Sarhul: A Spring Festival to Worship Trees

Sarhul is one of the grand festivals of adivasis or tribals in Jharkhand. This festival is celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Tritiya, the third day of bright half in Chaitra month. Sarhul marks the beginning of the New Year. During this festival, trees and other elements of nature are worshipped. Sarhul literally means ‘Worship of Sal’. Sarhul festival is dedicated to Dharti mata — Mother Earth. The mother nature is worshiped during the festival. Sarhul is celebrated for several days during which the main traditional dance Sarhul dance is performed.

Sarhul music

Sarhul is celebrated during spring season when Sal (Shorea robusta) trees get new flowers on their branches. Adivasis believe that they can use new crop mainly paddy, leaves of the trees, flowers and fruits of the season only after this festival is celebrated.


Sal is native to India and is chiefly found growing throughout. It is even found stretching from Myanmar in the east to Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Beyond their practical uses, few trees are as central to the cultures and traditions of communities and societies in India as the sal tree. It is one of the major sources of hardwood timber in India, but it boasts of a greater importance due to its frequent mention in Indian mythology.

In Hindu tradition, the sal tree is sacred. The tree is also associated with Vishnu. The tree’s common name, sal, comes from the Sanskrit word shala (शाल, literally house or rampart). Jains and Buddhists believe that the tree is associated with enlightenment. Mahavira, the 24th Jain tirthankara, is believed to have attained enlightenment under a sal tree. Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that queen Mahamaya of Sakya gave birth to the Buddha while holding a sal tree, and the Buddha’s life came full circle when he died, presumably, underneath two sal trees. Quite understandably, then, in Buddhism, the brief flowering of the sal tree is considered to be a symbol of impermanence.

The sal also assumes great significance in a number of tribal communities scattered across eastern India. This should not come as a surprise especially as these tribes hold festivals in honour of the tree and to worship it. A case in point is the Sarhul Festival, one of the most popular and widely observed tribal celebrations in Jharkhand. Sarhul essentially translates to ‘a worship of trees’, but it is particularly the sal tree (and nature in general) that is the object of veneration of tribes such as Oraon, Munda, Ho and Santal.


The history of the Sarhul festival dates back to the period of Mahabharata as per several legends of Sarhul festival. The history of the Sarhul festival reveals that this festival is celebrated in the spring season. It is when the villagers offer prayers to the village God, the protector of the tribe. With the onset of spring and the blooming of flowers, the villagers start their celebration with lots of music and dance.

Sarhul being celebrated in Ranchi, Jhrakhand. Image by Gurpreet Singh Ranchi

When Mahabharata battle was going then the Munda tribal people helped the Kaurava army and they sacrificed their lives for it also. In the battle, there were many Munda fighters who died fighting the Pandavas. So, to recognise their corpses, their body had been covered with the leaves of Sal tree and the branches of the same tree. The bodies which where covered with the leaves and branches of the Sal tree remained safe, undistorted, while the other corpses, which were not covered by the Sal tree got distorted and rotted within short time. This depicts their faith on Sal tree which is strongly related with Sarhul festival.

The popular folklore is a story of Bindi, daughter of Mother Earth.

Bindi, the only daughter of Mother Earth, one day didn’t return home from bathing in the pond. Mother Earth sent her messengers all around in search of Bindi, but she couldn’t be found anywhere. Distressed and in grief, she started crying. She was gravely saddened. Leaves started falling off in empathy. It was gloomy everywhere.

After a long search, news came that Bindi is with the God of Death in the underworld. The messengers informed the God of Death that Bindi is the only daughter of the Mother Earth and they appealed for her return. But the God of Death was not willing to listen He argued that nobody can return once they reach there.

However when the messengers lamented that Mother Earth would die if Bindi didn’t return to her and the whole creation would come to an end. The God of Death was in a dilemma then. He then agreed for a compromise to save the creation and  Mother Earth. He said that Bindi would spend first half of her time on Earth and the other half in the underworld. Ever since then, when Bindi comes back, Mother Earth is full of happiness and there is greenery everywhere. Sarhul is celebrated for Bindi’s return.


During the festival Sal flowers are brought to the sarna (sacred grove) and the pahaan (adivasi priest) propitiates all the gods of the tribes. A sarna is a cluster of trees where the adivasis would worship in various occasions. Such a grove among many others must house at least five sal trees also known as sorjum, held very sacred by the tribals. It is a worship of the village deity who is considered to be the protector of the tribes. People sing and dance a lot when the new flowers appear. The deities are worshiped with saal flowers.

