Worship, Tribes, Tree, Hindu, Wild, Trees
The Sunth[=a]ls: These are immigrants into the West Bengal jungles, and have descended from the North to their present site. They are called the finest specimens of the native savage. The guardian of the tribe is its deceased ancestor, and his ghost is consulted as an oracle. Their race-god is the 'Great Mountain,' but the sun represents the highest spirit; though they worship spirits of every sort, and regard beasts as divine; the men revering the tiger, and the women, elephants. The particularly nasty festival called the bandana, which is celebrated annually by this tribe, is exactly like the 'left-hand' cult of the Çaktas, only that in this case it is a preliminary to marriage. All unmarried men and women indulge together in an indescribable orgie, at the end of which each man selects the woman he prefers.
The Koles ('pig-stickers'): Like the last, this tribe worship the sun, but with the moon as his wife, and the stars as their children. Besides these they revere Manes, and countless local and sylvan deities. Like Druids, they sacrifice only in a grove, but without images.
All these tribes worship snakes and trees,] and often the only oath binding upon them is taken under a tree. The sun-worship, which is found alike in Kolarian and Dravidian tribes, may be traced through all the ramifications of either. In most of the tribes the only form of worship is sacrifice, but oaths are taken on rice, beasts, ants, water, earth, etc. (among some P[=a]h[=a]riahs on the arrow). Some have a sort of belief in the divinity of the chief, and among the Lurka Koles this dignity is of so much importance that at a chief's death the divine dignity goes to his eldest son, while the youngest son gets the property. In regard to funeral rites, the Koles first burn and then bury the remains, placing a stone over the grave.
Besides the Or[=a]ons' totem of the mouse, the Sunth[=a]ls have a goose-totem, and the Garos and Kassos (perhaps not to be included in either of the two groups), together with many other tribes, have totems, some of them avatars, as in the case of the tortoise. The Garos, a tribe between Assam and Bengal, are in many respects noteworthy. They believe that their vessels are immortal; and, like the Bh[=a]rs, set up the bamboo pole, a religious rite which has crept into Hinduism (above, p. 378). They eat everything but their totem, immolate human victims, and are divided into 'motherhoods,' M[=a]h[=a]ris, particular M[=a]h[=a]ris intermarrying. A man's sister marries into the family from which comes his wife, and that sister's daughter may marry his son, and, as male heirs do not inherit, the son-in-law succeeds his father-in-law in right of his wife, and gets his wife's mother (that is, his father's sister) as an additional wife. The advances are always made by the girl. She and her party select the groom, go to his house, and carry him off, though he modestly pretends to run away. The sacrifice for the wedding is that of a cock and hen, offered to the sun. The god they worship most is a monster (very much like Çiva), but he has no local habitation.
Of the Sav[=a]ras or Sauras of the Dekhan the most interesting deity is the malevolent female called Th[=a]kur[=a]n[=i], wife of Th[=a]kur. She was doubtless the first patroness of the throttling Thugs (thags are [t.]haks, assassins), and the prototype of their Hindu K[=a]l[=i]. Human sacrifices are offered to Th[=a]kur[=a]n[=i], while her votaries, as in the case of the Thugs, are noted for the secrecy of their crimes.
Birth-rites, marriage-rites, funeral rites (all of blood), human sacrifice, tab[=u] (especially among the Burmese), witchcraft, worship of ancestors, divination, and demonology are almost universal throughout the wild tribes. In most of the rites the holy stone plays an important part, and in many of the tribes dances are a religious exercise.
Descendants of the great Serpent-race that once ruled M[=a]gadha (Beh[=a]r), the Bh[=a]rs, and Ch[=i]rus (Cheeroos) are historically of the greatest importance, though now but minor tribes of Bengal. The Bh[=a]rs, and Koles, and Ch[=i]rus may once have formed one body, and, at any rate, like the last, the Bh[=a]rs are Kolarian and not Dravidian. This is not the place to argue a thesis which might well be supported at length, but in view of the sudden admixture of foreign elements with the Brahmanism that begins to expand at the end of the Vedic period it is almost imperative to raise the question whether the Bh[=a]rs, of all the northern wild tribes the most cultivated, whose habitat extended from Oude (Gorakhpur) on both sides of the Ganges over all the district between Benares and Allah[=a]b[=a]d, and whose name is found in the form Bh[=a]rats as well as Bh[=a]rs, is not one with that great tribe the history of whose war has been handed down to us in a distorted form under the name of Bh[=a]rata (Mah[=a]bh[=a]rata). The Bh[=a]ratas, indeed, claim to be Aryans. But is it likely that a race would have come from the Northeast and another from the Northwest, and both have the same name? Carnegy believed, so striking was the coincidence, that the Bh[=a]rats were a R[=a]jput (Hindu) tribe that had become barbaric. But against this speaks the type, which is not Aryan but Kolarian. Some influence one may suppose to have come from the more intelligent tribes, and to have worked on Hindu belief. We believe traces of it may still be found in the classics. For instance, the famous Frog-maiden, whose tale is told in the Mah[=a]bh[=a]rata, reminds one rather forcibly of the fact that in Oude and Nep[=a]l frog-worship (not as totem) was an established cult. The time for this worship to Begin is October; it is different to thunder-worship (July, the n[=a]ga-feast), and the frog is subordinate to the snake. And, again, the snake-worship that grows so rapidly into the Hindu cult can scarcely have been uninfluenced by the fact that there are no less than thirty snake-tribes.
