Ādivāsi Hindu saints

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By Himanshu Bhatt

Sometimes transliterated as: Adivasi Hindu saints, AdivAsi Hindu saints, AAdivaasi Hindu saints


The Vanavāsis or Ādivāsis are known by various other names such as Atavikās in Sanskrit literature and in Gandhian terms are known as Raniparaj, Vanyajāti and Girijan. Another popular term is Vanavāsi.

File:Narada visits Valmiki.jpg
The youthful sage Narada at the white-bearded Valmiki's hermitage

From the time of the Ṛgveda it is known that tribal groups outside the Indian caste system were the devotees of Hinduism. The caste system plus the Vanavāsis that caste-members were in contact with in the Vedic Age, is known as panca-manuṣyajātani and Agni Deva is "the chief priest of the five classes".[1]

There are several classes of Ādivāsi priests. Some tribals like the Vankar call their priests as Brahmin. Some Hindu groups like the Ārya Samaj adopted this Ādivāsi practice and began calling Ādivāsi priests as Garo Brahmans. Many great Hindu pilgrimages have Vanavāsis priests or clerics. For example, At the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, there are Brahmin and Badu[2] priests. The Badus have the most intimate contact with the deity of the temple and only they can bathe and adorn it.[3][4] Chhotoloks haave their Lays as priest, Bhopa and Dewalo for Bhils, while for Santals the Kadam Naik and majhi-haram[5] are priests while the jog-majhi is the assistant headman and then the Kharias' preist are known as Kalo, Dehuri or Pahan and the priest assistant is the Pujar.

There were several kings and chiefs of kingdoms and tribes that accepted Hinduism and endorsed it peacefully amongst their subjects and tribesmen. An example of a prominent Vanavāsi figure is King Kriṣṇa Chandra, first Kachari to formally convert to Hinduism. Another is King Pamheiba of Manipur accepted Vaiṣnavism from Ramanandi Shantidas Gosain and took the title Garib Niwaz. Also in Manipuri history of importance is King Bhagyachandra of Manipur, who was converted by Rāmnārayaṇa Misra, a descendant of Chaitanya's uncle. King Govinda Manikya also converted to Vaiṣnavism. King Parvata Raya of Jaintia Khasis was important amongst Khasis. Even in the Hindu scriptures like Mahābhārata mention is made of Pāndava warrior prince Bhima marrying Hidimba.

Some Hindus believe that Indian tribals are close to the romantic ideal of the ancient silvan culture[6] of the Vedic people. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar said:

The tribals "can be given yajñopavîta (…) They should be given equal rights and footings in the matter of religious rights, in temple worship, in the study of Vedas, and in general, in all our social and religious affairs. This is the only right solution for all the problems of casteism found nowadays in our Hindu society."[7]

Several scriptures make mention to noble Vanavāsis. For example, the Bhils are mentioned in the Mahābhārata. The Bhil boy Ekalavya's teacher was Droṇa, and he had the honor to be invited to Yudhisthira's Rājasuya Yajna at Indraprastha.[8] Indian tribals were also part of royal armies in the Rāmāyana and in the Arthaśāstra.[9] In Hindu stories also, God or gods take the form(s) of tribals sometimes. In Baiga folklore, Mahādev (Śiva) and Parvati take the form of a Baiga and Baigin[10] Some saints amongst tribal communities are also worshiped as a god. For example, Balnathji Mahadeo the Koli saint is considered an avatār of Śankaravatar at Junagarh, Gujarat.

On a comparison to the tribals of other countries and regions, S.C. Dube notes "Their position, however, cannot be compared to that of Australian aborigines, American Indians or native Africans." This indicates that their status and economic position is higher in society.

