|Regions with significant populations|
|Bhumij dialect of Mundari language|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mundas • Kols • Hos • Santals|
Bhumij are an Adivasi people living primarily in the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, mostly in the old Singhbhum district. They speak the thar language of the Austroasiatic language family.
History and Language
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Bhumij inhabit that tract of the country which lies on both sides of the Subarnarekha River. Like all the Kolarian, the Bhumij have same type of religious and cultural traits. "However, although they have adopted Hindu customs, and are fast becoming Hindu, there can be no doubt that they are the descendants of the Mundas who first settled in the country, and were given the name of Bhumij (autochthon) by the Hindu immigrants who found them in possession of the soil." There are various instances that the Bhumijs are very brave and rebellious, and had involved themselves in various revolutions, and opposed autocratic decisions of their rulers.
Earlier they were given land by the king in view of the acts of bravery for agricultural purposes. They were known as robbers (chuars), and their various outbreaks were called chauris. The people in the surrounding areas were quite scared of them. But Bhumijs do not revolt for their personal interest but for the interest of the person who is entitled for. The history of Bhumij is the act of their bravery that they have shown time and again against the illegal decision of the existing authority. In the year 1798, when the Puncheet estate was sold to pay arrears of revenue, the Bhumij raised their head violently and disturbed the peace of the country till this was cancelled. The Bhumij revolt of 1832 is quite well-known. In this case, there was a disputed succession over the crown. The court decided the eldest son of the king, the son of the second wife instead of the son of the first wife (patrani), to be the king. The Bhumij did not approve the decision and took active part in this revolt known as Ganganarayan rebellion also known as Chuar Vidroh, the famous revolt of 1832 carried out by the Bhumij.
The Bhumijs are found in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, and Bihar. They are concentrated in the districts of Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura and 24 Parganas in West Bengal. In Odisha, they are thickly concentrated in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, and Balasore, and sporadically distributed in other parts. In Assam, where they are very recent immigrants, their greatest concentration occurs in the Assam valley. In Jharkhand, they are found in the districts of Singhbhum, Manbhum, Hazaribagh, Ranchi and Dhanbad. The Bhumijs according to 1921 Census, number 367,344, of which Bengal had 79,169(21.55%), Chota Nagpur and Orissa 240,229 (65.39%), and Assam 46,354 (12.61%). A detailed analysis of the distribution of Bhumijs shows that their greatest concentration was in the district of Manbhum having 92,194 (25,09%) of the whole tribe (22.2 per square mile), Singhbhum (including the states of Seraikela and Kharsuan) 62,693 persons (17.6% and13.9 per square mile), Midnapur 39,636 persons (10.78% and 6 per square mile), 24 Pragnas, 11, 015 persons (2.99% and 2.2 per square mile), Hoogly, 4,798 (1.30 and 4.0 per square mile). As far as the percentage of the Bhumij population to the general population according to 1921 Census is concerned, Seraikela and Kharsuan had 7 .45%, Singhbhum had 6.76%, Manbhum 5.95%, and Orissa had more than one per cent of the general population. Thus, from the study of their distribution one fact is unquestionably established that the strongest seat of the Bhumijs is in the districts of Manbhum and Singhbhum district.
The spoken language of the Bhumij is Austro-Asiatic. But distribution of the Bhumij dialect in different localities shows that all those who are Bhumijs do not invariably speak the original dialect. According to 1961 Census the Bhumij language was spoken by 1,31,258 persons, of whom 94,627 persons (72.09%) were bilingual. According to the 1981 Census, 50,384 persons spoke the Bhumij as their mother tongue. There is a decline in the number of people who speak the Bhumij language.
Livelihood, traditions and societal practices
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The Bhumijs of Manbhum believe that their original occupation was military service. Subsequently, agriculture was taken as the sole activity by all the tribes, except the iron-smelting Shelo. A few were engaged in petty trade, and some immigrated to the tea districts of Assam. In Jharkhand and Bihar, the Bhumij even today depend upon agriculture, fishing, hunting and forest produces. Thus, the Bhumijs who are mainly agriculturists also hunt and trap birds and animals in the jungles, and the landless among them work as labourers. Various seasonally available forest products are a subsidiary source of income for them. Marginal income from wage labour, minor non-forest products and animal husbandry are the main source of livelihood for the rural Bhumij.
