MOHAMMEDANS. Mohammedans are in a minority in this district. Their number in the district population is about seven per cent. The Muslim population consists of Ansaris, Pathans, Sheikhs and Saiyads. More than half of them are Ansaris. The Pathans chieny live in Hussainabad and Garhwa, the Sheikhs in Hussainabad and Daltonganj. The number of Mohammedans is larger in the north of the district. In this part or the district the two parganas of Japla and Belaunja were granted as Jagir to officers in the Mughal emperor's employ. The descendants of the Nawab's family are still found at Hussainabad and Sheikhpur and are held in great respect. The Ansaris are mostly cultivators and weavers. There is a large section of Muslims called Kunjras who deal in vegetables.
In Patan thana, Ansari worship the Panchpir and Sheikh Sadhu. At Lesliganj, Anjin Saheed is worshipped by them. A small mound cheif earth in a room of almost every Ansari in Patan thana is set apart for the purposes of the worship of Panchpir. At Lesliganj a tile-thatched shed marks the spot of Anjan Saheed.
In 1951 census the population of Christians in Palamau district has been recorded as 3,666 souls. This is clearly a very great underestimate as at Mahuadanr thana alone, it is said there are more than25,000 Christians. In the last District Gazetteer of Palamau (1926) it was mentioned that there were altogether 7,28,3 Christians in the district, of whom 7,232 were Indians. Nearly all of these were to be found in Chhechhari and the book mentions how in February, 1890 a. deputation of 70 "Chechariens" visited Ranchi and two days before Christmas in that veal' Fathers Cardon and Dehon reached Kurund on the hills between Barwe and Chhechhari where the valley gave itself to the mission en bloc. Father Dehon made Mahuadanr his home. He built the church, school, etc., and in February, 1896 he was well established there. The church was built brick by brick by the local converts under Father Dehon's inspiration and guidance. The Father laboured with his own hands along with his fold. It is an attractive tall red brick building, 100 ft. long, 45 ft. wide and surmounted by a steeple 90 ft. high. In 1905 he died of heatstroke in the train at Rajhara as he was returning to his work at Chhechhari in spite of ill health. His remains were first interred at Daltonganj, but were subsequently removed to Mahuadanr.
While nearly all the Christians in Chhechhari are Oraons, there are also some other tribals who have become Christians. There is a network of the local representatives of the mission throughout the district. Some of the places even now inaccessible by jeep have branches of the Homan Catholic Mission. The Roman Catholic Mission maintains a large, number of schools both for boys and girls and dispensaries at the centres throughout the district. The church and the other mission buildings at Mahuadanr particularly are in the midst of peaceful and picturesque surroundings. There are also Roman Catholic Churches at Kanjia Daltonganj and other places.
The other Christian Mission in Palamau is the Church of Christ Mission which first came to the district in 1809. The community in Daltonganj now numbers a few hundreds and the mission runs schools both for boys and girls and an orphanage. The mission began its work at Latehar in 1919. They have a branch at Bhandaria where a school is run by them.
The Christians form a small but an influential section in the district. The incidence of education among them is quite high.
Among the women-folk of this district godana, a female tattoo is still in vogue almost in all the communities. In higher educated society it is declining; but the member of higher educated is very small. A short description of this established practice will be of great interest for references to students of history. When a Godanawali comes to a village, a married girl of every community gets herself tattooed. In tattooing the juice of the Bhangra plant and women's milk are the materials used and punctures are made with needles or the thorns of the Karaunda. While the operation is being performed, a very equivocal mantra .is recited by the Godanawali to alleviate pam. Women get their arms, chests and feet tattooed. Ordinary tattoo design either circular or stellate is made at the top of the nose in the centre of the forehead. For days together the tattooed girl remains in pain. When a female was asked as to why she took so much pains in getting the parts of her body punctured and tattooed, her immediate reply to the query was that everything from her body would be removed after death but only the tattooed marks would go with the body".
WITCHCRAFT. The Adibasis of Palamau district have also a strong belief in witchcraft which still rules their socio-economic life particularly in the rural areas.
