Santal Hunt Council and Buddh Purnima

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.

Bulu Imam
Director, Tribal Women Artists Cooperative

The Mohana River in Hazaribagh district and Gaya and connection with Buddhism

The Mohana river rises at Harhad a few kilometers west of Hazaribagh and before the block headquarters of Katkumsandi close to the Bulbul Hotsprings mentioned in the Chaitaniya-Charitramitra and which may have been visited by Lord Buddha for the area is very sacred  and Buddhist statuary has been found in Katkumsandi,Dato Khurd,Itkhori where Gupta to Pala period statuary has resulted in a museum. (according to G.Hunter Thompson a Revenue Surveyor in the year 1858-59 the Mohana rises on the boundary of Champa and Kendi  with a fall of 130 feet). Sir Edwin Arnaold in his work The Light of Asia clearly stated that this was the route taken by Lord Buddha to Tammasin and Itkhori on the Mohana river (Chapter the Sixth:”If thou wouldst see where dawned the Light at last, Northwestwards from the Thousand Gardens (Hazareebaugh) go…”). The Museum at Itkhori known also as Bhadrakali presents remains of thousands of pieces of Buddhist as well as Brahmanical figured yellow sandstone carved blocks of the Gupta period (4th-6th cent AD) and Pala period (7th-11th cent AD).

It is a local tradition that the Buddha had stayed at Itkhori in meditation and when his mother’s sister  (Mousi) Prajapati Goutami , who had brought him up since his mother’s death shortly after his birth, came searching for  him and finding  him gone uttered the words “Iti-Khoi” meaning in Pali “I have lost him” , gave the present  name to this place on the banks of river Mohana as Itkhori today. It is a local tradition that before his aunt’s arrival Gautama Siddharth had walked down the Mohana river due north to Bodhgaya where he meditated under the Bodhi tree opposite Uruvela and attained his great realization or Nirvana.

The next step is the travels of Huen Tsang in the 7th cent. AD. The river which Huen Tsang says he crossed (Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India AD 629-645, notes by Thom. Watters edited by Rhys Davids,  Vol.II) from Bodh-Gaya going toward the east he called the Moha which Cunningham called the Mohana Nadi. This is the Mohana river we are talking about in this note and which wids down to its confluence at Bodhgaya with the Phalgu and Lilarjan rivers. Huen Tsang tells us going to the east of Bodh-Gaya eastward through the jungle across theriver one comes to the Kukkutapada mountain  or Cock’s Foot Mountain and the Gurupada Mountain or Sage’s Foot Mountain.

The lofty peak of the mountain  is seen in clear outline from the Bhaluwa village where the Mohana crosses the National Highway. The lofty peaks are deep valleys and forested ravines with tall trees.Three peaks rise range on range and which when seen from the broad gauge train line ascending from the Gaya Plain to the small stations of Gurpa and Gujandi the three peaks seem to revolve around one another in a Parikrama or sacred circuit.

According to Huen Tsang the venerable Maha Kasyapa  took up his abode in a state of Nirvana in this mountain’s summit and hence its name Gurupada Mountain. Further our narrator tells us the Maha Kasyapa took up his abode in a state of Nirvana and hence the mountain is called Gurupada Mountain.

The Julai having finished his earthly mission and was ready to leave the mortal body he gave Maha Kasyapa his gold-embroidered cloak which was the gift of his aunt (Mousi) and which he instructed was to be given to the Maitreya when he comes to be Buddha. He undertook Buddha’s religion with canons, monks, nuns, and believers for twentythree years after which he prepared to leave the body and so going up the side of the Kukkutapada or Cock’s Foot Mountain he reached its summit on the north-eastern side (the side seen from Gurpa-Gujandi), and entering the Triple Peaks referred to  he took hold of the gold-embroidered cloak and the summit of the mountain closed about him by the force of his prayer and the mountain still retains its Triple-Peak form.

