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Chapter 9: The Worship of Earth in Modern India

§ 1. The Worship of Earth among the Hindoos

The worship of Mother Earth (Dharti Mata) among the Hindoos of the Punjab and Bengal.

IN modern India the earth is worshipped as a goddess both by Hindoos and Dravidians, the aboriginal inhabitants of the country. To the Hindoos the goddess is known as Dharti Mata or Mother Earth. In the Punjab a pious Hindoo does obeisance to her and invokes her when he rises from his bed in the morning; and even those who are less punctilious in the matter of religion comply with the same custom when they begin to plough or to sow. When a cow or a buffalo is first bought, or when she first gives milk after calving, the first five streams of milk drawn from her udders are allowed to fall on the ground in honour of the Earth-goddess, and at every milking the first stream of milk is similarly devoted to her. So, too, when medicine is taken, a little of it is sprinkled on the ground in honour of the deity.1 As the digging of the foundations of a new house naturally disturbs the Earth-goddess, she must be worshipped when the house is occupied for the first time. In Bengal the chief festival in her honour is held at the hot season, when she is supposed to suffer from the infirmity common to women. All ploughing, sowing, and other work cease during that time, and widows in Bengal refrain from eating cooked rice. The Earth-goddess is also worshipped at the family rites of marriage and childbirth.2 At Chunar in Bengal, after a long drought, the women assembled in a field from which all men were excluded. Three of them, members of a farmer's family, stripped themselves naked; two were yoked to a plough like oxen, and the third held the plough handle. Then they imitated the operation of ploughing, while the woman who held the plough-handle cried out, “O Mother Earth! bring parched grain, water, and chaff. Our stomachs are breaking to pieces from hunger and thirst.” After that the landlord and accountant approached them, and laid down some grain, water, and chaff in the field. The women then dressed and returned home.3

The worship of Mother Earth among the Hindoos of the Bombay Presidency.

The Hindoos of the Bombay Presidency similarly regard the earth as one of the great deities and worship it on many occasions, especially when anything is to be built on its surface. In the Deccan a Hindoo, on rising in the morning, asks pardon of the earth before he steps on the floor. Thus, before setting foot on the ground, he will say: “O Goddess, who is clothed (surrounded) by the sea, whose breasts are mountains, and who is the wife of Vishnu, I bow down to thee; please forgive the touch of my feet. O Goddess Earth! who art born by the power of Vishnu, whose surface is of the colour of a conch shell and who art the storehouse of innumerable jewels, I bow down to thee.”4 Again the Earth-mother is worshipped at the digging of a well or of a sacrificial pit, at the making of a tank, at the laying of the foundation-stone of a house, or at any other constructive work raised upon or made in the ground. The intention of the ceremony is to propitiate the goddess in order that she may not interrupt the operations. The owner or the person interested in the new construction pours a little water on the earth where the foundation-pit is to be dug, sprinkles red lac and red powder, places a betel-nut and a few precious coins, and digs out the first clod of earth with his own hands. Some of the things offered to Earth at such times are betel-nuts and betel-leaves, a bowl, green garments and the five precious things (pancharatna), to wit, gold, silver, copper, coral, and pearls.5

Worship of Mother Earth on Dasara day.

On the Dasara day, which is the tenth day or the bright half of the month of Ashvin (September-October) Hindoo kings go out in state with their ministers and subjects to worship the Earth-mother and the holy shami tree (Prosopis spicigera). A wetted plot of ground is first dug over with pikes, tender-wheat plants and shami leaves are then mixed with the muddy earth, and the whole is kneaded into little balls. A small coin and a betel-nut are inserted in each ball, and every worshipper receives one of the balls as a mark of good luck. Afterwards the wheat-plants are extracted from the balls and are allowed to grow in an earthen vessel filled with clay till they have sprouted to the height of a span, when they are taken from the vessel and used.6 Wheat-plants thus cultivated in the worship of Earth remind us of the Gardens of Adonis cultivated in the worship of that sad oriental deity.

Worship of Mother Earth on various occasions.

Again, Earth is worshipped when treasure is buried in the ground, and when a marriage procession reaches the boundary of the bridegroom's village.7 When presents are given to Brahmans outside the limits of the village, the Earth-mother is worshipped by pouring milk on the ground and by placing seven betel-nuts and seven copper coins thereon.8 Some women of the Thana District, in the Bombay Presidency, worship the Earth daily during the four months of the rainy season, at the end of which they give a Brahman a piece of land or the equivalent of it in money.9

Worship of Earth at sowing and harvest.

At sowing and harvest farmers appease the Earth by offering her coco-nuts, fowls, rice mixed with curds, and so forth. On the fifteenth day of the bright half of the month of Ashvin (September-October) every farmer prepares some sweetmeats in his house and takes them to his farm. There he gathers five stones, worships them, and offers the sweetmeats to the Earth. Afterwards he takes a portion of the food and scatters it over the farm. The members of his family then gather there and eat a hearty meal. In the evening the person who carried the food to the farm picks up some grains of barley and puts them in a basket. On return home the grains are thrown over the house.10

Worship of Earth at threshing and ploughing.

