Open In App

What is Sarna Dharma?

Last Updated : 08 Dec, 2023
Improve
Improve
Like Article
Like
Save
Share
Report

Sarna Dharma, also known as Sarna Religion, is a sacred belief system practiced by various indigenous communities across India, mainly in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, and northeastern regions. It represents a unique spiritual and cultural identity for these communities and serves as a way to protect their traditions in the face of modernization and external influences.

Historical Roots of Sarna Dharma

The term “Sarna” comes from the Munda word “sarana,” which means a sacred grove. These sacred groves are vital in the Sarna belief system, serving as places of worship and cultural importance. The Sarna tradition has ancient origins, dating back to the pre-Vedic era, maybe even earlier. It has been passed down through generations, becoming an essential part of the cultural tapestry of indigenous communities.

Sarna Dharma Code

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has proposed the inclusion of a separate category for the Sarna religion in the religion code of the Census of India. This suggestion comes in response to calls from various tribal organizations and Christian missionaries advocating for the recognition of a distinct census code for Sarnaism.

Core Beliefs and Practices of Sarna Dharma

Sarna Dharma is an animistic belief system that centers on nature. It emphasizes the respect for natural elements, spirits, and ancestors. Key beliefs and practices within Sarna Dharma include:

  1. Nature Worship: Sarna followers deeply respect nature. They worship natural elements like trees, rivers, rocks, and mountains. Sacred groves are central to their worship practices.
  2. Ancestor Reverence: Ancestors hold a special place in the Sarna belief system. Rituals and offerings are made to honor and seek blessings from the spirits of ancestors.
  3. Deities and Spirits: The Sarna religion recognizes many deities, spirits, and supernatural entities. These include Dharmesh (the supreme deity), Marang Buru (the god of mountains and forests), and several lesser deities.
  4. Shamanistic Traditions: Shamans, often called “Manjhi” or “Ojha,” play a significant role in Sarna Dharma. They act as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds, conducting rituals, and healing practices, and guiding the community.
  5. Sacred Groves: These groves, untouched by human interference, are hallowed grounds for worship and cultural significance. Sacred groves are pivotal to Sarna religious practices, and communities take great care to protect them from deforestation and encroachment.
  6. Festivals and Rituals: Sarna tradition observes various festivals and rituals that celebrate agricultural cycles, seasonal changes, and cultural events. One notable festival is “Sarhul,” dedicated to honoring the sal tree. During this festival, people offer prayers and participate in dances and music.
  7. Community Unity: Sarna religion is deeply intertwined with community life. Rituals and festivals are often community events, fostering a sense of togetherness among practitioners.

Challenges faced by Sarna Dharma

Despite its cultural and historical significance, Sarna Dharma faces several challenges in the modern era. These challenges include:

  1. Religious Conversion: Indigenous communities have faced external pressure to convert to mainstream religions like Hinduism often driven by economic incentives, social stigma, and external influences.
  2. Land Disputes: Conflicts related to land and resources, especially in mineral-rich regions inhabited by indigenous communities, have posed a threat to their traditional way of life and sacred groves
  3. Recognition: Sarna practitioners have strived for official recognition of their religion as a distinct entity, separate from Hinduism. They also seek protection for their religious sites and practices.
  4. Preservation of Cultural Identity : Modern education and globalization have raised concerns about the erosion of traditional knowledge and cultural practices within indigenous communities.

Recognizing the cultural and religious significance of the Sarna tradition, the Indian government has taken several steps:

  1. Recognition as a Distinct Religion: In some states, including Jharkhand, Sarna Dharma has received recognition as a separate religion. This recognition allows practitioners to officially declare their faith as Sarna.
  2. Protection of Sacred Groves: Various states have implemented legislation to safeguard sacred groves and other natural sites of religious significance.
  3. Constitutional Safeguards: The Indian Constitution provides specific protections for the rights and culture of Scheduled Tribes, a category that includes many Sarna practitioners.
  4. Inclusion in Census Data: The Indian census includes a separate code for Sarna Dharma, enabling practitioners to self-identify as Sarna during the census.

Summary – Sarna Dharma

Sarna Dharma represents a unique and ancient belief system deeply intertwined with the culture and traditions of India’s indigenous communities. It is a way of life that centers on the respect for nature, spirits, and ancestors. Nevertheless, the Sarna tradition confronts challenges posed by modernization, conversion pressures, and land disputes. Efforts to conserve and promote the Sarna tradition have resulted in recognition by certain state governments and legal protections for sacred groves. These steps are essential in safeguarding the cultural and religious heritage of indigenous communities and preserving their distinct identities in the face of external pressures. The recognition of Sarna Dharma serves as a reminder of the significance of preserving and respecting the diverse religious and cultural traditions that enrich the social fabric of India.

FAQs on Sarna Dharma

1. What is the significance of sacred groves in Sarna Dharma?

Sacred groves are central to Sarna Dharma as they serve as places of worship and cultural importance. These untouched natural areas are where Sarna followers conduct rituals, offer prayers, and connect with the spirits and deities of their belief system.

2. Who are the deities and spirits worshipped in Sarna Dharma?

Sarna Dharma recognizes a variety of deities and spirits. Some of the prominent ones include Dharmesh (the supreme deity), Marang Buru (the god of mountains and forests), and several lesser deities associated with nature and ancestral spirits.

3. What role do shamans play in Sarna Dharma?

Shamans, known as “Manjhi” or “Ojha,” act as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds in Sarna Dharma. They conduct rituals, healing practices, and guide the community in matters related to spirituality and tradition.

4. How does Sarna Dharma celebrate its cultural and religious practices?

Sarna tradition observes various festivals and rituals that celebrate agricultural cycles, seasonal changes, and cultural events. One such festival is “Sarhul,” dedicated to honoring the sal tree, where people offer prayers, participate in dances, and engage in music.

5. What challenges does Sarna Dharma face in the modern era?

Sarna Dharma faces challenges such as religious conversion, land disputes, and the preservation of cultural identity in the wake of modern education and globalization.

6. How is Sarna Dharma recognized and protected by the Indian government?

Some states in India have recognized Sarna Dharma as a separate religion, allowing practitioners to officially declare their faith as Sarna. Additionally, legal safeguards are in place to protect sacred groves and the rights of Scheduled Tribes, which include many Sarna practitioners. The Indian census includes a separate code for Sarna Dharma, enabling self-identification during the census. These measures aim to safeguard the cultural and religious heritage of indigenous communities.