The Santhals

Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Miscellaneaous jottings | 0 comments

The Santhals are a tribe of east India. According to the census of 1951, their total population is two hundred eighty-one thousand (281,000)*. They live mainly in Orissa’s Mayurbhanj, Bihar’s Jharkhand (Santhal Parganah, Hazaribag, Manbhum and Singbhum districts) and West Bengal (Midnapur, Purulia, Bankura and Burdwan districts). The Santali language is a dialect of Khewari. The Santhals are bilingual and besides their own language, they pick up the language of the state in which they live.

Anthropologists have observed that the bodily structure and physical grace of the Santhals indicate that they are related to the ancient inhabitants of Australia.

The Santhals are among the more progressive tribal races. They live in village clusters. The chief (majhi)of the village is traditionally their leader by descent. The Santhals are efficient farmers. They are simple and clean in their manners.

*Their present population is close to seven million.

English translation of Dr Sukumar Sen’s note on the Santhals (সাঁওতাল) published in the ‘Bharat Kosh’ (Vol. V) [Publisher: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad; 1973]


water colour painting of tribal dance

The Santhals love dancing. Dance is an important part of their fairs and festivals. After a long and hard day, the Santhals relax with light music and dance. The Santhal women dress cleanly in colourful attires and perform a rhythmic dance in groups forming a circle or semi-circle. The Santhal men play instruments like Tirio, Tumdak’, Singa (drums, flutes, pipes and cymbals).

The Santhali dance is usually performed on special occasions, especially during spring festival and accompanied by a traditional song. It often takes place within forest areas and denotes some kind of a dedication to the forest gods and goddesses. It is also performed while welcoming guests.

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