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The Religion of An Indian Tribe

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Item Code: UAT397
Author: Verrier Elwin
Publisher: B.R. Publishing Corporation
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9789387587083
Pages: 597
Other Details 9.00 X 5.00 inch
Weight 950 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

Students of comparative religion will find much to interest them in this book, for the Hill Saoras of Orissa have evolved a varied priesthood to mediate between them and the gods and ancestral shades who intervene so constantly in human affairs. Besides hereditary priests, a male or female shaman is to be found in nearly every village. These shamans are often on the most intimate terms with tutelary spirits to whom they regard themselves as married, and with whom they communicate in dreams and in trance. Their services are essential in the treatment of disease, in the protection of the crops, and above all in the successive rites that must be performed if the shades of the dead are to be placated. During the seven years from 1944 onwards the author visited all the chief Hill Saora villages and witnessed most of the ceremonies he has described. He has recorded many accounts given by the shamans themselves of their 'calling' and their dealings with the spirit world, as well as their incantations, prayers and trance-dialogues. The Hill-Saoras are very hard-working, spurred on perhaps by the need to pay for the welfare of their ancestors as well as their own. They are resentful of any authority except that of their own chiefs, and have had little contact with the outside world. This is the first full account of their way of life which has been published, and is a worthy successor to the author's sympathetic studies of the Baiga, the Agaria, the Muria and the Bondo. It is fully illustrated by photographs and copies of the wall-paintings.

About the Author

Verrier Elwin (29 August 1902-22 February 1964) was a British self trained anthropologist, ethnologist and tribal activist, who began his career in India as a Christian missionary. Elwin is best known for his carly work with the Baigas and Gonds of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in Central India and he married a member of one of the communities he studied there. He later also worked on the tribals of several North East Indian states especially North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and settled in Shillong, the hill capital of Meghalaya. In time he became an authority on Indian tribal lifestyle and culture, particularly on the Gondi People. He served as the Deputy Director of the Anthropological Survey of India upon its formation in 1945. Post-independence he took up Indian citizenship. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed him as an adviser on tribal affairs for north-eastern India, and later he was Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh).