In the Deccan, when new grain is heaped on the threshing-floor, Mother Earth is worshipped by offering to her cooked food or some animal. At the time when a stake, to which the bullock is to be tethered, is set up in the middle of the threshing-floor, a coco-nut is offered to the Earth. Again, red powder is offered to the Earth at the time of ploughing.11 At the foundation of a new village, when the gates have been set up, Mother Earth is worshipped, and afterwards the headman, accompanied by a Brahman reciting incantations, either winds a cotton thread besmeared with red lac round the village or pours a stream of milk round the village boundaries.12

§ 2. The Worship of Earth among the Dravidians

Worship of Mother Earth among the Oraons of Chota Nagpur.

Marriage of the Earth-goddess to the Sun-god.

Among the Dravidian tribes of Central India the worship of the earth prevails widely.13 Thus among the Oraons, a primitive Dravidian people of Chota Nagpur, when a cultivator wishes to begin transplanting his rice-seedlings, he must employ a village priest to make an offering to Mother Earth (Dhartimāi). Accompanied by the priest, the cultivator repairs to the field, whither bundles of rice-seedlings have already been brought. He takes with him a pot of rice-beer, and on arriving at the field the priest pours a little of the beer on the ground as a libation, while he invokes the goddess, saying, “O Mother Earth! may we have plenty of rain and a bumper crop. Here is a libation for thee.” Next the priest plants with his own hands five rice-seedlings on the spot where the rice-beer has been poured. That done, the women begin to transplant the rest of the seedlings on the fields.14 Every year the Oraons celebrate the marriage of the Earth-goddess to the Sun-god in order to ensure the fertility of the ground. The rite, which goes by the name of Sarhul, is celebrated in the month of May, when the sal tree is in bloom. In it the divine bridegroom, the Sun-god, is personated by the village priest, and the divine bride, the Earth-goddess, is personated by the priest's wife. We are told that “the object of this feast is to celebrate the mystical marriage of the Sun-god (Bhagawan) with the Goddess-earth (Dharti-mai), to induce them to be fruitful and give good crops”. At the same time all the minor deities or demons of the village are propitiated, in order that they may not hinder the beneficent activity of the Sun-god and the Earth-goddess. On the eve of the appointed day no man may plough his fields, and the priest, accompanied by some of the villagers, repairs to the sacred grove, where he beats a drum and invites all the invisible guests to attend the great feast on the morrow. Very early next morning, before cock-crow, holy water is fetched from the sacred spring in a new pot by an acolyte, who carries it secretly to the priest's house. During the morning victims for the sacrifice are collected from the houses. In the afternoon the people all gather at the sacred grove, and the priest proceeds to consummate the sacrifice. The first victims to be immolated are a white cock for the Sun-god and a black hen for the Earth-goddess; and as the feast is the marriage of these great deities the marriage is performed over the two fowls before they are despatched. Amongst other things both birds are marked with vermilion, just as a bride and bridegroom are marked at a human marriage; and the earth is also smeared with vermilion, as if it were a real bride, on the spot where the sacrifice is offered. Sacrifices of fowls or goats to the minor deities or demons follow. Meantime the acolyte has collected flowers of the sal tree and set them round the place of sacrifice, and he has also fetched the holy water from the priest's house. A procession is now formed and the priest is carried in triumph to his own abode. There his wife has been watching for him, and on his arrival the two go through the marriage ceremony, applying vermilion to each other in the usual way “to symbolize the mystical marriage of the Sun-god with the Earth-goddess”. Meantime all the women of the village are standing on the thresholds of their houses, each with a winnowing-fan in her hand. In the fan are two cups, one empty to receive the holy water, the other full of rice-beer for the refreshment of the priest. At each house he distributes flowers and holy water to the women, and blesses them, saying, “May your rooms and granary be filled with rice, that the priest's name may be great”. The holy water which he leaves at each house is sprinkled over the seeds that have been kept to sow next year's crop. Having blessed the household, the priest drinks the rice-beer that is offered him, and as he repeats his benediction and his potation at every house, he is naturally very drunk by the time he gets to the end of the village. “By that time every one has taken copious libations of rice-beer, and all the devils of the village seem to be let loose, and there follows a scene of debauchery baffling description—all these to induce the Sun and the Earth to be fruitful.”15 Before the marriage of Sun and Earth has thus been celebrated in April or May no Oraon may manure his fields; for up to that time, in the opinion of the Oraons, Mother Earth has remained a virgin since the preceding harvest; how then, they argue, could it be lawful to fecundate her before she is duly married?16

Propitiation of malignant spirits at reclaiming waste land for cultivation.

