast, ‘Naeke’ leads the table. In the evening, cattle, with their horns anointed, are herded to the goth.

Gohal Puja, which starts with a dance performed around a Karam branch held and planted by two bachelors and cleaned by young Santhal maidens with cow dung, follows Sohrai.

A cultural dance is followed in which men and women take part in different classes. Offerings of fowls and pigs to Goddess Kali are given at noon. The rituals include the cleansing of agricultural instruments with powdered rice and vermilion and their sanctifying. Santhal families cook and eat the animals sacrificed during the festival. The tribals gather near akhra (the village dance yard) in the evening and sing and dance around the branch of Karam and participate in the bull dance.

Bull Dance and Its Significance

The bull dance is an integral part of the Sohrai festival. Each village has a team which participates in the dance event.

The history of the bull dance practised by the Santhals dates back to the medieval period. According to folklore, cows and bulls went to lord Maraburu to protest against ill treatment by their masters, human beings.

The tribal god Maraburu heard their complaint against human beings and summoned them. They were asked to worship the cattle that they use for farming.

Bull dance
courtesy Santhaliupdate.com

It is said that from then on the Santhals celebrate Sohrai for five days where they take care of the cattle and worship them. The women of the community worship the bulls before the dance.

In the beginning of the event the bull is tethered to a pole. The men from the participating villages make it dance to the tune of the tribal instruments. Other men from the villages play instruments like tumdak, tamak, chorchori, tirio, kartal and banam.

The sound of the musical instruments makes the bull infuriated. Even the skin of a dead animal is shown to the bull to enrage it and the animal starts dancing.

The animals are judged by their movements and energy level. The better the show by the bull, the better is its and the villagers’ chance of winning the title. Santhal’s bull dance is more of a celebration that is determined by the people who gather to watch the event focused on the animal ’s creative impression and the owner’s hold over the animal.

How to Reach Mayurbhanj

By Air: Baripada ‘s nearest international airport is Dum Dum Airport, Kolkata, approximately 195 km from Baripada.

Baripada ‘s nearest international airport is Dum Dum Airport, Kolkata, approximately 195 km from Baripada. Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneshwar, 207 km from Baripada, is the other airport closest to Baripada.

Rail: The city of Baripada is well connected by rail to many places in India like Balasore, Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Jamshedpur and Cuttack.

Road: It is  connected with all cities within Odisha via Odisha State Road Transport Corporation and various private travel services.

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