JUST about a hundred years ago, in the first week of January 1852, John Campbell, the brave and sympathetic officer who persuaded the Konds to abandon human sacrifice, pitched his camp at Godairy, a large village on the banks of the 'Bangsadara' (Vamsadhara) River. 'At this place', he says, 'I first came in contact with the Sourah race. They are of a fairer complexion, and their features, resembling the Gentoos of the plains, have a better expression than those of the Konds. They speak a different dialect, are less dissipated in their habits, and consequently more athletic in their persons, which they adorn with beads and bangles; this custom, however, is more common with the women than with the men. Their arms are the battle-axe, bow and arrow, though a few have matchlocks. They are professed thieves and plunderers, and are the terror of the inhabitants of the plains.' They readily promised, however, to have nothing to do with the Meriah rite of their Kond neighbours, agreeing to refrain from it 'even as spectators'.¹ Anthropology is the poorer for the fact that Campbell did not make his way up into the Saora hills, for he was an accurate observer and his notes on the condition of the tribe at that time would have been invaluable. Another officer, S. C. Macpherson, in a report which he wrote on the Konds in 1841, says that he proposed 'on a future occasion to submit the results of his enquiries respecting the "Sourah" race, the only other Hill people of Orissa with respect to which he possessed any information'. In view of Macpherson's account of Kond theology, which has misled historians of religion for over a century, anthropologists may perhaps be thankful that this writer did not carry out his ambition. Perhaps the earliest European to come into close contact with the Saoras was G. E. Russell, a member of the Madras Board of Re venue. In 1832, the disturbances in the Vizagapatam District and the Parlakimidi Taluk of Ganjam District were so serious that Russell was appointed Special Commissioner with very wide powers to establish law and order in the area. It was he who in 1836 discovered the practice of human sacrifice among the Konds. He had to deal with the Hill Saoras in rebellion, and at one time had no fewer than two hundred in custody. His notes upon them, though tantalizingly few, are of great interest. In 1862, the Rev. William Taylor published a Catalogue Raisonne of the manuscripts in the Government Library at Madras. Among these were some Telugu documents, bound in 'a small quarto, of medium thickness, much damaged', which gave an account of the Konds, and the Maliya Savaralu and Conda Savaralu; they are un dated, but some must go back at least to 1838, when Taylor started his researches. The Maliya Savaralu, who are described as being in the 'proximate neighbourhood' of Vizagapatam, Kimedi and Ganjam, and as being less 'civilized' than the Conda Savaralu, are undoubtedly our Hill Saoras. The document describes them as 'a people with small eyes, noses, ears, and very large faces. Their hair is thickly matted together. They bind either a cord, or a narrow bit of cloth around their head; and in it stick the feather of a stork, or of a peacock, and also wild flowers, found in the forests. They go about in the high winds, and hot sunshine, without inconvenience. They sleep on beds formed of mountain-stones. Their skin is as hard as the skin of the large guana lizard. They build houses over mountain-torrents, previously throwing trees across the chasms; and these houses are in the midst of forests of fifty, or more, miles in extent.' They are regarded as essentially independent, and more than ready to attack when provoked. The Conda Savaralu are equally warlike, and they 'do not regard the wound of a musket ball, as they have a remedy for it; they are afraid only of a cannon ball; for which, of course, they have no remedy'. In the autumn of 1870, the geologist Ball accompanied a Calcutta surgeon, Dr Palmer, in search of a sanatorium which the unique natural advantages of the Mahendra Hill seemed likely to supply. It was here, in the last week of September, that the party first encountered Saoras, known previously as 'a wild intractable race' but by that date 'perfectly docile'. In appearance Ball found the Saoras small but wiry, often very dark in colour, sometimes quite black. "There is generally tied in a top-knot, and sometimes it is cut short over the forehead, two long locks being permitted to hang over the ears. A few individuals have frizzled shocks, with which no such arrangement is attempted. Most of the men have small square beards.' They made little display of their weapons and had few personal ornaments. Unhappily, although another member of the party, a Captain Murray, took photographs of groups of Saoras, they were not reproduced by Ball in his book Jungle Life in India (London, 1880), from which the above account is taken. In 1881-2, Major-General Cunningham, then Director-General of the Archeological Survey, made a long tour of the Central Provinces and in the course of his report (which forms Vol. XVII of the Archeological Survey reports) devotes twenty-six pages to a discussion of the history and dispersion of the Saoras. He himself was personally acquainted only with the western Saoras, but he has a few notes on our Hill Saoras, and refers to a visit paid by Mr J. D. Beglar to Ganjam in 1875. Another early writer, whose elegant and romantic pen was well fitted to describe this splendid people and their lovely hills, was Colonel E. T. Dalton. But he has only scattered references to the Saoras in his great Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal (1872), and the Saoras he met were either Bendkars or the near-Bhuiya Saoras of Keonjhar. His travels never led him as far as the Ganjam and Koraput hills. It is to Mr Fred Fawcett, Superintendent of Police, that we owe our first detailed account of the Saoras of Ganjam District (which was then in the Madras Presidency) to which he was posted in the course of his duties in 1887. Fawcett was a careful and accurate ob server (even if in the fashion of his time he was rather too apt to describe prayers and incantations which he could not understand as 'gibberish'), and he has also given us valuable notes on the Muppans, the Kondyamkottai Maravars and the Nayars of Malabar. He pre sented his Saora material in the form of a lecture to the Anthropolo gical Society of Bombay in 1888. It is interesting to note that at the date of Fawcett's lecture this Society had no fewer than 300 ordinary members and 16 honorary and corresponding members. The President was R. C. Temple, whose Legends of the Punjab was in course of publi cation. J. M. Campbell and H. H. Risley were among the Vice-Presi dents, and members of Council included K. R. Cama, the Rev. D. Mackichan, K. T. Telang, Sir W. Wedderburn and J. J. Modi. Among the subjects then engaging the attention of anthropologists in India were A Report on the Hairy Man of Burma, Indian Necromancy, Embalming in Ancient India, the Night Demon, Demonolatry in Southern India (by an Anglican Bishop), the Evil Eye among the Modern Persians, and Personal Vows with Respect to Sexual Absti nence. Malinowski was t..en a child of three.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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