Munda people: A product of Parashurama’s fury – X
by Jayasree Saranathan on 12 May 2014 5 Comments

A common view held by many scholars is that ‘Aryans’ or Hindus influenced the Mundari people such that they started worshiping “Aryan” Gods. The same explanation is given to justify the presence of Sanskrit words in their language. However a closer examination of their festivals and practices give rise to a view that such ‘Aryan’ practices are basic to their culture. Another important observation is that they all have had some connection with peninsular India and ancient Tamil or proto-Tamil. 


The basic problem is in thinking that Mundas are different from Hindus. All the features and ideas of their culture are seen in rural India even today. They are found in Tamil Sangam texts that describe the culture that existed 2000 years ago. Texts like “Malai padu kadaam” and “Maduraik kaanchi” describe the lifestyle of different people living in forests and hills and we find them similar to the lifestyle and beliefs of Mundas. The Mundari speaking people show close semblance to the lifestyle in Peninsular India.


Vedic or “Aryan” festivals of Mundas


The Mundas celebrate Bissho karma puja which is the same as Vishwakarma Puja of the creator-architect. It is easy to attribute this to some influence from ‘Hindus’. But their celebration of “Asharhe Puja” in Ashada month is something Vedic society was celebrating but had given up long ago. “Ashada Puja” in Vedic society invoked Goddess Saraswati as Vaak Devi to help in determining the level of prosperity of the upcoming rainy season. The available record of this Puja is found only in Brihad Samhita authored by Varahamihira. {1) The puja was in vogue before the times of Varahamihira. No wonder Mundas worship Goddess Saraswati too, which people think is an influence from Hinduism.


Monsa Puja


Another festival is Monsa Puja which they celebrate in Shravan. Munda belief in Monsa as a serpent God is so indigenous and deep rooted that whenever they see a snake in a dream, they connect it to Monsa Devi. In Vedic culture there is Goddess Manasa Devi with the hood of a snake on her head; she appears with a child in her hand.



The Mahabharata has a story behind this appearance of Manasa Devi; the child in Manasa’s hand is Astika who was born to release the ancestors. Hindus believe that the snake signifies an impediment to getting progeny; worship of snake removes this impediment. The iconography of Manasa Devi seems to be the precursor to this belief. By worshiping Manasa Devi who is a personification of snake, one is blessed with a child. The child is desired primarily to pay off ancestral debts through ancestral worship, an old and original concept of Vedic society. The accessory elements may be missing in Mundari Monsa Devi, but the snake identity is retained by them. Monsa Devi could not have been an adopted concept as they have dream interpretations for Monsa. It must have been a former concept that was retained by them even after they had gone into isolation.


The same idea of Manasa Devi with a child is there in Tamil Nadu by the name Isakki amman. This Goddess is found in many regions of Tamil Nadu where some valorous women in the deed of protecting a child had been deified as Isakki. There is mention of Isakki as Iyakki in the 1st century AD text of Silappadhikaram, thereby establishing this deity as an old concept. Iyakki means she is one who ‘drives’ the world / souls. She is Iccha shakthi of the Creator God and is identified as Manasa Devi. Thus a similar meaning with a similar iconography had existed throughout India. The original idea must have been Monsa Devi worshiped by Mundas. The idea of Monsa with serpent related to progeny could have been converted into forms of Manasa and Isakki, perhaps after Parashurama ushered in Devi worship through his Kalpasutra.


Plough – festival, Akshay Tritiya and Rohini


The paddy sowing festival of Santals, called “Ero”, is on Akshaya Tritiya in the month of Chithrai, the day when Sun and Moon exalt simultaneously. Even Toda people have a celebration on Akshaya Triteeya! This is an important day in Vedic society. How did the Mundari people come to possess the knowledge to compute the date of Akshaya Triteeya if they had not had that knowledge by themselves – from the time of their previous habitat?   


A surprising connection to this day is that it is the day of Parashurama’s birthday! This day must have been important in the coastal region of Konkan and Malabar. Toda people hailing from there can be expected to have remembered this day but lost the significance in course of time. The Santali tradition of remembering this day for ploughing might have come from an early Tamil practice. The Tamils had a tradition of starting the first ploughing called “ponnEru” (golden plough) in the month of Chithrai, which continues even today. The plough is called “Er” or “Eru” in Tamil; the festival Ero sounds similar.


