Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Folklore of the Santal Parganas
Translated by Cecil Henry Bompas of the Indian Civil Service -1909


The Santals are a Munda tribe, a branch of that aboriginal element which probably entered India from the North East. At the present day they inhabit the Eastern outskirts of the Chutia Nagpore plateau.

Originally hunters and dwellers in the jungle they are still but indifferent agriculturists. Like the Mundas and Hos and other representatives of the race, they are jovial in character, fond of their rice beer, and ready to take a joke.

Their social organization is very complete; each village has its headman or manjhi, with his assistant the paranik; the jogmanghi is charged with the supervision of the morals of the young men and women; the naeke is the village priest, the godet is the village constable. Over a group of villages is the pargana or tribal chief. The Santals are divided into exogamous septs—originally twelve in number, and their social observances are complex, e.g. while some relations treat each other with the greatest reserve, between others the utmost freedom of intercourse is allowed.

Their religion is animistic, spirits (bongas) are everywhere around them: the spirits of their ancestors, the spirit of the house, the spirit dwelling in the patch of primeval forest preserved in each village. Every hill tree and rock may have its spirit. These spirits are propitiated by elaborate ceremonies and sacrifices which generally terminate in dances, and the drinking of rice beer.

The Santal Parganas is a district 4800 sq. miles in area, lying about 150 miles north of Calcutta, and was [6]formed into a separate administration after the Santals had risen in rebellion in 1856. The Santals at present form about one-third of the population.

The stories and legends which are here translated have been collected by the Rev. O. Bodding, D.D. of the Scandinavian Mission to the Santals. To be perfectly sure that neither language nor ideas should in any way be influenced by contact with a European mind he arranged for most of them to be written out in Santali, principally by a Christian convert named Sagram Murmu, at present living at Mohulpahari in the Santal Parganas.

Santali is an agglutinative language of great regularity and complexity but when the Santals come in contact with races speaking an Aryan language it is apt to become corrupted with foreign idioms. The language in which these stories have been written is beautifully pure, and the purity of language may be accepted as an index that the ideas have not been affected, as is often the case, by contact with Europeans.

My translation though somewhat condensed is very literal, and the stories have perhaps thereby an added interest as shewing the way in which a very primitive people look at things. The Santals are great story tellers; the old folk of the village gather the young people round them in the evening and tell them stories, and the men when watching the crops on the threshing floor will often sit up all night telling stories.

There is however, no doubt that at the present time the knowledge of these stories tends to die out. Under the peace which British rule brings there is more intercourse between the different communities and castes, a considerable, degree of assimilation takes place, and old customs and traditions tend to be obliterated.

Several collections of Indian stories have been made, e.g. Stokes, Indian Fairy Tales; Frere, Old Deccan Days; Day, Folk Tales of Bengal; and Knowles’ Folk Tales [7]of Kashmir, and it will be seen that all the stories in the present collection are by no means of pure Santal origin. Incidents which form part of the common stock of Indian folklore abound, and many of the stories professedly relate to characters of various Hindu castes, others again deal with such essentially Santal beliefs as the dealings of men and bongas.

The Rev. Dr. Campbell of Gobindpore published in 1891 a collection of Santal Folk Tales. He gathered his material in the District of Manbhum, and many of the stories are identical with those included in the present volume. I have added as an appendix some stories which I collected among the Hos of Singhbhum, a tribe closely related to the Santals, and which the Asiatic Society of Bengal has kindly permitted me to reprint here.

My task has been merely one of translation; it is due solely to Mr Bodding’s influence with, and intimate knowledge of, the people that the stories have been committed to writing, and I have to thank him for assistance and advice throughout my work of translation.

I have roughly classified the stories: in part 1 are stories of a general character; part 2, stories relating to animals; in part 3, stories which are scarcely folklore but are anecdotes relating to Santal life; in part 4, stories relating to the dealings of bongas and men. In part 5, are some legends and traditions, and a few notes relating to tribal customs. Part 6 contains illustrations of the belief in witchcraft. I have had to omit a certain number of stories as unsuited for publication.