But besides the beneficent goddess of the cultivated earth, who fosters the growth of the crops, there are malignant spirits who have to be appeased whenever an Oraon encroaches on their domain by reclaiming some of the land for cultivation. On such an occasion the cultivator sacrifices a fowl or an animal to pacify the wrathful spirit, lest some misfortune befall his family. The same procedure is followed when a house is to be built on waste land. If within a short time after a plot of waste land has been reclaimed or a house built on it, there should occur a case of sickness or death to man or beast in the family, it is believed to be caused by the offended spirit of the land. Accordingly the master of the family vows to offer to the angry spirit a particular animal or fowl, if the sick person or animal recovers, or if no other death happens in the family within a certain time. As a pledge of the fulfilment of the vow, the dedicated animal or fowl is set apart and fed on sacrificial rice.17

Worship of Mother Earth in Hoshangabad at the end of sowing.

In Hoshangabad, the end of the sowing is celebrated by the worship of Mother Earth, here called Machandrî. The ceremony is intended to promote the fertility of the ground. Every cultivator performs the worship for himself in the company of his family and servants. At the edge of one of his fields he puts up a little semicircle or three-sided wall of clods about a foot high, meant to represent a hut. This is covered with a certain sort of green grass (Imperata spontanea) in imitation of thatch. At the two ends of the hut two posts of a certain wood (Butea frondosa) are erected, with leaves round the tops, like those which are put up at marriage. They are tied to the thatch with red thread. This little house is the temple of Mother Earth (Machandrî). In the middle of it a small fire is kindled, and a little milk is set to boil on it in a tiny earthen pot. The milk is allowed to boil over as a sign of abundance. While this is going on, the ploughmen gather in a field and drive their bullocks at a trot, striking them wildly; it is the end of the year's labour for the cattle. The cultivator meanwhile offers a little rice, molasses, and saffron to Mother Earth, and then makes two tiny holes in the ground to represent granaries; into the holes he drops a few seeds of grain and covers them over, as a symbol of prayer, that his granary may be filled with the produce of the land. After that he dabs a little saffron on the foreheads of the ploughmen and the bullocks, and ties a red thread round the horns of the cattle. Thereupon the animals are let go; and the ploughmen run off at full speed across the country, scattering boiled wheat in token of abundance. This concludes the ceremony, and every one returns home.18

Worship of Mother Earth among the jungle tribes of South Mirzapur.

Many similar customs are observed by the jungle tribes of South Mirzapur. The Korwas regard Mother Earth (Dharti Mata) as one of their chief deities. She lives in the general village shrine under a sal tree (Shorea robusta). In the month of Aghan (November December) she is worshipped with flowers and the offering of a goat. When she is duly worshipped, the people believe that the crops will prosper and that no epidemics will break out. The Patâris also acknowledge her divinity, and worship her in August. The local priest (baiga) offers her a goat, a cock, and rich cakes. She is also worshipped in the cold weather before the grain and barley are sown, and again on the threshing-floor before the winnowing begins. The flesh of the victims is eaten by the males and unmarried girls; no grown-up girl or married woman may partake of it. The Ghasiyas also believe in Mother Earth (Dharti Mata). She is their village goddess and receives as an offering a ram, or a goat, or cakes. The offering is presented by the local priest (baiga); the materials are provided by a general contribution levied on the village. The Kharwars worship her at the village shrine before the wood-cutting and ploughing begin. They also perform a special service in her honour known as the “worship of greenery” (Hariyâri Pûjâ) at the time when the rice is transplanted. In November they perform the “thatching-grass” worship (Khar Pûjâ) at the season when they begin to cut the thatching-grass (khar). A cock, some leaves of the Bassia latifolia, and parched grain are offered to her. The service is performed by the local priest, who receives the offerings; none but males are allowed to attend. Similarly the Pankas worship her before sowing and harvesting the grain. They and the Bhuiyars offer a pig and some liquor at the more important agricultural seasons. When the crops are being sown, the Kharwars release a fowl as a scapegoat and pray, saying, “O Mother Earth! keep in prosperity and protect the ploughmen and the oxen”.19

The Parahiyas, a Dravidian tribe of Mirzapur, propitiate Mother Earth (Dharti Mata) by pouring a little milk or liquor on the ground.20 Some Pankas, in eating, throw a little bread and water on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth (Dharti Mata)21 Similarly the Dusadhs, a menial caste, put a little food on the ground in honour of the same goddess before they begin their meals.22 The Koiris, a caste whose ethnical affinities are doubtful, are found both in the North-Western Provinces and in Bengal. At marriage they pour curds, mixed with pepper, sugar, and water, on the ground as an offering to Mother Earth (Dharti Mata).23 The Bhuiyas and the Kharwars, both Dravidian tribes of South Mirzapur, worship Mother Earth (Dharti Mata) in association with the collective village gods (Dih); the victim offered to her by the Kharwars on this occasion is a goat, which is sacrificed by the village priest (baiga)24

Chief festivals of the Dravidians intended to stimulate the fertility of Mother Earth.

In general, the chief periodical festivals of the Dravidians are celebrated for the purpose of stimulating the fertility of Mother Earth; hence they fall at the critical seasons of the farmer's year, to wit, at sowing and transplanting the rice, at reaping the harvest and at garnering it in the barn. At these festivals the youths and maidens dance and pat the ground with their hands in order to rouse the Earth-goddess to activity.25

Human sacrifices offered to the Earth-goddess by the Khonds of Orissa.