On the day of Akshaya Tritiya, the Moon will be in the asterism of Rohini (Aldebaran). On this day the agricultural tribes of Jharkhand including the Mundari people start sowing the seeds. The star Rohini is identified with the Creator God Brahma and anything to do with growth and development is done on this day. This is a concept of Vedic society. The Mundas and other tribes of Jharkhand sow the seeds on this day, but without any pomp and festivities. This is unusual for a society known for songs and dances for every activity. Perhaps this day coinciding with Parashurama Jayanti nipped the festivities! But the day was not discarded due to its significance for growth related activity.


Today this date is commercially exploited by gold merchants to sell gold. Originally it was an ideal time for starting agricultural practices to get a ‘golden’ harvest. 


From axe-culture to Plough culture


In this context it is apt to make a comparison between ‘axe’ culture and ‘plough’ culture. Axe culture is identified with Parashurama and Plough culture with Balarama, another avatar of Vishnu. In Parashurama’s times, new settlements were made by clearing the forests. Axe was the main implement to cut the trees. The Bhargava people of Parashurama’s clan fell out with the Haihaya rulers and were forced to move out of the Vindhya ranges. They were said to have made new settlements by clearing the forests.


In his time Parashurama was known to carry the axe always. Even the Mundari speaking people carry the axe all the time, particularly the Savaras. There was even an attempt to decipher the name Savara from the Scythian word Sagaris, meaning axe. In the words of Cunningham, “It seems therefore not unreasonable to infer that the tribe who were so called took their name from their habit of carrying axes. Now it is one of the striking peculiarities of the Savars that they are rarely seen without an axe in their hands. The peculiarity has been frequently noticed by all who have seen them.” {2}


The Asur-Marundas also must have carried the axe to procure wood for furnaces. The Sanskrit name of axe as Parashu exists in Asur clan names as Parsa. However the common word for axe in Mundari language (“Konde”) sounds closer to its Tamil equivalent, viz, “Kodari”. Likewise, the plough is called “Hada” in Mundari, similar to Sanskrit ‘Hala’. But the first ploughing is called “Ero” – similar to the Tamil word “Er” for plough.


Makar festival


The Makar parba (parva) is celebrated by Santals of the Mundari speaking people. The words Makar and Parva are Sanskrit but the festival is similar to the Tamil festival of Pongal celebrated on Makar Sankaranti. It is a three day celebration in Santali and Tamil tradition. On the first day before Makar sankaranti, Santali children and youth burn logs of wood in the morning in a celebration called “Kumbha”. On the same day Tamils burn discarded things in the morning in a celebration called “Bhogi”.


Maghe festival


The Maghe festival on the full moon of Margashira is related to Dattatreya Jayanti, the day when “Paavai nonbu” was started in Tamil lands. But the features of Tamil Paavai festival is not found in Maghe Parba, which resembles only Dattatreya Jayanti (see part II). This festival bears the imprint of an earlier memory of Vedic society.


Phagu festival


Phagu festival is related to Holi festival and is celebrated on the full moon of the Phalguni month. The name Phagu is corrupted from Phalguni. It was a very old festival in Vedic society as it is about Holika, the aunt of Prahlad, and has reference to the Narasimha Avatar that preceded Parashurama’s times.


Tamil culture in Mundas


The flower festival of Sarhul celebrated by the Munda people resembles such festivals noted in ancient Tamil lands. Sarhul sounds like “Sarakonnai” flower of Tamil lands. The first flower in spring and first rains in summer were celebrated in Tamil culture. Even today “raining the flower” festival (Poo-chorithal) is celebrated in almost all Amman temples in Tamil lands in the month of Chithrai. Sarhul of Mundas seems to resemble that. The Karam festival is related to Kadamba festival of the Konkan region (see part 1.


Remnants of Skanda culture in Savaras


One example of a very ancient connect with Peninsular India is seen in the traditional names that Savaras have for their religious functionaries. They have a village priest, a Shaman, a helper to the Shaman and one who does funeral rites. Shamanism in India can be traced back to the Skanda cult. Even today one can witness Shaman practices among Skanda devotees on popular festival days for Skanda. In the Tamil Sangam age it was widespread and there were people called “Velan” who used to do fierce dances to the accompaniment of drum-beats to drive out evil spirits or to spell oracles. This tradition is said to come in Kura-magal community of Valli, the local tribal girl whom Skanda married. Kura-magal means girl from Kurava community. (There is a Korwa clan among Mundari speakers!). The Shaman priest of Savaras is called “Kuranmavan” {3}, a Tamil word meaning “boy of the Kurava clan”.


The helper to this Shaman priest is “Idaimayan”, similar to the Tamil “Idai-magan”, the one who comes in between or in the middle (whose services are taken in between, or one who comes in the middle in the hierarchy).


