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The Santal (also spelled as Santhal (formerly also spelt as Sontal or Sonthal)), are the largest tribal community in India, who live mainly in the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Assam. There is also a significant Santal minority in neighboring Bangladesh, and a small population in Nepal. The santals belong to the Proto-Australoid group, and may have arrived in India soon after the Negritos. The name is given because of the similarity of racial type with Australian tribes. There is no precise information as to when this race first came into India. It is found among the prehistoric skulls in the Tinnevelly district, and from references in early Sanskrit literature to 'Nishads', where they are described as noseless (anash) with dark skin colour and peculiar speech and habits, there can be no doubt that the Proto-Australoid tribes were meant. The Santals are short in stature, and among them the broad flat nose with a sunken nose ridge is fairly common. They frequently have wavy hair;sometimes it is curly, though it is never frizzy. They share all these characteristics with other primitive tribes in the same group. To the Proto-Australoid races may perhaps be attributed a largest share of totemistic rites, exorcism, food taboos, and magical belief still obtaining in Indian life. The ban on commensality and intermarriage which forms the basis of the caste system must also owe its origin to them. It is impossible to dogmatize on these subjects when one remembers how widespread each of the above factors is among primitive cultures in various parts of the world. The tribal structure of the Santals is totemistic and the clans are patrilinear, as among the other tribes of Central India. Many of the taboos and customs which have grown up round life's crises, many features in the tribal ritual, their attitude towards disease and towards the supranatural world, are fundamentally similar throughout these tribes.
Santali Language 
The Santals have been more tenacious of their language than many of the other people to whom they are racially allied. They are the largest tribe in India to retain a good language to the present day. The Santali Language is part of the Austroasiatic family, distantly related to Vietnamese and Khmer. It is closely related to Mundri as well as to Ho, Korku, Savara and Gadaba, languages spoken by smaller tribes. The relationship of the Santhals with these tribes is racial and cultural as well as linguistic, and as they live in neighbouring territories it is very likely that they have a common origin. They have nevertheless been separate long enough to develop their individual languages and to possess distinct though allied cultures.
The Santal script is a relatively recent innovation. Santali did not have a written language until the twentieth century and used Latin/Roman, Devnagri, Oriya and Bangla writing systems.
Paul Olaf Bodding (born Gjøvik, Norway on 2 November 1865, died Odense, Denmark on 25 September 1938) was a Norwegian missionary, linguist and folklorist. He served in India for 44 years (1889–1933), and operated mainly from the town Dumka in the Santal Parganas-district. Bodding created the first alphabet and wrote the first grammar for the Santali-speaking native people in eastern India. In 1914 he also completed the translation of the Bible into the Santali language. Paul Olaf Bodding had studied theology at the university of Oslo. He was a celebrated scientist, and he is still well known among the Santals living in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam as well as in Bangladesh and the Scandinavian countries. Bodding was the son of a bookseller, and he first met the founder of The Indian Home Mission to the Santals (later developed to the NELC), Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, in his father's bookshop in Gjøvik. Skrefsrud was born just outside the neighbouring town Lillehammer, in Oppland, Norway. His literary work includes:
One of the most studied tribal religions in India, Santhal religion worships Marang buru or Bonga as supreme deity. The weight of belief, however, falls on a court of spirits (bonga), who handle different aspects of the world and who must be placated with prayers and offerings in order to ward off evil influences. These spirits operate at the village, household, ancestor, and sub-clan level, along with evil spirits that cause disease, and can inhabit village boundaries, mountains, water, tigers, and the forest. A characteristic feature of the Santal village is a sacred grove on the edge of the settlement where many spirits live and where a series of annual festivals take place.
The most important spirit is Maran Buru (Great Mountain), who is invoked whenever offerings are made and who instructed the first Santals in sex and brewing of rice beer. Maran Buru's consort is the benevolent Jaher Era (Lady of the Grove).
