Bandna Parab: A festival that celebrates light and life A lesser known festival of lights, celebrated by indigenous communities to mark the changing season and give thanks to the land

05, Dec 2020 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Around the same time most parts of the country celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, there are many indigenous  communities who celebrate many ancient festivals of their own. Most of these festivals are not yet recognised on the mainstream calendars, even though they are ancient, and are rooted in celebrating the elements, changing seasons, and harvest.

All of them are celebrated with friends and family dancing joyously in perfect rhythm to ancient drum beats that can inspire  an award winning musical track.

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Winter is ushered in the region with one such festival called Bandna Parab, that is celebrated by the adivasis of Chota Nagpur plateau area along the West Bengal-Jharkhand border. This is a harvest festival observed by the agrarian Kurmi, Koda, Bhumij, and Santhal communities. However, it is most popular among the Kurmis/Kudmis, or those who speak Kurmali/Kudmali. The catchy beats of madal drums, the tunes of Ahira songs and the warming and sweet flavours of the pitha, a homemade delicacy mark the beginning of the festivities.

The agrarian communities residing in the Jangal Mahal area come together to celebrate the festival as one large family. As all festivities usually begin, here too the families start with cleaning their houses and prepare to welcome the new harvest season. Cattle and livestock form the backbone of these communities’ livelihoods and hence, they are worshipped as part of the six-day festival,  that entails a number of rituals. The first two days are devoted to cleaning and grooming the cattle; their horns are brushed with mahua flower extracts, making them shine like swords.

Amavasya (the new moon day), starts with a worship of the ‘ghat’ and in the evening the entire village celebrates ‘Injor Pinjor’ when earthen lamps are lit in every cattle shed of the village. In Kudmali language, injor means light and pinjor means to kill, hence the festival is of light dispelling darkness. As the night progresses, the entire  village gathers at a designated sport to light a bonfire and sing “Sonka paati rotpot, baaghe kore chhotpot”, the folk song can be loosely translated into “lighting the fire will drive away tigers”. In most parts of these forests, tigers used to be a common sight in the past and they often preyed on the cattle in the villages. Thus, began the ritual to light a bonfire to drive away tigers and ensure the safety of  both animals and humans.

The smoke from this bonfire also helps in preventing flies from destroying the crops. Hence, the reference to “killing with fire” in Injor Pinjor. The celebrations are simple but not lacking in fanfare, there is interaction, joy, sharing food and taking care of the animals, and the harvest at the same time. Perhaps one day, those from the ‘mainland’ too will recognise these ancient traditions of the  native tribes, instead of harbouring judgemental views and calling them ‘backward’.

The most striking part of the festival are the Ahira folk songs, mainly sung in Kudmali, which is the local dialect in most areas of northern parts of Purulia, West Midnapur, Hazaribagh in Chotanagpur, and the five Parganas (administrative divisions) of Ranchi. Also known as Kapila Geet or Dahriya, the songs often have some influence of the Maithili language, as well. These songs recall folk tales of the tribal communities and their deep philosophical approach to living a life in harmony with their land, and animals,  the important being their cattle. The adivasis have always known how to show gratitude to nature and acknowledge the importance of all relationships. These songs are ancient, have been passed down generations and reflect these life lessons.

Conclusion

It is important to preserve these ancient cultures which remind us that all life is precious and that our survival is entwined with nature. The tribal communities are the most aware of this eternal truth. They celebrate festivals like Bandna Parab with joy, and for that moment forget the struggles of their daily lives.

Watch the video here.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mohammed Ripon Sheikh, who hails from Birbhum district. Here Sheikh brings to life Bandna Parab, celebrated by the Adivasis of Chota Nagpur plateau area along the West Bengal-Jharkhand border.  

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from the Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.

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