Slideshow | Baha festival spring festival: Ushering in new hope and new life – West Bengal

Photos © Elisabeth den Otter 2012

The Santals call themselves Hor Hopon, meaning child or children of human beings. It is only in the mouth of others that they are regionally called Santal, SanthaI, Saotar, and Sotar. [p. 7]

The festivals are celebrated at the beginning of their main agricultural activities as a mark of dedication and supplication to the benevolent Bongas for their help and blessings upon their agricultural undertakings, and at the beginning of the harvesting season of each crop as a mark of thanks and praise to the benevolent Bongas, for their help, guidance and protection of their crops. […]

These Bongas are supernatural spiritual beings and as such they have not been reduced to any imaginary form of images. Their being spiritual beings have not been confined within four walls of a house or a temple. The supernatural beings, the Bongas keep communion with mortal beings but they are not dwellers merely of this material world. They are spirits, their presence is everywhere in this vast universe, and they areapproachable everywhere. Hence they are worshipped in open-air sanctuaries in Santal villages called Jaher Than (sacred grove), Manjhi Than (worship place close to the village headman’s residence), and God Tandi (the place where the opening worship for the Sohrae festival is offered by the village priest) since the time of the establishment of each village. […]

Thus the essential character that God is or Gods are essentially spiritual power(s) is well preserved and guarded in the Santals’ philosophy of religion.

Baha Porob

Baha festival is celebrated at the beginning of the Spring (Feb-March) when after shedding old leaves most of the trees grow new leaves and bring forth blossoms, indicating the renewal or rejuvenation of life in nature. At a deeper philosophical level one may think that the renewal of the creation of the world is connected with this festival, though the Santal tradition has not done it so. This festival marks the end of an agricultural year and the beginning of a new agricultural year, ushering in new hope and new life just as manifested in the natural phenomena.

During the Baha feast, the Naeke, the village priest on behalf of the village community, offers to the benevolent Bongas at the Jaher Than (village sacred grove) Sal and Mahua flowers and sacrifices chickens as thanks offerings, and offers supplications, to them to protect the village. People express their joy for the arrival of new hope and new life in their surroundings of the world by singing and dancing. They sprinkle fresh, clean water at each other, except at those prohibited by special degrees of social relationship, symbolizing washing away of old malice, hatred and enmity from among themselves, if any, and entering into a reconciled life of friendship, fellowship of co-operation and mutual support in the community. With this symbolic act of reconciliation the community enters into a renewed life of peace, friendship and solidarity. Since the festival is associated with forgiveness and reconciliation, it is their most sacred festival. Only after this festival are they permitted to gather Matkom Baha, (Basia Latifolia blossoms), a cash crop used both for food and drink, and eat other fruits of the trees. The women don’t wear flowers in their hair or suck the honey of the flower until this festival is celebrated. [pp. 35-37]

Source: Introduction to the Santals in Hembrom, Timotheas. The Santal and the Biblical Creation Traditions: Anthropological & Theological Reflections. 2nd ed. Kolkata: Adivaani 2013. ISBN 9788192554150

The Santals have no primordial books on their religion written by themselves. Their religion is based on oral traditions | Learn more >>

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