Santal ( ), also spelled as
Santhal, are the largest tribal community in
India, found mainly in the states of Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam.
also a significant Santal minority in neighboring Bangladesh.
Santali language and anthropology
The Santali language
is part of the
related to Vietnamese
. A few of the Indian
anthropologists also believe that humans first came to India about
65000-55000 years ago . Historians believe that they were the
ancestors of the tribal community residing in the eastern part of
India (excluding hilly portions). So the Santals, Kols and Mundas
may be the descendants of them.
But in those times their primary ways of subsistence were hunting
and food gathering. The agrarian way of living was brought by the
Aryans who came about in the 1500 B.C. How the Mohenjo- Daro
civilization annihilated is a big question whether there was an
invasion or a major environmental change
that wiped them out is still under research and every day new
theories are coming out.
Coming back to the history of tribals, the Proto Australoids, their
earliest ancestors, started living in the forest in the eastern
part of India .
See Ol Chiki script
The Santali script, or Ol Chiki
, is alphabetic
, and does not share any of the syllabic
properties of the other Indic scripts
such as Devanagari
. It uses 30 letters and five basic
. It has 6 basic vowels
, generated using the Gahla Tudag 
The Santal script is a relatively recent innovation. Santali did
not have a written language until the twentieth century and used
Latin/Roman, Devnagri and Bangla writing systems. As none of the
existing scripts were sufficient to correctly express the Santali
language phonetically,a need for the separate script was felt by
some visionary Santals, which resulted in the invention of new
script called Ol Chiki
by Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925.
For his noble deed and contribution of the script Ol Chiki
for the Santal society, he is revered among Santals. He wrote over
150 books covering a wide spectrum of subjects such as grammar
, and short stories
in Santali using Ol Chiki
as part of his extensive programme for uplifting the Santal
community. Darege Dhan
and Kherwal Bir
are among the most acclaimed
of his works. Pandit Raghunath Murmu is popularly known as Guru
Gomke among the Santals, a title conferred on him by the Mayurbhanj
Beside Pandit Raghunath Murmu, very few Indian linguists worked
seriously on the linguistic aspects of the language. One of them
was Dr. Byomkes Chakrabarti
(1923-1981). He was a Bengali research worker on ethnic languages.
He was a renowned educationist and a poet too. His major
contribution was in finding out some basic relationship between
Santali language and Bengali language. He showed how the Bengali
language has got some unique characteristics, which are absent in
other Indian languages, under the influence of Santali language (in
'A Comparative Study of Santali and Bengali').
His contribution was fundamental in nature in the origin and
development of the Bengali and Santali language and provided scopes
of research in newer fields in liguistics.
The Santali culture has attracted many scholars and anthropologists
for decades. The first attempt to study the Santali culture was
done by the Christian missionaries. The most famous of them was the
Norwegian-born Reverend Paul Olaf
. Unlike many other tribal groups of the Indian subcontinent
, the Santals are
known for preserving their native language despite waves of
migrations and invasions from Mughals
, and others.
Santali culture is depicted in the paintings and artworks in the
walls of their houses. Local mythology includes the stories of the
Santal ancestors Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Bhudi.
The Santal people love music and dance. Like other Indian people
groups, their culture has been influenced by mainstream Indian
culture and by Western culture, but traditional music and dance
still remain. Santal music
Hindustani classical music in significant ways. Onkar Prasad has
done the most recent work on the music of the Santal but others
preceded his work. The Santal traditionally accompany many of their
dances with two drums: the Tamak'
. The flute (tiriao) was considered
the most important Santal traditional instrument and still evokes
feelings of nostalgia for many Santal. Santal dance
and music traditionally revolved
around Santal religious celebrations. This is still true to a
degree, although traditional religious beliefs have been
significantly altered by Hindu belief and Christian mission work.