C. H. Bompas.

Table of Contents

Part I

I. Bajun and Jhore
II. Anuwa and His Mother
III. Ledha and the Leopard
IV. The Cruel Stepmother
V. Karmu and Dharmu
VI. The Jealous Stepmother
VII. The Pious Woman
VIII. The Wise Daughter-in-Law
IX. The Oilman and His Sons
X. The Girl Who Found Helpers
XI. How to Grow Rich
XII. The Changed Calf
XIII. The Koeri and the Barber
XIV. The Prince Who Acquired Wisdom
XV. The Monkey Boy
XVI. The Miser’s Servant
XVII. Kuwar and the Raja’s Daughter
XVIII. The Laughing Fish
XIX. How the Cowherd Found a Bride
XX. Kara and Guja
XXI. The Magic Cow
XXII. Lita and His Animals
XXIII. The Boy Who Found His Father
XXIV. The Oilman’s Bullock
XXV. How Sabai Grass Grew
XXVI. The Merchant’s Son and the Raja’s Daughter[10]
XXVII. The Flycatcher’s Egg
XXVIII. The Wife Who Would Not Be Beaten
XXIX. Sahde Goala
XXX. The Raja’s Son and the Merchant’s Son
XXXI. The Poor Widow
XXXII. The Monkey and the Girl
XXXIII. Ramai and the Animals
XXXIV. The Magic Bedstead
XXXV. The Ghormuhas
XXXVI. The Boy Who Learnt Magic
XXXVII. The Charitable Jogi
XXXVIII. Chote and Mote
XXXIX. The Daydreamer
XL. The Extortionate Sentry
XLI. The Broken Friendship
XLII. A Story Told By a Hindoo
XLIII. The Raibar and the Leopard
XLIV. The Ungrateful Snake
XLV. The Tiger’s Bride
XLVI. The Killing of the Tiger
XLVII. The Dream
XLVIII. The King of the Bhuyans
XLIX. The Foolish Sons
L. Kora and His Sister
LI. A Story on Caste
LII. Tipi and Tepa
LIII. The Child With the Ears of the Ox
LIV. The Child Who Knew His Father
LV. Jogeshwar’s Marriage
LVI. The Strong Man
LVII. The Raja’s Advice
LVIII. The Four Jogis
LIX. The Charitable Raja
LX. A Variant.—The Wandering Raja
LXI. The Two Wives
LXII. Spanling and His Uncles[11]
LXIII. The Silent Wife
LXIV. The Dumb Shepherd
LXV. The Good Daughter-in-Law
LXVI. The Raja’s Dream
LXVII. The Mongoose Boy
LXVIII. The Stolen Treasure
LXIX. Dukhu and His Bonga Wife
LXX. The Monkey Husband
LXXI. Lakhan and the Wild Buffaloes
LXXII. The Boy with the Stag
LXXIII. The Seven Brothers and the Bonga Girl
LXXIV. The Tiger’s Foster Child
LXXV. The Caterpillar Boy
LXXVI. The Monkey Nursemaid
LXXVII. The Wife Who Could Not Keep a Secret
LXXVIII. Sit and Lakhan
LXXIX. The Raja Who went to Heaven
LXXX. Seven Tricks and Single Trick
LXXXI. Fuljhari Raja
LXXXII. The Corpse of the Raja’s Son
LXXXIII. The Sham Child
LXXXIV. The Sons of the Kherohuri Raja
LXXXV. The Dog Bride
LXXXVI. Wealth or Wisdom
LXXXVII. A Goala and the Cow
LXXXVIII. The Telltale Wife
LXXXIX. The Bridegroom Who Spoke in Riddles
XC. The Lazy Man
XCI. Another Lazy Man
XCII. The Widow’s Son
XCIII. The Boy Who Was Changed Into a Dog
XCIV. Birluri and Birbanta
XCV. The Killing of the Rakhas
XCVI. The Children of the Vultures
XCVII. The Ferryman
XCVIII. Catching a Thief[12]
XCIX. The Grasping Raja
C. The Prince Who Would Not Marry
CI. The Prince Who Found Two Wives
CII. The Unfaithful Wife
CIII. The Industrious Bride
CIV. The Boy and His Fate
CV. The Messengers of Death
CVI. The Speaking Crab
CVII. The Leopard Outwitted
CVIII. The Wind and the Sun
CIX. The Coldest Season

Part II

CX. The Jackal and the Crow
CXI. The Tiger Cub and the Calf
CXII. The Jackal and the Chickens
CXIII. The Jackal Punished
CXIV. The Tigers and the Cat
CXV. The Elephants and the Ants
CXVI. A Fox and His Wife
CXVII. The Jackal and the Crocodiles
CXVIII. The Bullfrog and the Crab
CXIX. The Hyena Outwitted
CXX. The Crow and the Egret
CXXI. The Jackal and the Hare
CXXII. The Brave Jackal
CXXIII. The Jackal and the Leopards

Part III

CXXIV. The Fool and His Dinner
CXXV. The Stingy Daughter
CXXVI. The Backwards and Forwards Dance
CXXVII. The Deaf Family
CXXVIII. The Father-in-Law’s Visit
CXXIX. Ramai and Somai[13]
CXXX. The Two Brothers
CXXXI. The Three Fools
CXXXII. The Cure For Laziness
CXXXIII. The Brahmin’s Powers
CXXXIV. Ram’s Wife
CXXXVI. The Women’s Sacrifice
CXXXVII. The Thief’s Son
CXXXVIII. The Divorce
CXXXIX. The Father and the Father-in-Law
CXL. The Reproof
CXLI. Enigmas
CXLII. The Too Particular Wife
CXLIII. The Paharia Socialists
CXLIV. How A Tiger Was Killed
CXLV. The Goala’s Daughter
CXLVI. The Brahmin’s Clothes
CXLVII. The Winning of the Bride

