*Pictures showing dancing women during Karama festival 2017 in Ranchi.Images by Ratan Lal

Karma,a festival of tribals being celebrated today across Jharkhand,Odisha and Chattisgarh, has been related to the harvest and to the tree-Karam. It symbolizes fertility, prosperity and all that is auspicious.

The festival marked to worship Karam tree is celebrated on the 11th day of the lunar calendar in the month of Bhado during August-September.It  falls on September 2,2016.

Traditionally,it is linked with the two brothers, Karma and Dharma, who would often fight, as siblings do, with each other over various reasons.

According to the legend, as recalled by a tribal, a member of the Oraon Sarna Samiti, West Singhbhum, once Karma was returning victorious from a battle and Dharma was asked to make preparations to welcome the victor home and worship the hero as he arrived.

But Dharma worshiped a Karam tree instead of worshipping his brother, giving rise to the custom of worshipping the tree.It may not quite be a good enough explanation but it is the festival when tribes send up prayers to the gods to protect their crops and shower a bountiful harvest.

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Some consider it to be an extension of Sarhul festivities, held every year during the start of the sowing season to propitiate the gods for good rains so that seeds may germinate and they may be blessed with a good crop. The Karma festival, too, coincides with events in the agricultural cycle, they point out.

From early morning, unmarried girls, who fast for the day, are ready with their offerings and prayers. Once the religious, traditional rites are over, the tribes go to the forests in search of a Karam tree, cut its branches and bring it back home to plant in their courtyards. Once the puja is over, the farmers take care to plant the twigs in their fields, too.

Next day, they follow it up by planting bhelva twigs in all the fields. Farmers select trees which are not eaten by cattle, then cut off the twigs, which are then planted amongst the standing crops. The twigs, it is believed, act as pesticides, warding off even prying birds and locusts from the crops.

Next,another twist in the tale is-if earlier unmarried girls fasted for the protection of their crops and a good harvest,many of them now do it in the hope of netting good husbands as well.

Those who are engaged or married, also fast on this day so that they can have healthy children and be blessed with happy married lives.Ranadesh  Munda points out that though unmarried girls still fasted as per tradition, the reasons are different, as some of them do it for the safety of their brothers. “Rakhi and Bhai Dwitiya are alien to tribal society and culture,” he claims.

However, girls today seek blessings for their brothers in an extended version of the Hindu customs. While Munda frowns on the deviation, he feels it has strengthened family bonds, specially between brothers and sisters.

The festival, however, remains a platform to bring together not just the tribals, but non-tribals, too, who have been increasingly celebrating the festival.

A new dimension this year is the resolve of a group of activists to use Karma to popularise environmental concerns of the tribes and to reassert their links to Nature and restore tribal rights over natural resources.

Most people, however, look forward to an opportunity to sing and dance, get together with their friends and families, and sing songs about the legend surrounding the two brothers, Dharma and Karma.

Some, like members of the Oraon tribe, collect sand from the nearby holy river for planting a Java seed (a type of religious seed) as a custom ahead of Karma festival. For a few days, the Java seeds are kept in the sand.

During the Karma puja, the Java seeds are worshiped in the village akhara, which is a common place of worship in the village. On the puja day they worship the Karma tree as part of tradition and immerse it into the river the following day.

This time,on the eve of Karma festival,a cultural programme was held inside the Raj Bhawan.The programme was attended among others by Governor Droupadi Murmy and Chief Minister Daghubar Das.Both of them danced.Most importantly,Das,who is a non tribal,made an announcement  that his governmet will construct and set up Akhra-community centre.This was widely welcomed by tribals in the state of Jharkhand. 

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