Rice is their staple food and is consumed throughout the year. They are nonvegetarians, but do not eat pork or beef. The Bhumijs also eat white-ants (termites) and insects. Drinks like rice beer and toddy are commonly consumed by them. Mahua liquor is used sumptuously during feasts and festivals.
As regards dress and ornaments, they follow their Hindu neighbours. Children of both the sexes go naked till the age of four or five years and after which they wear a towel or trouser till adolescence. The male dress consists of a shirt, a dhoti or lungi, and a towel. The women wear sari and blouse. Young girls are fond of ornaments such as nose-rings, earrings, bead necklaces, armlets and bangles made of brass. They also put on flowers in their hair.
Social structure of the Bhumijs is characterised by nuclear family, patriliny, exogamy and hereditary headship of the village community. They follow Hindu practices of succession and inheritance. The Bhumijs are divided into several endogamous groups based on territory and occupation. In Mayurbhanj, the various Bhumijs are: Tamuriya Bhumij, Haldipukuri Bhumij, Teli Bhumij, Desi or indigenous 'Bhumij, Vada Bhuinyas and Kol Bhumij. Each group forms an exogamous group of its own and do not intermarry. Each one of these groups consists of a number of exogamous sub-groups called kili, the names of which are chosen from diverse sources representing fauna and flora, heavenly bodies, earth, etc. A Bhumij refrains from injuring anything represented by the name of the group. But there are no elaborate rituals in honour of clan totems. It may be that the exogamous groups were totemic, but with the progress of time and contact with their Hindu neighbours, the totemic system has turned into prohibitive marriage rules. Besides, lately they have developed a local grouping called the thaks, named after villages. Each of these thaks is also exogamous in the sense that a member of one thak cannot marry a member of the same village even if he or she belongs to a different sept. The rule of exogamy is so strict that a man may not marry a woman of his own sept, nor a woman who comes within the standard formula for reckoning prohibited degrees, calculated to three generations in the descending line, but sometimes extended to five where bhaiyadi or mutual recognition of kinship has been maintained between the families.
The Bhumij recognise polygyny, barrenness of first wife is the main reason. Polyandry is unknown. Widows are allowed to remarry according to the sanga ritual in which all the ceremonies of a regular marriage are not performed. Re-marriage often takes place between widowers and widows, though bachelors are not barred from such a union. However, in case of woman, levirate applies mainly to widows. In case of widow-marriage also, bride-price of lesser amount is given. Divorce is also allowed among the Bhumijs in extreme cases of adultery, and the divorced women may remarry according to the sanga rite. However, a woman has no right to divorce her husband, and if she is neglected or ill-treated, only remedy available to her is to run away with another man. Adultery within the community is generally condoned with a fine but adultery with a member of another tribe results in ostracization.
At birth, a woman is attended by a midwife of the Ghasi community, and the umbilical cord is severed by her, and after birth it is put in a hole dug outside the hut. Birth-related pollution varies from 8 to 10 days, during which mother remains in the lying-in-room. After it, a Hindu washerman and barber are engaged to clean the clothes and shave and pare the nails. This is followed by naming ceremony.
After death, the rich section of the Bhumijs generally cremates the bodies of adults, and the poor ones bury them due to cost of firewood. However, the children of both rich and poor are buried. The practice of burial or cremation and observance of death pollution vary a little from place to place. But mourning takes place generally for ten days after which the cleaning and shaving rituals are performed, followed by certain rituals and feast marks the last part of death rituals. At times even the charred bones are kept in an earthen pot and carried to the ancestral clan ossuary for burial.
