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Karma Worship

     Karma is a famous autumnal festival, which starts from the 11th day of the bright fortnight of the month of Bhadrab, and continues for some days in the month of Aswin. The Karma tree represents Karma—the God of Fate. The trunk of that tree is washed, decorated with sandal paste and flowers and worshipped by the devotees. A branch of the tree is cut down with due ceremony, planted in the middle of the altar with a cloth wrapped round it. The devotees drink wine, and burn it in then lamps. Then duly dressed, they dance round and round the canopy and plantain trees planted for decorative purposes. The childless woman hankering after children fasts that day for self-purification. This festival is celebrated in most f the Orissan States from Sambalpur to Phulbani. Karma controls the human destiny, makes some people rich, some people poor, some healthy and some diseased. He is in charge of supplying food and cloth to the world. The character of the God will be known from the following story in vogue among the people of Sambalpur.

     The six sons of a rich merchant went on board a ship for trade leaving the youngest brother at home with their wives. When returned, they saw to their great surprise that their wives were dancing in the Karma festival while the youngest brother was beating the drum. Being enraged they drove out there wives without consideration and beat the youngest brother hard.

     At this the God of destiny got very angry and punished the brothers severely. Their troubles now knew no bounds. All their wealth vanished. They neither got food nor cloth nor took to begging. They repented for the folly of driving out the goddess of wealth with their wives. They went in search of them and brought them back home. But prosperity did not turn up. With the counsel of their wives, they went in search of the God of fate, met a milkman on the way. The latter requested them earnestly to pray to Karma-God for him to decrease the number of his cows, for he could not manage them. After going a distance of two miles they met a strange man bearing a piece of broken earthen pot on his head with the burning. He also requested the six brothers to pray to Karma-God for him to save him from the trouble. Advancing two miles more they contacted another man with a husking paddle loaded on his chest. He also requested them as before to advocate his cause and put an end to his sufferings. The last man they met was shivering in biting cold with only one cloth to cover his body. He requested them to beg another cloth for him from Karma-God.

     Then they reached the Karma-God, fell at his feet-begging apology and worshipped him duly. The angry God now propitiated accompanied them in great delight. On their way they first met the man with a single piece of cloth.

     The God instead of alleviating his suffering said that in the former life he was a drunkard, squandered away all his money and became a pauper. As he could not spend away his money rightly in the former life, he (God) did not grant him anything in this life. Let him suffer what he really deserved. Then they met the man with a husking paddle. God said that he was a selfish man and did not lend his husking paddle to anyone. Let him suffer, as he deserved. Thereafter they met the man with fire burning on his head. The God said that he denied fire to his neighbors. So he ought to suffer for this. Lastly they met the milkman. The God remarked that this wicked milkman was selling adulterated milk and thus cheating the innocent babies. He was a perfect rogue. So the number of his cows would go on increasing constantly and would always be a source of trouble to him.

     The sons of the merchant reached back home and saw their house filled up with gold and jewels.

     Karma spreads his influence among the villagers as a very powerful god. He is not as whimsical and revengeful as our Satyapir. He is righteous god whose main duty is to see to the welfare of the people. He loves all honest, truthful and upright persons, grants them wealth, health and happiness in consideration of the merits of their action in former life. He punishes the cheats and offenders and has no mercy on them.

     The Karma dancers have their professional party. When a son is born to the childless parents with the grace of Karma God, they invite the party of dancers in the month of Aswin. The songs are like those of patua and Dandanata. They deal with Puranic events or events of the folk tale. Love songs are in form of questions and answers between a party of young men and young ladies.

     Karma is a famous harvest festival among the Oraons. A branch of the Karma tree is brought from the forest, gaily decorated. Then ladies and youngmen dance delightfully in a circle holding each other’s arms round the branch. The dance starts at the beginning and the end of rainy season. Karma is also very popular among the aborigines like Gonds, Baigas, Binjhwars of Bilaspur, and Central Provinces. They dance Karma at any time of the season for recreation.

     “A group of men with drums stands n the center while a line of women is formed in front of them. The women move to and fro and circle round and round men. Sometimes when the circle s large a few of them detach themselves from the rest and go round the men very rapidly in a direction opposite to that of the larger slow moving dance. The best dancers attain the most delicate and intricate movements of the hands and feet and after the dance has continued half the night, even the least expert becomes inspired and the entire company is possessed by the very spirit of rhythm.”

     Sometimes women begin the song and men have to pick up the tune and words and answer them. It is an amusing sight to see a few expert women dancers confounding a group of men. Sometimes men also take the initiative.

     There are many varieties of Karma songs viz. Karma of the hills, Karma of the forest, Baiga Karma and so on. The Gonds believe that once caught by a Lahaki Karma (is sung very rapidly) men are lost to the world. They leave their wives and children and go away.

     Karma dance or song is not known in the coastal districts of Orissa. The people of all Orissa States extending from Sambalpur to Phulbani, are familiar with the Karma Songs and dance. They are abundant in places where aborigines abound. It is most probable that Karma God is an aboriginal God. His influence has gradually spread among other people. The aboriginal God has been Aryanised and instituted as a traditional (God of the Hindus.)

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