The one who does funeral rites is known as “Siggamavan”. ‘Mavan’ is a Tamil word used in colloquial form for ‘magan’, meaning person. Sigga perhaps comes from “Sigi” in Tamil which means fire! As one engaged in keeping up the funeral fire, it is perfectly logical that he was called “Sigi-mavan” (corrupted as “Sigga mavan”), “the guy working on fire”.


The Santals call the head of the village as “Manjhi”.”Manjan” is the Tamil word that refers to a man. Similarly the word “Pergana” is common among Santals and widely prevalent in Northeast India. It refers to some groups or septs among them. This context of the word “Pergana” seems to convey that it is “Perum-gana” in Tamil meaning “the big group”.


Munda’s original name is a Tamil word


The Mundas call themselves “Horoko” in which ‘horo’ refers to man, according to them. In their speech the letters ‘h’ and ‘r’ are interchangeable with ‘k’ and ‘l’ respectively. As such ‘horo’ is also mentioned as “kolo” or “kol”. Mundas say that ‘hor’ or ‘kol’ means ‘man’. This can be seen in the way they refer to people as “Santali Hor”,  “Mundari hor” or “Mundari kol” etc.


In Tamil, the word “Kolam” refers to ‘appearance’ or ‘form’ and it is common to use the word ‘Kolam’ along with a name to refer to someone ‘in the form of so and so’. For example ‘Andi-k-kolam’ means ‘in the form of an ascetic’. This can be understood as ‘ascetic man’ in which kolam comes to refer to man. But that is not the actual meaning of kolam. The word ‘kolam’ here only means ‘in the form of’. Lord Skanda is famously referred to by the term “Andi-k-kolam – meaning “Skanda in the form of ascetic”.


The same idea seems to exist in the word ‘kol’ of Mundas. They refer to a Santali as ‘Santali hor(kol)’. By the logic of the usage in Tamil, Santali Hor means ‘one in the form of Santal’. They say “Larka kol” to mean “one in the form of war-like person”. They say “sAdAn Horo” to refer to a non-Munda or foreigner. The word “sAdAn” is a corrupt form of ‘sAdArana” in Tamil and SAdharan in Sanskrit, which means ‘ordinary’. If we substitute ‘form or appearance’ for horo or kol, the word sAdAn Horo refers to “ordinary man and not a Munda!” The subtlety in the use of ‘hor’ or ‘kol’ is understood from this word.  


The word “Kolam” is used in Tamil when a person is in disguise in that form. The Mundari speaking people were actually living incognito and hiding their true identity. In such a context it makes perfect sense to refer to a person to be ‘in the form of a Santal” or in the form of a Kurukh or Korwa and so on by the use of the word “kol”. So when the Munda identifies himself as “Hork-ko” (ko is plural), he is referring to his disguised form. A society living by hiding its identity can be expected to use such terms.


Tamil and Sanskrit in Munda septs and totems


The presence of Tamil is seen in the word used to refer to the septs. Mundas are divided into septs called “Killi”, a Tamil word. There were Chola kings by names “Killi Valavan”, Nalam “killi”, Pernar killi” etc. “Killi” in their name exists as family or clan name. But no analysis or information exists on why these kings came to have ‘killi’ in their names. But the application of the word “killi” as it exists in Mundari language shows that the word “Killi” is derived from “Kilai”, meaning ‘branch’ and ‘relatives’. Therefore a group of people who are related to each other or those who belong to the same gotra could be called as “Kilai”. From Kilai, the word ‘killi’ came. Among Mundas, people of the same Killi do not intermarry; this establishes the gotra identity among the same killi. The Tamil meaning as ‘relatives’ concurs with this practice.


I wonder whether any connection exists between Cholan Killis and Mundari Killis! Mundas were Maruttas originally. The Cholans trace their origin in Sibi’s dynasty, as known from many Sangam texts and from copper plate inscriptions found at Thiruvalangadu. A commonality exists between them as both Sibi and Marutta people went underground to escape from Parashurama. Sibi’s descendants lived near the river Sindhu in Northwest India and Maruttas lived incognito in Sindhu kalaka of the same region. It is possible some of them went further west and to central Asia. But Cholavarman, a descendant of Sibi dynasty came to Pumpukar and founded the Chola dynasty. {4} This was before Parashurama’s times as there is a narration in a Tamil text called Manimegalai of how the Cholan king of Pumpukar went into hiding when Parashurama was on the lookout for kshatriyas.


