Cosmogonic Myths of Kolarians

All cosmogonic myths are outcomes of man’s ambitious attempts at a solution of the eternal mystery of creation. A myth may be defined as a story that serves to connect individuals to their cultures and to explain natural and supernatural phenomena, including the creation of the world and the origin of humans. Various endeavours to solve the eternal mystery of creation have given birth to many cosmogonic myths around the world and they make an interesting reading. Many of these myths have some similarities despite huge geographical distances. I was reading cosmogonic myths of some Kolarian tribes and I found that they have some similarities with the biblical view of creation of Adam and Eve!

The Kolarian tribes are believed to be one of the earliest settlers in the Indian subcontinent. Kolarians are Austroasiatic speakers. Genetic studies of Austroasiatic speakers suggest that the Austroasiatic language family may have arisen in India and spread east. Santhals, Mundas are two major Kolarian tribes. They inhabit mainly in the Indian state of Jharkhand as well as adjacent parts of Indian states of Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and into parts of Bangladesh.

MYTH OF MUNDAS

At the beginning of Time, the face of the Earth was covered over with water. Sing-Bonga, the Great Spirit, brooded over the waters and the first beings that were born were a Horo (tortoise), a Karakom (crab) and a Lendad (earthworm). He commanded these first born of all animals to bring Him a lump of clay from the depth of the ancient water. The tortoise and the crab by turn tried to use their skill, but they failed. The persistent earthworm however succeeded in bringing Him a lump of clay. Sing-Bonga then made this Ote-Disum, beautiful land of ours. At His bidding, the earth brought forth the trees, plants, herbs, and creepers of many varieties. Sing-Bonga then filled the earth with birds and animals of all sorts and sizes. And then happened the most incredible creation of all. Out of the earth, He created a man and a woman, the first human beings. Then through the first pair, in whom sex urge was created due to the use of eely (rice beer), the world was populated.The bird Hur (Swan) laid an egg. And out of this egg came forth a boy and a girl, the first human beings. Hur bird is said to lay its egg secretly in a Jir or Jovi (marshy ground) and the common belief among the Mundas is that a Hur will not lay more than one egg in its lifetime.

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Petroglyph of Sing-Bonga in Isko, Jharkhand, India (Image: Subhashis Das)

MYTH OF SANTHALS

At first, there was only water and the earth was under the water. Thakur-Jiu, the Supreme God, began by creating the creatures of the water like the crab, the crocodile, the alligator, the fish, the prawn, the earthworm, the tortoise and others. Then Thakur-Jiu made two humans out of earth and was about to breathe life into them when the Sin-Sadom (day-horse) came down and trampled them into pieces. So Thakur-Jiu decided to make two birds. He made two beautiful Has-Hasil birds (goose and gander) with material taken off His breast. The Has-Hasil birds flew about the sky and then alighted on Thakur-Jiu‘s hand. Then the Sin-Sadom came down again for a drink and left some froth on the water. Thakur-Jiu told the Has-Hasil birds to alight on the froth but they asked for a firm place. So Thakur-Jiu made earth with the help of the earthworm and the tortoise. The tortoise stood quietly on the water while the earthworm went down to bring up the earth. The earthworm ate the earth which was passed through his tail on to the tortoise‘s back. As the earth spread and became firm, Thakur-Jiu planted seeds in it and so land was made. Hasil (the female bird) laid two eggs. From those eggs two humans were born — a boy and a girl. When the birds faced difficulties to feed the first human beings, they offered supplication to the Thakur Jiu for providing food for the human beings. In this context of necessity Thakur Jiu created the whole universe for the well-being of humankind.

petroglyph
Rock art in Satpahar region of Hazaribagh district in the Indian state of Jharkhand

Apparently these myths do not always have causal link as they follow each other but not from each other. There are similar stories with some variations also widely accepted among the members of these tribes. The myths passed down to the next generations through oral traditions.

22 thoughts on “Cosmogonic Myths of Kolarians

    1. Thanks Aranjit. Yes, Rigveda also mentions the Hiranyagarbha (golden embryo) as the source of the creation of the Universe. As per Puranas, Brahma is described as performing the act of Creation.

      Hindu philosophy is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs. As a result, the Hindu texts do not provide a single canonical account of the creation; they mention a range of theories of the creation of the world, some of which are contradictory.

      The Veda recognizes the Supreme Being overseeing all, but leaves unanswered the question of whence ─ from what material ─ this creation came into being. One of the most prominent hymns in the Rigveda is titled the Nasadiya Suktam and is also known as the Creation Hymn. Na asat, which is the root of the word Nasadiya means ‘not the nonexistent’. At the 7th shloka, the sage leaves the choice of knowing the Creator to the seeker.

      Whence all creation had its origin,
      He, whether He fashioned it or whether He did not,
      He, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
      He knows – or maybe even He does not know.

      That One also may not know! That breathless One is breathing on its own. The beginning of universe, its expansion, demise and re-emergence – entire process is like involuntary inhalation and exhalation. The process is a continuum.

      It is the greatness of Hindu philosophy that it does not force any conclusion on its followers. Hence in this suktam, the sage left the choice open so that the seeker himself finds out what the truth is, because different yogis will reach the truth from different perspectives.

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    1. There is another interesting connection with India.

      As per some Islamic scholars, Adam was externed from the Paradise between the zuhr (afternoon) and ‘asr (the declining of day) prayers. His stay in Paradise had been half the day of the next world, and the day there is equal to one thousand years based on the calculation made by the people of this world. He was cast down on a mountain in India known as Nawdh and Eve was cast at Juddah. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.21). “Adam came down in India and felt lonely…”. This was narrated by Ibn ‘Asaakir in Tareekh Dimashq (7/437). Also, Al-Hassan said that Adam descended in India from Paradise.

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      1. Many Persian and Indian gods have similar names and functions. Also there is a common origin of the word Deva. Those who migrated towards India started worshiping devas, whereas in central Asia the word deva means something similar to asura. Those who moved West deviced devil to denote the evil.

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        1. Yes. In Rig Veda, there was a god – Mitra. Both Vedic Mitra and Avestan Mithra derive from an Indo-Iranian word “mitra”. In Sanskrit, mitra means “friend.” There are similar Greco-Bactrian deities with similar names: Mithro, Miiro, Mioro and Miuro. Additionally, the Manichaeans also adopted ‘Maitreya’ as the name of their “first messenger”

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                1. All religions have rigid set of rules and commandments. Some of their rules are against some practices of ancient religions. May be codifications were necessary for easier implementation and spread of religion. Buddhism and Jainism are two branches of the ‘Sramana‘ tradition. Both deny the existence of God and are against animal sacrifices.

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        1. Today, I was looking at the website of Indian embassy in Iran. It’s mentioned there, inter alia, that during the Vedic period, gods were divided into two classes the devas and the asuras (In Iranian daevas and ahuras). In India devas came to be more powerful than the asuras and the latter word eventually took on the meaning of a demon. In Iran the reverse took place and the daevas were denounced as demons by Zoroaster.

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