CHAPTER XVIII. RELIGIOUS TRAITS OF THE WILD TRIBES
Gonds, Sacrifice, Chief, Feast, Human, Worship
Besides the phases of pure Aryan and modified Aryan religions which have already been examined, there are represented in India several other aspects of civilized religion; for, apart from Brahmanic and sectarian worships, and apart from Tamil (southern) imitations of these, there are at present in the country believers of the Jewish religion to the number of seventeen thousand; of Zoroastrianism, eighty-seven thousand; of Christianity, two and a quarter millions; of Mohammedanism, more than fifty-seven millions. But none of these faiths, however popular, comes into an historical account of India's religions in a greater extent than we have brought them into it already, that is, as factors of minor influence in the development of native faiths till, within the last few centuries, Mohammedanism, which has been the most important of them all in transfiguring the native theistic sects, draws a broad line across the progress of India's religious thought.
All these religions, however, whether aboriginal or imported, must again be separated from the more general phenomena of superstition which are preserved in the beliefs of the native wild tribes. One descends here to that lowest of rank undergrowth which represents a type of religious life so base that its undifferentiated form can be mated with like growths from all over the world. These secondary religions are, therefore, important from two points of view, that of their universal aspect, and, again, that of their historical connection with the upper Indic growth above them; for it is almost certain that some of their features have conditioned the development of the latter.
The native wild tribes of India (excluding the extreme Northern Tibeto-Burman group) fall into two great classes, that of the Kolarians and that of the Dravidians, sometimes distinguished as the Yellow and the Black races respectively. The former, again, are called Indo-Chinese by some writers, and the geographical location of this class seems, indeed, to show that they have generally displaced the earlier blacks, and represent historically a yellow wave of immigration from the Northeast (through Tibet) prior to the Aryan white wave (from the Northwest), which latter eventually treated them just as they had treated the aboriginal black Dravidians. Of the Kolarians the foremost representatives are the Koles, the Koches, the Sunth[=a]ls, and the Sav[=a]ras (Sauras), who are all regarded by Johnston as the yellow Dasyus, barbarians, of the earliest period; while he sees in the V[=a]içyas, or third caste of the Hindu political divisions, the result of a union of the Northwest and Northeast conquerors. But, although the V[=a]içyas are called 'yellow,' yet, since they make the most important numerical factor of the Aryans, this suggestion can scarcely be accepted, for there is no evidence to show that the yellow Mongoloid barbarians were amalgamated so early with the body politic of the Aryans. The chief representatives of the Dravidians, on the other hand, are the Khonds and Gonds of the middle of the peninsula, together with the Or[=a]ons and the Todas of the extreme South. All of these tribes are of course sub-divided, and in some degree their religious practices have followed the bent of their political inclinations. We shall examine first the religions of the older tribes, the Dravidians, selecting the chief features or such traits as have peculiar interest.
Gonds: These savages, mentioned in early literature, are the most numerous and powerful of the wild tribes, and appear to have been less affected by outside belief than were any other, except the related Khonds. Their religion used to consist in adoring a representation of the sun, to which were offered human sacrifices. As among the Or[=a]ons, a man of straw (literally) is at the present day substituted for the human victim. Besides the sun, the moon and stars are worshipped by them. They have stones for idols, but no temples. Devils, witchcraft, and the evil eye also are feared. They sacrifice animals, and, with the exception of the R[=a]j Gonds, have been so little affected by Hindu respect for that holiest of animals, that they slaughter cows at their wedding-feasts, on which occasion the bacchanalian revels in which they indulge are accompanied with such excess as quite to put them upon the level of Çivaite bestiality. The pure Gonds are junglemen, and have the virtues usually found among the lowest savages, truth, honesty, and courage. Murder is no crime, but lying and stealing are sinful; for cowardice is the greatest crime, and lying and stealing (instead of straightforward and courageous robbery and murder) are regarded as indications of lack of courage. But the 'impure,' that is the mixed Gonds that have been corrupted by mingling with Hindus and other tribes, lie and steal like civilized people. In fact, the mixed Gonds are particularly noted for servility and dishonesty. The uncivilized Gonds of the table-lands are said still to cut up and eat their aged relatives and friends, not to speak of strangers unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. Among the pure Gonds is found the practice of carrying an axe, which is the sign of their religious devotion to the sacrifice-god. The favorite religious practice used to be to take a prisoner alive, force him to bow before the god-stone, and at the moment when he bent his head, to cut it off. To this and to self-defence against other gods (wild beasts) the hatchet is devoted, while for war are used the bow and knife. One particular celebration of the Gonds deserves special notice. They have an annual feast and worship of the snake. The service is entirely secret, and all that is known of it is that it is of esoteric, perhaps phallic character. Both at the sun-feast and snake-feast licentious and bacchanalian worship are combined, and the latter trait is also the chief feature of wedding and funeral sports. In the former case (the natives of the same tribe intermarry, but with the same pretence of running off with the bride that is found in the Hindu ritual) there is given a wedding feast by the bridegroom's father, and the feast ends with a causerie de lundi (the favorite drink of the Gonds is called lundi); while on the latter occasion there is a mourning feast, or wake, which also ends in general drunkenness.