Generally barren women or widows, old and uncomely in looks, are taken to be witches. The popular belief about witches training among the Oraons is as follows:- Where as certain persons are born with the evil eye and the evil mouth, witches in general have to acquire their art by a course of training in secret. At the dead of night especially ill new moon nights, the witches gather under Bone tree at a secluded spot at some distance from human habitation. There, it is said, they strip themselves of their clothes and wear only the fringes of old brooms, made of wild grass, suspended from a girdle round their waists. Thus arranged, the naked women hold the witches dance with the help of the weird light of lamps burning on tiger's skulls. On these occasions a black chicken, a day or two old, is said to be sacrificed. It is at these witches’ dances that novices learn the spells and incantations and other techniques of magic art. Should any outsider happen to come their way during these dances and sacrifices the stranger is challenged and if found to be a mere way-farer and not an inquisitive spy, he is warned on pain of death not to speak to anyone of what he may have seen or beard. On his promising not to utter a word about it, he is permitted to depart. It is said, however, that for days afterwards the intruder is shadowed to make sure that he keeps to his promise. Should he prove faithless, it is said, he is sure to be killed through magic. All traces of foot-steps or other marks of the witches dance are said to be wiped off through magic. It is particularly on the night of the flew moon ('a-ma-was') in the month of Kartick when the Soharai festival is celebrated that these witches dances are celebrated with special eclat. Large-companies of witches, it is said, move about that night and people are afraid of stirring out of their houses at a late hour that night. The company solemnly interrogates the new initiate Rori Pasa Sahabe Ki Tanga Pasa Sallabe? (Are you prepared to suffer chastisement with the handle of axe or the spade rather than betray our secrets). And the
initiates take pledge of secrecy and replies "Sahab Gum Sahab" [I shall suffer all, Master (Preceptor), I shall suffer, suffer, suffer]. That flight, it is said, that some witch extracts, unobserved, by her magic spells the heart of some man, packs it up in a bundle of pipal (Ficus religiosa.) leaves and secretes it in a pipal tree and names a day for the death of the unfortunate victim and on the appointed day death is said to actually occur. A powerful witch, it is asserted, can by her spell uproot a tree and in the same night remove it to a distance of twelve Roses (more than twenty-four miles) and again bring it back to former position. It is further said that witches enter into communion with spirits that ordinarily receive no sacrifices such as the spirits of the dead (Puma Khunti) and such spirits is 'Hankar Bai' and by tempting them with sacrifices get their nefarious designs on others executed witl1 the aid of these spirits; and such spirits are therefore called 'Nisan bhuts’.
The witches modus operandi.-The various methods by which a which brings on disease or other calamity to an individual, a family or so village, are (1) the use of spirit bundle or sans, also called nasan, (2) the employment of the magic ban or arrow-shot, (3) magical extraction of the intended victim's heart, (4) overshadowing or otherwise harming an intended victim in the guise of a black cat or 'chordewa' or of a manikin. The spirit bundle or sans or nasan of the witch consists of a small parcel of torn rags Or a small earthen-ware jar, containing various sorts of fried grains and bits of the leg, bead, horn or bones of Bone fowl or animal. These are meant as pledges of sacrifices to the Nasan spirit or spirits. The witch buries such a nasan bundle unobserved, at some spot in the doomed village or in the compound of the doomed family. And calamity is sure to overtake the village, so long as a witch doctor or spirit doctor does not, with the help of his sadhak-bhut discover the nasan bundle and brings it out and offers the required sacrifices.
The ban or arrow of the witch appears to be nothing more than the force of the magic spell. This magic arrow, it is said, has it very long range and silently hits the intended victim from a very long distance, altogether unperceived. When, as a consequence, the victim feels pain on the face or shooting pain in one of his limbs or some other sudden physical affliction to which no known cause can be assigned, it is inferred that some witch must have aimed her magic arrow at the patient and a sokha is consulted and a witch doctor or Mati is called in.
As has already been noted another method by which a witch kills an intended victim is to extract the heart of the victim through magic spell on the 'sohorai amawas' night and pack it up in bundle of papal leaves and name a day for the death of the victim. And the victim gradually pines a, way and dies on the day so named. It is believed that a witch can see right through the body of men and animals into their l1earts, for a taste of which organ in particular, they have a great hankering; so, when a man or animal pines away and dies without any apparent sickness, it is believed that the heart has been extracted by a witch.
A fourth method by which the witch effects her nefarious designs is to harm people by taking the shape of chordewa in night. She takes the shape of a cat and in this shape, the witch enters people's house, licks the saliva trickling down the comers of the mouth of some sleeping person or bites off a lock of hair of a sleeping person, and the unfortunate person falls ill or his hair falls off. Even if the witch in this shape throws her shadow on a sleeping person the latter suffers from a nightmare. In the same shape of a cat, the witch is also believed to enter people's houses at night and mew in a plaintive strain and as a result Borne calamity is sure to overtake the family. If such a cat (chordewa) can he laid hold of and killed or its legs or other limbs broken, the witch too, It is said, will be found dead at his home or maimed in her leg or other limb as the case may be……………. Witches are also credited with the evil eye and the evil mouth. It is said that when a wizard or a witch looks at anybody's healthy children or well-fed cattle or good crop with the eyes of malice and mutters to himself or herself how fine, the words act as an incitement to malice of some malignant spirit and serious harm is sure to be caused to the children, cattle or crops.