Religion and Festivals of Bhumij
The Bhumijs revere Sun under the name of Sing-Bonga and Dharam, both considered to be their supreme deities. They worship Jahuburu in the sacred grove of the village at the Sarhul festival in the months of Baisakh (April-May) and Phalgun (February-March). Karakata, a female deity, responsible for rains and bumper crops, Baghut or Bagh-Bhut, a male deity, responsible to ward off the animals and protect the crops in the month of Kartik (October-November), Gram-Deota and Deoshali, the village deities to ward off sickness and watch over supply of water for drinking and irrigation in the month of Ashadh (July-August), Buru, a mountain deity, for general prosperity in the month of Magh, Panchbahini and Baradela, local deities of Bankura Bhumijs, etc., are worshipped by the Bhumijs. Manasa, a deity, presiding over snakes, is worshipped in the month of Shravan (July-August) for two or three days in the courtyards of Seraikela Bhumijs. The Bhumijs also worship Paori, a female deity, in the month of Jaistha (May-June) and again in Asadh (June-July) for timely rains and general welfare of the village. Asadhi puja is performed before ploughing and transplanting of paddy seedlings. They worship Jaharburi in the month of Chaitra (March-April), associated with the better flowering of the sal tree and also better shooting out of sal leaves. Atra, a Goddess, for protection from small pox is worshipped. Dhulla Puja is held in the month of Baisakh (April-May) for the wellbeing of the village. Vadhna parab is held on the day of the new moon in the month of Kartik (October-November) before reaping, and Nua-Khia, the new rice-eating ceremony. The Bhumijs also celebrate Karam festival in the month of Bhadra (August_September) for prosperity of the village. An unmarried male goes to the jungle and brings a branch of the Karam tree and plants near the house of the Dehuri or at any particular place meant for it. After a long spell of dance and music throughout the night, they immerse it in water on the next day.
The community priest, variously known as Laya, Naya or Dehuri, is from their own tribe, and he solely conducts all the rituals and ceremonies, both malevolent and benevolent deities. "The Brahmin priest whom they have grafted on their social order has no function in their religious pursuits". As the Naya is a communal servant of the village, all its inhabitants have equal claims on his services. For his services he receives a few plots of rent-free land and the heads of sacrificed animals in the communal religious rites. For this, in addition to performance of religious rituals, he makes certain sacrifices like avoiding certain food and observing fast on certain occasions. The office of Naya is generally hereditary. The whole community gets involved in any social or religious celebration. People dance to the tune of Madal (drum) and sing religious and romantic songs depending on the occasion. Community feast and intoxicating drinks provide the Bhumijs the desired amusement. Involvement of the entire community in celebrations during birth, marriage and death makes the Bhumijs a strong community. The institutions of soya and phul among the Bhumijs of Manbhum help in establishing ceremonial friendship with people of other communities. Thus, the Bhumijs have a good sense of community feeling and they maintain equilibrium and peaceful coexistence.
The Bhumijs as a tribe have some common features, but variations are found among different sub-tribes of the Bhumijs. Impact of Hinduism on the Bhumijs is also not uniform. The Bhumijs are a tribe in transition- quickly losing their ethnic character and uniqueness.
Bhumij in Census 2001
In the 2001 census, they numbered 336,436 in West Bengal, accounting for 7.6 per cent of the scheduled caste population of the state. In Odisha, Bhumijes had a population ranging from 248,144 to 321,592 and were among the twelve most populous tribes. In Jharkhand Bhumijes were one of the eight most populous tribes, their population ranging between 164,022 and 192,024. In Assam Bhumij had a population around 150,000. Bhumij means one who is born from the soil. They form one of the Hinduised Adivasi groups in Jharkhand. Some Bhumij have the surname 'Singh', 'Sardar'....
Bhumijes in West Bengal
In the western districts of West Bengal, there are prominent groups of Bhumijes, although numerically they are considerably behind the Santals and Bauris. They live in the territory between the Kasai and Subarnarekha rivers. In olden days they probably had settlements north of the Kasai, possibly right up to Panchakot, but were pushed back by the Aryans, represented by the Kurmis. Their present area of settlement is spread across Dhalbhum, Barabhum, Patkum and Baghmundi.
While those living nearer to Chota Nagpur Plateau still retain linguistic links with Mundari, those living deeper east have adopted Bengali as their language. In the Dhalbhum region they are completely Hinduized. During British rule, or sometimes even earlier, many of the Bhumijes became zamindars and some even secured the title of Raja. Others were called Sardars. However, all of them, having climbed the social ladder, proclaimed themselves to be Kshatriyas, in keeping with the trends in the region, ignorant of their rich contribution to the traditions and culture of the region.
- SANTOSH K. KIRO. Delhi demo for Sarna identity. The Telegraph, 2013
- Pranab Mukherjee. Tribals to rally for inclusion of Sarna religion in census. Times of India, 2013.
- "West Bengal: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "Orissa: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "Bhumij Adivasi". Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- "Bhumij". Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- Ghosh, Binoy, Paschim Banger Sanskriti, (in Bengali), part I, 1976 edition, pp. 423-434, Prakash Bhaban