Report on JAGWAR Santal Literary Meet 2013 – Jharkhand

Santal Literary Meet 2013: Santal Onolia Helmel 2013
A Report

The first Santal Literary Meet – in Santali named “JAGWAR: Santal Onolia Helmel” – was held at the Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Jharkhand, on 23-24 January 2013. It began with the Inaugural Session in which the Convener, Ms Ivy Imogene Hansdak, spoke of the contributions made by Dr G.N. Devy, eminent scholar and Director of Bhasha Research& Publication Centre, to the preservation of tribal cultural heritage in India and then stressed the need to translate Santali writings into English and other Indian languages. This was followed by Fr. David Solomon’s address in which he spoke candidly on the role of writers in critiquing the shortcomings of our social-cultural systems. Mr. Boro Baski then gave a brief introduction to his work among the Santals of West Bengal, particularly through the educational programs of the Ghosaldanga-Bishnubati Adibasi Trust of Birbhum.

The formal inaugural ceremony of the ‘Lighting of the Lamp’ came next, followed by another formal ceremony paying homage to early writers in Santali literature, with the lighting of twelve lamps symbolizing the twelve paris (clans) of the Santal tribe. The Keynote Speech was delivered by Prof. Promodini Hansdak, Dept of Hindi, SKM University, Dumka. She spoke eloquently on the problems facing Santali language and literature within the Indian academia and outside it; she pointed out how the identity of a group is closely linked to the protection of its language. Prof. Nikudimus Tudu, Dept of Santali, SKM University, Dumka, spoke next, and he underlined the need to rejuvenate Santali literature and language through the use of effective pedagogical practices in schools and universities. The Inaugural Session concluded in a mood of solemn introspection and hope.

The first two sessions of Day One were focused on poetry. The first speaker of Session I was Ms. Nirmala Putul, a prominent Santali poet whose writings contain the feminist voice in Santali literature. She read from her most well-known poetry book, titled Apne Ghar Ki Talash Me (In Search of My Own House) in Hindi translation. She spoke of a woman’s loneliness and her constant struggle in a patriarchal world. She was followed by Mr. Tarachand Murmu and Mr. Joseph Soren, two poets who are known figures in the literary circles of West Bengal but relatively unknown in Jharkhand.  Their poetry spoke of the primeval creation story as well as the signs of modernity around us. This session was chaired by Prof. Promodini Hansdak.

The first two speakers of Session II were Mr. Lokhon Chand Hansdak and Mr. Shibu Soren, two poets from Birbhum, West Bengal, who introduced the incantatory style in poetry reading. Their poems may be described as ballads that began with Santal relationship to Nature, and then moved back to the Santal Hul or Rebellion of 1855-56. No tribal poetry is complete without going back to the ancestral and primeval world of past history, folklore and mythology. The last speaker, Mr. Mahendra Besra, is a young student of SKM University, Dumka, and a budding poet and prose writer. He introduced the perspective of the younger generation of Santals. This session was chaired by Prof. Nikudimus Tudu.

Session III (Day One) focused on prose fiction. The first speaker, Mr. Sarada Prasad Kisku, spoke of his prose writings for children. He showed how story-telling could become a form of protest. While continuing the Gam-Kudum and Kahani tradition within the Santal community, he highlighted the synergetic flow as the creative writer moves between the oral tradition and the written tradition. He was followed by Mr. Shyam Besra, who read from his well-known short story collection, Damin Kulhi, which focuses on the poverty and suffering of rural tribal India. The next speaker was Mr. Sunder Manoj Hembrom, a new writer whose realistic stories about social transformation have caught the imagination of young readers. The last speaker, Mr. Andreas Tudu, is also a new writer who has introduced the popular genre of crime and detective fiction into Santali literature. Later, a lively discussion ensued as the listeners debated whether such stories were good for the development of the language. This session was chaired by Mr. Bijoy Tudu.

Day One of the Santal Literary Meet ended with the musical concert of Mr Rathin Kisku, a popular folk singer from Santiniketan, West Bengal.

