No tribe in India venerates Mahishasur, says tribal scholar

Ranchi, Feb 28 (IANS) Mahishasur, whom the popular belief views as the ‘demon’ slain by Goddess Durga, is not an object of inspiration or veneration for any tribal community in India, said Prakash Oraon, a tribal scholar in Jharkhand.

“No demographic book and no references are found to associate Mahishasur with tribal people,” Oraon, who is former director of the state government’s Tribal Research Institute (TRI) in Ranchi, told IANS.

Oraon said he has never heard, as a scholar and as a tribal himself, of any tribal community viewing Mahishasur as an object of inspiration.

“This seems to be a new creation of some people. I am born and brought up in Jharkhand. I am tribal but never heard that Mahishasur is an inspiration for any tribal community,” he said.

Oraon said, “there is indeed an Asur tribe whose main occupation is iron smelting”, suggesting that they too have nothing to do with Mahishasur.

“Tribal people are non-violent and innocent,” he added.

The controversy over Mahishasur and Durga started when union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani on Thursday referred in the Rajya Sabha to the celebration of “Mahishasur Martyrdom Day” in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

She contended that the organisers of such an event had been abusing their freedom of speech by making derogatory references to Goddess Durga.

Irani has since been criticised for holding the celebration of Mahishasur against the JNU students. Some media reports contend that Mahishasur has long been venerated by communities, including tribes, spread across several states of India.

Oraon said there could be a political reason for ascribing veneration of Mahishasur to the tribal communities.

“We believe that there could be a political reason for linking tribals with Mahishasur. There may be a section of people who are trying to bring tribal and Dalits together for political reasons,” he said.

Oraon said Mahishasur’s association with violence would also go against the non-violent nature of the tribal lifestyles.

“Can anyone prove that tribal people were violent? Tribal people worship nature. There is a festival of tribal people every month. The festivals include Sarhul, Karma and others but where is a festival to worship Mahishasur?”

According to anthropologists, Asuras were among the Proto-Australoid groups inhabiting what is now Jharkhand and the western region of West Bengal. They figure in the Rigveda, Brahamanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

There is a popular belief that the Asuras are the descendants of Mahishasur. The people from the tribe are now mostly found in Gumla, Latehar, Lohardaga and Palamu district of Jharkand and in north Bengal’s Alipurduar.

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