Creation Myth in the Tribal Literature of Odisha

Shruti Das

Post Graduate Department of English, Berhampur University, Odisha, 760007

Creation myths generally express the idea how a culture and a people came to be. They are prescientific tales of existence and are mostly romantic. Gods and heroes are used by primitive societies to explain their history, cultural practices, traditions, the natural world around them and their response to it. Primitive societies or Tribal communities as they are called, exist even today in the lap of the sanskritised or the civilized world.There are many primitive tribes and tribal communities in Odisha who still hold on to their language and culture. They believe in their myths as profound truths and practice their traditions unfailingly. The tribal people, who are basically animists, are deeply concerned about their origin and the creation of the world, which form the basis of their understanding about their surroundings, about the humans and humanity and the intrinsic values of their own culture.
Certain tribes like, the Gonda, the Kandha, the Bhunjia, the Paharia et al, believe that in ancient times before the creation of civilization there were a couple called Dokra and Dokri. One fine day, Dokra went hunting into the deep forest and was about to shoot an arrow at a deer, when the deer started speaking to Dokra in his own language. The deer pleaded, “my friend, please don’t kill me. Try to save your clan instead, for after seven days from now there is going to be non-stop heavy rains for seven days and seven nights, whereby, the whole world will be flooded and everyone and everything will be swept away.”Dokrabecame worried and asked the deer how he could save his clan. The deer replied that there was a way, Dokra should act immediately and take two big bottle gourds and stuff them with food enough to last for twelve years and then put his two children inside the gourds and set them afloat on the great deluge. These children would ultimately salvage the human race, he said. Dokra did exactly that. True to the words of the deer there was heavy rain and devastation and the deluge swept away everyone from the village, only the two bottle gourds were afloat in the waters. After long years Goddess Parbati wanted to know if any human being had survived at all, she, therefore, created a crow from some sweat and dirt of her skin and asked the crow to find out if there were any human beings alive on earth. The crow searched and searched and found the two bottle gourds floating on the waters. He even saw two little children inside the Gourds. The crow communicated this to Parbati, who became concerned. Seeing this her consort Mahadeva decided to give the children some land to live on. Therefore, he then created the Earth from some sweat and dirt taken from his own skin. The two Gods came to learn that the children inside the bottle gourds were brother and sister and marriage or conjugation was forbidden between siblings, so they separated the siblings for twelve long years during which the two completely forgot each other and then could live as husband and wife, producing many children who were the first humans on this earth. This creation myth which is re-constitutive in nature finds echo in both the Hindu and Christian creative myths.
The Bondas are another primitive tribe that inhabit the hilly terrains of Southern Odisha. They share certain cultural similarities with the Kondhs and Bhunjias. Their creation myth is somewhat similar to that of the Gondas, Paharias and the Bhunjias. They too believe that there was a great deluge and humans were created after that. According to their myth, once Lord Mahadeva created a crow from the dirt from his skin. The crow did not find any place to sit on so he perched on the Lord’s shoulder. Mahadeva took pity and picked a hair from his body and threw it into the deluge. The hair was transformed into a cotton tree. The crow was only too happy to sit on it. Now, Mahadeva asked the crow to search the waters for something new and report to Him. The crow searched and searched and found a big Jhampi (a box made of bamboo) floating on the vast waters. Inside the box there were a boy and a girl. Mahadeva then sent the crow to get some earth. The crow picked up an earthworm instead and brought it to the Lord. Lord Mahadeva scraped a little bit of mud from the body of the earthworm with his nail and threw it into the great deluge, and thus the earth was created. He took the girl and the boy out of the box and asked them to marry. The boy and the girl refused to do so as they were siblings. So Mahadeva made the girl squint eyed and maimed the boy and parted their ways. He again made them meet after a long gap, during which they had completely forgotten each other. They got married and had twelve sons and twelve daughters who are believed to be the ancestors of the Bonda tribe.
Naming of clans, unique food habits and certain cultural practices are explained through oral stories and creation myths. The Santhals, a tribal community of North Odisha, have an interesting mythological narrative about their creation and existence on earth. According to them, once upon a time, long long ago, there was a divine crow named Maranbonga. One day he was brushing his teeth when he saw that there was water everywhere and whatever little land was there was under water. So he created the swan couple, “Hanshansali”, to play on the water. Then he realised that hanshasali had no place to sit, so he planted pieces of his toothbrush which grew up to be floating water plants. Hanshansali were very happy and mated to give two eggs. One of these eggs carried a man and the other, a woman; they were Pilchuharam and Pilchuayo, the original Santal couple. Then the Gods wanted to give Pilchuharam and Pilchuayo a place to stay and thus, they conceived of the creation of the Earth. They called the earthworm and asked him to bring earth. The earthworm brought some earth and put on the back of the tortoise and thus the earth was created. After creating earth, the Gods created the plants and animals.
