My research focuses on the Santal, one of the largest tribal societies of Middle India and on their practice of making place through ritual. Based on long term ethnographic fieldwork in Jharkhand the project aims to show how different rituals reveal and continuously recreate peoples’ perceptions of place. Through this approach different aspects of Santal cosmology will be explored, showing that ideas of place are entangled with religion, kinship and politics.
In my work I study Santal ways of making place through three steps, each one referring to a different notion of place:
The first two rituals I introduce refer to place as territory. These rituals take the shape of a large sacrificial feast for the common deity of a local social group. The place of these sacrifices points to relations between ancestral activity and the roots of this social group. Besides the patrilineal aspect of kinship this part of my research further explores Santal marriage practices and how these link different territories.
In a second step I focus on Santal perceptions of the environment, particularly the forest and hills. These are articulated in two major annual ritual complexes: hunting rituals and the rituals for the mountain gods (buru bongas). Through worship, celebration and narrative these rituals give insight into the socio-cosmic structure of this area. Both relate the deities of these spheres to rain and ultimately link them to the fertility of the fields.
The third notion of place refers to the region and bears strong political connotations. In the last decades, local politicians and activists have transformed several village festivals into regional ones. These give rise to an increased display of Santal culture and often make reference to a more globalized image of the Santal as indigenous people. This negotiation of what constitutes “Santal religion and culture” is further taken up by several reform movements in this region. Their views and attempts of “purifying” Santal custom are discussed in this context.
In conclusion, my project explores Santal rituals under the perspective of place and attempts to draw a contemporary picture of the different connotations this concept bears for the Santal.
Contact Lea Schulte-Droesch
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