Mundas: A product of Parashurama’s fury – V
by Jayasree Saranathan on 20 Apr 2014 2 Comments

The Renuka cult and the importance of Navaratri puja for Renuka worshippers bring out the other side of Parashurama’s fury, in that it shows who stood by him in his killing spree. One of the reasons for this presumption is found in the traditional ideas connected with the much maligned Mang people of Maharashtra. 

The Mang


The Mang people originally lived in the Narmada regions and traditionally worked as hangmen – a job that is something odd to do as a traditional occupation. They were treated as ‘criminal castes’ by the British. A note on them recorded in the 1881 census report gives an interesting lead on their origins: “At the Nauratra a Mang woman is still sometimes worshipped, a custom, the origin of which dates, according to the legend, from the time of Parasurama.”


Why should a woman of the detested Mang group known for killing people, of course by the order of the government, without any remorse or hesitation, become the object of worship at the time of Navaratri, right from the days of Parashurama? Probing this question, there is scope to believe that the Mangs had taken orders from Parashurama in his pledge to kill warriors, and executed them. Parashurama could not have killed the kshatriyas all by himself. He must have had people taking his orders in his military expeditions. The Mangs fit with this category. Their legend, as per the 1881 census record, says that “the first Mang, Meghya, was created by Mahadeo to protect Brahmadev from the winged horse which troubled him in his work of creating the world”. The name may be different but the job was to stop the enemy from attacking Brahmadev (here Parashurama).


The Renuka cult which could have been originally propagated by Parashurama and formalised in various forms during Navaratri could have included worship of a Mang woman as a tribute to Mang tribes and also as a symbolism for Devi killing the wrong doers. This connection of Mangs with Parashurama as executioners of his enemies continued for ages and degenerated in course of time into taking up killing as criminal activity.

The Koli


Like Mangs, Koli people seem to be connected with Parashurama. The Koli are found in places surrounding the Mundari speaking tribes – such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. They are traditionally worshippers of Renuka Devi, mother of Parashurama. Like Mangs, they too, have been regarded as criminal castes. But they have claimed themselves as kshatriyas which no one is ready to accept. As followers of Renuka cult, they could not have been varna kshatriyas but trained by Parashurama in attacking others and in warfare.


Yet another sect that reminds of Parashurama’s impact is the people who practice a martial art called “kalaripayattu” in Kerala {1}.This form of martial warfare involves less weaponry and hitting the vital organs of the opponent is attributed to Parashurama as the founder of the art. The Cheru adivasis in Jharkhand following the Sarna Dhram of Karam festival look like the people displaced from or driven out of Chera nadu by the army of Parashurama trained by him in this martial art.

The Cheru


The earliest reference to Chera kings comes at the time of Mahabharata in a Tamil Sangam text {2}. This Cheran king supplied food to the army of both Pandavas and Kauravas engaged in the Mahabharata war. Parashurama’s time coming before Mahabharata, there is no record on the kings of Chera lands at that time. But Pandyans were present at the time of Ramayana, as we find a reference to Pandyan kingdom in the southern route described by Sugreeva to Hanuman in directing him to search for Sita {3}. There is no mention of Chera kingdom. The Cheras were perhaps subdued at that time. The Cheru tribes who claim themselves as warriors could perhaps be local chieftains of the Chera clan who shifted to Jharkhand along with other tribes in Andhra and Odisha (Savaras and Mundas) to escape from the fighting groups of Parashurama – who were trained by him in Kalaripayattu.


Apart from the phonetic similarity in the name Cheru, other words in their vocabulary have phonetic similarities with Tamil and also the same meaning. The use of ‘palaki’ (in Tamil ‘pallakku’ meaning palanquin) in their marriage ceremonies show that they were not originally ordinary people but were an elite class. They construct “marawa” where the groom and the bride will stay at the time of marriage – marawa sounding like “maraivu” in Tamil which means hidden. It is also the word in Tamil used to signify warriors. Cherus offer “vidai” when the marriage parties leave which means ‘send-off’ in Tamil. Their marriage ceremony is similar to Tamil marriage described in the Tamil Epic Silappadhikatam of the 1st century AD.


Kocch Mandai

The Kocch Mandai people of Bangladesh and Bengal claimed themselves to be Kshatriyas who were driven out by Parashurama. In the census record of 1881 in British India, the Suraj-bansi or Surya-vansi tribes of East Bengal identified themselves as Kocch Mandai people but took up an identity as Surya vanshi – as Chattri (kshtraiyas) who threw away the sacred thread to “escape from the death-dealing axe of parashurama”. The identity as Surya vanshi is important as that is how the Savaras or Sauras were known as.


In the census of 1901 also, the “Mongoloid Kocch of Northern Bengal” identified themselves as Raj vanshis and as Vratyas or Bhanga (broken) kshatriyas who were made so in trying to escape the wrath of Parashurama.



In the census of 1881:- “The Aroras claim to be of Khatri origin. The Khatris, however, reject the claim. Sir George Campbell is of opinion that the two belong to the same ethnic stock. They say that they became outcasts from the Kshatriya stock during the persecution of that people by Paras Ram, to avoid which they denied their caste, and described it as Aur or another, hence their name. Some of them fled northwards and some southwards, and hence the names of the two great sections of the caste, Uttaradhi and Dakhana.”


The Vanjari


In the same census record, the Wanjaris of Maratha origin claimed that they were the allies of Parashurama in his war against Kshatriyas. “They assert that with other castes they were allies of Parasurama when he ravaged the Haihayas and the Yindhya mountains, and that the task of guarding the Vindhya passes was entrusted to them. From their prowess in keeping down the beasts of prey which infested the ravines under their charge they became known as the Yanya-Shatru, subsequently contracted with Wanjari. To confound them with the Banjara carriers castes, whose name “Vanachari” means “forest wanderers,” is to give them great offence”.


These references also speak about the way varieties of ‘castes’ developed over time. The basis of the formation of these castes was not religion (i.e., Hinduism). The first fillip to force shedding of varna identity happened in Parashurama’s times. That was followed by further variations on the basis of familial, social, economic and political reasons for people to have lived in groups as distinct from each other and had them perpetuated in due course.


There are references to people affected by Parashurama’s fury as having lived incognito only to come back to their previous lifestyle after the threat from Parashurama subsided. They have been listed in Mahabharata. There were others like the Mundari people who lost all touch with the outside world and failed to get back to their original life. There is however one group – a very famous group – which seems to have lived incognito in the forests but merged with the mainstream in due course. They were the Vanaras of Ramayana fame! There are proofs to substantiate this, as we shall see.


To be continued...

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