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Dancing bulls herald harvest in tribal hinterland

- Sohrai celebrations in Karandih crudely mirror San Fermin festival of Spain, albeit with compassion

The Jaipal Singh Stadium, 8km from Jamshedpur, may vaguely resemble the town square in historical Pamplona, but the mood here on Sunday was no less ‘bullish’.

In a sporting ritual akin to the world-famous encierro (running of bulls) at the San Fermin festival in distant Spain, Karandih heralded its tribal harvest revelry of Sohrai, beginning on Guru Purnima on Wednesday, with the traditional bull dance.

But, while the animals are killed in a gory fight at Pamplona’s bullring, the medieval custom in this part of the world only involves a musical caper and worship.

Around 10,000 tribals from 16 villages of East Singhbhum trooped to the stadium at 2pm on Sunday for the very animated show, which is an annual contest organised by the Adivasi Youth Club for 36 years now.

“Sohrai is a way to celebrate the harvest season. Each participating village brings a bull, which is provoked to dance to the tunes of traditional instruments. The winner is judged by its energy level,” briefed Eshwar Soren, the secretary of the club.

“Though ideally Sohrai starts on a full moon day, nowadays the working class celebrates as and when it is convenient to them. Some zealous villagers still follow the tradition,” piped in Deola Murmu, who was among the audience.

The history of the Karandih bull dance dates back to the medieval age. According to folklore, cows and bulls got together to protest against the ill treatment meted out to them by their masters. They went to Lord Maraburu and lodged a complaint against humans. The god summoned man and ordered him to worship cattle.

Then on, Santhals celebrate Sohrai for five days, during which they idolise bulls for their contribution to agriculture.

On the first day, every household bathes their cattle. The horns and hoofs are treated with vermilion and oil on the second day before a pride parade before the entire village on Day 3. The next day witnesses decorating of homes with Sohrai paintings, the theme of which is nature symbolised by cows and bulls for obvious reasons. The final day is expected to see the entertaining bull dance, which is often held before the festival begins to suit the working classes.

Women of the community worship the bulls before the dance. Each animal is tethered to a pole and teams of villagers try to make them dance to the tunes of instruments such as tumdak, tamak, chorchori, tirio, kartal and banam.

“The more the animal is infuriated, the more his chances of winning. One of the two judges also covers the animal’s eyes with a skin to anger him more,” Soren said, adding that the winner bagged a cash prize of Rs 1,501.

Tradition met trend at Sunday’s event, which was also pepped up by a Mr and Miss Adivasi contest.

Soren said this unique competition to promote young girls and boys had stepped into its fourth year. “The youth were judged on parameters like personality, qualification, behaviour and general knowledge. The winners this year were Saheb Raj Mardi (21) and Durgamani Tudu (18), both from Jamshedpur. Each received a prize of Rs 3,001,” he added.