Saintly development amongst Ādivāsis

Several devotional movements were embraced by Indians, and many times included the Vanavāsis as sectarian reformers or founders. For example, speaking of the Vaiṣnava movement in Asom, Sant Madhavadeva says The Vaiṣnava Order in its primal glory saw "the Garo, Bhota and Yavana (Muslim) saying prayers to Hari" and "the Miri, Asama and Kachari securing salvation through Rama-Nama"[11]

Of the irrelevance of caste, especially in terms of religion Basava Swami said the following:[12] In the Bhakti Era, saints from menial occupations continued work in their menial positions while also challenging barriers and worship God. The Varkāri sect Sant Eknath writes of the non-Dwija saints:[13]
   
Ādivāsi Hindu saints
Sankhya was a sweeper;
Agastya, a huntsman;
Durvasa, a cobbler;
Dadhici, a locksmith;
Kasyapa, a blacksmith;
Romaja, a coppersmith;
Kaundilya, a barber;
So, why should you then,
In ignorance of this,
Insist on caste?
   
Ādivāsi Hindu saints
   
Ādivāsi Hindu saints
God baked pots with Gora,
Drove cattle with Chokha,
Cut grass with Savata,
Wove garments with Kabir,
Colored hide with Rohidas,
Sold meat with the butcher Sajana,
Melted gold with Narahari
Carried cow-dung with Janabai,
and even became a Pariah messenger for Damaji.
   
Ādivāsi Hindu saints

The saints of Vanavāsi communities have formed several devotional sects. Amongst the Bhils, the popular ones unique to Bhils are Shambhu Dal (Śaiva) and Rāma Dal (Vaiṣnava.) Amongst the Vanavāsi communities of Central India and Jharkhand, after the Bhakti Era had ended, there prospered the Bhagat Movement and amongst its foundations were the Bachhidan Bhagat, Bhuiphut Bhagats, Birsa Bhagats, Gau Rakshni Bhagat, Kamru Bhagat, Mahadeo Bhagats, Neha Bhagat, Tana Bhagats, and Viṣṇu Bhagats.

During the British colonial era in India, amongst the Vanavāsi communities there prospered a great time of devotion in which the Vanavāsi tried to preserve their identity from being lost to an alien religion so they established their own Hindu sects to counter the advancement of the foreign religions. In this era some popular saints began popularizing mainstream Hindu customs for their own tribe brethren. For example, Sant Jatra Oraon and his followers began wearing the sacred thread as a symbol of the purity of their faith.[14] "The Bhagat movement of various types aimed to purify the religious and social life of tribals on the model of higher form of Hinduism." Some Vanavāsi saints were converts who left foreign religions to come to Hinduism and revive their true ethical tribal ways. An example is Birsa Munda of the Munda tribe in Central India.[15] Saints like Haribaba also, not only spread Hindu popular worship and practices like vegetarianism but encouraged the wearing of a scared thread.

Also during colonialism these tribal Hindu movements worked closely with bigger and well-known Hindu activist groups whose mission was to educate the tribals. For example, Jeebon Roy was a Gandhian Indian freedom fighter and writers of some books detailing the lives of prominent Hindu figures like Chaitanya, Gautama Buddha, and Kṛṣṇa. Some of his works were Ka Kitap Chaitanya, Ka Rāmāyaṇa, Budhadev Charitra, Hitupodesa, Ka Niom Ki Khasi, Shaphang Uwei U Blei. His sons Sibcharan Roy and Chandranath Roy continued his legacy and translated Hindu scriptures like Bhagavad Gitā, Chanakya Niti Darpan.

Vanavāsi or Ādivāsi Saints

A sant is an Indian holy man, and a title of a devotee or ascetic, especially in north and east India. Generally a holy or saintly person is referred to as a mahatma, paramahaṅsa, or swami, or given the prefix Śri or Śrila before their name.