Session IV (Day Two) focused on song, essay and translation. The first speaker in this session was Mr. John Jantu Soren, who enthralled the audience with his repertoire of songs that used traditional rhythms for social teaching and social transformation. He was followed by Mr. Boro Baski, who spoke about his experience of translating Rabindranath Tagore’s play, Rokto Korobi (The Red Oleanders) from Bangla into Santali, as part of a project at Jadhavpur University, Kolkata. During this translation process, he became aware of the way Santals were portrayed by the ‘outsider’ and asked: Is the Santal world still being romanticized? He also pointed out the dismal condition of Santal villagers living in close proximity to the great centre of learning started by Tagore at Santiniketan and quoted the well-known Hindi proverb: “Chirag tale andhera” (It is darkest near the lamp). The last speaker was Ms. Bitiya Murmu, a prose writer and social worker who spoke of her work for women’s empowerment in Santal villages through her NGO, Lahanti. She read a story of witch-hunting in Santal villages and showed how women were working together to reform the situation. This session was chaired by Fr. David Solomon.

Session V (Day Two) had three senior writers: Mr. Durbin Soren, Mr. Bijoy Tudu and Mr. Binod Soren. Mr. Durbin Soren linked the writer’s work to society and then read sections from his short story collection, Judasi Kahni Mala and novella, Ekrar. His stories contained the fiery and pugnacious language of protest. Mr. Bijoy Tudu spoke about the representation of tribal women in his short stories, and then read from his book of short stories, Dosar Pahta. Mr. Binod Soren, one of the outstanding poets in Santali, delighted the audience with sonorous readings from his well-known poetic works, Mit’ten Kukmu and Taral-Basal. This session was chaired by Mrs. Sumitra Hembrom, Dept of History, SKM University, Dumka.

This was followed by the final round called Akhara, an adivasi term meaning “village gathering”. Here, the writers and academicians sat together with the audience in a circle in the main hall. The discussion was on the topic “New Trends in Santali Literature” and was moderated by Dr. Mary Hansdak, Dept of Hindi, SKM University, Dumka. The participants began by speaking of the joy and inspiration drawn from this unique literary event, then examined its impact on Santal society in a critical manner. One specific trend that was discussed at length in the Akhara was the use of ‘crude language’ by new writers, similar to the trend found in the Dalit autobiographies of so-called ‘lower-caste’ groups in India. This controversial debate centred on the emergence of a new idiom of expression in a world poised between tradition and change. The question in everyone’s mind was: Should this new trend be viewed negatively or should the traditional literary norms be redefined? The Akhara ended with the participants expressing their hope that such events would become a regular feature in Dumka.

The Santal Literary Meet 2013 ended with the Vote of Thanks delivered by Fr. David Solomon. As the participants started leaving the venue, it was clear that a new beginning had been made. We felt thrilled by this experience. We felt as if we had entered a new world through our rich and vibrant literary heritage. We felt glad, confident and watchful… in other words, we felt Jagwar!

Source: message by Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Convener, Santal Literary Meet 2013, 1 February 2013

Learn more

Audio | Santali Traditional and Fusion Songs: Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust



Education and literacy

eBook | Free catalogue: Banam: One of the ancient musical instruments of the Santals

eBook | Free catalogue: Museum of Santal Culture (Bishnubati) – West Bengal

eBook | “Santals Celebrate the Seasons”: Creativity fostered by Ashadullapur Gramin Silpa & Sastha Bidhan Kendra – West Bengal

eJournal | Writing and teaching Santali in different alphabets: A success story calling for a stronger sense of self-confidence

eLearning | “National development and the development of tribal communities are linked to each other”: Droupadi Murmu – 15th President of India

Homes and utensils

Indigenous knowledge systems

Multi-lingual education

Museum of Santal Culture Bishnubati

Santal | Santal Parganas | The Santals by Boro Baski | Santal music

Santal democratic organisations, customs, history and creation traditions (book tip)

Santali language | eBook | A Santali-English dictionary –

Santal mission | Santal Parganas

Santali translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Vidyasagar-Charit” and “Raktakarabi”

Santali script – Ol Chiki

Seasons and festivals

Teaching Santal children by Boro Baski

Traditional music instruments of the Santals at the Museum of Santal Culture

Video | Roots and Branches: The Lifeworld of an Enlightened Villager in West Bengal

Video | Santali video album “Ale Ato” (Our Village, Part 1 of 2) – West Bengal

Video & eLearning | “Cadence and Counterpoint: Documenting Santal Musical Traditions” – A virtual exhibition on Google Cultural Institute


Tip: click on any red marker for details on endangered languages in a particular region of India.
Please note: the facts and figures cited (via hyperlinks) links call for updates and fact checking >>
Cultural invisibility – India’s 600 potentially endangered languages | Linguistic Survey of India (official website) >>