Indian Tribes: Among the 68 million citizens of India who are members of tribal groups, the Indian tribal religious concepts, terminologies, and practices are as varied as the hundreds of tribes, but members of these groups have one thing in common: they are under constant pressure from the major organized religions. Some of this pressure is intentional, as outside missionaries work among tribal groups to gain converts. Most of the pressure, however, comes from the process of integration within a national political and economic system that brings tribes into increasing contact with other groups and different, prestigious belief systems. In general, those tribes that remain geographically isolated in desert, hill, and forest regions or on islands are able to retain their traditional cultures and religions longer. Those tribes that make the transition away from hunting and gathering and toward sedentary agriculture, usually as low-status laborers, find their ancient religious forms in decay and their place filled by practices of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism. One of the most studied tribal religions is that of the Santal of Orissa, Bihar, and West Bengal, one of the largest tribes in India, having a population estimated at 4.
2 million. According to the 1991 census, however, only 23, 645 people listed Santal as their religious belief. According to the Santal religion, the supreme deity, who ultimately controls the entire universe, is Thakur ji. The weight of belief, however, falls on a court of spirits (bong a), who handle different aspects of the world and who must be placated with prayers and offerings in order to ward off evil influences.
These spirits operate at the village, household, ancestor, and sub clan level, along with evil spirits that cause disease, and can inhabit village boundaries, mountains, water, tigers, and the forest. A characteristic feature of the Santal village is a sacred grove on the edge of the settlement where many spirits live and where a series of annual festivals take place. The most important spirit is Maran Buru (Great Mountain), who is invoked whenever offerings are made and who instructed the first Santal in sex and brewing of rice beer. Maran Buru's consort is the benevolent Ja her Era (Lady of the Grove).
A yearly round of rituals connected with the agricultural cycle, along with life-cycle rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death, involves petitions to the spirits and offerings that include the sacrifice of animals, usually birds. Religious leaders are male specialists in medical cures who practice divination and witchcraft. Similar beliefs are common among other tribes of northeast and central India such as the Kharia, Munda, and Oraon. Smaller and more isolated tribes often demonstrate less articulated classification systems of the spiritual hierarchy, described as animism or a generalized worship of spiritual energies connected with locations, activities, and social groups. Indian Religions Tribal concepts are intricately entwined with ideas about nature and interaction with local ecological systems. As in Santal religion, religious specialists are drawn from the village or family and serve a wide range of spiritual functions that focus on placating potentially dangerous spirits and coordinating rituals.
Unlike the Santal, who have a large population long accustomed to agriculture and a distinguished history of resistance to outsiders, many smaller tribal groups are quite sensitive to ecological degradation caused by modernization, and their unique religious beliefs are under constant threat. Even among the Santal, there are 300, 000 Christians who are alienated from traditional festivals, although even among converts the belief in the spirits remains strong. Among the Munda and Oraon in Bihar, about 25 percent of the population are Christians. Among the Kharia of Bihar (population about 130, 000), about 60 percent are Christians, but all are heavily influenced by Hindu concepts of major deities and the annual Hindu cycle of festivals.
Tribal groups in the Himalayas were similarly affected by both Hinduism and Buddhism in the late twentieth century. Even the small hunting-and-gathering groups in the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been under severe pressure because of immigration to this area and the resulting reduction of their hunting area. Northeast region of India is a pristine territory, completely unexplored. The valley is adorned with lush green vegetation, majestic mountains and untamed rivers. It is also abode of exquisite range of flora and fauna and the magnificent tribal life.
The states of Northeast India's natural splendor welcome the tourist browsing for something different. North East of India is comprises of Sikkim where orchids bloom on the hillside. Assam - famous for its tea gardens, Arunachal Pradesh - the first part of India to welcome the morning sun. Tripura - explore the princely traditions of, Nagaland - famous for the tribal crafts and culture, Mizoram - enjoy the exquisite bamboo and cane souvenirs, Manipur - luxuriate in the marionette dance, Meghalaya- recline in the picturesque vista of the abode of the clouds.
All is adding to its charisma. A varied number of tribes and tribal groups each with its own distinct culture inhabit the region of northeast India. Many tribal languages are spoken throughout these seven states. The northeastern states have the highest percentage of Christians.
The region also has its state importance as it is bordering the territories of China, Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Tai-Khamtis tribe hold to their Buddhist faith and got settled in the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, thus the area became the central platform for intermixing of varying cultures and religions, the main ones being Hinduism and Buddhism. Tribal society tends to be considerate of humankind, its leadership being based on ties of kinship and temper rather than on hereditary status. A major portion of the tribal habitat is hilly and forested. Tribal villages are generally found in areas away from the alluvial plains close to rivers. Tribal groups hold such cultural features, which indicate an ancient level in social- cultural standard.
The native people of Arunachal Pradesh are tribes with gratifying heritage of arts and crafts and entertaining folksong's. The state has 26 major tribes and a number of sub-tribes having their own lingo and cultural identities. Apatanis is the main tribal group of Arunachal Pradesh. Each tribe has its own lively folk songs and kaleidoscopic traditional dances that depict a unique outline of unity in diversity. Though the tribes have their own dialect but Hindi and Assamese are also widely spoken and used in communication with non tribal people. There are 62 different tribes prevailing in Orissa.
The total strength of tribal population is about 7 million, which comprises of 22. 21% of the total population of the State. Tribal economy is a subsistence economy is mainly based on collecting, hunting and fishing. The most primitive tribes are Bond as, G adabas, Kolas, Kondhas and S auras. 16 major tribes along with other sub-tribes inhabit Nagaland.
Each tribe has its own customs, languages, dress and can easily be marked by the brilliant designed attires, jewelry and bead strings that they wear. The present generation of Nagas has turned into fashion designing in a big way, reproducing fabrics that represent the ancestral motifs blended with modern appeal. The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe is an interesting sight to see. Main tribal groups in Assam are Khamtis, Phakial, Khamyang, Antonia, Nara, Guru ng and Shyam. Populations of these tribes have been gradually decreasing in the last one-decade. It is interesting to note that the Government of India has not recognized these tribal groups as the tribal people.
A common feature of the tribal population in north east region is weaving that is being practiced by all tribal groups in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and in the valley of Assam. There are only a few exceptions, such as the Nokteys of Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh and the Khasis of Meghalaya who do not weave. It is the women who are the real sartor of northeastern region -whether it be the Mon pas and Sherdukpens of Kamen g, the Mish mis and Khamtis of Lohit or the wives of the Wan choo chieftains of Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh, or any of the Naga tribes, or even the Assamese in the plains, it is the women who weave unlike the rest of India, where men surpass the weaving skill. Tribal population is mainly dominating in the thinly populated hill areas almost comprising of 20 percent of the total region population. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, upward of 90 percent of the population is tribal.
However, in the remaining northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Tripura, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30 percent of the population. Often they practice farming by clearing a field by slash or burn methods, planting it for a number of seasons, and then abandoning it for a lengthy fallow period, rather than the intensive farming typical of most of rural India.