The Khonds and their country.

Far less innocent were the means which another Dravidian tribe adopted to attain the same end. The cruel human sacrifices, which down to the middle of the nineteenth century the Khonds of Orissa offered to the Earth-goddess in order to ensure the fertility of their fields, have earned for them an unenviable notoriety among all the Dravidian tribes of India. The Khonds inhabit the hills of Orissa, a province of Southern Bengal, but they extend southwards into the Madras Presidency and westward into what used to be part of the Central Provinces.26 The general character of the country is wild and mountainous; it consists of a jumble of ranges covered with dense forests of sal trees (Shorea robusta). About two-thirds of it is believed to be occupied by jungle. The Khonds live in scattered villages built in clearings of the jungle, each surrounded by its patch of tilled land won from the virgin forest. They are a shy and timid folk and eschew contact with the inhabitants of the lowlands. They love their wild mountain gorges and the stillness of life in the jungle; on the least alarm they fly to the most impenetrable recesses of the forest or the hills. They live by hunting and agriculture. Like many other savage tribes, they clear patches of land in the forest during the cold season, and set fire to the fallen timber in the hot weather. After the second year of cultivation the land thus reclaimed is abandoned, and a fresh clearing is made. By this primitive form of husbandry the people raise barely enough food to support them for half the year; they supply their wants for the remainder by bartering turmeric, of which they cultivate large quantities. Like their kinsfolk, the Santals, the Mundas, and the Hos, they regard themselves, not without reason, as the true owners of the land, and they insist on their rights with a curious pertinacity.27

The Earth-god of the Khonds called Dharni Deota (male) or Tari Pennu (Female)

Animals now sacrificed in room of human victims.

The Khond pantheon is said to number no less than eighty-four gods, of whom Dharni Deota, the Earth-god, is the chief. Deota is an Aryan word: the proper Khond name for a god is Pennu. The Earth-deity is now a male, but formerly she was a female, named Tari Pennu or Bera Pennu. We are told, and may readily believe, that there is nothing surprising in a god changing his or her sex for the opposite. A parallel case is the Earth-deity of Chhattisgarh, who, like the Earth-deity of the Khonds, used to receive human sacrifices; he is either a god named Thakur Deo, or a goddess named Thakurāni Mai. The Earth-god of the Khonds is usually accompanied by Bhātbarsi Deo, the god of hunting. The Earth-god Dharni Deota is represented by a rectangular peg of wood driven into the ground, while the Hunting-god Bhātbarsi has a place at his feet in the shape of a piece of conglomerate stone covered with circular granules. Once in four or five years a buffalo is offered to the Earth-god in room of the human victim who used to be sacrificed to the grim deity. The animal is predestined for sacrifice from its birth, and is allowed to wander and graze on the crops at will. The stone representing Bhātbarsi is examined from time to time, and when the granules on it appear to have increased, it is known that the season for the sacrifice has come. In Kālāhandi a lamb is sacrificed every year, and strips of its flesh are distributed to all the villagers, who bury them in their fields as divine agents of fertilization, just as they used to bury pieces of the flesh of the human victims for the same purpose.28

Motives for offering human sacrifices to the Earth-goddess.

These human sacrifices offered to the Earth-goddess Tari Pennu29 were formerly believed to ensure good crops and immunity from all diseases and accidents. In particular they were deemed essential in the cultivation of turmeric, the Khonds arguing that the turmeric could not have a deep red colour without the shedding of blood.30 The sacrifice was performed as a public oblation by tribes, branches of tribes, or villages, both at periodical festivals and whenever special occasions appeared to demand extraordinary propitiations. And besides these social or communal offerings, the rite was observed by individuals to avert the wrath of the goddess Tari from themselves and their families.31 For example, if a child were carried off by a tiger, the parents would fly to the priest, bring him to their house, dash vessels of water over him, seat him in his wet garments, and set a cup of water before him. Into this cup of water the priest dipped his fingers thrice, smelled them, sneezed, and being filled with the deity spoke wildly in her name. If he declared that Tari had inflicted the blow as a punishment for the neglect of her worship, the father would vow to expiate his sin by sacrificing a human victim within the year.32

Distribution of the human flesh.

The victims called Meriahs; how they were procured and kept.

Sacred character of the victims.