Sant Birsa Bhagwan stamp
Statue of Sant Bhima Bhoi at Shri Gajanan Maharaj Sansthan, Shegaon, Maharashtra
Sant Maharishi Valmiki stamp
Sant Phangulananda painting
Sant Sirijunga stamp
Sant Sirijunga statue
Name Ethnicity Tribe Sect Compositions Other significance
Balai Mikir Mikir Vaiṣnava (Ekasarana Dharma) He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Balnathji Mahadeo Gujarati Koli Śaiva Avatār of Shankaravatar at Junagarh
Bedara Kannappa Kannada Śaiva An avatār of a Gandharva that had accidentally killed a deer in heaven.[17] He established the famous temple of Srikalahasti, Andhra Pradesh.
Bhadurdasa Gujarati Koli A 17th or 18th century saint.[18]
Bhagirath Manjhi Santal Santal Vaiṣnava He encouraged, vegetarianism, non-alcoholism, worship of Viṣṇu, and opposing British rule amongst the Santals.
Bhima Bhoi Oriya Bhoi Vaiṣnava (Mahima Dharma) His compositions (compiled by someone else but composed by him) are Stuti Chintamani, Brahmanirupana Gita, Adianta Gita, Chautisa Granthamala, Nirveda Sadhana, Sruti Nisedha Gita, Manusabha Mandala, Mahima Vinoda, Brihat Bhajana Mala and Bangala Atha Bhajan. He was the principle disciple of Mahama Swami (Mukanda Das) and himself was a blind poet.
Bhrisundin Koli Ganpatya Siddheswarsastri Chitrav wrote of him in the Ganesh Purana.
Birsa Bhagwan
(also Birsa Munda)
Munda Munda Vaiṣnava He is considered an avatar of Khasra Kora. People approached him as Singbonga, the Sun god. His sect included Christian converts.[1] He and his clan, the Mundas, were connected with Vaiṣnava traditions as they were influenced by Sri Chaitanya.[2] Birsa was very close to the Panre brothers Vaiṣnavites. He went to the extent of attacking churches and police station during his 1989-1990 Munda Rebellion.[19]
Budhu Bhagat Kol Kol Vaiṣnava Led the Kol Insurrection (1831–1832) aimed against tax imposed on the Kol community by Muslim rulers.[19]
Dhanraj Lodha Bhil Bhil He was the son of Shreshthi Shrang Lodha.
Dhudhalinath Gujarati Koli A 17th or 18th century devotee (P. 4, The Story of Historic People of India-The Kolis)
Dubia Gosain Santal Santal Vaiṣnava
Ganga Narain Hindi Bhumij Vaiṣnava Led the Bhumij Revolt (1832–1833) aimed against missionaries and British colonialists.
Gheru Lal Bal Chand
(also Gheru Lal Tantia)
Tantia Tantia Vaiṣnava He managed Gandhi's ashram in Sirsa and was a freedom fighter.
Girnari Velnathji Gujarati Koli Of Junagadh, a 17th or 18th century devotee[18]
Govinda Garo Garo Vaiṣnava (Ekasarana Dharma) He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Govind Gir Santal Santal Vaiṣnava
Govind Guru Bhil Bhil Vaiṣnava He led the Bhil uprising of southern Rajasthan against the British colonialists in 1913.[19]
Gulia Bhamda Marwadi Bhil
Gunabhiram Barua Barua Barua Brahma Dharma He was a major disciple of Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma, and spread the Brahma Dharma to his capacity.
Haipou Jadonang Zeliangrong Naga
(Rongmei)
Vaiṣnava
(Heraka)[20]
He was a Gandhian and often equated his Heraka sect with Vaiṣnavism.
Haribaba
(also Duka Ho)
Ho Ho Vaiṣnava He was a Gandhian that encouraged his tribesmen the Ho to give up alcohol, and to practice vegetarianism and Vaiṣnava worship.
Jato Tamaria Ho Ho Vaiṣnava He was a disciple of Haribaba and spread Haribaba's teachings of vegetarianism, non-alcoholism, and Vaiṣnavism.[21]
Jatra Oraon Oraon Oraon Śaiva[22] He claim that he received a dream from God whom told him to do away with animal sacrifices and the worship of ghosts.[23] led the Tana Bhagat Movement (1914–1919) aimed against the missionaries and British colonialists.
Jayarama
(also Jayanta Hari)
Bhutiya Bhutiya Vaiṣnava
(Ekasarana Dharma)
He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Joria Bhagat Gujarati Nayak He fought the British in his Naikdas Revolt of 1958-59, and 1968 with his comrade Sant Rup Singh, trying to establish a 'Dharam Raj'.[19]
Kaladutaka
(also Vaikunthanatha)
Tamil Kallar
(Robber)
Vaiṣnava He is considered an avatār of Lord Viṣṇu.[3]
Kalicharan Brahma
(also Guru Brahma)
Bodo Bodo Brahmo Samaji He founded the Brahma Dharma aimed against Christian missionaries and British colonialists. The Brahma Dharma movement sought to unite peoples of all religions to worship God (Brahma) together and survives even today.