Part IV

CXLVIII. Marriage With Bongas
CXLIX. The Bonga Heaven
CL. Lakhan and the Bonga
CLI. The House Bonga
CLII. The Sarsagun-Maiden
CLIII. The Schoolboy and the Bonga
CLIV. The Bonga’s Cave
CLV. The Bonga’s Victim
CLVI. Baijal and the Bonga
CLVII. Ramai and the Bonga
CLVIII. The Boundary Bonga
CLIX. The Bonga Exorcised

Part V

CLX. The Beginning of Things
CLXI. Chando and His Wife[14]
CLXII. The Sikhar Raja
CLXIII. The Origin of Tobacco
CLXIV. The Transmigration of Souls
CLXV. The Next World
CLXVI. After Death
CLXVII. Hares and Men
CLXIX. Pregnant Women
CLXX. The Influence of the Moon
CLXXI. Illegitimate Children
CLXXII. The Dead
CLXXIII. A Hunting Custom

Part VI

CLXXIV. Witchcraft
CLXXV. Of Dains and Ojhas
CLXXVI. Initiation Into Witchcraft
CLXXVII. Witch Craft
CLXXVIII. Witch Stories
CLXXIX. Witch Stories
CLXXX. Witch Stories
CLXXXI. The Two Witches
CLXXXII. The Sister-in-Law Who Was a Witch
CLXXXIII. Ramjit Bonga
CLXXXIV. The Herd Boy and the Witches
CLXXXV. The Man-Tiger



Folklore of the Kolhan


Part I.

In these stories, there are many incidents which appear in stories collected in other parts of India, though it is rather surprising that so few of them appear elsewhere in their entirety. We have, however, instances of the husk myth, the youngest son who surpasses his brother, the life of the ogre placed in some external object, the jealous stepmother, the selection of a king by an elephant, the queen whose husband is invariably killed on his wedding night, etc. etc.

Few of the old Indian stories found in the Kathâ Sarit Sâgara or the Buddhist Birth stories appear in recognizable form in the present collection.

Part II.

To a people living in the jungles the wild animals are much more than animals are to us. To the man who makes a clearing in the forest, life is largely a struggle against the beasts of prey and the animals who graze down the crops. It is but natural that he should credit them with feelings and intelligence similar to those of human beings, and that they should seem to him suitable characters around which to weave stories.

These stories are likely to be particularly current among a people occupying a forest country, and for this reason are less likely to appear in collections made among the inhabitants of towns. It is a strange coincidence and presumably only a coincidence that Story  ‘The Hyena outwitted’ is known in a precisely similar form among the Kaffirs of South Africa.

Part IV

The following stories illustrate the belief in Bongas, i.e. the spirits which the Santals believe to exist everywhere and to take an active part in human affairs. Bongas frequently assume the form of young men and women and form connections with human beings of the opposite sex.

At the bidding of witches they cause disease, or they hound on the tiger to catch men. But they are by no means always malevolent and are capable of gratitude. The Kisar Bonga or Brownie who takes up his abode in a house steals food for the master of the house, and unless offended will cause him to grow rich.

Part V.

The legends and customary beliefs contained in this part are definitely connected with the Santals.

Part VI.

The belief in witchcraft is very real to the present day among the Santals. All untimely deaths and illness which does not yield to treatment are attributed to the machinations of witches, and women are not unfrequently murdered in revenge for deaths which they are supposed to have caused, or to prevent the continuance of illness for which they are believed to be responsible.

The Santal writer in spite of his education is a firm believer in witchcraft, and details his own experiences. He has justification for his belief, for as was the case in Mediaeval Europe, women sometimes plead guilty to having caused death by witchcraft when there appears to be no adequate motive for a confession, which must involve them in the severest penalties.

Mr. Bodding is aware that Santal women do actually hold meetings at night at which mantras and songs are repeated, and at which they may believe they acquire uncanny powers; the exercise of such powers may also on occasion be assisted by the knowledge of vegetable poisons.

The witch may either herself cause death by “eating,” or eating the liver of, her victim, or may cause her familiar “bonga” to attack the unfortunate. That witches eat the liver is an old idea in India mentioned by the Mughal historians.

The Jan guru is employed to detect who is the woman responsible for any particular misfortune. His usual method is to gaze on a leaf smeared with oil, in which as in a crystal he can doubtless imagine that shapes present themselves. The witch having been detected, she is liable to be beaten and maltreated until she withdraws her spells, and if this does not lead to the desired result she may be put to death.

To be continued…….


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