{Note on Cholas:- Cholavarman’s ancestry coming from Sibi in Northwest India must not be considered as proof of Tamil speaking people having come from Northwest of India. The original Tamil speakers were Pandyans who came from the now submerged regions in the Indian Ocean. Tamil as a language refined with grammar was developed by Pandyans. However Tamil in corrupt form called “Kodum Tamil”, meaning ‘stunted Tamil’ which is what Apabrahmsa also means, existed in other regions of India}. 


There is no etymology for Chola in Tamil. But Choda or Chauda or Chaula as variations of this name, refer to tuft. There is a Tamil proverb about Cholas and their tuft: “Cholian Kudumi chumma aadaathu”, “the tuft of the Cholia does not shake for no reason”. The tuft of a Chola was tied in the front of the head. Perhaps the Cholas got their name from the tuft they sported. [The saint Periyaazhwar, father of AndAL, is always depicted with the Cholia tuft tied in the front of the head]. 


Cholistan in present-day Pakistan might perhaps be the place of Chola origin. The presence of Brahui language with similarities with Tamil could be related to the emergence of Cholavarma from this part of the country. It must be noted that the similar front-side tuft is found in people of the olden days in the stretch starting from Pakistan to Russia. A genetic study on the traditional front-tuft people of Eurasia and Cholia titled castes of Tamil Nadu such as Cholia Brahmins and Cholia Vellalas may find some connections.


The Cholan presence in the region near Indus makes them and Maruttas share language and traditions. The title Killi for Cholan kings and Killi of Mundas must be viewed in this perspective.


Sanskrit and Tamil in totems of Killi


Each Killi of Mundas has a totem as an identity, the names of which found to be Sanskrit or Tamil. For example, Kachap killi has Kachap as totem, tortoise in Sanskrit; Tuti for Tulsi plant. Mundas use tulsi leaves in pujas to sprinkle water. Soe totem refers to ‘sura’ in Tamil which refers to a fish; Nag totem refers to serpent; Purthi totem means insect. In Tamil ‘Puchi’ means insect; Hansda totem refers to swan.


The fusion of Sanskrit and Tamil is seen in the totem ‘Kamal’, which means lotus in Mundari language too. The link with Tamil word exists in the Sept name that has Kamal as the totem, that is, “Tamar Pergana”, Tamarai being Tamil for lotus! Tamar Pergana is similar to “Tamarai Perum gana”. The septs and totems are something indigenous to Mundari people and come from their basic culture. Many totems were formed in course of time, but their names show Tamil or Sanskrit words mingled in their language, which shows that these two languages co-existed as part and parcel of the society in their previous origins.


It may be mentioned that the famous Sangam age grammar book “Tholkappiyam” (‘ancient Kavya’) was authored by a descendant of Jamadagni’s lineage/gotra! Popularly known as “Tholkappiyar”, his original name was ‘Trunadhoomagni’. In the very first verse, he expresses his qualification as having mastered the Sanskrit Vyakarana text called Aindram; with the knowledge of which he had written the grammar for Tamil. A JAmadagya possessing fine knowledge of Tamil and even qualified to write a grammar that became the official grammar book of the Sangam Assembly is crucial evidence that Tamil was a widely spoken language that co-existed with Sanskrit in India, particularly from Vindhyas downward south and among Vedic sages. The probable time period of this grammar book was 1500 BCE, the time when the last and the 3rd Sangam was inaugurated.


The Mundari tribes


The Mundas had existed as Maruttas and then as Marundas. Those who were engaged in iron smelting were identified as Asurs. The Santals seem to have come from Coromandal coasts. The Savaras came from the Vindhya regions. The Kurukhs aka Oraons came from Kishkindha as they were descendants of vanaras. “The ‘Bhuiyas’, a Munda tribe, call themselves Pawan-ka-put or children of the wind, the race of Hanuman, son of the wind. {5}


The former regions of these tribes were near Vindhyas and the west coast of South India. The warrior ancestors of these tribes left these regions due to fear of Parashurama and later settled in the hills and forests of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Bengal and Orissa. Of them the mention of Savaras by Mahabharata comes as strong evidence of why they still continue to be as they are now. The Mahabharata says they became Kshatriya vratyas due to the rage of Parashurama. The Savaras and others who fled had to live on whatever they could lay their hands on. They had to subsist on anything they could catch, say a frog or rat.


Mahabharata 18-135 says, “By accepting food from a eunuch, or from an ungrateful person, or from one who has misappropriated wealth entrusted to his charge, one is born in the country of the Savaras situated beyond the precincts of the middle country.” This means one would get degraded food in Savara areas which was beyond the Madhya desa of Saraswati basin. Though Savaras lived in seclusion, their existence was known to people in Mahabharata times.