The periodical sacrifices offered by communities were generally so arranged that each head of a family was able to procure a shred of human flesh for his fields at least once a year, usually about the time when he laid down his principal crop.33 The victims were commonly known as Meriahs; but in the Khond language the name for them was Tokki or Keddi. Persons of any race or age and of either sex were acceptable victims, with the exception of Brahmans, who, having been invested with the sacred thread, were perhaps considered already dedicated to the gods.34 Grown men were the most esteemed because they were the most costly. Children were purchased, and brought up for years with the family of the person who ultimately devoted them to a cruel death whenever circumstances were supposed to require a sacrifice at his hands. They seem to have been treated with kindness, and in youth were kept under no restraint, but when they were old enough to be sensible of the fate that awaited them, they were placed in fetters and guarded. The victim must always be purchased. Criminals, or prisoners captured in war, were not deemed fit to be sacrificed. Most of the victims rescued by British officers had been sold by their parents or nearest relations, a practice which seems to have been very common.35 To prevent the grown victims from running away, the purchaser sometimes promised not to sacrifice them, and sometimes he kept his word, gave the young man a wife, and indemnified himself for sparing the father by sacrificing the children of the marriage. At the same time, despite his promise, he reserved to himself the right of sacrificing the father also, if he thought fit to do so; and any pretext was good enough to justify the butchery, it might be a public calamity, a serious illness, a family festival, a marriage, or what not.36 Further, as the wife of a Meriah was herself usually a victim, it was in the power and within the right of the owner to immolate the whole family, father, mother, and children, and the right was sometimes exercised without hesitation. Should a destined victim have intercourse with the wife or daughter of a Khond, the husband or father of the woman, far from resenting the deed as a blot on his scutcheon, returned thanks to the goddess for the honour she had done him. For so long as he lived, the victim was regarded as a consecrated being, and, if he was left at large, he was eagerly welcomed at every threshold.37 Hence parents were not ashamed to sell their children for victims, believing that the beatification of their souls was certain, and that their death for the benefit of mankind was the most honourable that could fall to the lot of a mortal. Once, when a father had sold his daughter for a victim, her lover loaded him with curses and spat in his face. But a party of Khonds who witnessed the affair consoled the insulted father, saying, “Your child has died that all the world may live, and the Earth-goddess herself will wipe that spittle from your face”.38 But persons of riper years were kidnapped and sold by wretches who traded in human flesh.39

The Priest and his assistant.

The priest (zanee) who officiated at the sacrifice might be of any caste, but he performed the preliminary ceremony of offering flowers and incense through the medium of a Khond child under seven years of age. This child, who bore the title of Toomba, was fed and clothed at the public expense, ate with no other person, and was subjected to no act deemed impure.40

The modes of consummating the sacrifice.

The flesh of the victim buried.

The mode of consummating the sacrifice varied in different places. The earliest report of it, dating from 1837, describes the custom as it was observed in the hill tracts of Goomsur, in the Madras Presidency. There the sacrifice was annually offered to the Earth, represented by the effigy of a peacock, in order to induce the deity to grant favourable seasons and good crops. It was preceded by a month of revelry. The people feasted, drank themselves drunk, and danced round the destined victim, who was decked with garlands. On the day before the rite he was stupefied with toddy and made to sit, or, if necessary, was bound to the foot of a post which bore the effigy of a peacock. The assembled multitude then danced round the post to music, and addressing the earth they said, “O God! we offer the sacrifice to you. Give us good crops, seasons, and health.” After that they addressed the victim, saying, “We bought you with a price and did not seize you. Now we sacrifice you according to custom, and no sin rests with us.” Next day, the victim having been again intoxicated and anointed with oil, every person present touched the anointed part of the victim's body, and wiped off the oil on his own head. All then marched in procession round the village and its boundaries, preceded by music and bearing the victim and a pole, to the top of which was tied a bunch of peacock's feathers. The sacrificial post was always placed near the shrine of a village deity called Zakaree Pennoo, who was represented by three stones, near which the brass effigy of a peacock was buried. When the procession with the victim reached the fatal post, a hog was killed in sacrifice, and its blood allowed to flow into a pit prepared for the purpose. The victim, still dead drunk if possible, was then seized and thrown into the pit, and his face was pressed down into the bloody mire till he died of suffocation, while all the while the music crashed. Then the priest cut a piece of flesh from the body, and buried it with ceremony near the effigy and the village idol as an offering to the Earth. Afterwards all the rest of the people similarly cut pieces from the body and carried the bleeding flesh to their respective villages, where part of it was buried in like manner near the village idol and little bits were interred on the boundaries. The head and face of the victim were not touched by the knives, and when the bones had been stripped bare of flesh, they were buried with the face and head in the bloody pit. When the ceremony was over, a buffalo calf was brought in front of the post, its forefeet were cut off, and the animal was left to welter in its blood till the following day. Then women, dressed and armed as men, drank, danced, and sang round the spot. The calf was killed and eaten, and the priest was dismissed with a present of rice and a hog or calf.41

Other modes of performing the sacrifice.

Elsewhere the mode of putting the victim to death was different, and often far less merciful. In some districts the acceptable place of sacrifice was discovered the previous night by persons who went about the village probing the ground with sticks in the dark, and the first deep chink which they lit upon was the spot marked out by the Earth-goddess herself for the slaughter. There, in the morning, a short post was inserted; around it four larger posts were usually set up, and in the midst of these the victim was placed. The priest, assisted by the chief and one or two of the village elders, then took the branch of a green tree cleft several feet down the middle. In the rift they inserted sometimes the chest and sometimes the throat of the victim, and with the help of cords twisted round the open extremity of the stake strove with all their strength to close it. Then the priest wounded the victim with his axe, whereupon the crowd threw themselves upon the wretch and stripped the flesh from his bones, leaving untouched the head and intestines.42 According to another account the victim was squeezed to death between two strong planks.43 Sometimes he was cut up alive. This was the account given by the destined victims themselves to a Catholic missionary who visited the Khond hills while the custom was still in full vogue. They said that after the victim had been tied up, generally in a state of intoxication, the crowd danced round him, and then, at a given signal, rushed at him and cut off pieces of his living body; the flesh had to be quivering, warm, and bleeding; and as each man took his slice, he hurried away with it to the field which he wished to fertilize.44

The ways of performing the sacrifices in Chinna Kimedy.

