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A HISTORY of superstition would be one of the most remarkable narratives which the hand of man has ever penned, and perhaps very few portions of it would be more extraordinary than those which referred to the superstitions of the Khonds of Orissa. Hid in their mountain fastnesses, these people were only known to us, until a recent period, by obscure report. Happily, however, we are told that their cruel practices are already discontinued, and we shall accordingly speak of them as of things no longer existing. We presume, however, that the main features of the Khond religion remain unaltered ; and we shall therefore write, after this caution, in the present tense, when not alluding to the practices of infanticide and human sacrifice.
The Khonds believe in a deity whom they call Boora Pennu, who first created a wife for himself, called Tari Pennu, and afterwards made the lower earth, on which he dwelt with her. Her lack of conjugal love estranged his affections, and he determined to create a new race of more obedient beings. A native legend records the creation of vegetables and of various kinds of animals, and, last of all, of man, who was made sinless, and without disease, or need of toil for the produce of the ground. Holding free communion with his Creator, he went about unclad and unhurt by the lower creation. But man was tempted by Tari, and fell, with the exception of a few who stood firm, and were therefore translated to heaven by Boora, and made partakers of his divinity. The remainder of mankind was subjected to death, the ground was cursed, animals became destructive, and flowers and fruits poisonous, and the conflict between good and evil commenced.
Thus far the Khonds agree in their creed as to the creation and fall of man; but here they branch off into two sects—the worshippers of Boora and the devotees of Tari. The sect of Boora hold that Tari is only able to act so as to promote the wishes of Boora, and as an instrument of his moral rule. The sect of Tari maintain that Boora cannot control her, and that she has the power of conferring every earthly good, as well as of inflicting every ill. Wishful that a moderate happiness should still be within the reach of man, Boota created three subordinate orders of gods to watch over human concerns. The first class sprang from Boora and Tari, and six of them preside respectively over Rain, Vegetation, Increase, the Chase, War, and Boundaries; the seventh sees justice done to the dead. The second rank consists of the sinless mortals of the golden age; and the third, of the progeny of the two superior classes of gods.
Dinga Pennu, the God of the Dead, lives on a mountain called the Leaping Rock, which lies beyond the seas, and to this the souls of the dead are driven. They are compelled to leap a dark unfathomable Styx, which girds it, alighting upon a smooth rock, slippery like a floor covered with mustard-seed. This dangerous leap occasions injuries and deformities; and the latter, and perhaps the former, are believed to be transmitted to the bodies into which they next transmigrate. On this rock sits Dinga, who is occupied night and day in writing upon it a record of the actions of every man during his life. Troops of shades are despatched by him to fulfil his just and inflexible award. The souls of the virtuous are admitted into Elysium, but those of the wicked go back to earth again to suffer in a new life the penalties of their guilt. To kill a foe, to die in battle, or as a victim to the earth-goddess, and to be a priest, entitle a soul to enter Elysium. Broken oaths, lies-except to save a guest---debt, incest, skulking in time of war, infractions of the law of hospitality, and the betrayal of state secrets, subject a soul to transmigration. We presume, however, that these are not the only virtues and vices in the ethics of the Khonds.
The sect of Tari maintain that she also wishes to raise man from his fallen condition, and that she taught mankind agriculture, the chase, and the art of war, without the medium of other gods.
But to pass on from legendary fancies to actual events, let us now notice the human sacrifices of the Khonds.
These were offered to Tari ; and the regular sacrifices were generally made about the time when the crops were put in, so that every family might have a fragment of flesh buried in their fields. But besides these, others were offered whenever the goddess was supposed to have exhibited tokens of anger-such as the ravages of a tiger, murrain among the cattle, or threatened dearth.
Meriahs, or victims, must have been obtained by purchase, or have been the property of those who offered them, and they were usually furnished by two smaller tribes, who either sold them from their own families, or bought or kidnapped children from the Hindus of the plain. The Khonds would sell their own children in a time of famine; and this is not very surprising when we reflect that to die by sacrifice was looked upon as a distinction, and as a certain mode of reaching heaven. The meriah was reverenced by the tribe, and if he grew up, a wife, who was frequently a meriah also, was provided for him, and they were supplied with a farm and stock. Being so well treated, and hoping that their turn for sacrifice might never come, it was expected that the meriahs would not attempt to escape. There was also the dread of a probable recapture, with the sentence of confinement in fetters, until they were required for sacrifice, to act as a check upon them, together with the carefully-instilled belief that the goddess would revenge an escape, and cause them to die miserably by disease.
