By D. P. NAYAK, M.Com.

(G. M. College, Sambalpur)


The scheduled tribes popularly known as ‘Adibasis’ occupy a position of importance in the socio-economic set-up of Orissa. There are as many as 42 hill tribes in Orissa. So it is natural that the lives of these people should find a place in Oriya literature.


It is significant that, right from the fourteenth century onwards, Adibasis have figured in Oriya literature either as material or as writers. Orissa is proud of her famous Adibasi poet Bhima Bhoi, whose monotheistic Bhajans are on the lips of millions throughout the State and outside. The first novel on Adibasi life ‘Bhima Bhuyan’ was attempted by Sri Gopal Ballabh Das, a Deputy Magistrate, nearly fifty years ago. But it is Sri Gopinath Mahanty, another Revenue officer, who has, on the basis of a Systematic, scientific, and thorough study of Adibasi life and customs when he was posted in the Adibasi-dominated district of Koraput, produced in recent times a few brilliant full-length novels with a purpose to bring home to the Oriya readers the problems of these neglected citizens of the State. He is the author of nearly more than half-a-dozen novels and a few volumes of short stories, but he has achieved outstanding literary fame for his immensely popular novels depicting the lives of these hill tribes.


Out of his three novels ‘Dadi Budha’, ‘Paraja’ and ‘Amrutar Santana’ depicting the lives of these hill tribes, in the first two he has principally drawn his characters from the ‘Paraja’ community and from the Kond community in the other. The background of all these three novels is the hills of Koraput district, where the scheduled tribes predominate and have still retained to a large extent their primitive ways, but not without signs of change in their social and economic set-up. All the three novels, besides being the true reflections of the Adibasi life, open new windows on the social, economic and anthropological background of these tribes.


Sri Mahanty, while spending a few years in Koraput as a Sub-Deputy Collector, picked up their language and made a deep study of their myths, social customs and oral literature, and observed their day-to-day life at close quarters. Thus he has been able to create the proper atmosphere in his novels, which makes a reader feel himself in the midst of the hills of Koraput.


His novel ‘Paraja’, published in 1946, became immensely popular and demonstrated that a masterpiece in fiction could be produced with ordinary common men and women belonging to hill tribes as heroes and heroines. Close on the heels of ‘Paraja’ followed ‘Amrutar Santana’, a study of Kond life.


The novel has Miniyapayu, a village in the deep forests of Koraput District, cut off from the outside world for the most part of the year, as its locale. Sarabu is the ‘saonta’ (chieftain) of the village. The novel mostly deals with the different aspects of the life of the people of this village. Sarabu breathes his last on a most auspicious day, i.e., on the day of Chaita Parba, the most important festival of Konds. He leaves behind him a son, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and his brother Lenjhu.


Diudu, Sarabu’s son, succeeds him as the ‘saonta’ of the village. He loses all interest in his wife Puyu after she gave birth to a son, though he had married her deeply believing in the Kond tradition of marriage based on love and courtship. True to the culture of his community he is a lover of freedom, brave, fatalist, conservative, and a believer in sorcery, witchcraft and magic. His frustration in married life persuades him to question within himself the hollowness of the quaint customs, weird rituals and nonsensical superstitions. A deep urge to enjoy life and youth drives him to the door of Bhursa Munda, a Dom, who is the village watchman, to pick up acquaintance and friendship with Sonadei, the daughter-in-law of Bhursa. But deeprooted Kond beliefs and traditions keep him back.


Pubuli, daughter of Sarabu and Diudu’s sister, was the betrothed of Harguna, saonta of Bandikara. But a Kond girl is not bound to accept the decision of her elders on the question of selection of her life-partner. Before Pubuli gets an opportunity of renewing her acquaintance with Harguna, she meets Bisu of Mitting. In course of a dance, which is a part and parcel of Kond life. Bisu attracts her and proposes to marry her. Pubuli finds it difficult to turn down the proposal. But Bisu finds it a hard job to pay the customary ‘jhola’ (bride-money) and feels it infra dig to serve as ‘goti’ (indentured labourer) in case of failure to pay it. Therefore he proposes to elope. Pubuli has no other alternative to offer and therefore keeps silent. Bisu leaves Miniyapayu to seek a propitious moment to arrange for elopement.


Harguna, saonta of Bandikara, another Kond village, is an orphan. He represents the social force which wants a radical change, and stands for progress. He is level-headed and a great admirer of the achievements of the new civilisation he saw in Naranpatna, a trade centre of Koraput. He loves a settled life, new and better techniques of production and cultivation. He dreams of a durable house constructed in the style of ‘civilised plains’, of a godown to store agricultural commodities, of the open pan method of preparing gur and of a bullock-cart to carry on trade. Like his fellow-tribesmen he hates Sahukars (money-lenders), the shrewd ‘telenga’ businessmen, but unlike others, his dislike materialises in his efforts to emulate those he hates. Therefore he does not accept ‘dadan’ or advance, does not agree to an advance fixation of price at which he is to sell his crops after the harvesting season is over. He exhorts the villagers of Miniyapayu to unitedly resist the exploitation of Jagannath Sundhi, the money-lender: Thus in Harguna we find the new force, which wants to take the best of ‘plains civilisation’ and gives up the worst of Kond ways of life. In his endeavours to better his condition he has no time for love-making or to run after young girls or to drown himself in liquor. Yet he has a soft corner for Pubuli but he does not care to seek an opportunity to finalise his marriage with her. When at last he expressess his love to Pubuli he finds her, to his surprise, very cold. There the matter ends.