The above description about belief in witchcrafts among the Oraons of Ranchi also applies generally to the collateral tribes like the Mundas, etc., living in the district of Palamau.
It may be observed that it is not known how much basis there is for this elaborate pattern of belief. Regarding individual woman taken as practising witchcraft, a majority of the cases are based absolutely on no real foundation. The tribal people believe that all diseases and mishaps are caused by mischievous spirits. They also think that in the majority of cases witches are responsible for employing the mischievous spirits. Old ladies with queer penetrating looks in the eyes and ugly shape, provoke fear into the mind of the people and so these women are taken for witches. When a so-called witch-finder divines an old lady as witch responsible for a mishap, she his practically no other alternative than to plead guilty. As a potential source of future danger, she is either killed by beating or driven away from the village. The queer effect of this belief is that the suspected lady under the pressure of popular opinion is sometimes led to form a belief that she wields supernatural forces and gradually develops the habit of performing typical magical rites customarily ascribed to the witches.
While practices of witch craft by suspected women are too often hypothetical, there are actual specialist witch-finders known variously as the Sokha, Mati, Deonra or Bhagat. About the process of witch findings Mr. S. C. Roy writes : The Bhagat or Mati lights fire and when the smoke rolls up and curbs around him he begins by slowly chanting his mantras and quickly swaying his body till at length he ,Works himself up to a state of frenzy and declares he has seen the witch who has roused up a particular spirit to afflict his clients. The spirit, too, is named as also the sacrifices required to appease him. The afflicted party now return to their village, hold a panchayat before whom the offender is summoned and she is required to pay as fine the cost often estimated liberally of the sacrifices necessary to appease the infuriated spirit. In case of denial of guilt and refusal to pay the fine demanded, the suspected witch is not unoften severely thrashed, dispossessed of her lands and in some cases driven out of the village."
Suspicion of witchcraft is a major source of criminal offences among the Chotanagpur aboriginals and as such is a baffling problem for the administration. This is so in Palamau district as well. As the belief in witchcraft is too deeply ingrained in their mind associated with their fundamental belief in supernatural cause of diseases and other mishaps, the belief cannot be eradicated by merely taking to penal measures. It is suggested that the following steps may in course of time considerably tone down this existing superstition:-
In the middle schools and the high schools situated in the tribal areas, natural causes of diseases are to be thoroughly explained along with the fallacy of the belief in witchcraft. Teachers are to explain how this belief has been discarded in the advanced areas of the country.
It is not advisable to introduce this at the primary school level.
In the aboriginal students hostels the inmates of the hostel may be made convinced of
the fallacy of the belief in witchcraft and the necessary harm done to their society
through this belief.
All the while, penal measures are to be maintained against beating any person on
the suspicion or witchcraft.
As a substitute for the belief in the witchcraft which adequately explains to the
tribal mind the causes of diseases, modern medical aids must be supplied to them to make them encouraged to discard the old belief.
BELIEFS, ETC. Beliefs, superstitions, customs regarding ploughing, reaping and weaving have an important bearing on the culture of the people. A brief survey will be of some interest although many of the beliefs are on liquidation.
Village superstitions and beiefs.-Although changes are seen, people of every nationality are more or less superstitious. In every village there is a village deity and other subsidiary deities, without the worship of which no work of any kind is undertake. When the transplantation of paddy seedlings is done, the village deity through Pahan or Baiga is invoked and worshipped. On the occasion of marriage, or when the threshing of corn is done, the same formula is repeated. If in a village there is a number of co-sharers: so long the chief co-sharer does not perform the puja of a village deity, no one can transplant paddy. This superstitious belief goes a great way to hamper the agricultural operations of poor cultivators as they have to sit idle for days together in anticipation of the lead to be given in puja by the chief cultivator.
Belief in witchcraft or exorcism is a common feature and it predominates the life of 95 per cent of village-folk. If a child falls ill or a bullock is indisposed, the cause is attributed either to witchcraft or to the wrath of a village deity. Forthwith the aid of an ojha (exorcist) is solicited. He comes, recites the mantras and tries by his words to give immediate relief to the suffering party.
Good and bad omens.-Omens control to a great extent the life and activities of credulous villagers. Sights of men and beasts and sounds of birds and animals play their own part in this connection. The sight of pitchers filled with water, pregnant woman, fish, funeral procession, the sight of sucking calf, woman with a pot filled with water or curd, prostitute, washerman with a bundle of washed clothes are considered to be good omens for the occasion of starting any work or in a journey.
The sight of an oil-woman with oil pots on her head, a man or woman with empty pitcher, a jackal passing by the road on which the villager is going, howling of jackal and hooting of an owl are considered inauspicious omens.
