Munda people

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The Munda people are an Austroasiatic speaking ethnic group of India. They predominantly speak the Mundari language as their native language, which belongs to the Munda subgroup of Austroasiatic languages. The Munda are found in the northern areas of east India concentrated in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal, they are also found in the Rangpur division of Bangladesh. The Munda also reside in adjacent areas of Chhattisgarh as well as in portions of Bangladesh. They are one of India's largest scheduled tribes.


  • The true history of the agrarian agitation in Chhota-Nagpur has yet to be written. The task has so far been attempted by partisans only. Munda children of the German Mission are even now sedulously taught the gospel of hate in the class-room of their schools. One of the school text-books entitled ‘Nelem Odo Senem’-Look and Walk-Which was published by the Munda Sabha of the G. E. L. Mission, Chhota-Nagpur, in 1909, tells how the ancestors of the Munda reclaimed the jungles and converted the country, by their labour, into a smiling garden. It tells the Munda boy how his forefathers successfully drove away all wild animals from the country and also how enemies who were worse than the wild enemies came in as inter-loppers and robbed them of the fruit of their toil. In further states that in spite of various laws framed by the English to restrain these foreigners, as are still being despoiled by Hindus and Mussalmans. The schools in which these doctrines are inculcated are largely subsidised by our Government.”
    • “The Statesman”, dated the 12th May : Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121
  • There is no doubt that the great success of the Christian missions in obtaining converts is due largely to the secular benefits which the Mundas, thus, obtained.
    • Extract from the introduction by Sir Edward Gait to Rai Bahadur S. C. Roy’s book on the Mundas and their : Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121
  • People from the Munda community inhabit central and northeastern states. The freedom fighter, Birsa Munda, who fought against British rule belonged to this community. He was influenced by a Brahmin whom he regarded as his guru. He learnt the Hindu epics and was inspired by their legendary heroes. He became a vegetarian when he met a Vaishnava saint who taught him Bhakti. Birsa Munda also raised his voice against Christian missionaries and the oppression of landlords and British administrators. Many Vanavasi communities claim Kshatriya ancestry.
    • Malhotra, R. & Viswanathan V. (2022). Snakes in the Ganga : Breaking India 2.0.

