Adi-dharma ie Sarana cult of jharkhand tribals

Adi-dharma ie Sarana cult of jharkhand tribals

Adi Dharam or ?di dharam (meaning the ancient or the root (?di) religion (Dharam) ) refers to the tribal religion or the traditional religion or the indigenous religion or the Adivasi (Hindi for original settlers) religion of the indigenous peoples of India. It is an umbrella term used to denote the religion of indigenous peoples of India. The term ‘Adi Dharam’ was made popular by the tribal scholar and philosopher Ram Dayal Munda when he sought to unite the ancestral beliefs of the all the indigenous people of India.

In the pre-Independence British era, the Indian government had recognized the distinctiveness of the religious beliefs of the Adivasi or the tribal people of India and had categorized it under the term ‘Animism’. The term Animism was re-purposed and made popular by the works of British anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor. Census records as early as 1871 and various ethnographic books by the Britishers show that a large chunk of the tribal population were followers of their traditional religion (recognized as Animism). The term ‘Animism’ was included in the census till 1931 after which, due to unknown reasons, its use was discontinued (some records show that Animism was there in the 1951 census). The post-Independence Indian Government abolished all the terms signifying the distinctiveness of the religious beliefs of the tribal people.

However, tribal religious movements that intended to safeguard the belief system and identity of the tribals continued at a regional level like the Donyi-Polo movement, Gondi movement, Khasi religion, Sanamahi movement, Sari Dharam movement, Sarna movement etc., but a national level movement encompassing all the tribals was lacking. The early post-Independence literate tribals did feel a need for a national level movement in order to safeguard the religious beliefs of the tribals. citation needed The term ‘Adi-Dharam’ to denote nationally the belief system of the tribals was very much used among the literate tribals in the early post independence era as is evident from Shri Kartik Oraon’s, (a tribal leader and the then State Minister of Aviation and Communication, Govt. of India) book Bees Varsh ki Kaali Raat (1970s) where he uses the word ‘Adi Dharm’ to denote the belief system of the tribals nationally.

Sarnaism or Sarna ,also known as Sariism (Sari Dharam, literally “sal tree religion”) or Adiism (Adi Dharam, literally “original religion”), is the collective designation of the indigenous religions of the Adivasi populations of the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh, centred around the worship of nature represented by trees. Followers of these religions primarily belong to the Munda, Ho, Bhumij, Santal and Khuruk ethnic groups.

Sarna means “grove” and it is etymologically related to the name of the sal tree, sacred to the religion, from which also derives Sari Dhorom (“religion of the sal tree”). A large population of Munda, Ho, Santal, Bhumij and Kurukh continue to practice Sarnaism.

Sarna followers have been organising protests and petitions to have their religion recognised by the government of India in census forms. Adherents of Sarnaism believe in, worship and revere Dharmesh, or God as the creator of the universe, who is also called Marang Buru, Singbonga or by other names by different tribes. Adherents also believe in, worship and revere Chalapachho Devi, the mother goddess, identified as the earth, nature, and the world tree, symbolised by the sal tree. Dharmesh is believed to manifest himself in sal trees.

Worship places and rites

Sarna temples are called sthal or asthal, and can be found in villages, while worship can be performed also in jaher, or sacred groves. Sal trees are present both in the temples and the sacred grove. The ceremonies are performed by the whole village community at a public gathering with the active participation of village priests, pahan. The chief assistant of village priest is called Naike.

The second important component of the Sacred Complex is the sacred performances, mainly performed by the village priest. Sacred performances are the sets of rites and rituals performed by worshippers at different sacred centres. The sacred performances are mainly dedicated to God, deities and ancestors etc. In performing puja, they mainly use the vermilion, arwa rice (red rice), flower etc. The new cereals like maize or paddy are also offered. They celebrate sacred performance for the blessing of God and good wishes for health, happiness and rich harvest etc. On some occasions the offerings are associated with Shamanistic performance. Purity is strictly observed otherwise the spirits may become displeased resulting in disasters to the persons, family or village concerned. Mundas celebrate hunting festivals like Phagu, Bisu sikror etc, Rogahari, Mage Parab, Ba parab, Batauli etc.

In these Munda villages, mainly, the following sacred performances are made.


It is an important festival of Mundas, celebrated in the month of April. This festival is celebrated to worship their ancestors. Legend says that once a lion ran after a man and the man escaped and saved his life by hiding himself behind the bush. He at once resolved that once in a year he will offer Sakua’s flowers and leaves and sacrifice a living animal. Since then this festival has been celebrated by the Munda people. During the puja, Pahan comes with three pitchers to Sarna, out of which two pitchers are filled with pond water. It is widely believed by the Mundas that if the water level gets reduced overnight rains fail to come through the year and if the water level remains the same, monsoon arrives on time. Since it is prohibited for women to go to Sarna all the men go to Sarna to offer Sakua’s flowers and leaves along with Arwa rice, handia and three hens. On the first day cooked Arwa rice is offered to Sarna, and then the people eat it. On the second day third pitcher is filled with handia and kept in front of Sarna and accepted as prasad.


This festival is celebrated in the month of March, where “a plant of Simar” is fixed under the “Tag of phagun”. After that hen, arwa rice, handia are taken to that place to be offered and then arwa rice is fed to the hen.


It is organized in October in the hope of getting better harvest. There are some stories regarding sacred performances. Karma and Dharma were two brothers. Once their father asked them who among them was greater. On being asked this Karma started worshipping the tree of Karam and started farming and Dharma kept busy himself in doing something else. Finally Karma became richer than Dharma. Therefore this sacred performance is celebrated.


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