Chinna Kimedy is a principality a little to the south and west of Goomsur. The plains are fertile, but the mountains are to a great extent covered with forest and jungle. In the lower hills water is comparatively scarce and the valleys present a poor and barren appearance. The distant prospect is that of range after range of mountains thickly mantled with forests of bamboo and the damur tree. These highlands are the home of the Khonds, who in the old days used to raid the peaceful inhabitants of the rich lowlands and then retreat with their booty into the inaccessible fastnesses of the jungle. Throughout the mountains human sacrifices were offered not to the Earth alone, as in Goomsur, but to a number of other deities whose favour was deemed essential to the life and happiness of the people.45 Major-General Campbell, who took active measures for suppressing the barbarous custom, has described some of the ways in which these atrocities were perpetrated in the name of religion. He says: “One of the most common ways of offering the sacrifice in Chinna Kimedy, is to an effigy of an elephant, rudely carved in wood, fixed on a stout post, on which it is made to revolve. After the performance of the usual ceremonies, the intended victim is fastened to the proboscis of the elephant, and amidst the shouts and yells of the excited multitude of Khonds, is rapidly whirled round, when, at a given signal by the officiating Zani or priest, the crowd rush in, seize the Meriah, and with their knives cut the flesh off the shrieking wretch as long as life remains. He is then cut down, the skeleton burnt, and the horrid orgies are over.”46 In another report the same officer describes how “the miserable victim is dragged along the fields, surrounded by a crowd of half-intoxicated Khonds, who, shouting and screaming, rush upon him, and with their knives cut the flesh piecemeal from the bones, avoiding the head and bowels, till the living skeleton, dying from loss of blood, is relieved from torture, when its remains are burnt, and the ashes mixed with the new grain to preserve it from insects”.47

The victims burned alive.

Even this was not the worst that a fiendish ingenuity, masked under the guise of religion, could do to augment the sufferings of a fellow-creature. We are informed that “in one tract the victim is put to death slowly by fire. A low stage is formed, sloping on either side like a roof; upon it the victim is placed, his limbs wound round with cords, so as to confine but not prevent his struggles. Fires are lighted, and hot brands applied, so as to make the victim roll alternately up and down the slopes of the stage. He is thus tortured as long as he is capable of moving or uttering cries; it being believed that the favour of the Earth-goddess, especially in respect of the supply of rain, will be in proportion to the quantity of tears which may be extracted. The victim is next day cut to pieces.”48

Ritual observed over the mangled remains of the victims.

We have seen that when the human victim was cut up at the stake or other place of execution, care was taken to avoid injuring certain portions, particularly the head and bowels. These mangled remains were regarded as sacred and became the objects of a ritual observance, which is thus described by Major Macpherson, one of the British officers engaged in the suppression of the sacrifices. He says:

“The most careful precautions are taken lest the offering should suffer desecration by the touch or even the near approach of any persons save the worshippers of the Earth-goddess, or by that of any animal. During the night after the sacrifice, strong parties watch over the remains of the victim; and next day the priest and the Mullickos [the chiefs of the villages] consume them, together with a whole sheep, on a funeral pile, when the ashes are scattered over the fields, or are laid as paste over the houses and granaries. And then two formalities are observed which are held indispensable to the virtue of the sacrifice. The first is that of presenting to the father of the victim, or to the person who sold or made him over to the Khonds for sacrifice, or the representative of such person, a bullock, called the dhuly, in final satisfaction of all demands. The second formality is the sacrifice of a bullock for a feast, at which the following prayer is offered up.

Prayer to the Earth-goddess, Tari Pennu.

“After invoking all the gods, the priest says: ‘O Tari Pennu! you have afflicted us greatly; have brought death to our children and our bullocks, and failure to our corn; have afflicted us in every way. But we do not complain of this. It is your desire only to compel us to perform your due rites, and then to raise up and enrich us. We were anciently enriched by this rite; all around us are great from it; therefore, by our cattle, our flocks, our pigs, and our grain, we procured a victim and offered a sacrifice. Do you now enrich us. Let our herds be so numerous that they cannot be housed; let children so abound that the care of them shall overcome their parents, as shall be seen by their burned hands; let our heads ever strike against brass pots innumerable hanging from our roofs; let the rats form their nests of shreds of scarlet cloth and silk; let all the kites in the country be seen in the trees of our village, from beasts being killed there every day. We are ignorant of what it is good to ask for. You know what is good for us. Give it to us’”49

The victim's flesh carried in haste to the fields to fertilize them.