Kalu Dev Punjabi Nishadha
(Fisherman)
Kannappa Nayanar[4]
(also Dhira)
Tamil Śaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite sants, a hunter from whom Lord Śiva gladly accepted food offerings. It is said that he poured water from his mouth on the Śivlingam and offered the Lord swine flesh.[5]
Kiratarjuniya (also Kirata) Kirat
(Hunter)
The form of Lord Śiva as a hunter. It is mentioned in the Mahābhārata. The Karppillikkavu Sree Mahadeva Temple, Kerala adores Lord Śiva in this avatār and is known to be one of the oldest surviving temples in Bharat.
Koli Bhagat Gujarati Koli Vaiṣnava He introduced Vaiṣnavism to the Koli community of Chotila, Gujarat.
Kotnaka Suru Gond Gond Vaiṣnava He taught methods for attaining mokṣa, and began the Shri Guru Dev Seva Mandal.
Koya Bhagat Gujarati Koli A 17th or 18th century devotee[18]
Kubera Gujarati Koli Vaiṣnava He was a saint of Sarsa, taught for over 35 years, and had 20,000 followers in his time.[24]
Madan Bhagat Gujarati Koli He was a 17th or 18th century saint.[18]
Te-Ongsi Sirijunga Dewangsi Limbu Limbu Yuma Mundhum He spread the message of the oral tradition or mantras and incantations called Mundhum to other Limbus in Sikkim in the 18th century. He was the first one to compile the entire Mundhum.
Mangai Alvar Tamil Kallar Vaiṣnava He composed the six Vedangas in beautiful Tamil verse.[6]
Mangru Kharsawan Vaiṣnava
Narahari Ahomi Ahomi Vaiṣnava
(Ekasarana Dharma)
He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Narottama Nocte Naga (Nocte) Vaiṣnava
(Ekasarana Dharma)
He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Parmananda Mishing Miri or Mishing Vaiṣnava
(Ekasarana Dharma)
He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Phalagunanda Lingden Limbu Limbu Jasmini Sadhu He spread his message in Sikkim.
Pipa Bhagat Gujarati Koli[25] Vaiṣnava He served under-privileged and down-rotten people.
Ramai Kachari Kachari Vaiṣnava
(Ekasarana Dharma)
He was a disciple of Śankardev and preached the message Vaiṣnavism to gain devotees.[16]
Ramdas Marwadi Bhil Vaiṣnava
Ramdev Ata Ata Ata Vaiṣnava He was a great devotee that spread much of his lifetime spreading Vaiṣnavism, encouraging vegetarianism and non-violence. He converted the Nocte chief Khunbao, also known as Lotha Khunbao, who is the ancestor of the present chiefs families of Namsang, Borduria and Laptang, when Shri Ram Dev Ata was the Adhikar (Abbot) of the Satra.
Rameswara Prasad
(also Gadhara Guru)
Hindi Kavar Vaiṣnava He was the guru of 80,000 Kavar brethren and later joined Swami Satyamitranandji.[26] He also established the 'Sanatna Sant Samaj' Hindu organization.
Rani Gaidinliu Zeliangrong Naga
(Rongmei)
Vaiṣnava
(Heraka)[27]
She took over the priesthood of Heraka and was important in its resistance to British colonialists and Christian missionaries. She said, "I built temples because the Bhuban told me in a dream that there would be prosperity and good health for every one if I did so, although it is not our custom to build temples. The male god in my upper temple is Vishnu."[28]
Rup Nath Brahma Bodo Bodo Brahma Dharma He was the chief disciple of Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma, and spread the Brahma Dharma to his capacity.
Śabari Bhil Bhil She was a woman disciple of Matanga, who offered Rama and Lakshmana jujubes when they were searching for Sita in the forest.
Sany Kanji Swami Gujarati Koli A 17th or 18th century devotee[18]
Surmaldas Gujarati Bhil Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Rāma)
Gunabhiram Barua Ahomi Barua Brahma Dharma He was a major disciple of Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma, and spread the Brahma Dharma to his capacity.
Tantya Mama Bhil Bhil She is after whom a movement is named after – the "Jananayak Tantya Bhil."
Valmiki
(also Ratna Vailya)
Bhil Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Rāma)
He composed the Rāmāyaṇa, and is considered to be an avatar in the Balmiki community and some Vaiṣnava scriptures like Viṣnudharmottara Purāṇa.[29]
Valram Gujarati Koli A 17th or 18th century saint.[18]
Vettakkorumakan Kirata
(Hunter)
The son of Lord Kirata.
Vishvanath Maharaj Hindi Dhanak Tadvi Vaiṣnava