But despite some interesting points of view besides those
touched upon here, details are of little added value, since it is manifest that, whether Kolarian or Dravidian, or, for the matter of that, American or African, the same rites will obtain with the same superstition, for they belong to every land, to the Aryan ancestor of the Hindu as well as to the Hindu himself. Even totemism as a survival may be suspected in the 'fish' and 'dog' people of the Rig Veda, as has recently been suggested by Oldenberg. In the Northeast of India many tribes worship only mountains, rivers, and Manes, again a trait both Vedic and Hinduistic, but not necessarily borrowed. Some of these tribes, like the Kh[=a]s[=i]as of Oude, may be of R[=a]jput descent (the Khasas of Manu, X. 22), but it is more likely that more tribes claim this descent than possess it. We omit many of the tribal customs lest one think they are not original; for example, the symbol of the cross among the [=A]bors, who worship only diseases, and whose symbol is also found among the American Indians; the sun-worship of the Katties, who may have been influenced by Hinduism; together with the cult of Burmese tribes too overspread with Buddhism. But often there is a parallel so surprising as to make it certain that there has been influence. The Niadis (of the South), for example, worship only the female principle. Many other tribes worship çakti almost exclusively. The Todas worship stone images, buffaloes, and even cow-bells, but they have a celibate priesthood! We do not hesitate to express our own belief that the çakti-worship is native and drawn from similar cults, and that the celibate priesthood, on the other hand, is taken from civilization.
Such a fate appears to have happened in modern times to several deities, now half Brahmanized. For example, Vet[=a]la (worshipped in many places) is said in the Dekhan to be an avatar, or, properly speaking, a manifestation of Çiva. What is he in reality? A native wild god, without a temple, worshipped in the open air under the shade of a tree, and in an enclosure of stones. Just such a deity, in other words, as we have shown is worshipped in just such a way by the wild tribes. A monolith in the middle of twelve stones represents this primitive Druidic deity. The stones are painted red in flame-shape for a certain distance from the ground, with the upper portion painted white. Apparently there is here a sun-god of the aborigines. He is worshipped in sickness, as is Çiva, and propitiated with the sacrifice of a cock, without the intervention of any priest. The cock to Aesculapius ("huic gallinae immolabantur") may have had the same function originally, for the cock is always the sun-bird. Seldom is Vet[=a]la personified. When he has an image (and in the North he sometimes has temples) it is that of an armless and legless man; but again he is occasionally represented as a giant 'perfect in all his parts.' To the Brahman, Vet[=a]la is still a mere fiend, and presides over fiends; nor will they admit that the red on his stones means aught but blood. In such a god, one has a clue to the gradual intrusion of Çiva himself into Brahmanic worship. At first a mountain lightning fiend, then identified with Rudra, a recognized deity, then made anthropomorphic. There are, especially in the South, a host of minor Hindu deities, half-acknowledged, all more or less of a fiendish nature in the eyes of the orthodox or even of the Çivaite. Seen through such eyes they are no longer recognizable, but doubtless in many instances they represent a crude form of nature-worship or demonology, which has been taken from the cult of the wild tribes, and is now more or less thoroughly engrafted upon that of their civilized neighbors.
One of the most interesting, though not remarkable, cases of similarity between savage and civilized religions is found in the worship of snakes and trees. In the N[=a]ga or dragon form the latter cult may have been aided by the dragon-worshipping barbarians in the period of the northern conquest. But in essentials not only is the snake and dragon worship of the wild tribes one with that of Hinduism, but, as has been seen, the tatter has a root in the cult of Brahmanism also, and this in that of the Rig Veda itself. The poisonous snake is feared, but his beautiful wave-like motion and the water-habitat of many of the species cause him to be associated as a divinity with Varuna, the water-god. Thus in early Hinduism one finds snake-sacrifices of two sorts. One is to cause the extirpation of snakes, one is to propitiate them, Apart from the real snake, there is revered also the N[=a]ga, a beautiful chimerical creature, human, divine, and snake-like all in one. These are worshipped by sectaries and by many wild tribes alike. The N[=a]ga tribe of Chota N[=a]gpur, for instance, not only had three snakes as its battle-ensign, but built a serpent-temple.