A yearly round of rituals connected with the agricultural cycle, along with life-cycle rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death, involves petitions to the spirits and offerings that include the sacrifice of animals, usually birds. Religious leaders are male specialists in medical cures who practice divination and witchcraft. Similar beliefs are common among other tribes of northeast and central India such as the Kharia, Munda, and Oraon.
Smaller and more isolated tribes often demonstrate less articulated classification systems of the spiritual hierarchy, described as animism or a generalized worship of spiritual energies connected with locations, activities, and social groups. Religious concepts are intricately entwined with ideas about nature and interaction with local ecological systems. As in Santal religion, religious specialists are drawn from the village or family and serve a wide range of spiritual functions that focus on placating potentially dangerous spirits and coordinating rituals.
The Santals are an agricultural tribe, from time immemorial they have cleared forests, toiled the land, and produced food for subsistence. Santals laborers were considered very efficient and they easily found employment in coal mines. Beside agriculture they also domesticate animals like cows, buffaloes and pigs. Apart from these the Santals also are well versed in the art of hunting, where their exceptional skills with bow and arrows is noticeable. After the ban on hunting by the Government of India, the Santals do not get chance to practice their archery skill but recently a new venture of organizing village level archery competitions during festive seasons has given a chance to culture this unique legacy. Those adopted and educated my the Christian missionaries were in a better position. The were a few Santals in Government jobs holding high posts. The Santal Deputy Commissioner, the village Heads, the Darogas, musicians and the teachers.
Santals have taken up profession in every field. There are good number of Santal doctors, engineers, governments servants, the opening up of new avenues after the arrival of the Christian missionaries, and the English education have changed their lifestyle and made it typically urban.
Santali Culture 
The Santali culture has attracted many scholars and anthropologists for decades. Some studies of the Santali culture were done by the Christian missionaries. The most famous of them was the Norwegian-born Reverend Paul Olaf Bodding. Unlike many other tribal groups of the Indian subcontinent, the Santals have preserved their native language despite waves of migrations and invasions such as Aryan, Hun, Mughals, Europeans, and others.
Santali culture is depicted in the paintings and artworks in the walls of their houses. Local mythology includes the stories of the Santal ancestors Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Bhudi.
The Santals mainly prefer group performance than solo, which is an important feature of tribal art form in India.
Group dancing and singing is the most important medium to express their joy and happiness.
The Santali dance and music is tuned with the nature of occasion whether it is social or ceremonial. The three most quintessential instruments in Santali music are two kinds of drums one Tumda and the other Tamak, and Tiriao or flute. The Tumda is a double headed drum having the shape of a frustum, the drum skins at left and right are made of animal skins. The one at the left has bigger circumference than the right. The Tamak has a hemispherical shape, with a wider circumference and played by two drum sticks. Tiriao or basically a bansuri is a bamboo made musical instrument with five holes.
The most well known dance form of the Santals is a group of women with interlocked hands forming a semicircle, encircling a relatively smaller group of male percussionists at the centre. The dance steps and movements are in accordance with the beats which is relatively simple. The dance forms, countenance, and beats differ from region to region. The Santali Dance have a wide variety and types and is tuned with ceremony and social celebrations. The Dasai dance is performed only by males of the community on festive occasions. Langre, Guluri, and Humti is danced all round the year, whereas Baha and Sohorai are only for festive seasons. In social ceremonies like marriage Dong is danced. Along with these popular dances some other rare forms like Rinjha and Jhika also exist and performed only in few regions.
The Santal songs also have similar variety like there dance, the Santali word for song is "Sereng". Generally singing is accompanied with dancing but there are some songs which do not include dancing. There is also a kind of song sung during the sowing of paddy. The "Gam Sereng" is another type of song which is sung in hot summer evening.
