Mundas: A product of Parashurama’s fury – II
by Jayasree Saranathan on 06 Apr 2014 0 Comment

One of the popular Munda hamlets in Chota Nagpur is Datinakhali, which sounds like Dakshina Kali, the form of Kali who drinks the blood of the people slain in a battlefield and dances on dead bodies in the battle field (a description found in many texts of Tamil Sangam literature). Her fury is such that she tramples on her consort Shiva while dancing over the corpses. There is no Puranic basis for this description of Dakshina Kali. This could have come up from the Mundas and Savaras due to the loss of their folks in a war with Parashurama where no rhyme or reason was followed on who was being killed and why. There is evidence to show that this Kali was indeed a deity personified by this terror struck people and propitiated well for release from a recurrence of similar fatalities. There is a shrine for Dakshina Kali in Jagannath temple at Puri.


When we go through the culture of Savara (Saora, Saura, Sabara) living in the hills of Jharkhand, Odisha and coastal Andhra, we come to know that a Savara king by name Viswabasu (Vishwavasu) had worshiped Lord Nrusimha! This is a surprise connection because their saviour was Singavanga or Singabonga – an entity with the name lion. This Lord Nrusimha was in Neela Giri, the place now known as Puri! This lord was called Neela Madhabha (Nila Madhav). The image of the deity was made of the wood of a tree – which Mundas considered as having Soul as their ancestors were saved by the trees. The Savara king had worshiped in secrecy and no one knew where this deity was housed. Why such secrecy should happen, if it is not for the reason that the Mundas and Savaras had been for ages living in fear of being found out and killed? The fear must have existed initially, but later on such secrecy and seclusion could have become a habit.


In due course, the Savara king was duped by King Indradyumna to reveal the location of this deity, but managed to hide it under the sand. However the deity revealed Itself to King Indradyumna who was pursuing it with devotion {1}. That deity is worshiped as Lord Jagannatha of Puri. This story has been detailed in Skanda Purana, Brahma Purana and other works found in Oriya language.


Puri is the location of both Dakshina Kali and Lord Nrusimha who was supposed to have been worshiped by the Savara king. The whereabouts of Nrusimha temple was never known. No one had ever seen this deity. It was only hearsay that Savaras worshiped Nrusimha, perhaps due to their connection with Singbonga. But the deity that he was supposed to have worshiped came to be called as Jagannatha. He worshiped an image made of wood. The image of Puri Jagannatha is also made of wood. If some myth makers wanted to weave a story around Lord Jagannatha, they need not have invented a story with a king of Savaras coming from a previous time of the actual consecration of Lord Jagannatha. In fact Savaras were not thought of as elites. It serves no purpose to have invented a Savara connection to this deity unless such a thing had happened in reality.


Another information from the Puranas is that Lord Jagannath Himself was Dakshinakalika. It is also true that a temple of Dakshina Kali exists in Puri and is associated with Lord Jagannatha {2}. Perhaps to conceal the movement of Savara kings outside their hide-outs, confusing ideas were floated. But once found out, the Savara king withdrew. The deity he worshiped continued to exist in another form (Jagannath) thanks to King Indradyumna. The period of Puri Jagannatha is such that it must have been certainly before 2000 years. The iconographic details of the three deities of Krishna-siblings (that we find in Jagannath temple of Puri) were in existence as we find them in Brihad Samhita 58- 35&36 written by Varahamihira.


The presence of Dakshina Kali in the same place cannot be ignored as a recent development, for Dakshina Kali had better relevance for Savaras and Mundas as people who suffered sudden annihilation at the hands of Parashurama. Parashurama had attacked kshatriyas again and again 21 times. Perhaps Puri and its surrounding regions were the location of Savaras and Mundas before they were attacked by Parashurama. This location corroborates with the description in Mahabharata where Savaras are mentioned along with Kiratas and Yavanas (12-64-3569, 13-14-1074, 13-35-4170).


Of these people, the location of Kiratas is given in no uncertain terms that they (Kiratas) were “living on the northern slopes of the Himavat and on the mountain from behind which the sun rises and in the region of Karusha on the sea-coast and on both sides of the Lohitya mountains” (2-51-2138). This puts them in northeast India of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam etc.


The Vangas occupied present day Bengal /Bangladesh. South-southwest of it was Kalinga where Puri / Dakshina Kali are located. The ancestors of Savaras and Mundas, had they lived in this region of Kalinga and were killed by Parashurama, then there is every reason to believe that this place became the place of Dakshina Kali – the Kali who drinks the blood of people killed in battle and dances on their corpses. Even after they had managed to flee and hide in the Chota Nagpur mountains they, who were hell-bent of worshiping their ancestors on this day, could have come to this place to pay obeisance to the killed ancestors and appease Dakshina Kali who was symbolically associated with battlefields.


Puri being the location of Dakshina Kali could have been the ancestral region of Mundas and Savaras. This is close enough to Haihaya location and Parashurama’s location at Mahendragiri. Kartha veeryarjuina of Haihayas was the main enemy of Parashurama. His kingdom was in Mahishmati, present day Maheshwar.


