There was a beautiful sight in the middle of the clouds. A full moon was shining in the sky. It was September 2, 2017. The tribal people living in Gaya and especially those from Jharkhand State celebrated the Karma Puja in the Magadh University campus. They shared happiness and joy with each other and thanked God for the harvest. On this evening, according to the custom, sisters pray for their brothers, for their good and happy lives.
Even though I am of Santhal origin, this was the first Karma celebration in my life. I had heard about the festival, but never saw or celebrated the festival before.
My friend Rajesh Tirkey and I were going to Gaya. I was so excited while going to my friend’s house. We reached the house around 10:00 pm. All were waiting for us. As we reached they welcomed and greeted us.
The very next day in the morning, it was the day of Karma Puja. We had breakfast but Rajesh did not have breakfast because he had to be a Karma boy during the Puja. And then went to market to bring the things for the preparation of the feast. We gave invitation to neighbours and friends to join with us to celebrate the feast together.
Around 5:00 pm, I saw people were carrying the Karam Branches from the ‘Karam’ tree on their shoulders. Some of them went to give invitation to their neighbours [Karam is also called Kadam. The scientific name is Neolamarckia cadamba, with English common names burflower-tree, laran, and Leichhardt pine. It is an evergreen, tropical tree native to South and Southeast Asia.]
We started cooking rice, dal, and vegetables and so on around 6:00pm. That day all the family gathered and cooked together. I could see lots of happiness on the faces of the people.
All the people gathered in my friend’s house. The celebration started around 8:00pm in the night. All were gathered around the tree. So before we began the Karma Puja ceremony. One of the elders said prayers.
All sisters sat with their brothers around the Karam Tree. Rajesh also joint his sister. First they lighted the lamp. Sisters put ‘Tika’ on the brothers’ foreheads. They made offerings of fruits (prasad).
As it is a traition to tell the story of Karma Puja so one of the elders narrated the story. The branches were decorated with garlands and curd, rice and flowers which were offered to the Karma Devta. At the end of the ceremony all the Karma boys and girls broke the fasting by eating the ritual offerings.
We danced throughout the night forming a circle with our hands around each others’ waists.
The karma puja one of the most popular festivals of Jharkhand. It is related to the harvest and a tribute to the Karam tree. This tree symbolizes fertility, posterity and everything that is auspicious. While celebrating the feast the branch of Karam is placed and raised in the middle of the spot where the group performs dance. The festival is vibrant interesting and a lovely sight.
Karma Puja dates generally fall in the month of August of September.
This festival is important for the brothers and sisters as sisters pray for the well being of their brothers. Karma Puja is an integral part of the tribal community of various states.
A very interesting story is associated with this festival.
Once there were seven brothers lived together in a village. Among the seven, six brothers used to work in the field and youngest stayed in home. While the six older brothers were working in the field and the youngest would sing and dance around a Karam tree in the courtyard with his six sisters-in-law. One day they were so engrossed in dancing and singing that the brothers’ morning meal was not carried to the field by the wives. When the brothers arrived home, they became agitated and threw the Karma tree into the river. The younger brother left home in anger. Their house was damaged, the crops failed, and they virtually starved, while wandering , the youngest found the karam tree floating in the river. Then he calmed the anger of the god, who restored everything. The boy returned home and called his brothers and told them that because they insulted Karam Devta, they had fallen on on evil days. Since then the Karam Devta has been worshiped.
Next day, all of us got early in morning and gathered around the Karam tree. It was the last day of celebration. We all sang and danced for a while and then it was time for giving farewell to Karam Tree. Karma boys and girls held the tree together and then brought to the pound. And it was immersed in the pond.
John Marandi (BMC 3rd Year St Xavier’s College)