The fear of Parashurama resonated upto Pumpukaar of the Chola kingdom. The reigning Cholan king Kanthan handed over the kingdom to his son born to a concubine thinking that Parashurama would not consider him to be pure kshatritya race. That Parashurama went after only valiant kshatriyas is known by a similar reference to one “Balika” of Amshuman dynasty who was always surrounded by women. This earned him a name “NAru kavacha”, the one who is protected by women. It is for this reason he was spared by Parashurama, says Srimad Bhagavatham {6}


Inscriptional evidence


That the Parashurama episode was a fact of history is known from an inscription of the Cholas. Parashurama crowned the one born to a Haihaya princess whose father was killed by him while his wife was pregnant with this child. Parashurama crowned him somewhere in Konkan region near a hill called Mooshika (in Tamil “Ezhil malai”). This king was called Rama kuta Mooshika, one crowned by Rama of Bhargava kula. King Rajendra Chola I captured this crown given by Parashurama from the “sAntima dweepa” {7}


Today no place exists by this name. But the Tulu Gramapadhata mentions an island called “sAnti” as one among 77 islands that belonged to Gorashtra on the west coast of India. {8} None of these islands exists today, but the sea level maps of Graham Hancock show some islands existed in this part of the sea which were once an extension of west coast during the Ice Age.


The Mahabharata refers to a pilgrimage by Pandavas that speak about islands off Konkan coast near Surparaka where sacrificial platforms for Jamadagni were present. {10} The Pandavas went to Surparaka and crossed certain tracts on the coast of the sea and reached the islands dotted with forests, offered worship, fasted and made donations, returned to Surparaka and proceeded to Prabhas (Somnath) where the pilgrimage formally concluded. {11} The islands off Konkan coast that Pandavas visited no longer exist. A marine exploration of this region would reveal many clues to Parashurama’s historicity. 


West-coast connection to Dravida and Manu


The importance of those islands is something that goes far beyond Parashurama’s times. What it could be? An important feature of the Parashurama episode is that he relocated Brahmins in the stretch of west coast that was reclaimed from the sea. In the process, people like Kurukhs /Oraons had to quit or were forced to leave this place to make room for the new settlers. The so-called Dravida Brahmins settled in this stretch later spanned out to Kanchipuram and Andhra. Of all the places in India, why Parashurama chose this stretch and even made his final abode in Surparaka in this stretch is a big question. Added to this is the mystery of the sunken islands off Surparaka that Pandavas visited.


There are many leads to unravel this mystery in British records, Mahabharata and some inscriptions on Dravida lands in this stretch as far as south Kerala near “Aryan-kaavu” – the place where the famous Iyappa temple is located. An analysis reveals that Vaivaswatha Manu also known as Dravidewara Manu  was living in this stretch before Holocene when the sea levels were low due to Ice Age in the Northern hemisphere. When the sudden sea floods happened at the end of the Ice Age, Manu and his men (who were prepared for the flood) were pushed by the sea currents in the Arabian Sea that gushed from the Indian Ocean. The currents carried them northward and pushed them into river Saraswati and as far as the Himalayan mountains. The birth of the Rig Veda started after that. But the previous habitat in the west coast of India was lost to the seas.


River Saraswati was flowing mightily at that time. The estuary of that river formed the entry point of Manu pushed by the currents (or pulled by Matsya, the mythical Fish) which came to be called Dwarka. Every time this entry was swallowed by the sea, another Dwarka was built in remembrance of that early entry that facilitated the growth of a new civilisation of Vaivaswatha Manu.


In course of time, when the domination of Kshatriyas grew to the extent of arrogance and atrocity, Parashurama decided to call it a day and destroyed every kshatriya around him. Wanting to start from the beginning, he reclaimed the lost coast of Dravida Manu and settled the Brahmins who had come from the time of Manu. The explanation and justification of this is a subject for further study.






{1} Brihad samhita – chapter 26.

{2} “The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India” - Volume IV of IV, by R.V. Russell

{3} “Tribal culture of India” L.P Vidyarthi & Binay Kumar p260


{5} “The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India”, Vol 3 by R. V. Russell

{6} Srimad Bhagavatham - 9.9.40

{7} One dated at 1024 AD found on a rock on top of Thirumalaik kunRu near POLur and another dated 1031 AD found in the southern side of the sanctum sanctum of Rajarajeswara temple in Tanjore.

{8} “Ancient Karnataka” Vol I ‘History of Tuluva’.

{9} Brihad samhita 14- 19

{10} Mahabharata 3-88

{11} Mahabharata 3-118

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