I may draw attention to the relationship between the full moon of mid-May (the Budh Purnima) in connection with the Hunt Council, which is for deeper study because there is a connection between Budhism and tribes in Hazaribagh which borders Buddh Gaya. It is believed the Buddha sojourned in these very jungles, and the Hunt Council is likely the prototype of the Buddhist Sabha or council as well. I will leave these observations for the chapter dealing specifically with the Hunt Council.
The Hunt Council sits around the day of the full moon of the middle of the month of May every year, either a few days before or after the full moon itself as the case may be, and it is given great importance by the Hazaribagh Santals. This full moon of May is the Buddh Purnima sacred to the Lord Buddha. The hunt council sits at the end of the first day’s Desom sendra over the forests which have been burned and called lo bir sendra or “hunt of the burned forests”, as desom sendra means “hunt of the home country”. As we have seen, it is the most important hunt in the Santal year. The next day, or the morning of the hunt council, is the second day’s hunting. These sendras (literally sendra means “a drive” or beat of the jungle), will continue to take place over the tribal homeland presently embracing almost the entire forested region from Tatijharia (bamboo forest) which is set astride the north-eastern edge of the Hazaribagh plateau, southward to the entire forested tract which sweeps down toward the very lonely Konar river, now collared by a huge dam, slowly drying up. The watershed continues south-east down towards the Gomia hills, and what was once the entire forested tribal heartland of the eastern Hazaribagh plateau. Today we are fighting to have the region given blanket protection from destructive development by the government as the Thousand Tigers ecosystem. The Konar, like the Bokaro, sweeps down rugged tracts to the raped and forlorn lower Damodar river now a gigantic roaring torrent swollen amidst treeless banks, as it writhes over coalmine fires, and heartless mining of its once forested lands. The lower Damodar was once a heavily tribal inhabited belt in these pristine forests, but today that is a thing of the deep past.
To experience the desom sendra here is to experience for the last time a great tradition, as is still possible in the Tatijharia jungles I am describing. The lower Damodar river as I have said, winds like a wasted thing along banks from which every vestige of forest was shorn decades ago in the post Independence period especially, in the government’s heartless race to extract every bit of coal beneath and wood above the Damodar’s bank. Today , the experiment of destroying a great ecosystem is being attempted in the upper Damodar valley through the North Karanpura Coalfields Project, which we have opposed “tooth and nail” ever since 1988. The tribals have had no way to support their old ways against the destructive development which had entered. The forests of Hazaribagh are the last of a once great corridor between Santal Parganas, East Singhbhum, and Palamau. With the going of the forest in the face of destructive development such as big dams and mines the tribal too will soon lose his proper place in the environment and is bound to disappear. The Tatijharia jungles on the northern end of the Hazaribagh plateau, where these notes are recorded, may be one of the last regions to remain pristine since there is no coal here. It is our last forest corridor to Palamau for tigers, elephants and gaur.
Back to the Hunt… and towards the Hunt Council
In 1992 I have recorded attending the hunt council of the manjhis of Jarwadih village. This fairly extensive village is marked by a small hill to its east side, and is located about ten crow-fly kilometers to the east of Tatijharia village which is on the main highway from Hazaribagh to Calcutta. It was on the night of the first day’s hunting on the 20th of May 1992, two nights before the full moon of Budh Purnima, I noted that the hunt council (or Sabha, the same term which the Buddha would use for his first meetings with his disciples), takes place three days after the full moon sometimes, so it will seem to be quite variable as a day either before or after this full moon. The Buddh Purnima is held auspicious to the memory of the Lord Buddha. This is interesting in view of the Buddha’s close association with the tribals and their forests in the Hazaribagh plateau, which directly adjoins the Gaya region where the Buddha began his ministry twenty-five centuries ago. It is quite clear the forest sojourn of the Buddha brought him into the Hazaribagh region, and there are dozens of place names, temples and stupas sacred to his memory, and the memory of his mother variously known as Mahamaya and Jogmaya. The people whom he would have met would have been Santals, the Mundas and Oraons, not yet having settled in Hazaribagh at that time. The great Sohrai art of the Kurmis, who are very closely connected with the Santals, and whose territory overlaps the Santal territory, use all the auspicious Buddhist signs and emblems such as lotus, wheel, conch, vase, elephant, horse and general, queen, etc. Thus it is quite clear were borrowed from an earlier existing iconic tradition embellished with icons of civilization tracing their roots to the prehistoric rockart of the region. It is important to bear these things in mind in our search for the deeper traditions of the Santal Sabha in Hazaribagh, and the possibility of the Buddha borrowing the idea of his Sabha from the hunt council (or vice versa). The tribals do not know the Buddha, but they speak reverently of Mahadeva, which could be the Buddha. Mahadeva is nit Shiva the tree god.
As a general rule the hunt council takes place on or as close as possible to the Buddh Purnima. The council consists of the long traditional five persons (Panch means five) head or sarpanch being the dihri or head priest of the hunt. These five men represent five major villages which may speak for the over one dozen villages of the parha or county who are taking place in the hunt and the sitting of the council. The desom sendra which necessitates the hunt council of the burned forest (lo bir Sendra sabha) in the fields between Jarwadih village and Dharampur village, being described, is a long drive up the scarp of the Hazaribagh plateau from Patri-tari, a village located slightly to the east of Surajkund down in the Bagodar plains, famous for its hot springs which draw a lot of Hindu worshippers. The drive or beat by hundreds of man comes up the ascending series of hills which rise up to the burned forest to the west of Jarwadih village, and after the hunt the weary hunters sit under great mohua and mango trees in the agricultural clearings which are ageold. The game which has been killed is over here laid and divided in the presence of all assembled, and any disputes arising go to the Council. The Council will meet nearby. The head of this council is supposed to be the unanimously elected most successful hunter present, who is generally accepted as the dihri or priest of the hunt.