As the main object of the sacrifice to the Earth-goddess was to ensure the fertility of the ground which fell within her province, and as the principal agent of fertilization was the flesh of the human victim, every expedient was adopted in order to apply it as speedily as possible to the fields which were to be fecundated by its influence. We have seen that for this purpose the flesh ought to be quivering, warm, and bleeding.50 Further, when a sacrifice took place, deputies from all Earth-worshipping Khonds attended it, and no sooner had the victim been hacked to pieces than these deputies returned home in hot haste, each with his portion of dripping flesh. Sometimes, in order to ensure its rapid arrival, it was forwarded by relays of runners and conveyed with postal fleetness for distances of fifty or sixty miles.51 Meantime in the village the priest and all who remained at home fasted rigidly till the arrival of the flesh. The bearer brought it rolled up in leaves of the googlut tree, and deposited it on a cushion of grass in the place of public assembly. There it was received by the priest and the heads of families. The priest divided it into two portions, one of which he offered to the Earth-goddess by burying it in a hole in the ground with his back turned, and without looking; but first he tendered an apology to the goddess for the smallness of the offering, explaining that the victim had been sacrificed by another village, and that they could not give her more. Then each man added a little earth to bury the offering, and the priest poured water from a hill gourd. The other portion of flesh the priest divided into as many shares as there were heads of families present. Each head of a house then rolled his shred of flesh in leaves, and after a mock battle with stones and mud, in which many heads were broken, he finally buried it in his favourite field, depositing it in the earth behind his back without looking.52 In some places every man carried his portion of flesh to a stream which watered his fields, and there hung it on a pole.53

A section of the Khonds abhorred human sacrifices.

It is only just to the Khonds to mention that a certain section of them, who worshipped Boora Pennu, the God of Light, abhorred the human sacrifices offered by their kinsfolk to Tari Pennu, the Earth-goddess. They looked with horror on the country that was sullied by the blood of these sacrifices; and when they visited it between the seasons of sowing and reaping, they might not use its polluted fire, but had to obtain pure fire by the friction of wood; nor might they drink the water of its pools and fountains until they had first fixed their arrows in them to symbolize their conquest of the defiled water. Similarly they might not sleep in a house until they had snatched and burned a few straws from its thatched roof to symbolize the conquest of the contaminated house by fire. They believed that death was often the penalty for neglect of these precautions.54

Animals substituted for human victims in the sacrifice.

After the suppression of human sacrifices, inferior victims were substituted in some places; for instance, in the capital of Chinna Kimedy a goat took the place of a human victim.55 Elsewhere a buffalo does duty for a man. They tie the animal to a wooden post in a sacred grove, dance fast and furiously round it with brandished knives, then, falling on the live beast, soon hack it to shreds, leaving nothing but the head, bones, and stomach. In a few minutes every particle of flesh and skin has been stripped from the buffalo, while the men fight over it and struggle for every morsel of the carcase. As soon as a man has secured a piece of the flesh, he makes off with it at full speed to bury it in his fields, according to ancient custom, before the sun has set, and as some of them have far to go, they must run very fast. The crowd of women, who have witnessed the slaughter but taken no part in it, throw clods of earth at the rapidly retreating figures of the men, some of them taking very good aim. Soon the sacred grove, so late a scene of tumult and hubbub, is silent and deserted, except for a few people who remain to guard all that is left of the buffalo, to wit, the head, the bones, and the stomach, which are burned with ceremony at the foot of the stake.56

  • 1.

    (Sir) Denzil C. J. Ibbetson, Outlines of Panjab Ethnography (Calcutta, 1883), p. 114. Compare W. Crooke, The Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India (Westminster, 1896), i. 26. Dharti means “the earth”. See Sir Henry M. Elliot, Memoirs on the History, Folk-lore, and Distribution of the Races of the North Western Provinces of India, edited by J. Beames (London, 1869), ii. 290.

  • 2.

    W. Crooke, Natives of Northern India (London, 1907), p. 232.

  • 3.

    North Indian Notes and Queries, i. (1891-1892) p. 210, § 1161. For similar ceremonies to procure rain, see R. V. Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India (London, 1916), iii. 106; The Golden Bough, Part 1. The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, i. 282 sq.

  • 4.

    R. E. Enthoven, The Folklore of Bombay (Oxford, 1924), pp. 81, 87.

  • 5.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. pp. 81 sq.

  • 6.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. pp. 82 sq.

  • 7.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 83.

  • 8.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 84.

  • 9.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 87.

  • 10.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 87.

  • 11.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 87 sq.

  • 12.

    R. E. Enthoven, op. cit. p. 302.

  • 13.

    W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India (Westminster, 1896), i. 30.

  • 14.

    Sarat Chandra Roy, The Orāons of Chōtā Nāgpur (Ranchi, 1915), pp. 143, 441.

  • 15.

