How A Mundari Village In Jharkhand Celebrates Christmas

How A Mundari Village In Jharkhand Celebrates Christmas
L: Jharkhand State News; R: Patrika

It’s December 24 and after nine months of working for a family in Bengal and then three months for another in Ranchi, Jharkhand, Alani Topno packs her bags to return home for ‘Bada Din’, also known to the English-speaking world as Christmas day.

Alani hails from Gondra village in Khunti district, Jharkhand, which is about 70 kilometres from Ranchi. Sealing her luggage in a big bag with a broken chain and securing it with five small safety pins, Alani tells me that she will be celebrating Bada Din with her family after two years.

Over the years, Christmas has picked up local flavours and has become a festival that is as regional as any of the other festivals in the state. Christianity in Jharkhand – a state which is so largely dominated by the followers of Hinduism and Sarnaism that there are usually more non-Christians than Christians in the church on Christmas day – is a part-British and part-German benefaction. However, in the same vein as the rest of India, Jharkhandi tribal Christian culture includes much stronger notes of local Bihari and non-Christian Jharkhandi influence than that of the faraway West which is more conspicuous in metropolitan cities.

With a glimmer in her eyes, Alani says, “Once I reach there in the afternoon, we will make Arisa.”

On prodding further, she explains how Arisa, which is similar to the Bihari and north Indian Anarsa enjoyed during Diwali, is made of rice flour, sugar, and fennel seeds.

In an all-Christian village where money comes either out of the land or from going away to bigger towns and cities like Khunti, Ranchi, and Jamshedpur, if not farther away, the western Christmas cake is rarely baked or bought. Local sweets like Arisa (and its sweeter variant), Thekua (wheat cookies made by Biharis during Chhatth and Teej), and Puaa (or Malpua) – all of which can be cooked in clay pots, are preferred over unaffordable plum cakes and rum balls. Beef or ‘badka vaala meat’ (the big meat), Alani tells me, is accompanied by puri and nimki.

“We don’t buy much decoration,” says Alani.

Instead, she and her brothers cut paper and make flowers to hang outside their home.

“One of our neighbours sets up a Christmas tree but the rest of us don’t,” Alani tells me.

Half of the Christmas eve dinner is eaten and the other half is taken to the local parish at 8 o’clock where the paadri (priest) hands out bhajan in Mundari that the whole village sings together. Composed of a total of 64 homes, roughly all the villagers find a seat for themselves in the little church.

“We only go to the bigger church in the nearby village, Tapkara, for weddings and on 01 January,” Alani informs.

As the clock strikes 12, they sing ‘Yissu Janam’ (Christ birth) songs and share amongst themselves the sweets and snacks everyone had brought to the parish earlier. Crackers are burst and wishes of ‘Yissu Janam Kanae!’ (Christ is born) are exchanged as Gondra welcomes Christmas.

Christmas mass begins at 7 o’clock the next morning. Dressed in new clothes purchased from the local market or brought by their relatives employed in bigger cities, the whole village gathers for prayer. The real celebration, however, begins after mid-day as all the villagers join hands and come together in a semi-circle to perform what Alani calls the ‘Nagda dance’ to Mundari songs and the joyous beats of the dhak. The dance troupe goes to every house in the village to perform. In turn, they are given a little share of sweets or some money. At about 8 o’clock in the evening, when the jubilation ends, all the members get together and share the sweets received.

“The elders? They take the money and drink away!” chuckles Alani.

Transported to Gondra in my imagination, I almost forget to take the right turn to the bus station. We are told that Alani’s bus to Tapkara, where she will be received by her sister to be taken to Gondra on their scooter, is to arrive soon, and so, we bid each other goodbye. I fumble a bit and ask her one last question, “So, you don’t sing ‘Jingle Bells’ and wish each other a ‘Merry Christmas’?

“It’s different,” smiles Alani as she picks her big bag and moves towards her bus.

Mundari, which is a lot less popular than the local Sadri language, has fewer songs on record. Here’s one that Alani and I enjoyed.

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