Customs regarding cultivation and agricultural work.—Cultivators as a class of people observe many customs regarding ploughing sowing, reaping and, threshing of corn. Akshoy Tritiya Utsab is one of the most auspicious occasions for the life of a kisan. The work of ploughing begins from this day. The household of a kisan rejoices an this day along with the ploughman.
Another common custom is in connection with the sowing of paddy seeds. This is also a day of rejoicing for the kisan. Sumptuous food is prepared and ploughmen are fed and handful of paddy are also given away to the needy and ploughmen. Seedling transplantation is one of the most important agricultural ceremonies for the kisan. An organized coperative method is followed for transplanting paddy seedlings. When the transplantation ill the field of the head man takes place, all the co- villagers assist him with the result that three-foura.hof his transplantation work is finished in one day. The people are fed and shown, respect. The finishing touch of transplantation of paddy is the last ceremony connected with paddy transplantation. Just after the completion of work, each labourer is given 2 seers of paddy, in addition to their usual wages. All the labourers are given oil, vermilion and the wife of the chief ploughman is given a jacket. The women labourers sing songs and dance in the angan of a kisan.
Seasonal customs.-There are some ceremonials connected with seasons also which a kisan observes. Karma and Jitia are two very important festivals for the women of cultivators. Karma is generally observed among the Ailibasis, Cheras, Kharwars, Bhuiyas and other, "low caste" people. High class Hindu women observe Jitia festival. Karma is a great festival celebrated in Chotanagpur. With this ceremony ends the Bhadai cultivation. Women appear gay and colourful. The typical folk dance is performed. Jitia appears to be a national festival among the Hindus. Its observance marks the triumph of good forces on the evil ones. Many mothers fast for 24 hours for the good of their children. The festival marks the end of the rains and heralds the advent of Sharad season.
There are other ceremonies connected with Nakchatra months. Of them Adra is very important. On this day all work of kisan is suspended. He observes this day with great awe and revernence. It is believed that the seeds sown within 13 days of this Nakchatra never go a-miss.
Besides, these customs, Min-Sankranti and Brikcha, Sankranti festivals connected with months are of great significance to the cultivators. Fafun, also comes under this head. The cultivator's customs, ceremonies and festivals are all inseparably connected with Nakchatra seasons and months.
Rituals.-Every religion has her own rituals connected with birth, marriage, pregnancy and death. According to Sutra-Granth, Hindus, have to observe about 40 rituals from conception to death. But these days a few rituals are observed. Chhati, Barahi, Annaprashan, Mundan, Upanayan, Bibaha and Antesti-kriya are some of the rituals that are observed. The Mohammedans too observe Sunnat, marriage and death ceremonies. The same is the case with the Adibasis.
Social Institutions.-The district lacks miserably in social institutions. There are a very few places of amusement in the district. Throughout the whole district there is a picture house at Daltonganj and another at Garhwa. People are educationally backward. Museum or art centres are unknown. In towns there are libraries but they too cannot cater to the mental needs of scholars for they are poorly equipped with books. This was the only district in the State which had no college before the year 1953
Standard of living.-In order to deal with the standard of living of the people of this district, they may be classified under three heads; (1) higher, (2) middle and (3) lower. The higher class people are economically sound. Hence they live a comfortable life both in town and in village. They take rice, pulse and bread. They get milk, ghee, vegetables and protein food as well. They use a number of clothes and their costume is differentiated as usual. Middle class people find it very difficult to get rice, pulse, bread, ghee and vegetables throughout the year they have to limit their comforts. But middle class people living in rural area take rice only for a month or two. They have to depend on other coarse kind of edibles. They hardly get milk and ghee. Middle class people living in villages have cows and she-buffaloes. But they sell ghee and utilise the income for the purchase of clothes and paying of dues. Only on ceremonial occasions they make use of kurta and cap. In winter season the middle class people cannot make provision for quilt and warm clothings for all members or their family. The higher class people can only have quilt and warm clothings.
The lot of the lower class people is very pitiable. In this district people find it very hard to get two full meals. Their food consists of Sattu and Ghatta of maize and jinora. Sometimes in a week they get rice and pulse. Milk, ghee and oil are rare for them.
Their clothing consists of a dhoti of two or three yards. If they save something, .they can buy a ganji or small kurta. Their children live almost naked and the women-folk have only one sari. When the clothing of these people get dirty and unclean, they have to face tremendous difficulties in washing their saris. The males wash their dhoti and put it on without getting it dry. In winter season the people of lower class have to face the cold very boldly. They make use of an
earthen pot filled with cow-dung, etc., in which fire is kept. This is the standard of living of these people who live upon wages and have no other source of income.
The poor people living in jungle depend a great deal for their living on mahua, safai (fruits of sal tree), pichar, kaland and bair fruits. When there is a failure of mahua, people find it very difficult to live.