Karam festival is an important festival of not only Jharkhand state but also other states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Tribal population of these states comprising of Baiga, Majhwar, Oraon, Munda and Binjhwari adivasis celebrate the festival.
It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Bhadrapad. Karam festival is celebrated in the months of September-October not only by these tribes but also by other adivasis and indigenous non-tribal groups called sadans . Karam is a festival of nature and also fertility, as believed by some tribes. An auspicious day is fixed by village folk and their chief for celebrations.
Legend associated with the festivalThe village priest relates the legend about seven brothers who were engaged in agriculture. Their wives carried lunch for them to the field where they worked hard. Once it so happened that their wives did not bring lunch for them and they went back home hungry only to find their wives singing and dancing merrily around a branch of Karam tree that was planted in the courtyard of their house. They were infuriated and one of them uprooted the karam branch and flung it into the river. This was an insult to Karam deity and with passage of time, their economic condition started deteriorating to the extent of starvation.
Then one day a brahmin (priest) visited them and the brothers narrated their woes to him. The brahmin advised them to appease Karam Rani (Goddess). The brothers followed his counsel and gradually their economic condition improved.
The underlying message is that environment should be protected at all costs.
Rites and RitualsYoung villagers collect flowers, wood and fruits from the jungle for prayers and rituals. The branch of karam tree( karam dalli ) symbolises Karam Devta, the goddess of power, youth, wealth and children. Cuttings of three branches are planted in the ground where the community dances and sings in groups. The place where such Karam dance is performed whole night is called Akhara-sthal and these branches are known as Karam Raja .
A pot filled with water, an iron rod for digging( sabbal ), diya-bati , ghee and milk are brought and after digging the earth, the three branches are tied making seven rounds of the thread. They are placed in the hole which is now filled up with mud.
The next day is marked by offering of flowers, rice and curd to Karam Raja . Red colour baskets full of grains ( daliya ), two pieces of cloth dipped in haldi (turmeric) and covering the cucumber,a lighted diya and small wooden stick ( datwan taken from Sakhwa tree) are placed nearby and covered by rendi , pechki or kuchu leaf ( patti )to seek blessings . Later, the fasting girls distribute their rice-grain and sit in front of Karam dalli.
The legend associated with this festival are narrated by pahan or village priest. Barley seedlings are given out to young adivasis, who wear them on their heads. The devotees observe fast for the entire day and night full of prayers and celebration. Prayers are also offered to other Gods and Goddesses and ancestors at home. Parents give their fasting children dhoti, turra-pagri, chaurasi and ghungroo. They return to the akhara-sthal and enjoy a whole night resplendent with traditional music and dance on the beats of traditional drums. The completion of the festival marks ceremonial immersion of karam bough in the river or local pond.
Special cuisines preparedThe devotees feast together and also drink handia which is rice beer along with rice, curd and vegetables.
Significance of the festivalThe fields are lush green during this season and there is freshness in nature. Brothers go naked feet and bring their married sisters back home for this festival. Sisters pray for their brothers. The village priest or pahan relates the folk lore of Karamdharan brothers and then completes various rituals. Those performing pooja, wear new clothes.
The adivasis depend on agriculture (land, water and harvest) for their livelihood. So, it is imperative that they sustain the environment for their own well being. This festival reiterates their relationship with nature, need for environmental conservation and its impact on their lives.