Jani Shikar

Apr 30, 2019
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A Twelve Yearly Oraon Tribal Festival Celebrating an Unremembered Victory Over the Mughals!
Every stone here has a story of martyrdom to tell! Every inch of thy soil, O Mother! has been a sacrificial ground!

A well known man said these words regarding India (in the years before partition). With the story of this festival, Jani Shikar, one can see that there is some justification to this statement. Perhaps every inch of the land has a story to tell - that is still preserved. There is no country in the world where events of centuries past are incorporated into the lifestyles of the people today as much as in India. This is part of the country’s mystique, which draws people from all over the world. Jani Shikar is a martial fair, especially of the tribal womenfolk of Bihar-Orissa-Jharkhand, commemorating an unremembered victory of the forest dwellers over the Mughals some centuries back. The festival reflects a story that is somewhat bizarre, and the way that the festival is celebrated is even more bizarre. Yet it reflects the extent towards which all sections of society have contributed something to the preservation and survival through the ages – especially the Islamic era.

The Oraons are found mainly in what is today the Jhakhand state of India. They are also known as ‘kol’. They are aboriginal Hindu tribes, and have their own developed customs and culture. Dr. Prakash Oraon, Director of the Bihar Tribal Research Institute (BTRI), says that Jani Shikar is a centuries old tribal ritual which has now been converted into a mela (fair). Som Singh Munda, a research officer at the same institute, says that it is generally accepted that Jani Shikar first took place in the reign of the Moghul Emperor Jehangir. It is held every 12 years, extrapolating backwards 12 years from the last Jani Shikar (1994), the most probably date when the actual battle occurred is 1610. Tradition has it that when the Moghuls attacked the Oraons, they were defeated. The menfolk therefore held a celebration where they got very drunk! The Moghuls got word of the extravagant celebrations of the Oraons, and thought it a good time to launch a swift counter attack with the remnant of their defeated garrison. When the attack came, the Oraon men were not in a state to fight. Therefore the tribal women took up arms, and after a pitched battle managed to drive away the Moghuls! The incident appears to be connected with the repression of the Moghuls under Jehangir, especially the ravaging of the countryside and forest areas, and the resistence of the tribal people of Bihar-Jharkhand-Orissa.

Ever since then, to commemorate this festival, the tribal women in the region, especially the Oraons, set out every 12 years, in the month of ‘Jeth’ (May-June) on a grand expedition. On the fixed date, the females dressed in male attire, with traditional weapons, go out hunting, after seeking the blessings of the pahan (village priest). “In fact”, as Som Singh Munda says, “the pahan plays the role of a referee. And no one is allowed to violate the rules. Like when the jani shikaris approach a village, the pahan if that village arranges a feast for them. But if he cannot, for any reason, then he blows a whistle…” The whistle means that the jani shikaris are allowed a measure of loot of food – which traditionally nobody complains about (as it is kept within limits and is not substantial). However this is not really in conformance with modern law and order standards – so inevitably, authorities have tried in the last two Jani Shikars to suppress the festival. This of course is inevitable – and one can guess that the festival will take a new form in the future or die out. While this is inevitable – it is also sad in a way.

Martial fairs are held in tribal area throughout the Hindu world – commemorating some unremembered victory, celebrating some unnamed success. Jani Shikar is only one of such fairs.