The hair of the victim was cut off ten or twelve days before the time of sacrifice. A drunken feast was held for three days, and was attended by a great concourse of people, and on the second day before the sacrifice the victim was led out of the village, in a new garment, with music and dancing, to the meriah grove. This was left in uncultivated luxuriance, and was considered to be haunted ground. The Janni, who officiated at these rites, appears to have led a very extraordinary life, for we are told that he must live in a filthy hut, and wash only with spittle, and that he ate such dainties as pieces of grilled skin, the feet of We are
sacrificed buffaloes, and the heads of sacrificed fowls. somewhat incredulous, however, about the severe asceticism of the Janni, although we have no reason for our lack of faith beyond a suspicion that human nature would not submit, except for some very powerful reason, and in special individuals, to such a mode of life as this. The Janni now anointed the victim, to whom great reverence was paid throughout the day, and on the following morning he was refreshed with milk and palm sago. The licentious orgies which had been going forwards about him during the night were brought to a close at the noon of this day, and the victim was loosed from his stake and stupefied with opium.
A strange scene now followed. A kind of dialogue commenced, in which the character of the victim, and sometimes that of the other celebrants, was performed by those best able to sustain the horrible ritual. Invocation, entreaty, and imprecation were all introduced into this savage ceremony, and at its close the victim was removed to a spot made choice of on the previous night. Here the neck or the chest of the meriah was placed in the cleft arm of a green tree, and the divided ends were fastened with cords. The priest now gave the first blow; the crowd rushed upon the poor creature and stripped off the flesh from the bones. On the day after the sacrifice, the remains of the meriah were consumedthe ashes they scattered over the fields.
Those who had come from the other villages of the tribe hastened home with their portion of flesh, which they gave to the priest, who divided it into two pieces, one of which was buried, and the other distributed to the families in the village. Each family buried its own piece of flesh in the favourite field. The rites ended with a common feast. In one district the victim was roasted over a slow fire, and the flesh cut and distributed on the following day.
The gods of the Khonds are of human form but of ethereal texture. They are of different colours, and all except three live upon the earth, moving at the height of about two cubits above its surface, invisible to man, but visible to the lower animals. All the gods worship Tari and Boora, and those of inferior rank worship those above them, and offer up victims to them. When a bullock or pig vanishes, or is found dead, the priests tell the owner that some god required it for a sacrifice; and if this explanation is as satisfactory as it is convenient, we may suspect that some of these priests take care that the gods often come on such errands. It is stated in another account that the arm, or if needful the leg bones of the victim, were broken in several places, as he must neither suffer bound, nor exhibit any tokens of resistance. The mode of procedure varied, perhaps, at different times and in different districts. Any one may become a priest who chooses; but whether every priest is, or may become a sacrificing Janni, is not apparent.
The Khonds have neither temples nor images. Groves, untouched by the axe; hoar rocks; the tops of hills; gushing fountains, and the banks of streams, are regarded as the most suitable places for devotion. At one or two places, however, pieces of stone or iron are preserved in houses appropriated to this purpose, but here the Khonds are much exposed to Hindu influence. To find out the cause of sickness is one of the chief functions of the priesthood, for sickness is believed to proceed from the anger of a god, or the arts of a foe. To ascertain which god is displeased, the priest takes his seat by the afflicted person, and divides some rice into little heaps, each of which he dedicates to some god. He then places a few grains of rice upon each end of a suspended sickle, and calls upon all the gods by name, and if the sickle moves slightly as any name is mentioned, that is held to show that a god has come and rested
The priest declares the name of the god, lays down the sickle, and counts the grains in the heap. If the number be odd, the god is offended—if even, he is pleased. In the former case, the priest becomes inspired, loosens his long hair, shakes his head, and disgorges a flood of incoherent words. The patient humbly inquires why the god is displeased, and makes the offering which is prescribed; and this, we must remember, might cost the life of some human being.
The sect of Boora offer a contrast in their rites, and will not sleep under the roof of a manslaying tribe until they have burnt straws from the thatch, to indicate their conquest over it and its inhabitants. They, however, are like the sect of Tari, in that they practised female infanticide. A dissolute festival is their principal ceremony. The worshippers of the Earth Goddess spare no female child, except such as are the firstborn children of their mothers. In some tribes, if not in all, women have remarkable privileges, and this has led to most of the sanguinary feuds existing between the branches of the Khonds. Hence daughters are regarded as a curse to their tribe. To such, an extent is infanticide carried, that in some tribes scarcely a female is spared, and it is believed that no portion of the Khond people is wholly
upon the rice.