Crossroads

Besides the fixed shrines, footpaths and rivers outside the village have ritual importance, especially the locations where paths and rivers meet. The gods meet at these places, and one informant described them as their assembly platform (sadar). Things are cast away at crossroads (chokto rasta, dela kurung*) and places where rivers meet (sangom), sent away from the village and its inhabitants; to this extent, these actions can be understood as healing rituals in a broad sense. Illnesses and those who cause them (the demons soni and rau) are combatted at these sites, and promised vows are carried out, by the dissari for his individual clients and by the pujari for the village as a whole. Due to this association with illnesses and bad luck, crossroads are also considered dangerous places, to which the illnesses that have been left behind at them become attached.

Local Representations of the Gods

Gods (maphru[1] [2] [3]) have houses, distinguishing them from demons (rakias) and the spirits of the dead (duma), who wander around outside.7s Each village has various places at which the gods are invoked and sacrificially fed with blood, food, and liquor at designated times. Individual ritual ways of proceeding may vary from village to village. My informants stressed each village’s ritual autonomy, commenting, for example, that “what’s done in other villages doesn’t have anything to do with us; maybe they do things differently there, who knows?”79

Nevertheless, my observations and inquiries in different villages produced a relatively unified pattern. This includes the tsoru commensality of the agnatic village founders, to the exclusion of resident affinal groups, the kinds of animals sacrificed to specific gods, and the time of year of the sacrifices. The following descriptions apply to many Gadaba villages, and only unusual gods and ritual practices are noted as such. Most villages have a similar pantheon. Along with hundi, found in all villages, these gods are named pat kanda, jakor, bag puja, and karandi. In a number of villages, there are also shrines for boiro or boirobi. Notwithstanding the basic similarities among the shrines and rituals, each village forms a ritual whole that has to be analyzed as such.

The fundamental distinction among the gods in most Central Indian tribal societies, seen in countless myths (cf. Elwin 1949, 1954), is that between the earth deity and the sun/moon: “The earth is the mother; the father Dorom, sun/moon, looks down from above,”[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] is how an informant described it. Earth and sky (sun/moon) are considered a married couple, but ideas about this are generally vague, as McDougal (1963, 328) has also found to be the case among the Juang. The Gadaba generally begin invocations of the gods with “Greetings, Great God,81 bosmoti (the earth) below, dorom above.”82 Dorom is a general term for the good and honorable, but refers here to the sibling pair of sun (si*) and moon (arke*); the moon, which rises in the west, is male, and the sun, which rises in the east, is female^3 The Bondo also refer to the sun/moon god as “Singi-Arke,” “Sih-Arke,” or “Dharam-Deota” and identify him with the creator god “Mahaprabhu” (Elwin 1950,134f).84 According to Elwin, the Bondo regularly sacrifice for “Singi-Arke,” something he considers unusual, since “[t]he Supreme Being in tribal India is commonly regarded as neutral, and it is not considered necessary to offer him sacrifice” (144). The sun and moon have a great deal of influence on the rituals of the Gadaba, whose festival calendar is oriented to the moon (a month is a “moon,” arke*) and whose rituals are timed according to the height of the sun, that is, the length of shadows. Nevertheless, the sun and moon appear to be far away, in contrast to the immediacy of the earth. Sac?rifices are correspondingly more often directed to the earth’s local manifestations. As abstractions, bosmoti and si arke* appear only in invocations and myths, in which mahaprabu or maphru appears as the single superordinate deity. In ritual practice, however, only the local representations are relevant in relation to the corresponding social units, and there are many earth gods, sun gods, and maphru in general. Like the spirits of the dead (duma), the gods are ordered in accordance with the general segmentary model, or as Sahlins (1968) formulates it, the generalized structure. They exist in relation to the house, kutum, kuda, or village; the abstract category sun/moon is distant and relatively meaningless in ritual.

  • [1] The common short form of mahaprabu, used by many Koraput tribes. Elwin (1950,133) tracesthe term back to the fourteenth-century founder of a Vaishnava order, Chaitanya, who wasknown as “Mahaprabhu” and identified with Jagannath.
  • [2] An informant described the difference between gods and the dead in this way. In theunderworld (patalpur), the dead also live in houses, but not in the “middle world” (mojapur) ofhuman beings.
  • [3] Cf. the remarks of two Kuttia “priests,” reported by Niggemeyer (1964, 147).
  • [4] Bosmoti bele ma mata, upre ochi dorom pita chandra surjo dekuchonti.
  • [5] The common short form of mahaprabu, “great god,” is maphru.
  • [6] Juar maphru, tole je bosmoti, upore dorom.
  • [7] The new moon is first visible in the west, so the Gadaba say that the moon rises in the west,in contrast to the sun.
  • [8] Elwin (1950, 150ff) describes the “demigods,” as he calls the maphru, as scourges of humanity, according to the myths he collected, ruthless, greedy, irresponsible, and cruel. As far asthe Gadaba are concerned, this picture is inaccurate and applies rather to the demons soni andrau. Gods are potentially dangerous, but their behavior is predictable, if the reciprocity betweenhuman beings and gods is ensured by sacrifices.
 
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