Festivals, dance, songs and hunting are inseparable elements of Kond life. While once the young boys of Mitting and young girls of Miniapayu were out hunting, Bisu and Pubuli find an opportune moment to elope. When this fact is reported to Diudu, he becomes wild as it directly hits his aristocracy. He curses his wife and uncle for lowering his dignity.


Pioty is the daughter of a man who, being ruined due to the excessive burden of indebtedness, had been to the plains to work as a labourer. Pioty has spent seventeen years of her life there. She has completely lost her touch with the Kond life. She has picked up the manners, customs and dress of the plains. After the death of her father she and her mother return to Bandikara, their old native village. She however finds it hard to adjust herself to the ‘jungle’ life. Neither can she speak ‘Kuvi’ nor can she sing and dance like other Kond girls. She longs for the plains.


Diudu meets Pioty while out hunting. The ‘new creature’ Pioty attracts him but he finds her completely different from an ordinary Kond girl.


Pioty’s mother thinks of her daughter’s future and persuades her to ‘trap’ Harguna. Pioty in the style of a modern sophisticated flirt of the plains makes an attempt, but Harguna’s love for new achievements is so intense that he cannot finally decide to accept Pioty.


In the meantime Puyu, having suffered from malarial fever, loses all her charm and health, and Diudu, the young headman, feels more and more attracted towards Pioty, the sophisticated girl from the plains. He increases his acquaintance with her on many pleas. But when he visualises the wretched, simple and colourless life of Puyu and her loyal services, he hesitates for a long time.


But he finds it difficult in the long run to resist the temptation to marry Pioty. At last he brings her to his home, caring very little for the Kond ethics. Puyu, the first wife of Diudu, thus becomes a tragic heroine like Sita deserted by her husband for no fault of hers. The author indicates, in the contrast of Pioty and Puyu, the conflict of old loyalties and modern sophistication ending in the tragic defeat of the former. Pioty stands for sophistication from the plains driving out the old culture of wifely loyalties as symbolised in Puyu.


Off the main stream of the story the most important of the minor characters is Lenjhu, the uncle of the hero, who remains a widower all his life, because of an age-old superstition of Kond tribe that if a man’s wife is devoured by a tiger he can marry only a widow whose husband has been killed in the same manner. He cannot marry any other Woman. Lenjhu is the symbol of frustration due to superstition and circumstances beyond his control. The second factor responsible for his feeling of frustration is the fact that on the death of his elder brother his young nephew becomes the headman instead of him. Later on the uncle and nephew fall out over the pretty wife of Bala Munda, son of Bhursa Munda, Dom watchman of the village. The nephew in the right of his headmanship drives the poor widower out of his village, on which Lenjhu accepts the ryotship under progressive Harguna. But, to satisfy his aspiration for freedom and leadership, Lenjhu later on leaves Bandikara also and starts a village of his own up on the hills with his solitary cottage.


Thus we find ‘Amrutar Santana’ is the story of one Kond family. Diudu represents the frustrated youth. His questionings of the hollowness in Kond philosophy and way of life are half-hearted. Harguna is the symbol of the rising social forces. Pubuli, Diudu’s sister, is the symbol of genuine Kond tradition. She indicates that woman has a special position and privilege in Kond society; she has her own say in matters of marriage; she asserts it and also believes she can demand a divorce or separation by simply saying ‘I do not want’. Lenjhu is a prey of superstitious beliefs. Pioty is the sophisticated inadjustible product of a mixture of the hills and the plains. Bhursa, Bala Munda and Turunja are Doms, who follow their traditional criminal way of life.


Some critics are of opinion that this novel suffers from the Dickensian fault of overlaid details of Kond customs, religious festivals, social structure, food, technique of cultivation, philosophy and way of life. But it should be remembered however that the average reader is not well-acquainted with the way of life of the hill tribes. So the author thought it necessary to add these details to give proper perspective to the characters. There is no doubt these details supply most of the charm in the book and have made it interesting reading with the exotic light and shade.


At several places in the novel the author has given the exact words of the tribesmen used in their different ceremonies like those of death, birth, marriage, dances etc., in which hymns, prayers, curses, incantations and song offerings are usually made. All these prove the study and close observation by the author of the tribal lore. The characters and the background are both alive as though the reader lived among them and which together have been presented to the reader with the noble motive of the author to indicate that both the public and the Government may take a little more interest in these innocent creatures of nature, who are living in abject poverty as creatures of circumstances and superstition and being exploited by money-lenders, liquor dealers and corrupt government officials. While he wants that these primitive people be protected from the corrupting contact of the plains, he also wants on the other hand that these people should be raised from the low levels of primitive existence and superstition by a reasonable system of education and social and economic reorganisation.


1 The novel was adjudged the best book in Oriya by the Sahitya Akademi, and the author was awarded a prize of Rs. 5,000.