Santhal people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
              Jharkhand 2,410,509[1]
              West Bengal 2,280,540[2]
              Bihar 367,612[3]
              Odisha 629,782


              Jhapa District 23,172
              Morang District 16,387
              Assam 800,000-900,000
              Bangladesh 271,485 (in 2012)
Sariism -Sari Dharam   Sarnaism   Hinduism   Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Mundas   Hos   Kols   other Mon-Khmer people
Dhodro banam musical instruments

The Santal or Saontal (also spelled as Santal,Sontal or Sonthal, are a scheduled tribe of people indigenous to Terai of Nepal and India, who live mainly in Nepal and the Indian States of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam (part of the Tea Tribes). There is also a significant Santhal minority in neighboring Bangladesh, and a small population in Nepal (known as Satar in Nepal). They are one of the largest tribal communities in India. The Santals mostly speak Santali, a member of the Munda language family.

Santali language

The Reverend J. Phillips published 'An Introduction to the Santal Language' in 1852, printed at the Calcutta School – Book Society's Press.

Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, a Norwegian missionary and a language researcher, published 'A Grammar of Santali Language' in 1873.

Paul Olaf Bodding (born Gjøvik, Norway on 2 November 1865, died Odense, Denmark on 25 September 1938) was a Norwegian missionary, linguist and folklorist. He served in India for 44 years (1889–1933), and operated mainly from the town Dumka in the Santal Parganas-district. Bodding created the first alphabet and wrote the first grammar for the Santali-speaking native people in eastern India. In 1914 he also completed the translation of the Bible into the Santali Language.

In about 1925 Raghunath Murmu created Ol Chiki script for the Santali Language.


One of the most studied tribal religions in India, the Santal religion worships Marang buru, or Bonga, as the Supreme Deity. The weight of belief, however, falls on a court of spirits (Bonga), who handle different aspects of the world and who are placated with prayers and offerings in order to ward off evil influences. These spirits operate at the village, household, ancestor, and sub-clan level, along with evil spirits that cause disease and can inhabit village boundaries, mountains, water, tigers, and the forest. A characteristic feature of the Santal village is a sacred grove (known as the Jaher[5] or "Santal Sthal") on the edge of the settlement where many spirits live and where a series of annual festivals take place.[6]

A yearly round of rituals connected with the agricultural cycle, along with life-cycle rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death, involve petitions to the spirits and offerings that include the sacrifice of animals, usually birds. Religious leaders are male specialists in medical cures who practice divination and witchcraft (the socio-historic meaning of the term, used here, refers to the ritual practice of magic and is not pejorative). Similar beliefs are common among other tribes of northeast and central India such as the Kharia, Munda, and Oraon.[6]

Smaller and more isolated tribes often demonstrate articulated classification systems of the spiritual hierarchy less well documented, described as animism or a generalized worship of spiritual energies connected with locations, activities, and social groups. Religious concepts are intricately entwined with ideas about nature and interaction with local ecological systems. As in Santal religion, religious specialists are drawn from the village or family and serve a wide range of spiritual functions that focus on placating potentially dangerous spirits and coordinating rituals.[6]

Santali culture

Chadar Badar, a form of pupetry known also as Santal puppetry, is a folk show involving wooden puppets placed in a small cage which acts as the stage. The Santal traditionally accompany many of their dances with two drums: the Tamak‘ and the Tumdak’.[7]

Traditions and Societal practices of Santals (Santhals)


The tradition of hunting has been there among Santals since time immemorial. The Santals are very fond of hunting too. The men members of the community find great joy in hunting. In fact it is the wish of their Bongas that they should go for hunting. Forest hunting is very famous among them. All the male members, irrespective of whether old or young go for hunting. The village priest especially the forest priest invokes the Bongas before going for hunting. The name of the forest to be hunted is told in advance by the forest priest. But these days the forest hunting is done occasionally, most preferably during the Sohrae festival. When the day comes, all the men gather at cock–crow and set out for the forest. The Santals have great ability to locate animals by looking at the caves or forest. They even have the ability to bring home the animals and birds alive and domesticate them. When the hunters come home, the respective household people wash their feet and salute each other because they have come saved from the death .After that they eat food and the hunters gather at a place and cut up the killed animals. After that they return home.

The extensive use of Bow and arrows in the society

One of the most important and distinctive symbol that characterizes this community is the bow and arrow. The santals use it extensively. Apart from using it for hunting, they use it during various rituals, festivals and celebrations. During the ceremonial cleansing after birth, the arrow is used by the midwife. In ancient times the umbilical cord of a new born baby was cut with the sharp edge of an arrow and the same arrow was placed vertically on the head side of the baby. During marriage ceremonies the arrow is used too. Again bow and arrows are offered to the dead (male members of the community) during burials.The bow and arrow is the divine weapon used by the Moreko*. The bow and arrow is highly respected in the society. If anyone by chance touches it by his feet, he is immediately asked to bow to it. Therefore, it is impossible for the Santals to abandon these bow and arrows as they (Santals) are culturally, emotionally and mentally attached to them (bows and arrows). Sohrai is the biggest festival among Santals.

Salutations and reverences among the community (Dobok Johar ar manot)

There is a unique way of showing reverences among the community. The elders are always respected by the younger ones in the community. The younger ones always respect their elders and bow to them whenever they meet. In return the elders show love and care by assuring them of the blessings. Whenever a new member or relative comes to the family, he is welcomed first. Then he is asked to sit and thereafter his feet are washed. The relatives are not allowed to go without having food. But the ways of salutation differs among men and women. There are distinct ways of saluting each other or rather distinct ways of bowing among men and women.One of the notable features is that no younger member of the community utters an elder ones name. That is to say the elder members of the community are not called by their names rather they are called by village relations. The village people maintain certain relations with each other in the village. Hence they adhere to these relations.

In addition to that the members of the community greet each other whenever they meet. They salute or bow in respect even in the markets, on the road, marriage ceremonies or anywhere they meet. These traditions have been there since ancient times. This indicates that the members of the community want to maintain peace among them. These salutations increase their bond of togetherness and brotherhood.


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

  1. "Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  2. "West Bengal: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  3. "Bihar: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
  4. "Santali: Also spoken in Nepal". Retrieved 2011-04-01.
  5. "Jaher Worshiping Place of Santals". Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  6. 1 2 3 "The Green Revolution in India". U.S. Library of Congress Country Studies (released in public domain). Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  7. "Chadar Badar". Telegraph. 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-22.


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