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The Sora (alternative names and spellings include Saora, Saura, Savara and Sabara) are a tribe from Southern Odisha, north coastal Andhra Pradesh in India. They are also found in the hills of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The Souras are the second most prominent tribal community in the Rayagada district of Odisha and specific pockets of Koraput and Gajapati districts. They are also present in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts. They are also sometimes called Lanjia Souras due to their dress pattern of wearing a loin cloth hanging from behind and which could be mistakenly identified as a tail by a stranger. They inhabit blocks of Gunupur, Padmapur and Gudari. Their highest concentration is found in the Puttasingi area, approximately 25 km away from Gunupur NAC. Although, they are close to the assimilation process, yet some interior GPs like Rejingtal, Sagada and Puttasingi have Souras who still retain their traditional tribal customs and traditions.
They are known by various names such as Savara, Sabara, Sora, and Soura. They are concentrated in parts of Gunupur adjoining to the blocks of Gumma, Serango of Gajapati district. The Saoras speak a Munda language. However, written language in Saora is not followed by all. They practice shifting cultivation, with a few gradually taking up settled agriculture. Like Dangaria Kandha they belong to Proto-Australoid racial stock.
They are endogamous and the clan, although absent, is related to Birinda, which is exogamous. Families are nuclear although joint or extended families are also found. Marriages are made by bride capture, elopement, and by negotiations.
The Sora people are a dwindling jungle tribe with a distinctive shamanic culture. According to an article in Natural History, "a shaman, usually a woman, serves as an intermediary between the two worlds [of the living and the dead]. During a trance, her soul is said to climb down terrifying precipices to the underworld, leaving her body for the dead to use as their vehicle for communication. One by one the spirits speak through her mouth. Mourners crowd around the shaman, arguing vehemently with the dead, laughing at their jokes, or weeping at their accusations.
Instead of clan organization they have their extended families called Birinda, which consists of descendants from a common ancestors of four to five generation. The Saoras' religion is very elaborate and deep rooted. They are polytheist and believe in large number of deities and ancestral spirits. They practice both Podu and terraced cultivation with varieties of cereals. Dance and music constitute part and parcel of their rich aesthetic life.
The Saora family is polygamous. The total household economy revolves around the woman member who is hardworking and who helps her husband in ploughing and harvesting crops in addition to attending household chores exclusively.
The Saoras are highly religious with each and every natural phenomenon attributed to the works of some Gods, deities or spirits. Therefore, the customary law, values, norms are highly respected by all members of the society for the fear of inviting personal or communal harms.
According to the legend, Lord Nrusimha was being worshipped at Neelagiri (Puri) along with Neelamadhaba.As mentioned earlier, Lord Nrushimha is being worshiped in a separate temple adjacent to Muktimandapa/ Muktamandapa. According to the legend, the image of Neelamadhaba was made of Neelakanta mani (emerald). However, the present image of the deity is made of neem wood. Legend further says that Lord Jagannath was originally worshiped by a Savara raja (an aboriginal tribal chieftain)named Viswabasu. Having heard about the glory of the deity, Raja Indradyumna sent a Brahmin priest called Vidyapati to discover the exact location of the deity who was then secretly worshipped by Viswabasu inside the cave of a dense forest. Vidyapati tried his best, but could not locate the place of worship. Finally, he could manage to marry Lalita, the daughter of Viswabasu. At repeated request of Lalita, Viswabasu took his son-in-law blind-folded to a cave wherein Lord Neelamadhaba was being worshipped. Vidyapati was a very intelligent man. He dropped mustard seeds on the ground on his way. After a few days, the seeds germinated which helped Vidyapati to locate the cave wherein the deity was being worshiped hiddenly.On hearing from Vidyapati subsequently, Raja Indradyumna immediately rushed to Odra desa (Orissa) to have a darshan of the deity.The king was disappointed at the sudden disappearance of the deity. The deity was hidden in sand. Raja Indradyumna was determined not to return without having a darshan of the deity and observed fast onto death at Neelagiri. The deity was pleased with the king. Thereafter, the king performed a horse sacrifice and built a magnificent temple for the deity.
However, in the last two or more decades many of the traditional Sora beliefs have been superseded by Christianity that was introduced by missionaries. In many areas the shamanic and animist beliefs are distant memories, and in some areas, particularly around Puttasingh the graveyards of the ancestors have been destroyed. There is nowadays a move by nationalist Hindu groups to convert the Sora to Hinduism. This conflict has given rise to great tension in the area.
The Saora have a traditional political organization at each village and region, having hereditary post of Gomango (secular head), Buyya (religious head), Mondal, Raito, and Barik (messenger). The Saoras have made history in pre-British and British period and post independence as a community known for their economic and political integrity.
- Piers Vitebsky. Dialogues with the dead. Natural History Magazine, Inc. March 1997
♙ 2. Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat, http://orissa.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/may2006/engpdf/33-36.pdf Lord Jagannath : Symbol of Unity and Integration,