Every 12 years, the women of Chota
Nagpur sharpen their weapons, dress in male attire and set out on a
hunt. Thought the exact origins of the tradition are unknown, the
many legends point to this festival symbolizing the quality of men
the Mahakumbh, Janni shikar, a festival of tribal women of Chhota
Nagpur region in Bihar, is celebrated every 12 years. Also known as
Era Sendra, the celebrations of this festival continue for a month
during the months of March and April. The literal meaning of Janni
Shikar is, hunt by women.
before the actual period of the festival, the women start sharpening
their weapons and getting the male clothing together. On the first
day of the month long festival, they set out from their homes in male
attire, with their weapons in the hand and hunt for cocks, goats,
pigs etc. and cook them at night for their meal.
is no precise evidence to indicate exactly how this festival
originated. A number of different legends have grown around this
festival due to lack of sufficient research and non-availability of
literature on the subject and it is difficult to pinpoint the one
authentic legend with any degree of certainty. We talked to many
elderly tribesmen of both Munda and Oraon origin and were able to
separate three significant historical legends which are most likely
to explain the origins of the festival.
to one, this festival commemorates an event which occurred in ancient
times. The Munda tribesmen believe that when they were in the Indus
valley near Mohen-jo-daro, they were attacked by the Aryans. When
the women-folk saw their men beating a hasty retreat, they donned
male attire, took weapons in their hands and successfully drove away
the Aryan invaders. The tribal women celebrate their victory as
Oraons, however, trace this event to the battle of Rohtas, a district
in western Bihar. In medieval times they were invaded by Turks who
forced them to take shelter in what is today Chhota Nagpur. But the
women of the tribe had a significant part to play in the legendary
menfolk were either drunk, tired or simply not available at the time.
So the women took up the challenge, changed into male attire, fought
the invaders and repulsed them. The day reminds the tribal women
that they are not inferior to the men and can give good account of
themselves in an activity considered exclusive to men.
close cultural, historical and geographical links of the Mundas and
the Oraons with the region of ancient Kalinga (present Orissa) also
leads to the speculation that the Janni Shikar may have some
connection with the bloody Kalinga war, fought between Ashoka and the
Kalinga kingdom. This battle, it may be recalled took a heavy toll
of male soldiers and when Kalinga was on the brink of defeat, the
women come to the fore, took arms and were ready for the battle. It
is possible that Janni Shikar is celebrated to commemorate this
be the legend behind this festival, it has now become the most
important festival of the tribal women. As it is celebrated after a
gap of 12 years, the women wait for it with great eagerness. During
the festival one can see hordes of tribal women, many of them from
neighbouring villages, in male dress with traditional tribal weapons
in their hands, looking for small animals. By convention, each
family must send at least one member for the shikar, else they
will be fined by the elders collectively.
of the elders in the tribe feel that today the ritual hunting has
been perverted in many ways. While tradition strictly prohibits men
from joining in the hunt, young men are seen to accompany the women.
As in some Hindu festivals, the participants have now started
collecting money from passing vehicles. There are also accusations
that the women hunters are often scantily dressed.
are many instances in Indian history where heroines like Chand Bibi
and Rani Laxmi Bai have led men to fight against their foes. Janni
Shikar celebrates a communal effort and symbolizes the equality of
men and women.