The oral history and other historical research suggest that the Oraons are the offspring of the famous Indus Valley civilization. Their story of migration starts since when they had to leave their land because of frequent Aryan invasion, floods and anomalous atmosphere. They then migrated to the west coast of India covering the Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh region. In subsequent time, they could build a kingdom for themselves with the Rohtashgarh Fort in Bihar as their center. The Cheroes, Afghans, Mughals did not allow this small ethnic group to enjoy their independence. They fled and settled as a migrant tribe in the Chhotanagpur plateau. The majority cultural influx generally is not very kind to a culturally ‘Other’ trait. The same fate was suffered by the Oraons. The oppressive moneylenders, tremendous pressure on land, frequent famine in that arid area, compelled the Oraons to migrate to the then developing tea plantations in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Assam regions of India. The British preferred to use outside migrant labourers, as they were easy to exploit and put under control. The name Oraon is given by the Government, which also lingers the story of oppression, but they know themselves as Kurukh.
The Oraons were traditionally agriculturists. They are those avatars that cultivate food, which is the treasure, from any soil. Be it, in the Konkan region or the Chhotanagpur plateau, they have always worshipped the land and have transformed its fertility. All their festivities and rituals revolve around this idea of productivity or fecundity. The Karam Puja, which the main festival of the Oraons, is been observed as the recently engaged girls of the village venerating the Karam deity residing in the Karam tree. Thus the Karam festival becomes an occasion where the community prays to God for perpetuity of the clan or community through the fecundity of the participating girls of the village. The Jitia Puja and the Gobardhan Puja are also similar important socio-religious festivals of the Oraons, where the entire community prays for a good agricultural produce.
The Karam festival of the Oraons is highly symbolic as it is also associated with the idea of ‘productivity’ or ‘fecundity’. The participating girls reap a small barley or jawa in their homes, which represent the impregnated mother earth. While the jawa or the barley seed slowly grows into a sapling, that germinating seed is worshipped by these girls, in order to get such productive son for their tribe. The Karam festival is celebrated usually on Bhadro Ekadashi, the eleventh day of the bright full moon (Purnima) of the month of Bhadro (August-September). The Karam tree, scientifically called Nauclea Parvifolia is the center of the proceedings at the festival. The participatory seven girls imagine a tribal God called “Karam Raja” in the auspicious Karam tree and worship him. The Karam Raja is someone who marries them and through an imagination of a divine sexual intercourse, they will be getting a son as their heir. The preparations, for the Karam festival, start around ten or twelve days before the festival. The idea behind this ritual is to revive in their memories, the day of the ‘great escape’ of the Oraons from the enemy tribe Cheros in the Rohtasgarh fort in the Shahabad district of Bihar.
Working as tea plantation coolies, the Oraons could not maintain their ethnic boundary or regional solidarity in a multi ethnic interactive situation. It is not only the Oraons who had migrated in the tea plantations. There were Mundas, Ho, Santhals, Birjias with whom, the Oraons had to share their socio-cultural space. The external impact of the majority was also very strong. In a tea plantation, for all official purposes, a laborer is considered as a member of entire workforce but not as that of a particular tribe/ caste/ community. Their residential quarters are all identical, food habits are same, and their dress and hair etc. are all according to the protocols. With this trend, they have now almost forgottentheir ethnic history. But, forgetting is not so easy. The Oraons have forgotten their original Kurukh language, but they do speak Sadri.
It is only during some special ceremonies where the original Kurukh culture can be seen. A glimpse of the original Oraon culture can be seen during their marriage. Oraon marriage is complex and episodic in nature. The earthen pitcher, baskets covered with sal leaves, paddy sticks, vermillion, aura rice, mustard seeds and most importantly rice beer are the important ingredients necessary for a marriage ceremony of Oraon people.
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