Fairs & Festivals :: Tribal Festivals

Bali Jatra:
Exactly on the dates of Karam Festival, the tribal people of Koraput observe the festival of Bali Jatra. Beginning from the eleventh day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrab it continues upto the full-moon. The beginning of the festival begins with Nuakhai (first eating) feast on which new rice is eaten. The festival takes the name for planting of various grains in the wet sand (Bali) brought from a nearby stream and is placed on a structure called Balijatra or sand house. This is an occasion for a number of other celebrations too. Men and women put on fancy dresses and rejoice with drinking, feasting, dancing and singing. In some areas a swing is set up with its seat studded with sharp nails and on this a Bejju (witch doctor) is made to swing. Goats, fowls and pigeons are sacrificed. The Bejju then walks on the bed of live charcoal. He dances in trance for all the three days with intermittent rest during which he prophesies both good and evil portends to grant boons to the people.

Peculiarly the ritual of swinging on a seat of nails and fire-walking is observed by the low-caste Hindus of the coastal areas during the Pana Sankranti festival. It may be that the tribal people have adopted the ritual from the Hindus as such rituals are not in the tradition of tribal culture.

Karama Festival:
The Karma or Karam festival is widely prevalent among the tribal people of Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Dhenkanal and Keonjhar. It is also observed by the low-caste Hindus of the areas. This festival is also observed by the aboriginal people of Bihar and Madaya Pradesh. The tribes in Odisha (Formerly Orissa) who observe it with great devotion are Ho, Kisan, Kol, Bhumij, Oraon, Bhuiyan and Binjhals.

In this festival the presiding deity is either 'Karam', a God or 'Karamsani', a Goddess who is represented with a branch of Karam tree. Its celebration takes place in the bright half of the month of Bhadrab (August-September) during the rainy season. Mostly it is held on the eleventh day of the bright fortnight.

In the ritual, people go the jungle accompanied by groups of drummers and cut one or more branches of Karam tree. The branches are mostely carried by unmarried young girls who sing in praise of the deity. Then the branches are brought to the village and planted in the centre of a ground which is plastered with cow-dung and decorated with flowers. Then the tribal-priest (Jhankar or Dehuri) offers germinated grams and liquor in propitiation to the deity who grants wealth and children. A fowl is also killed and the blood is offered to the branch. Then, he narrates a legend to the villagers about the efficacy of Karam puja. The legends vary from tribe to tribe.

Among the Bhumij, Ho and Orans the legend prevalent is that there were seven brothers living together. The six elders used to work in the field and and the youngest was staying at home. He was indulging in dance and songs round a karam tree in the courtyard with his six sisters-in-law. One day they were so engrossed that the morning meal of the brothers could not be carried to the field by their respective wives. When they arrived home, they got agitated and threw away the karam tree to a river. The youngest brother left home in anger. Then evil days fell on the brothers. Their house was damaged, the crops failed and virtually they starved. While wandering, the youngest brother found the karam tree floating in the river. Then he proptiated the godling who restored everything. Thereafter he came home, called his brothers and told them that because they insulted Karam Devta they had to fall on evil days. Since then the Karam Devta is being worshipped.


After narration of the legend all men and women drink liquor and spend the whole night singing and dancing, which are essential parts of the festival.

Another legend prevalent among the Pauri Bhuiyans is that a merchant returned home after a very prosperous voyage. His vessel was loaded with precious metals and other valuables, which he had brought from distant lands. He waited in the vessel to be ceremoniously received by his wife and relatives as was the custom. As it was the day of Karama festival and all the women were engrossed with dancing and the men playing the drums, none went to receive him. The merchant became furious with them. He uprooted the karam tree and threw it away. Then the wrath of Karam Devta fell on him. His vessel immediately sank in the sea. Then he consulted astrologers who told him to propitiate Karam Devta. Again in another vessel he set out in search of the deity and found him floating in the sea, He propitiated him with great devotion and was restored with all wealth. From that day on the annual festival of Karam puja is being held. After spending the whole night with dance and songs, the people uproot the branches and carry them to nearby rivers or rivulets for immersion.

The festival is observed in two ways. Firstly, it is commonly held by the villagers on the village street and the expenses on liquor etc. are commonly borne. Alternatively, it is celebrated by a man in his courtyard under his patronage to which he invites all. Even people who come uninvited listening to the sound of drums are also entertained with liquor.