However, Santal music and dance both retain connections to
traditional celebrations. The names of many Santal tunes are
derived from the traditional ritual with which they were once
associated. Sohrai tunes, for example, were those sung at the
The Santal community is devoid of any caste system and there is no
distinction made on the basis of birth. They believe in
supernatural beings and ancestral spirits. Santali rituals consist
mainly of sacrificial offerings and invocations to the spirits, or
. It is believed by some scholars that Bonga means
the same as Bhaga (or Bhagavan). The Santal system of governance,
known as Manjhi–Paragana, may be compared to what is often called
Local Self Governance. This body is responsible for making
decisions to ameliorate the village's socioeconomic
The Santal Rebellion
The insurrection of the Santals was mainly against the corrupt
operatives. Before the advents of the British in India they resided
peacefully in the hilly districts of Mayurbhanj
, Keonjhar, Dhalbhum, Manbhum,
Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura and
Birbhum. They started their agrarian way of life by clearing the
forest and also engaged themselves in hunting for subsistence. But
as the agents of the new colonial rule claimed their rights on the
lands of the Santals they peacefully went to reside in the hills of
Rajamahal. After a brief period of peace the British operatives
with their native counterparts jointly started claiming their
rights in this new land as well. The simple and honest Santals were
cheated and turned into slaves by the zamindars
and the money lenders who first appeared
to them as business man and allured them first by goods lent to
them on loans. These loans however hard a santal tried to repay
never ended in fact through corrupt measures of the money lenders
it multiplied to an amount for which a generation of the santal
family had to work as slaves. Furthermore the santali women who
worked under labour contractors were disgraced and abused. This
loss of freedom that once which they enjoyed turned them into
On 30 June 1855, two great Santal rebel leaders, Sido Murmu
and his brother Kanhu, mobilized ten
thousand Santals and declared a rebellion against British
colonists. The Santals initially gained some success but soon the
British found out a new way to tackle these rebels. The legend is
that the Santals so skilled in archery that they could shoot arrows
extremely accurately and with great power. The British soon
understood that there was no point fighting them in the forest but
to force them come out of the forest, so in a conclusive battle
which followed, the British, equipped with modern firearms and war
elephants, stationed themselves at the foot of the hill. When the
battle began the British officer ordered fire without loading
bullets as the Santals could not trace this trap set by the much
experienced British war strategy charged with full potential. This
step proved to be disastrous for them, since as soon as they neared
the foot of the hill the British army attacked with full power and
this time they were using bullets. Thereafter attacking every
village of the Santals, they made sure that the last drop of
revolutionary spirit was annihilated. Although the revolution was
brutally suppressed, it marked a great change in the colonial rule
and policy. The day is still celebrated among the Santal community
with great respect and spirit for the thousands of the Santal
martyrs who sacrificed their lives along with their two celebrated
leaders to win freedom from the rule of the Jamindars and the
Sl.Name of State/District Total Population Santal population Per
DEOGARH 9,33,113 NA
DHANBAD 26,74,651 2,40,718 9
DUMKA 14,95,709 5,68,370 38
GIRIDIH 22,25,480 3,56,077 16
GODDA 8,61,182 1,20,565 14
HAZARIBAGH 16,01,576 64,063 4
KATIHAR 18,25,380 1,09,522 6
KODARMA 6,29,264 37,755 6
PASCHIM SINGHBHUM 17,87,955 1,78,795 10
PURBI SINGHBHUM 16,13,088 NA
PURNIA 18,78,885 93,944 5
SAHIBGANJ 7,36,835 3,09,471 42
BALASORE 16,96,583 1,69,658 10
BHADRAK 11,05,834 33,175 3
KEONJHAR 13,37,026 NA
MAYURBHANJ 18,84,580 5,67,282 28
IV WEST BENGAL
BANKURA 28,05,065 3,36,607 12
BARDHAMAN 60,50,605 3,63,036 6
BIRBHUM 25,55,664 1,53,340 6
WEST (N&S) DINAJPUR 12,00,924 1,80,138 15
JALPAIGURI 28,00,543 NA
MALDAH 26,37,032 1,84,592 7
MEDINIPUR 83,31,919 13,33,107 16
PURULIA 22,24,577 3,33,686 15
ASSAM NA 2,00,000
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