See also

References

  1. RV IX.66.20
  2. It means tribal.
  3. JAIN, Girilal: The Hindu Phenomenon. UBSPD, Delhi 1994.
  4. Eschmann, Kulke and Tripathi, eds.: Sect of Jagannath, p.97. Elst 2001
  5. It refers to headman.
  6. Thomas Parkhill: The Forest Setting in Hindu Epics.
  7. M.S. Golwalkar: Bunch of Thoughts, p.479.
  8. Mahābhārata (I.31–54) (II.37.47; II.44.21) Elst 2001
  9. Kautilya: The Arthashastra 9:2:13-20, Penguin edition, p. 685. Elst 2001
  10. P. 5 Man, Forest And The State In Middle India By Sachchidananda, Nīraja Kumāra Caturvedī
  11. P. IX Early history of the Vai??ava faith and movement in Assam : Saṅkaradeva and his times by Maheswar Neog
  12. P. 480 A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization edited by Niharranjan Ray, Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya
  13. P. 42-43 Living Through the Blitz By Tom Harrisson
  14. P. 149 The Unrest Axle: Ethno-social Movements in Eastern India edited by Gautam Kumar Bera
  15. Tribal Movements in Jharkhand, 1857-2007 edited by Asha Mishra, Chittaranjan Kumar Paty
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 P. 108, Historical Researches Into Some Aspects of the Culture and Civilization of By G. P. Singh
  17. P. 120 Routledge Handbook of Indian Cinemas edited by K. Moti Gokulsing, Wimal Dissanayake
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 (P. 4, The Story of Historic People of India-The Kolis)
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 P. 47 Sura's Year Book 2006 (English) By V.V.K.Subburaj
  20. P. 99 Historical Researches Into Some Aspects of the Culture and Civilization of North-East India By G. P. Singh
  21. P. 349 Ethnopolitics and identity crisis by Buddhadeb Chaudhuri
  22. P. 140 The Unrest Axle: Ethno-social Movements in Eastern India edited by Gautam Kumar Bera
  23. P. 158 Tribal society in India: an anthropo-historical perspective by Kumar Suresh Singh
  24. P. 269 Brahmanism and Hinduism, Or, Religious Thought and Life in India: As Based on the Veda and Other Sacred Books of the Hindus (Google eBook) by Sir Monier Monier-Williams
  25. P. 122 Gazetteers: Amrel District by Directorate of Government Print., Stationery and Publications, 1972
  26. P. 114 Manthan, Volume 5 by Deendayal Research Institute, 1983
  27. P. 99 Historical Researches Into Some Aspects of the Culture and Civilization of North-East India By G. P. Singh
  28. P. 215 Nagas Struggle Against the British Rule Under Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu, 1925-1947 by Asoso Yonuo
  29. P. 166 Mythology of Viṣṇu and His Incarnations By Manohar Laxman Varadpande