The Santal Rebellion 
The insurrection of the Santals was mainly against the British People & their supporters like moneylenders, bangali zamindars and their operatives. Before the advent of the British in India the Santhals resided peacefully in the hilly districts of Mayurbhanj Chhotanagpur, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura and Birbhum. Their agrarian way of life was based on clearing the forest; they also engaged themselves in hunting for subsistence. But, as the agents of the new colonial rule claimed their rights on the lands of the Santals, they peacefully went to reside in the hills of Rajmahal. After a brief period of peace the British operatives with their native counterparts jointly started claiming their rights in this new land as well. The simple and honest Santals were cheated and turned into slaves by the zamindars and the money lenders who first appeared to them as business men and lured them into debt, first by goods lent to them on loans. However hard the Santals tried to repay these loans, they never ended. Through corrupt measures of the money lenders, the debts multiplied to an amount for which a generation of the santal family had to work as slaves. Furthermore, the Santali women who worked under labour contractors were disgraced and abused.
On 30 June 1855, two Santal rebel leaders, Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, mobilized 30 thousand Santals and declared a rebellion against British colonists.
Soon after the declaration the Santals took to arms. In many villages the Jamindars, money lenders and their operatives were put to death. The open rebellion caught the British Government by surprise. Initially a small contingent was sent to suppress the rebels but it with meet no success and this further fueled the spirit of the revolt. When the law and order situation was getting out of hand the British Government finally took a major step and sent in large number of troops assisted by the local Jamindars and the Nawab of Murshidabad to quell the Rebellion.
A number of skirmishes occurred after this which resulted in large number of casualties for the Santals. The primitive weapons of the Santals weren't a match against the musket and cannon of the British. Troop detachments from the 7th Native Infantry Regiment, 40th Native Infantry and others were called into action. Major skirmishes occurred from July 1855 to January 1856, in places like Kahalgaon, Suri, Raghunathpur, and Munkatora.
The revolt was brutally crushed, the two celebrated leaders Sidhu and Kanhu were killed. Elephants supplied by the Nawab of Murshidabad were used to demolish Santal huts and likewise profound atrocities were committed by the British army in quenching the Rebellion. Although the Rebellion was crushed with a heavy hand, some British army officers like Major Jervis who observed-
"It was not war; they did not understand yielding. As long as their national drum beat, the whole party would stand, and allow themselves to be shot down. Their arrows often killed our men, and so we had to fire on them as long as they stood. When their drum ceased, they would move off a quarter of a mile; then their drums beat again, and they calmly stood till we came up and poured a few volleys into them. There was not a sepoy in the war who did not feel ashamed of himself."
Charles Dickens in Household Words wrote-
"There seems also to be a sentiment of honour among them (Santals); for it is said that they use poisoned arrows in hunting, but never against their foes. If this be the case - and we hear nothing of the poisoned arrows in the recent conflicts - they are infinitely more respectable than our civilised enemy the Russians, who would most likely consider such forbearance as foolish, and declare that is not war."
Although its impact was largely shadowed by that of the other rebellion, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the legend of the Santal Rebellion lives on as a turning point in Santal pride and identity. This was reaffirmed, over a century and a half later with the creation of the first tribal province in independent India, Jharkhand.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2009)|
- "Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
- "West Bengal: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
- "Bihar: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
- "Santali: Also spoken in Nepal". Retrieved 2011-04-01.
- "Library of Congress Country Studies". U.S. Library of Congress (released in public domain). Retrieved 2007-10-06.
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- Bompas, Cecil Henry, and Bodding, P. O. Folklore of the Santal Parganas. London: D. Nutt, 1909. Full text at Project Gutenberg.
- Chakrabarti, Dr. Byomkes, A Comparative Study of Santali and Bengali, KP Bagchi, Calcutta, 1994
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- Edward Duyker Tribal Guerrillas: The Santals of West Bengal and the Naxalite Movement, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, pp. 201, SBN 19 561938 2.
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- Orans, Martin. "The Santal; a Tribe in Search of a Great Tradition." Based on thesis, University of Chicago., Wayne State University Press, 1965.
- Prasad, Onkar. Santal Music: A Study in Pattern and Process of Cultural Persistence, Tribal Studies of India Series; T 115. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1985.
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- ———. Tribal Religion: Religious Beliefs and Practices among the Santals. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.
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