When the Maitreya Buddha will come as predicted and hold his three assemblies then he will go to this mountain and show Maha Kasyapa to his followers and then will Maha Kasyapa give the gold-embroidered cloak to him  the Buddha and saying farewell disappear in etheric combustion, and seeing these things the unbelievers will be moved to faith because men need miracles to convince them, and they will be moved to faith and attain Arhatship. On this mountain at night bright lights are some times seen even to this day to those who believe.

On 13th to 15th January 2018 a padyatra (In the Footprints of the Buddh) is being organized (by Nalanda Dialog Mission- INTACH)from Itkhori down the Mohana river to Bodh-Gaya, stopping for conference at Tikari Bhalwa Temple on Mohana river on the National Highway, and  from where the Kokkutupada mountain peak is visible, and on the third day reaching Bodh-Gaya and the village of Uruvela to bring the message of these lines to believers..

Bulu Imam



27th October 2017

Buddha Padayatra

These notes are made for sharing with members of the project “In the Footprints of Buddha Padyatra” – now postponed by one month from January 2018 to February 16-18, 2018.on account of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s religious visit in January..The notes here are from a different perspective from “On Yuwan Chwang’s Travels in India” ( AD 629-645), Volume II by Thomas Watters, and edited after his death by T.W.Rhys Davids and S.W.Bushell -Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers edition 1996, pages 110-116

The Padyatra in footsteps of Buddha follows the route from Itkhori on river Mohana to Bhaluwa and then down river Niranjana from Dobhi on N.H.1 today to Bodhgaya. The present notes are in view of the observations of Yuwan Chwang on pages 110-116 of the present text that he Yuwan Chwang traveled by foot from Patliputra to Bodhgaya via the Shilbhadra monastery (near to the Gunamati monastery) which was 40 Li or eight miles from Niranjana river after crossing which Yuwan Chwang reached Gaya town to the south-west of which is Gaya mountain and upon which Emperor Asoka built a tope.

South-east of Gaya mountain was a tope of trees the native place of two Kasyapa brothers Nadi and Gaya who were fire worshippers (i.e. Brahmin) and this place was then even named Uruvilva as it is still called (uru for village and vilva for Bael (Aegle marmelos) sacred to Shiva.This was to be the place of the Lord’s final enlightenment and is located after the union of Niranjana and Phalgu river into which the Mohana river also becomes a tributary near this spot.

To the east of this confluence of three rivers is the Pragabodhi mountain .When Sakyamuni had completed six years of severe austerities and mortification of the body in his quest for realization or enlightenment he was in a famished and emaciated condition near to death when he accepted milk gruel and revived his health. Then he went up the north-east side of the Pragabodhi mountain and after staying some time in a cave descended it towards Uruvilva in the south-west direction when the Devas advised him that this was not the place for him to attain enlightenment and he should go 15 Li or about three and a half miles to where stood a sacred Peepul tree (Ficus religiosa) with an adamantine seat where past and future Buddhas sought their realization or Nirvana.This tree is still there in Bodhgaya to the west of the temple but believed to be a branch of the original root brought from Ceylon by Asoka’s grandson Samprati whom he deeply loved.The tree is immediately on the west of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya even today and in the temple is an image of Buddha under the Bodhi Tree in his state of enlightenment which is believed to have been crafted by a divine artist.The figure is in the Earth Touching gesture (Bhumi sparsa mudra).On the stone slabs in front of it are the eighteen sacred motifs representing the eighteen steps which the Lord took in his ten paces after Enlightenment in the north of the present temple (Mahabodhi Sanghrama).I have claimed these eighteen sacred motifs or symbols are found in Sohrai painting such as victory triangular flag, jewelled umbrella, lotus, vase, wheel or chakra, fish, right whorled conch-shell, elephant, minister, queen, jewel,horse and rider, labyrinth, mirror, bowl, bhelwa, mustard seed, right whorled conch-shell, finger spotting of white or red vermilion.



Bulu Imam
Convener, INTACH Hazaribagh Chapter
Director, TWAC & Sanskriti Museum
“Sanskriti”, Dipugarha
Hazaribagh 825 301
Jharkhand, INIDA
Tel: 06546-264820
(m) 07209212245