Though Parashurama’s exact place of birth is not known, he was known to have done penance at Mahendragiri in today’s Odisha. This is corroborated with Mahabharata narration of Parashurama during the pilgrimage of the Pandavas {3}. Thus the link between the regions of Mundas (Dakshina Kali), Mahendra hill of Parashurama and Mahishmati exists.


Parashurama attacked Savaras, Vangas, Angas, Malavas etc who were all neighbourhood people in this part of the country. He cleansed the regions north, south and east of the Vindhyas of every kshatriya living at that time. The Haihayas were completely decimated. The Savaras (saura worshipers, on the east coast of Odisha where Konark Sun temple was established in later days) were attacked and made to flee. Their final destination was Chota Nagpur in Bihar. Later they spanned to Sundarbans.


This dispersal in the wake of the threat from Parashurama makes sense for the seclusion of these people, cutting off all connection with the rest of the country. Vanga Desa being close by, Singa Vanga (Singbonga) and his men had fled with Savaras. He restored order in the new settlement and enforced the do’s and dont’s for the safety of the people. This made him their foremost God whose rules they followed in toto and dared not violate them for fear of exposure to Parashurama’s fury. This became a habit as time went by. The Savaras perhaps known for Saura worship fused the idea of sun worship with Singbonga. In course of time, due to lack of exposure and education, the original meaning of words were lost. Bonga in Singbonga was taken to mean just “God”.


Such mutation in meaning is not seen in words of universal understanding. For example the word ‘parba’ in Munda festivals such as Mage Parba and Makar parba refers to ‘parva’, the Sanskrit word for festival. This word and its meaning were widespread and therefore did not undergo drastic changes as with ‘bonga’ that came to mean ‘god’. Parba is found among Tulu speakers as “koral parba” which is the equivalent of Kadamba festival. Koral parba refers to the parva of koral, which refers to corn. {4} 


“Koral” is in fact a Tamil word “Korali”, a synonym for a millet called “thinai”. This Koral is known as ‘thene’ in Tulu which is the stunted Tamil word “thinai”, the millet. The Koral parba in Tulu is called Thene Habba – habba is corrupted from Pabba, parba, parva. Here we find a mix of Tamil and Sanskrit words. Parva > Parba found in Munda languages could either be an influence from Kurukhs or a continuing tradition with Munda speakers. But the meaning had not changed while the word had changed. Such retention of meaning happens in widely used or common terms. In contrast Bonga that mutated from Vanga was not a widely used word and hence lost its meaning in course of time.


Mage Parba


The Mage Parba celebrated by Munda speakers carries an important Parashurama connection. Among Mundari speakers, Santals and Oraons do not observe Mage Parab; only Mundas and Ho people celebrate it {5}. For Munda people this festival and its timing is very important. They celebrate it on the Full Moon day in Paus month (December – January). For them this festival marks a remembrance and worship of ancestors or worship of Orabongako, referring to household Gods. It is striking similarity that this day is observed as Dattatreya Jayanti in Andhra and central Indian regions.


Dattatreya was the preceptor of Haihaya rulers. Karthaviryarjuna had followed him. This is taken to mean that friends of Karthaviryarjuna also followed him. The Mundas being a clan who fell to the wrath of Parashurama could in all possibility be followers of Dattatreya. The Mage Parab observed for deceased ancestors and household Gods might refer to the remembrance of Dattatreya from their earlier tradition. This feature of Mundas is not found with any other clan of the Mudari speakers.


Coming to the name of the festival, Dattatreya’s birthday falls on Full Moon of Paus, the solar month of Margazhi in Tamil (“Magasiram” in Tamil, Sanskrit Margashira). This word in Munda language, Mage+parab, shows the presence of both Tamil and Sanskrit in the language of the ancestors of Mundas.


Dattatreya Jayanti has no followers in Tamil Nadu; in fact Dattatreya is not at all a known figure in Tamil lands. Only people who were connected with Haihayas or living in the vicinity of the Vindhyas and Narmada must have followed him. Both Dattatreya of Atri clan and Jamadagni (father of Parashurama) of Bhargava / Brighu clan had co-existed in the vicinity of the Vindhya ranges or Narmada river. The Bhargavas were not favoured by the Haihayas and their friends, who patronised the Atris. The worship of preceptors is a Vedic tradition. The Haihayas and their friends must have done that which is why Dattatreya Jayanthi continues to be observed till today in those parts of India where they lived. This Jayanti is observed in Andhra regions too. This fits with our deduction of early roots of Mundari people in nearby Odisha (Puri). It must be remembered that the Mundari speaking groups are found in Andhra coast also. For people suddenly cut off from rest of society, the special dates of previously followed traditions can be best remembered by lunar days. The crux of the festivals were remembered and retained but other details were lost over generations.


Yet another imprint from Mundari practices that shows their previous connection to Vindhyas and Narmada is found in a practice among Santals, an important Mundari speaking tribe. This gives further clues why the Mundas are called as they are, as we shall see.


To be continued





{3} Vana parva, Chapter 115 to 118


{5} “The scheduled tribes of India”, GS Ghurye, p. 267


The author is an independent scholar; she blogs at Non-Random Thoughts

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