The Legend of the Sarhul Festival

Tribal festival of Jharkhand, Sarhul is a spring festival which is celebrated when the Sal tress get new flowers.

WORDS: SANGEETA S

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The Sarhul festival is celebrated mostly by the Oraon, the Munda and the Ho tribes, of the Jharkhand region is a unique tribal festival which marks the beginning of New Year.

The festival is celebrated every year in the first month of the Hindu calendar, on the third day of the moon or the fortnight of ‘Chaitra’.

It marks the beginning of spring or ‘Phaagun’ when people dance, sing and enjoy and commence harvest. It is during this time of the year that Sal trees get new flowers and the same flower is used to worship village deities.

As the name suggests it is a festival where nature is worshipped; Sarhul means worship of trees. Since the tribes of Jharkhand were nomadic and depended on nature for their livelihood, they still look up to nature for blessing.

They pray to nature for sufficient rainfall and mild summers so that they have good harvest. They worship nature so that the Mother Nature blesses them and spares them from her rage.
The Sal trees signify life to the tribes.

It is believed that the Sal tree is their provider and protector.

The tree provided them with firewood, shelter and protection and it continues doing so.

People worship this tree with the belief that Mother Nature resides in this tree. Offerings are made to this tree. The deity is appeased by making the first offerings of fruits, vegetables and paddy.Only after offering to deity the tribal people consume these gifts of nature.

The festival continues with plenty of dance and music. The local priest called ‘Pahan’ carries out all the rituals. The whole clan comes together to worship the deity and only after the festival ends that seeds are sown with the hope that Mother Nature will gift them a bountiful harvest.

The rituals are performed by the local priest under the sacred grove of Sal tree.
A day before the main festival the Pahan brings three new pots made of clay and fills them with water. The next morning after bathing early in the morning he observes these earthen pots and water level inside. If the water level decreases he predicts that there would be famine or less rain, and if the water level is normal, that is the signal of a good rain.

The ritual starts with washing the feet of deity which is done by the wife of the priest. Then the priest offers three young roosters of different colours, one to the God the Almighty, known to the Munda, Ho and Orsan tribes as Singbonga or Dharmesh; another to the village Gods and Goddesses; and the third to the ancestors of the tribes.

Offerings are made, flowers of Sal tree are offered to the deity. These flowers have lot of significance; they represent brotherhood among villagers. The priest distributes flowers to all and also puts the flower on every house roof which is called “phool khonsi”. Later people carry these flowers home with the belief that it will bring good luck to the family.

In one ritual the priest puts some grains on the head of a chosen hen. It is believed that if the hen eats those grains when they fall on the ground then it signifies good luck and if the hen walks off without eating the grain then it is not considered a good sign.

The beliefs are many but the main essence of this festival is in the way people come together to celebrate this festival. The discipline of people is amazing and later they all enjoy with music, dance, food and drinks.

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Tribes of Jharkhand
Jharkhand a state in eastern India is known for waterfalls, Betla National Park and Jain temples of Parasnath Hill. It is the leading producer of mineral. Jharkhand has around 32 tribes, each with its own unique history and culture. Around 70% of the state of Jharkhand consists of tribal population. Today if Jharkhand stands out as one of the most naturally beautiful state then the credit can be given to nature loving tribes of the state.
Some of the famous tribal communities of Jharkhand include –
• The Mundas – Known for their compassion and kindness they are great tourist attraction and are majority among the tribal communities.
• The Santhals – Largest tribal group in the whole of India, they are known for their faith in the forest Goddess.
• Baiga – Many members of this tribe make medicines for a living; this gets them the title of the ‘ojha’ tribe.
• Asur – They are known for their centuries-old iron-smelting skills.
• Banjaras – They are known for their skills in weaving, making baskets, embroidery etc.
• Ho – They are more into agriculture and farming.
• Oraon – Also known as the Kurukh tribe, they are known for their hospitality.
• Kharia – They are the most advance tribes in the nation. The three groups, the Hill Kharia, the Delki Kharia, and the Dudh Kharia make up the tribe.
• Gond – They are the forest fringe dwellers.
• Khonds and koras – Known for their ability to protect flora and the fauna.
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After all the rituals are over they enjoy a special drink made by processing rice, which is locally called ‘handia’. And then all celebrate the festival with lot of enthusiasm and it continues for weeks together.

There is a firm belief that after this festival the earth gets blessed and the harvest is good.Being a part of this unique festival is an experience in itself. Especially the last day when after all rituals the festivities start.

Men dressed in white vests and dhotis, and women in padiyas (white saris with red borders) look amazingly beautiful.
The tradition is very old and has lasted for many centuries and still continues. In fact this is getting popular in other regions of north-east where Sal trees grow in abundance.