During the rituals the villagers encircle the Sarna or the worship area. The pahaan offers three young roosters of different colours, one to the God the Almighty, known to the Munda, Ho and Oraon tribes as Singbonga or Dharmesh; another to the village Gods and Goddesses; and the third to the ancestors of the tribes. While the Pahan chants the prayers the tribal drummers continuously play the traditional drum including Dhol, Nagara and Turhi. Also, pahaan predicts the rainfall in the coming season watching a pair of twigs in water. These are age-old traditions, coming down through generations since time immemorial.

Tribes all across Jharkhand celebrate this festival with great fervor and joy. It is believed that after this festival the earth becomes fertile and the process of sowing is started. Tribal men, women and children dress up in colorful and ethnic attires and perform Sarhul dances. They also drink a locally made rice-beer, called Handia,  brewed out of a concoction of rice, water and some tree leaves and then dance around the tree.


The Sarhul dance forms express the enthusiasm and festive feelings amongst the people and the melodious Sarhul songs narrate the stories related to the culture, beliefs and traditions of the tribe. The performers arrange themselves in a chain, and form a circle while performing. The tribal music is played upon traditional musical instrument, by the tribal people themselves. A distinct feature of this dance is that the musicians, with their traditional music instruments, remain inside the circle.

Sarhul procession on Main Road, Ranchi
Sarhul procession on Main Road, Ranchi

Although being a tribal festival, Sarhul is not restricted to a particular section of Indian society. People from other faith  and community like the Hindus, the Muslims, the Christians take part in greeting the dancing crowd. Sarhul presents a perfect example of collective celebration, where everyone is a participant. It’s a state holiday in Jharkhand.

 Happy Sarhul! 

28 thoughts on “Sarhul: A Spring Festival to Worship Trees

  1. sunny oraon

    jharkhand ORAON tribes are the best tribes in the world because they worship the nature,They worship earth because they are born in earth and is called as DHARTI AAYO
    They worship air,trees,water,and every thing which is suited in the earth…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amar Oraon


    Sarhul Festival, Jharkhand Sarhul festival is one of the important festivals of Oraon tribe. The centuries old Sarhul festival is celebrated across Jharkhand, especially in the tribal belt. It showcases various colours of life through flowers just like the nature undergoes various changes throughout the year in different seasons.

    The word “Sarhul” holds special significance for the tribe. It is celebrated in the month of March-April months in the Geogian Calender. Oraon tribe primarily consists of practicing agriculturist; the Sarhul marks the beginning of the agriculture season of their month. The word Sarhul means “Sar” as Year and “Hul” as Set to commence.

    The small cluster of Sakhua (Sarai) Tree is called Sarna. In Kurukh language of Oraon Tribe, the Sakhua fruit or Shaal fruit is known as Naur and in the local Sadri language; they are known as Sarai. Similarly, Sakhua is popularly called as Sakhu and the Oraons consider it to be a god`s gift and extremely auspicious.

    The Oraon Tribes believe that the good yield of Shaal-fruit signifies the bumper agriculture harvest for them. From the special chirping of birds, they could figure out the likely advent of the monsoon season and the expected amount of the rainfall in their region; even the snakes` sound gives them clue about the likely heaviness of rainfall.

    In the Sarhul Festival, the Oraon Tribe celebrate the holy matrimony of the Earth and the Nature; depicting the masculine race and the feminine race among the numerous living organism in our planet.

    On the day of Sarhul Festival, they remember the Great Lord Dharmesh- the Supreme Being and thank him for the blessings showered on all the living things. The Sarhul festivity is held in the spring season signifying the birth of new-borns all around the planet among many living species.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting read. You have actually made this whole topic even more interesting. Only people closely connected to nature can understand the significance of nature’s gifts for humankind.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. amit

    this feast really connected with the nature and the very life of the tribal people of jharkhand but the way of celebration is shallowly changing. so i request please preserve the status of the festival

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was pleasantly surprised to see ‘like’ for my post on sarul. I thought that people cared little about such festivities. But then I visited your blog and found this wonderful description of sarul.enjoyed reading it.Mamta

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Harsh Wardhan Jog

    पढ़ कर मजा आया। बहुत सरल सी कथा , सरल सा रिचुअल उस पर सुंदर सा नाच वाह !

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Manda festival: Praying for rain – Indrosphere

  7. Pingback: Blogger Recognition Award – Uniquesus

  8. Worship of various components of nature has been a part of our culture and tradition since ancient times. The tribal communities who live close to nature express their gratitude through celebrations on various occasions. A nice post bringing out the details of the celebration.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. amazing
    It is a wonderful experience to see people carrying out thousands of years old traditions with such enthusiasm even today.

    The tradition of worshiping the earth as a mother and worshiping trees is the tradition of our Sanatan Dharma for thousands of years, probably the festivals of land worship and tree worship are popular with different names all over India.

    Nice writing on historical events related to sal tree.

    Liked by 1 person

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