    Rev. P. Dehon, S. J., “Religion and Customs of the Uraons”, Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. i. No. 9 (Calcutta, 1906), pp. 144-146. Compare E. T. Dalton, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal (Calcutta, 1872), p. 261 (who does not mention the Sun-god, though he speaks of the marriage of Dharti, the Earth); Rev. F. Hahn, “Some Notes on the Religion and Superstitions of the Orāos”, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, lxxii. Part III. (Calcutta, 1904) p. 12; Sarat Chandra Roy, The Ordāns of Chōtā Nāgpur, pp. 167, 279. According to Col. Dalton (l.c.) the ceremony takes place “towards the end of March, or beginning of April, but any day whilst the sal trees are in blossom will answer”. According to Mr. S. C. Roy (op. cit. p. 279) the marriage is celebrated in April. I have described the marriage of the deities elsewhere. See The Golden Bough, Part I. The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, i. 76 sq., 148; id., Part IV. Adonis, Attis, Osiris, i. 47 sq.

  • 16.

    Sarat Chandra Roy, The Orāons of Chōte Nāgpur, pp. 167, 279.

  • 17.

    Sarat Chandra Roy, The Orāons of Chōtā Nagpur, pp. 148 sq.

  • 18.

    W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lire of Northern India, i. 31, quoting Elliott, Settlement Report, 125.

  • 19.

    W. Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk-lore of Northern India, i. 32.

  • 20.

    W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh (Calcutta, 1896), iv. 130.

  • 21.

    W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, iv. 118.

  • 22.

    W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, ii. 357.

  • 23.

    W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, iii. 290. As to the ethnical affinities of the Koiris, see id., pp. 287 sq.; (Sir) H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal (Calcutta, 1892), i. 500 sq.

  • 24.

    W. Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, ii. 80, iii. 247.

  • 25.

    W. Crooke, Natives of Northern India, p. 232.

  • 26.

    (Sir) H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, i. 397; E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India (Madras, 1909), iii. 357; R. V. Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India (London, 1916), iii. 464.

  • 27.

    (Sir) H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, i. 397.

  • 28.

    R. V. Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, iii. 473.

  • 29.

    The chief authorities on these sacrifices are the reports of the two officers, Major-General John Campbell and Major S. C. Macpherson, who were engaged in suppressing the custom. See Major-General John Campbell, Personal Narrative of Thirteen Years’ Service amongst the Wild Tribes of Khondistan (London, 1864), pp. 52-58, etc.; Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India (London, 1865), pp. 113-131. Compare Mgr. Neyret, Bishop of Vizagapatam, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxiii. (1851) pp. 402-404; E. T. Dalton, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, pp. 285–288; (Sir) H. H. Risley, Tribes and Castes of Bengal, i. 403 sqq.; E. Thurston, Ethnographic Notes on Southern India (Madras, 1906), pp. 510-519; id., Castes and Tribes of Southern India (Madras, 1909), iii. 371-385; R. V. Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, iii. 473 sqq. I have described the sacrifices in The Golden Bough, Part V. Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i. 245 sqq. My description has been reprinted by Sir H. H. Risley, op. cit. i. 404 sqq., and by Mr. R. V. Russell, op. cit. iii. 474 sqq.

  • 30.

    Major-General J. Campbell, op. cit. p. 56.

  • 31.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, p. 113; E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, iii. 372 sq.

  • 32.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 114.

  • 33.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 113.

  • 34.

    S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 114.

  • 35.

    E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, iii. 373, quoting Russell, Selections from Records, Government of India, No. V. Human Sacrifice and Infanticide, 1854.

  • 36.

    Mgr. Neyret, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxiii. (1851) p. 403. The evidence here quoted by Monsignor Neyret is that of a missionary who visited the Khonds and recorded what he had learned from the lips of destined victims.

  • 37.

    S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 116.

  • 38.

    S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. pp. 115 sq.

  • 39.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. pp. 50, 52 sq.; E. Thurston, Tribes and Castes of Southern India, iii. 373.

  • 40.

    E. Thurston, l.c.

  • 41.

    E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, iii. 372-376, quoting Russell's Report, Selections from the Records, Government of India, No. V. Human Sacrifice and Infanticide, 1854. The original Report appears to date from 1837.

  • 42.

    S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. pp. 127 sq.

  • 43.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. pp. 57 sq.

  • 44.

    Mgr. Neyret, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxiii. (1851) pp. 403 sq. Compare J. Campbell, op. cit. pp. 56, 58, 120 sq.

  • 45.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. pp. 119, 120, 125.

  • 46.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. p. 126.

  • 47.

    Colonel (Major-General) Campbell, quoted by E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, iii. 376.

  • 48.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, p. 130.

  • 49.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorials of Service in India, pp. 128 sq.

  • 50.

    Above, p. 391.

  • 51.

    E. B. Dalton, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, p. 288; Major S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 129.

  • 52.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, op. cit. p. 129.

  • 53.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. p. 182.

  • 54.

    Major S. C. Macpherson, Memorial of Service in India, p. 131.

  • 55.

    J. Campbell, op. cit. p. 187.

  • 56.

    E. Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, iii. 381-385, quoting the Madras Mail, 1894.

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