The Bondas of Koraput are an interesting primitive tribe. They live on hill-tops and lead a secluded life. Their interaction with other tribes is very rare. Among many festivals of the year, the most important festival for them is known as Sume-Gelirak. All the year young men and women look forward to the festival as it gives them ample freedom in all respects. The festival starts on a Sunday and continue for ten days. During the first few days they worship their traditional Godlings and demons as well. The Sisa or the tribal priest does the rituals of sacrificing animals and birds and propitiating the deities with liquor. Then amusement through dancing and singing begins with full vigour. Young men and women make dancing expeditions to neighbouring villages and during the dance choose their life partners. But the most serious and dramatic part of the festival is castingation. It begins first with little boys. Some one takes up the drum and beats it loudly and others join with him. The boys stand in pairs, front to front, and strike each other as hard as they can with pliant branches of a tree stripped off its foliage. When they had enough of it, they salute each other and embrace, and another pair takes their place. When all the boys of the village complete this piquant exercise, the Sisa gives them cakes to stop all quarrels and delivers a little lecture of friendship and good behaviour. The following evening this castigation is repeated with young men and even the old. They bow each other with folded hands and start dancing to the frantic beats of the drums and then hitting hard with the branches. Blood flows from their wounds and watching the situation the Sisa stops them. Then they touch each others feet and embrace hugging and lifting the other in the air.


Bija Pandu:
The festival of Chaitra parva is known as Bija Pandu among the tribal people known as Koya who are concentrated in the Malkangiri sub-division of the district of Koraput. The Koya villages are situated on patches of clearings in the midst of dense forests. In each village there happens to be a Bijigudi or house of Cod. The tribes worship, 'Gudimata', the Mother Earth and also the earth whom they call Bhumu. During the festival they worship the Godlings with liquor and sacrifice an animal or bird.

The Bijapandu is the sacred seed from which the festival takes it name. During the festival the men go out hunting and fishing in groups and return home before dark. During the days the women keep on singing and dancing, waiting for their men to come. In the evenings they unite, feast, drink and dance together.

The Koyas have special variety of dance for the festival. Men wear huge headgears of bisson-horns which are richly decorated with peacock feathers and cowries. The drums are cylindrical and unusually long. Women wear brass-caps and hold sticks fitted with tinkling bells which they strike during the dance in between the beats. They dance in circles singing songs of love.

Kedu Festival:
Kedu is the most important festival of the Kondhs of Phulbani, where they are largely concentrated. They are also found in certain areas of the districts of Ganjam and Koraput. The festival is held in different villages in different years. The place and date of the festival are decided years ahead. This festival was well-known for the human sacrifice 'Meria' which was totally stopped during the British rule in India. However to guard the religious sentiments of the tribals this has been substituted now by buffalo-sacrifice. This festival continues for five days and different rituals are prescribed for each day. The sacrifices are made on the third and the fourth days in a most cruel manner. The animal is tethered in the place of worship. Men and women get drunk, dance in frantic mood and then kill the animal by cutting its limbs piece by piece. Then they carry the blood and a piece of meat and bury it in the field where they produce turmeric. They believe that this would yield them a good crop of turmeric as red as the blood of the animal. Through this festival they propitiate the Mother Earth.

Chaita Parva:
The most important festival of the tribal people of Koraput is Chaita Parva. It is also observed by the Bhuiyans of Mayurbhanj, Sudargarh and Keonjhar. Bhuiyans are an ancient Hinduised tribe who greatly influenced the culture of the other tribes. They are also found in Seraikela and Kharswan regions of the district of Singbhum in Chattisgarh, where the festival is observed with great enthusiasm.

For the whole month of Chaitra the tribal people remain in festive mood. They wear new clothes, sacrifice animals and birds before their gods, feast drink, sing and dance. During the day time women, young and old, keep on singing and dancing. The men go out hunting in the jungle. They bring whatever animal comes to their sight. They don't spare a jackal even, whatever kill they bring, the meat is distributed among all the villagers. The nights are spent in drinking, singing and dancing.

Maghe Parab:
The most important festival of the Ho, Oraon, Kisan and Kol tribes is known as Magha Parab, which is a harvest festival. The festival is observed in honour of the village deity (Mother Goddess) who bestows them with good fortune and protects them from calamities. The festival is observed in different villages on different dates of the month. The ritual comprises of a sacrifice of a black fowl before the deity and offering of Mahua liquor.

During the festival all of them wear new clothes. Drinking singing and dancing together are the common traits of celebrating the festival. The tribes observe 'Damurai Parab' in the summer and 'Horo Parab' during the rains.