The religious life of the Sarna tribes

Chotanagpur by Y. Philip Barjo: "The religious life of the Sarna tribes", Indian Missiological Review, June 1997. also in [1]
  • "The Mundas call themselves Horoko, which means 'men'." (p.43)
  • "The tribals of Chotanagpur are an endogamous tribe. They usually do not marry outside the tribal community, because to them the tribe is sacred. The way to salvation is the tribe." (p.43)
  • "Sarna spirituality is marked by a strong belief in one God. A careful study of their religious beliefs and ceremonies shows that they believe in a Supreme Being whom they call Singbonga which literally means Sun God." (p.46)
  • "Tribal religions generally believe in one God, in a Supreme Being who goes by such names as the Great Spirit, the Great One, the Creator, the Mighty Spirit (...), etc. Although at times God is identified with the rain, light, dawn, fire, water, hills, the Supreme Being of the tribal people is usually independent of the material or astral world. (...) He has dominion over the entire universe." (p.44)
  • "Singbonga is eternal. (...) He is also omniscient and omnipresent. (...) Singbonga of Sarna religion is a gentle god, not a malignant deity. He is an all-pervading benevolent power, ever intent on doing good to humanity." (p.46)
  • "However, Singbonga's relation with the tribe is not one of individual love, but of an all-embracing tribal love. The tribe is the apple of his eye and yet he keeps himself a little aloof from it. He has no favorites; the pahan [= priest] is no more privileged in his eye than the ordinary villager. The Sarna peoples' allegiance to Singbonga is therefore also tribal, an allegiance to the visible and invisible tribe." (p.47)
  • "The tribe is the temple of Singbonga and he wants it undefiled. The basic belief that Singbonga created the tribe and that therefore it must be preserved in its integrity justifies in the eyes of the Mundas all the regulations and taboos that bind them in this regard. (...) These include exogamy [between families], endogamy [within the tribe], and monogamy in marriage and conjugal fidelity. Not only the offenders themselves but the entire community is appropriately punished by Singbonga for the non-observance of these great ethical values. This almost exclusively tribe-oriented moral code with little personal conscience to enlighten and guide puts the Munda tribe in a world of its own, self-contained, self-sufficient and turned in upon itself, whose whole existence was tied to traditions with little change in the course of time." (p.47) "The Sarna people do not have a written code of moral law. Their idea of right and wrong comes from their tradition. Tradition is their measure of truth. Their way to salvation is the tribe.
  • Hence they must see that they remain in the tribe. For them evil is essentially any offense that would break up their tribal status. There are two kinds of offenses: ethical and tribal. Ethical offenses include all aberrations committed consciously and which harm not so much the individual but others. Singbonga may punish such offenses by causing illness or misfortune to the tribe. (...) The offense against the tribe is the most tragic offense for the Sarna people, because their way to salvation is the tribe and this offense usually excludes them from the tribe." (p.52-53)
  • "The punishment is not carried over to the life beyond the grave. The idea of repeated rebirth is borrowed from the Hindu religion." (p.53)
  • "The domain of tribal belief also extends to the other supernatural beings which are above mankind but are less than the Supreme Being. They are usually called spirits but at times they are also invoked as 'deities' or 'gods'. Belief in spirits is one of the most important characteristics of tribal religions. In fact the tribal world is a world of spirits." (p.44)
  • "Besides the Singbonga the Mundas generally worship a host of other spirits including their own ancestors. But Singbonga occupies the highest position in the hierarchical order of spirits." (p.46)
  • "Cult or worship is mostly directed to the spirits and the ancestors." (p.44-45)
  • "The spirits of the Mundas are hierarchically ordered. The first in order of dignity comes the Burubonga, Marang Buru or Pat Sarna. This spirit is a mountain-god or the highest hill or rock in the neighbourhood. He is represented by no visible object." (p.48)
  • "Next in order come the Hatu Bongako or the Village spirits. (...) They are worshipped by the Pahan on behalf of the whole village at specific times in the sacred grove or the Sarna of each village." (p.48)
  • "The third group of spirits in the Munda pantheon are the Ora Bongako or the House-spirits. These are the spirits of the deceased ancestors of each family. They are worshipped in the house-sanctuary called Ading, by the head of every family. Sometimes they are referred to as Haparomko (the ancestral spirits). Ancestor worship finds an important place in the religious belief of the Mundas. They believe that after the death of a person his spirit/shade (roa/umbul) has no house to live in. As an outcast it roams about in the neighborhood of the grave. After an odd number of days, the Umbul-ader (homebringing of the shade) ceremony is performed by which the 'shade' of the deceased is brought into the ading of the house and enshrined there. Henceforth the man's spirit is called no longer umbul but Ora Bonga (House Spirit). This important ceremony is a way of re-introducing the deceased member into the tribe. It is believed that they in turn are the real benefactors of the family or the tribe to which they belong."
  • "They keep in touch with other bongas and pray to Singbonga for the welfare of their household and the tribe. They are remembered and offered their due worship and sacrifice at all important occasions of life." (p.48) More explicitly: "The sacrifice they offer is mostly intercessory" (p.49), and their feasts "all refer to Singbonga as provider and creator of the tribe". (p.49)
  • "Besides Singbonga, the Munda pantheon includes a number of other deities and spirits whom they call Bongas. (...) There are both benevolent spirits (Manitabongas) and malevolent spirits (Banitabongas). (...) Accordingly the benevolent spirits are worshipped and the malevolent spirits are only appeased or propitiated." (p.47-48)
  • "Singbonga, unlike spirits, is worshipped for his own sake. His purity demands that he be offered sacrifices only of things that are white. Hence he is given sacrifices of white goats, white fowls, white gulainchi flowers, white cloth, sugar, milk, etc." (p.47)
  • "The world of any tribal group is stamped with sacredness, religiosity and reverence for nature. (...) This is the view of the Sarna tribal people as well. They are totally involved in the world, they communicate with the spirituality that surrounds them. They love nature, they communicate with it and are attached to it. Nature is their way to the supernatural." (p.51)
  • "The Asurs were like the bad angels who revolted against God. They were greedy iron smelters, who even after repeated warning from Singbonga kept on smelting day and night. Because of their disobedience Singbonga destroyed all the male members of the tribe." (p.55)
    • Chotanagpur by Y. Philip Barjo: "The religious life of the Sarna tribes", Indian Missiological Review, June 1997. also in [2]