The Khonds: Even more striking is the religion of the Khonds. Their chief rite is human sacrifice to the earth-goddess, Tari; but, like the Gonds, they worship the sun as chief divinity. Other gods among them are the river-god, rain-god, spring, wealth, hill-god, and smallpox-god. All their religious feasts are excuses for excess both in drinking and otherwise. One of their beliefs is that there is a river of hell, which flows around a slippery rock, up which climbs the one that would escape torment. Their method of sacrificing a human victim is to put him into the cleft of a tree, where he is squashed, or into fire. They seem to have an odd objection to shedding blood for this purpose, and in this respect may be compared with the Thugs. Another very interesting trait is the religion which is intertwined with business, and its peculiar features. Victims offered either to the sun or to the war-god serve to mark boundary lines. Great is the patience with which these victims, called merias, are waited for. The sacrificer captures fit specimens when they are young, and treats them with particular kindness till they are almost grown up. Indeed, they are treated thus by the whole village. At the appointed time they are slowly crushed to death or smothered in a mud bath, and bits of their flesh are then cut out and strewn along the boundary lines. Boys are preferred, but either boys or girls may be used. This sacrifice is sometimes made directly to the 'Boundary-god,' an abstraction which is not unique; for, besides the divinities recorded above, mention is made also of a 'Judgment-god.' Over each village and house preside the Manes of good men gone; while the 'father is god on earth' to every one. They used to destroy all their female children, and this, together with their national custom of offering human sacrifices, has been put down with the greatest difficulty by the British, who confess that there is every probability that in reality the crime still *obtains among the remoter clans. These Khonds are situate in the Madras presidency, and are aborigines of the Eastern Gh[=a]ts. The most extraordinary views about them have been published. Despite their acknowledged barbarity, savageness, and polytheism, they have been soberly credited with a belief in One Supreme God, 'a theism embracing polytheism,' and other notions which have been abstracted from their worship of the sun as 'great god.'
Since these are by far the most original savages of India, a completer sketch than will be necessary in the case of others may not be unwelcome. The chief god is the light-or sun-god. "In the beginning the god of light created a wife, the goddess of earth, the source of evil." On the other hand, the sun-god is a good god. Tari, the earth-divinity, tried to prevent Bella Pennu (sun-god) from creating man. But he cast behind him a handful of earth, which became man. The first creation was free of evil; earth gave fruit without labor (the Golden Age); but the dark goddess sowed in man the seed of sin. A few were sinless still, and these became gods, but the corrupt no longer found favor in Bella (or Boora) Pennu's eyes. He guarded them no more. So death came to man. Meanwhile Bella and Tari contended for superiority, with comets, whirlwinds, and mountains, as weapons. According to one belief, Bella won; but others hold that Tari still maintains the struggle. The sun-god created all inferior deities, of rain, fruit, *hunt, boundaries, etc., as well as all tutelary local divinities. Men have four kinds of fates. The soul goes to the sun, or remains in the tribe (each child is declared by the priest to be N.N. deceased and returned), or is re-born and suffers punishments, or is annihilated. The god of judgment lives on Grippa Valli, the 'leaping rock,' round which flows a black river, and up the rock climb the souls with great effort. The Judgment-god decides the fate of the soul); sending it to the sun (the sun-soul), or annihilating it, etc. The chief sins are, to be inhospitable, to break an oath, to lie except to save a guest, to break an old custom, to commit incest, to contract debts (for which the tribe has to pay), to be a coward, to betray council. The chief virtues are, to kill in battle, to die in battle, to be a priest, to be the victim of a sacrifice. Some of the Khonds worship the sun-god; some the earth-goddess, and ascribe to her all success and power, while they hold particularly to human sacrifice in her honor. They admit (theoretically) that Bella is superior, but they make Tari the chief object of devotion, and in her honor are held great village festivals. They that do not worship Tari do not practice human sacrifice. Thus the Çivaite sacrifice of man to the god's consort is very well paralleled by the usage that obtains among them. The Khond priests may indulge in any occupation except war; but some exercise only their priestcraft and do nothing else. The chief feast to the sun-god is Salo Kallo (the former word means 'cow-pen'; the latter, a liquor), somewhat like a soma-feast. It is celebrated at harvest time with dancing, and drinking, "and every kind of licentious enjoyment." Other festivals of less importance celebrate the substitution of a buffalo for human sacrifice (not celebrated, of course, by the Tari worshippers). The invocation at the harvest is quite Brahmanic: "O gods, remember that our increase of rice is your increase of worship; if we get little Rice we worship little." Among lesser gods the 'Fountain-god' is especially worshipped, with a sheep or a hog as sacrifice. Female infanticide springs from a feeling that intermarriage in the same tribe is incest (this is the meaning of the incest-law above; it might be rendered 'to marry in the tribe').
Of the Or[=a]ons, or Dhangars, we shall mention but one or two good parallels to what is found in other religions. These Dravidians live in Bengal, and have two annual festivals, a harvest feast and one celebrating the marriage of heaven and earth. Like the Khonds, they recognize a supreme god in the sun, but, just as we showed was the case with the Hindus, who ignore Brahm[=a] because they do not fear him, so here, the Or[=a]ons do not pray to the sun, on the ground that he does them no harm; but they sacrifice to evil spirits because the latter are evil-doers. These savages, like the Burmese Mishmis, have no idea of a future life in heaven; but in the case of people killed in a certain way they believe in a sort of metempsychosis; thus, for instance, a man eaten by a tiger becomes a tiger. In the case of unfortunates they believe that they will live as unhappy ghosts; in the case of other men they assume only annihilation as their fate. It is among this tribe that the mouse-totem is found, which is Çiva's beast and the sign of Ganeça.
|Written By Edward Washburn Hopkins|
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