(Celebrating Man’s communion with nature)
BAHA in Santali means flower. It is the second biggest festival of Santal after SORHAI, the harvest festival. It is also considered the holiest festival of all and celebrated in the Bengali month of Falgun (Feb-March) every year. Falgun is the first month of Santal calendar. The festival depicts man’s communion with nature. This is the time when the most common trees like Mohuwa, peepal, Mango, polash,Neem, Sal, Muringaetc bear new leaves, flowers and fruits. This is the time Santals believe that the trees reproduce and one should not disturb their body and soul by plucking or cutting off their buds, flowers, leaves and branches. Santal therefore do not pluck or eat the flower and fruits of mango, peepale leaves, neemetc before celebrating the Baha. Women do not use Sal flower in their hair for decoration and trees are not cut for firewood at this time. If done so the firewood is not brought in the village but kept outside. Anybody who breaks such rules the village priest does not enter their house during the ritualistic visit of the festival.
In Birbhum district of West Bengal the Baha festival is celebrated for two days. ‘Naike’, the village priest who is the main celebrant of the festival, prepares himself physically and mentally on the first day by taking bath, wearing new cloths and fasting. He also sleeps alone at home that night and does not indulge in physical contact with his spouse. The main puja of the Baha is held at ‘Jaher Than’ the sacred grove of the village which is normally situated outside the village. Naike along with the village elders like ‘Manjhi haram (headman), Jog Manjhi (Asst. headman), Godet (convener),Kudamnaike (Asst. priest) and other villagers go the ‘Jaher Than’ and clean the place and makes a small symbolic hut with thatch for the offering next day. He arranges number of ‘pind’ (alter) and smears them with cow dung. For our village Bishnubati16 alters are made and this number differs from village to village. Each pind is named after benevolent Bongas (spirits) who are located in the different places of the village. The Bongas were found by our ancestors who founded this village. When they choose the place to build a new village a boundary was identified. In the boundary different spirits are worshiped with different names. These spots could be a bush, forest, water body, road side space or simply a barren land. We believe that that these spirits are original inhabitants of these places and are protecting them. Our village therefore can be happy and prosperous only if we make a harmonious living with them.
On the second day in the morning the headman sends the youth to the village forest to collect the Sal flowers and after that Naike along with the villagers goes to the ‘Jaher than’ with 16 chicks collected from the village and makes the offerings to the spirits of the village and the surroundings. Water instead of rice beer is used here during the offering. The Naike prays to the spirits and the ancestors who too have joined with our benevolent spirits after death. The Naike prays for all the villagers the children, youth, animals who go out the field, forest and rivers every day for living may remain safe and do protect them from all evils spirits. Later the Naike and the villagers prepare khichuriand eat there. In the afternoon the Naike along with his companions visit the families and distribute Sal flowers. The lady of the house receives the flower in the fold of her sari from the priest after she has ceremonially applied oil to his feet and washed them. An unmarried man carries the water on his shoulder and after exchanging greetings with her, sprinkles it on the shoulder of the lady. After receiving the flower the women put themon their hair and men behind their ears. The rest of the flowers are kept in the ceiling of their thatched or tiled roof. This is the sign that the village has celebrated Baha and everybody can now sing, dance, drink rice beer and enjoy.
Writer, santali researcher, Director, santali museum. Ghosaldanga, Shantiniketan, W.B. India