Marangbonga summoned Pilchuharam and Pilchuayo and told them that they must give him some food as offerings. He directed the people to a particular stream and asked them to get water from this stream, add the seeds of a particular grass and mix it with cooked rice and then serve this dish to him as offering. Pilchuharam and Pilchuayo went to fetch water from the stream. They saw a monkey sleeping by the stream. The monkey told them that the water of this stream had a magical quality that was intoxicated him. The couple carried the water in a pitcher and made the offering as instructed by Marangbonga. They drank the water from the stream and after a while noticed that the rice mixture had turned into Handia, a kind of rice wine popular in the Santal community. They drank the handiaand felt their libido awaken, thus they consummated their relationship and as a result had twelve sons. These twelve young men went to the forest to hunt and came back to their parents with their respective catches demanding food and water. The mother Pilchuayosaw that each boy was holding something different in his hand and thus named them accordingly and later, the specific clan born from a particular son was known by his name. The son who held an animal without horns was called Murmu; the one who ate the skin of the produce was called Marndior Marandi; the one who had killed a wild swan was called Hansda;a wild fowl was Tudu; a wild buffalo was Besra; the one who held fermented rice was Baskey and the one who held the flowers of Kendu (a local tree) was called Hembram. The most important of the boys were the two who had brought agricultural produce from the forest; they were called Kisku and Soren and were given land. The Kisku and Soren clans eventually became landholders and the rulers in this community.
The Kondhs are a major tribe in the Southern part of Odisha. Their population is more than that of other tribes in that region. They have various sub-tribes and sub-cultures which are more or less similar to each other. There are the Kondhs, KutiaKondhs, DongriaKondhs and many others. Their creation myth has a different flavour as these tribes are more aggressive advocating human sacrifice as offering to their Gods. They observe a typical festival called the Meria or Kedu, where they offer blood and flesh to their Gods and the earth. The Kondhs living in the Baliguda area of Odisha believe that they originate from the whim of the Sun God, whom they call Bura Penu. To begin with there existed only the Sun God or the Bura Penu who created Tanapenu, the Earth God to serve him. But he was dissatisfied with the service of Tanapenu and decided to create some human beings. Thinking thus, Bura Penu picked up a fistful of earth and threw it behind himself. Tanapenu came to know of this and did not want Bura Penu to succeed in creating humans so he immediately picked up the same soil and threw it in another direction unknown to BuraPenu. Thus, plants and vegetation were created. Bura Penu kept throwing fistfuls of soil and Tanapenu kept picking them up and throwing them in other directions. They believe that from the second fistful of earth was created the aquatic animals, from the third, the terrestrial or land animals and from the fourth, the avian creatures or the birds.
Bura Penu came to know that Tana had been tricking him all this while, so he picked up another fistful of earth and threw it directly on the back of Tanapenu. This final fistful could not be thwarted so humans were created at last. Thereafter Bura scrubbed himself and picked some dirt from his own back and threw it hither and thither, thus creating love, compassion, goodwill and other attributes that contributed to the wholesome development of human nature. At that time the earth was not quite solid. It was soft and wobbly in most places, so the human beings could live only in specific places and carry out their limited agricultural activities where the earth was hard. The Primodial mother had Alang Kuanra, Desang Kuanra and twenty seven other sons. All these people tried with all their might and devotion to please the Gods to make the soil harder, but in vain. One fateful day the Primodial Mother was walking on the soft soil, her foot slipped, and she cut her foot. Miraculously, the blood from her wound gradually hardened the soil. She then called her sons to her and told them, “this land wants human blood. I am now very old, so you tie me to a pole and kill me. After that, throw my blood in different directions, such that the earth becomes firm and arable. Then you will be able to expand your kingdom all over the earth.” At first the sons refused to carry out their mother’s orders, but she insisted that they sacrifice her on a pole and sprinkle her blood over the soft and wobbly earth. Finally, the sons agreed to do their mother’s bidding. They sacrificed her on the pole made of the Sargimunda tree and sprinkled her blood over the earth. True to her words the earth became firm and conducive to human life and livelihood. It is from this day that human sacrifice before sowing became a ritual practice in this tribe.
The story of the Kutia Kondh’s creation is narrated in a similar vein. The people of this tribe believe in a lot of symbols and are guided by faith in stories related to these. Pentha Penadu (Gods and Goddesses), Sàru (Mountain), Piju (rain), Mara (tree), Pota (bird) and other such symbols form an integral part of their believe system. They strongly believe that they have come out of a very deep and dark hole inside the earth. Hence, for protection and survival through agriculture they pray to the Mother Earth or Dharani Penu. This prayer/ritual is known as Meria or Kedu. It is said that the two sisters called Rani and Bendi first came out of two huge holes on earth namely, Sarpangada and Sarchangada. They did so by cutting the earth with the help of their teeth. Light from the outside world was unable to enter these dark holes which hosted the female and the male power of the world. As soon as light entered the holes after the emergence of Rani and Bendi, the holes seemed to crack up like the eggshells and Lingas or the male and Janhans or the females emerged in hordes. Two brothers named Beta Manger and Plambu Manger emerged from these bursting holes and created the hunting clan. Gradually the two priests, Kana Souta and Bula Souta emerged from the great abyss. Finally, the Gods and Goddesses emerged out of the darkness to reveal the secret of creation to man. Faith in this creation myth is so deeply entrenched in the minds of the Kutia Kondhs that two ancient villages in the name of the two mythical holes still exist in the Belghargumma Panchayat of Odisha.

There are hundreds of tribes and each has a unique story to tell about their origin and survival. Most indigenous mythic traditions have some similarity and all these myths are attempts to explain complex natural phenomena and the evolution of certain traditions in that culture. They explain natural histories of extinction and survival of species and the manner in which the tribal people have dealt with incomprehensible natural phenomena. The creation myths of the tribes of Odisha are unique in themselves and bear certain similarities with the creation myths of dominant regions and cultures across the world. They need to be preserved and interpreted for the betterment of humanity.

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