The tribal festival of Sarhul in Jharkhand marks a grand occasion to celebrate their communion with Mother Nature while reminding that none can usurp their land and identity.
A grand procession (Shobha Yatra) was organised amid dancing and singing in a great celebratory mood on Friday.
Now, when Sarhul Sobha yatra is past, it’s history needs to be highlighted. Why? Sarhul Sobha yatra witnessed every year on the second and concluding day of the festival.
It is not an ancient tradition as held by many. It was first started in Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi nearly 63 years ago. It has, thus, had roots in the land of tribals, according to Dr. Rabindra Nath Bhagat, Professor of Management Department of Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi.
For the first time, the Sarhul procession in the form of community dance and music was taken out in 1961. The aim was to save the Siram Toli Sarna Sthal( Religious site), says Dr Bhagat.
At that time, some two-three persons of the Siramtoli village, including the son of Chamra Pahan, Mono Hans and Mangal Pahan,had sold a plot of land to a businessman from Ramgarh.
As per the land tenancy ( CNT) Act, 1908, it was illegal. Ignoring it, though, the businessman started construction work at the said Sarna Sthal. A resident of the village Siva Bada, an employee of the Forest Department, complained about it to the villagers. The tribals of the village, as a result, got united and opposed the businessman’s move.
In response, the businessman lodged an FIR against Siram Toli's Siva Bada, Bijla Tirki and Bolo Kujur and others at Chutiya police station. All three named in the FIR were arrested and sent to jail.
This act of the police and the businessman was against the CNT Act. Result? The tribals of Siram Toli contacted the people of neighbouring Karam Toli village, situated at the other end of Ranchi, to save the land of their Sarna Sthal.
The people of Karam Toli then held a meeting in the village and it was decided that the students of the local Aadiwasi Hostel (the hostel of tribal students) should also be involved in this matter. At that time, Karamchand Bhagat who was also a resident in the tribal hostel as a student of Ranchi College in 1961 was elected Vice President of the Ranchi College Students Union.
After a meeting with the people of Karam Toli village, Karamchand Bhagat held a meeting with the students in the tribal hostel and it was decided that a grand procession would be taken from Karam Toli to Siram Toli in a show of strength.
Everyone was confident that the land of Sarna Sthal of Siram Toli would, thus, be saved. For this, a day was fixed for Sarhul Puja. Then Jaga Oraon, Mahadev Oraon, Sushil Toppo, Fagu Oraon, among others, appealed for support, especially from the influential people of tribal society. Student leader Karamchand Bhagat got the responsibility of bringing all of them together.
This was also the period when the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) was being established in Ranchi. It was during this period that the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called back Karthik Oraon to Ranchi from London to join the HEC. He was appointed as Superintendent Civil Engineer in the design department of the HEC.
In order to make their procession more impressive, the students under the leadership of Karamchand Bhagat, invited Kartik Oraon to participate in this procession, which he accepted.
This was the year 1961. Around one hundred people gathered near the Sakhua tree near Shashi Bhushan Manki's residence in Karam Toli. Karthik Oraon was made to sit on a bullock cart in the procession. Everyone danced and sang to the beat of Mandar from Karam Toli to Siram Toli's Sarna Sthal.
This was how the first grand procession of Sarhul was organised in Ranchi and the Sarna Sobha yatra was born. Today it has taken a huge shape in the form of a grand Sobha yatra.
For the first three years, this grand procession used to be taken out from the same Sakhua tree located near the residence of Shashi Bhushan Manki in Karam Toli to Siram Toli Chowk. According to the social tradition, though, the main Sarna Sthal of Karam Toli village for Sarhul Puja was located at Hatma, behind Ranchi College.
This is the reason why it was later unanimously decided that Sarhul's worship would be done at Hatama Sarna Sthal only. From 1964, the worship was organized at Hatma Sarna Sthal with the same pomp and gusto. With the passage of time, the form of this Shobha Yatra became more elaborate and huge.
Now, there is hardly any street, locality, or tola in Ranchi from where a grand procession does not take place. When several processions of Sarhul converge at Albert Ekka Chowk in the city, it is as if the whole Ranchi is swaying to the beat of Mandar.
The most special thing about the festival is that, along with the tribals, many non-tribals join the celebration with equal enthusiasm making the event a great occasion.
A day after Sarhul's procession, it seems it has been displayed a wonderful identity of Jharkhand, such that it has acquired the status of the state’s heritage and its self-esteem.
In giving colour to it was Dr. Ramdayal Munda. He had a huge contribution in making this Shobha Yatra even grander.
Starting his journey from Tamar, the great educationist, intellectual, culturist, sociologist, litterateur and artist Dr.Ramdayal Munda, who worked as an associate professor in the Department of South Asian Studies of the University of Minnesota in America till 1981, gave global recognition to culture, civilization and folk art of the tribals.
When Dr. Ramdayal Munda returned to India in 1981, he saw that despite being in majority in the Jharkhand region of the then Bihar, the tribals were given short shrift by ignoring their culture and identity.
As a result, not only the common people but even the tribals had a very negative opinion of themselves. They were considered uncivilized and backward.
According to Dr. Meenakshi Munda, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee University, Ranchi, that mindset was completely wrong, devoid of reality.
Dr. Ramdayal Munda made the Sarhul Shobhayatra a medium and started his initiative to show the cultural richness of the tribal society in a grand and vast form.
As long as he was alive, he not only participated in this procession with enthusiasm, he also gave global recognition to Sarhul.
Today, Jharkhand’s esteem and self-respect are deeply connected with the celebration of Sarhul. The entire print and electronic media of Jharkhand give it wide coverage and this year was no exception. Along with daily Prabhat Khabar, other publications and TV channels contributed to its magnificence.