Tree and plant worship is quite as antique as is snake-worship. For not only is soma a divine plant, and not only does Yama sit in heaven under his 'fair tree' (above, p. 129), but 'trees and plants' are the direct object of invocation in the Rig Veda (V. 41. 8); and the Brahmanic law enjoins upon the faithful to fling an offering, bali, to the great gods, to the waters, and 'to the trees'; as is the case in the house-ritual. We shall seek, therefore, for the origin of tree-worship not in the character of the tree, but in that of the primitive mind which deifies mountains, waters, and trees, irrespective of their nature. It is true, however, that the greater veneration due to some trees and plants has a special reason. Thus soma intoxicates: and the tulas[=i], 'holy basil,' has medicinal properties, which make it sacred not only in the Krishna-cult, but in Sicily. This plant is a goddess, and is wed annually to the Ç[=a]lagr[=a]ma stone with a great feast. So the çam[=i] plant is herself divine, the goddess Çam[=i]. Again, the mysterious rustle of the bo tree, pipal may be the reason for its especial veneration; as its seeming immortality is certainly the cause of the reverence given to the banian. It is not necessary, however, that any mystery should hang about a tree. The palm is tall, (Çiva's) açoka is beautiful, and no trees are more revered. But trees are holy per se. Every 'village-tree' (above, p. 374, and Mbh[=a]. ii. 5. 100) is sacred to the Hindu. And this is just what is found among the wild tribes, who revere their hut-trees and village-trees as divine, without demanding a special show of divinity. The birth-tree (as in Grecian mythology) is also known, both to Hindu sect and to wild tribe. But here also there is no basis of Aryan ideas, but of common human experience. The ancestor-tree (totem) has been noticed above in the case of the Gonds, who claim descent from trees. The Bh[=a]rs revere the (Çivaite!) bilva or bel, but this is a medicinal tree. The marriage-tree is universal in the South (the tree is the male or female ancestor), and even the Brahmanic wedding, among its secondary after-rites, is not without the tree, which is adorned as part of the ceremony.
Two points of view remain to be taken before the wild tribes are dismissed. The first is that Hindu law is primitive. Maine and Leist both cite laws as if any Hindu law were an oracle of primitive Aryan belief. This method is ripe in wrong conclusions. Most of the matter is legal, but enough grazes religion to make the point important. Even with the sketch we have given it becomes evident that Hindu law cannot be unreservedly taken as an exponent of early Brahmanic law, still less of Aryan law. For instance, Maine regards matriarchy as a late Brahmanic intrusion on patriarchy, an inner growth. To prove this, he cites two late books, one being Vishnu, the Hindu law-giver of the South. But it is from the Southern wild tribes that matriarchy has crept into Hinduism, and thence into Brahmanism. Here prevails the matriarchal marriage*rite, with the first espousal to the snake-guarded tree that represents the mother's family. In many cases geographical limitations of this sort preclude the idea that the custom or law of a law-book is Aryan.
The second point of view is that of the Akkadists. It is claimed by the late Lacouperie, by Hewitt, and by other well-known writers that a primitive race overran India, China, and the rest of the world, leaving behind it traces of advanced religious ideas and other marks of a higher civilization. Such a cult may have existed, but in so far as this theory rests, as in a marked degree it does rest, on etymology, the results are worthless. These scholars identify Gandharva with Gan-Eden, K[=a]çi (Benares) with the land of the sons of Kush; Gautama with Chinese ('Akkadian') gut, 'a bull,' etc. All this is as fruitful of unwisdom as was the guess-work of European savants two centuries ago. We know that the Dasyus had some religion and some civilization. Of what sort was their barbaric cult, whether Finnish (also 'Akkadian') or aboriginal with themselves, really makes but little difference, so far as the interpretation of Aryanism is concerned; for what the Aryans got from the wild tribes of that day is insignificant if established as existent at all. A few legends, the Deluge and the Cosmic Tree, are claimed as Akkadian, but it is remarkable that one may grant all that the Akkadian scholars claim, and still deny that Aryan belief has been essentially affected by it. The Akkadian theory will please them that cannot reconcile the Rig Veda with their theory of Brahmanic influence, but the fault lies with the theory.
|Written By Edward Washburn Hopkins|
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