The Karam Festival, also known colloquially as Karma, is a vibrant and culturally significant harvest festival celebrated in various Indian states and Bangladesh. It pays tribute to Karam-Devta, the god symbolizing power, youth, and vitality, while also rejoicing in the bountiful harvest and good health.
Festival of Abundance
Karam Festival is observed on the 11th day of the Bhado month in the Hindu calendar, typically falling between August and September. Unmarried girls play a pivotal role in the festivities, fasting and nurturing seedlings for 7-9 days. On the day of the festival, young villagers venture into the jungles to gather essential offerings such as wood, fruits, and flowers required for the Karam God’s worship. The celebration is a fusion of dance, music, and communal bonding.
The Karam Festival is celebrated with enthusiasm by diverse ethnic groups, including Sadan, Bagal, Baiga, Binjhwari, Bhumij, Oraon, Kharia, Munda, Kudmi, Karmali, Lohra, Korwa, and more. This festival unites communities in their reverence for nature and gratitude for a fruitful harvest.
Rituals and Traditions
The heart of the Karam Festival lies in its rituals. To ensure a bountiful harvest, nine types of seeds, including rice, wheat, and corn, are planted in baskets known as “Jawa.” Young girls meticulously care for these seeds during a 7-9 day period, fasting throughout the day.
During the festival, groups of villagers, accompanied by drummers, venture into the jungle to cut branches from the sacred Karam tree. These branches are carried by unmarried girls, who sing hymns in praise of the deity. Subsequently, the branches are planted in the village’s center, adorned with cow dung and flowers. A village priest, known as Pahan or Dehuri, offers germinated grains and liquor as offerings to the deity, believed to bestow wealth and children. A ritual sacrifice of a fowl follows, with its blood offered to the Karam branch. The village priest narrates legends to convey the significance of Karam puja to the community, and the following morning, the Karam branch is immersed in a nearby river.
The Karam Festival is celebrated in two distinct ways. Villagers often come together on village streets to commemorate the occasion, sharing expenses for liquor and other essentials. Alternatively, an individual may host the festival in their courtyard, inviting others to join the festivities. Even uninvited guests, drawn by the rhythmic drumming, are welcomed and offered liquor.
The Significance of Karam
Karam Festival embodies a deep connection to agriculture and nature. Trees are venerated during the festival as they sustain livelihoods, and prayers are offered to mother nature for prosperous farmlands and abundant harvests. The worship of Karam Devta, the god of power, youth, and youthfulness, is central to the celebration. Devotees fast throughout the day, and young girls exchange Jawa flowers as a symbol of welfare, friendship, and sisterhood.
Legends Behind Karam Puja
There are multiple versions of the story behind the origin of Karam Puja. One prevalent narrative tells of seven hardworking brothers who insulted the Karam deity by throwing a Karam branch into a river. Their misfortune continued until they found the Karam tree, worshipped it, and saw their economic fortunes improve.
In another legend among the Bhumijs and Oraons, a young brother’s indulgence in dance and songs around a Karam tree led to the tree’s removal from the courtyard. This act of disrespect brought hardship upon the family, only to be reversed when the Karam tree was found and propitiated.
Yet another legend recounts the story of a merchant whose anger led to the uprooting of a Karam tree, causing his vessel to sink. To regain his wealth, he sought and appeased Karam Devta, leading to the establishment of the annual Karam Puja festival.
Songs Sung During the Karma Festival
During the Karma Festival, special songs known as “Karmajit” are sung. These songs commence with the onset of the monsoon and continue until the crops are harvested.
The Karma songs feature beautiful lyrics and are filled with endearing expressions. Instead of addressing each other by name, people use affectionate words to call one another.
As the songs are sung, the temple and drums resonate with music. When the temple’s bell rings, people gather together and begin dancing. In Jharkhand, the place where Karma songs and dances are initiated is referred to as “Ankhara.”
Activities During the Karma Festival in Jharkhand
During the Karma Festival in Jharkhand, various activities are carried out with cultural significance. Here’s an explanation of these customs:
- Decoration of Utensils: People artistically decorate utensils by filling them with sand, and then they plant various grains, known as “Jawa,” within these utensils.
- Inviting Relatives: Those observing the fast invite their close relatives and neighbors to join them in the evening. They perform the puja of the Karma tree during this time.
- Karma Tree Worship: After the puja of the Karma tree, its branches are pruned, ensuring that none of them touch the ground.
- Brother-Sister Bond: The Karma festival involves fasting by brothers and sisters for each other’s well-being. The brothers, who are fasting, carry the branches of the Karma tree to the courtyard of their homes or to the fields.
- Nature Worship: The branches are considered representations of nature and are worshipped accordingly. After the puja, people engage in night-long dancing and celebrations.
- Immersion: The following morning, the branches are immersed in the river as a symbol of the conclusion of the festival.
What is the Auspicious Time (Shubh Muhurat)?
This year, Karma Puja will be celebrated on September 25th. On this day, the fasting for Karma Puja begins after 4 AM in the early morning, and the auspicious time (Shubh Muhurat) commences 5 hours and 32 minutes after that, which lasts throughout the night. The following day, after sunrise, the fast for Karma Puja is concluded by consuming curd.
The Rituals of Karma Puja
In the days leading up to Karma Puja, a pit is prepared near a river or pond, where seven types of grains are sown. On the day of Karma Puja, a bamboo branch is decorated and placed in the courtyard of the house. Additionally, the Karma tree is also dug up and planted in the house’s courtyard. Women sit around it and perform the puja, praying for the well-being and prosperity of their brothers. During the Karma festival, there is a tradition of staying awake and keeping vigil throughout the night.
The Rituals of Karma Festival
During the Karma Festival, specific rituals are observed. Here is an explanation of the customary practices:
- Cleaning and Preparation: People clean their courtyards meticulously in preparation for the festival.
- Placement of Karma Branch: After cleaning, a Karma branch is placed in the courtyard with great ceremony.
- Cow Dung Application: The spot where the branch is placed is then coated with cow dung, considered an auspicious act.
- Sisters’ Involvement: Sisters gather around the decorated branch with baskets and trays, ready to perform the puja.
- Karma Raja (Karma Tree Branch) Puja: The puja commences, with sisters praying for the well-being and prosperity of their brothers.
- Elderly Involvement: Karma Puja is usually organized by the elders in the family, and after the puja, they narrate stories and legends associated with Karma Puja.
The Story of Karam Puja
the worship ceremony, the tale of Karam Puja is narrated. According to this legend, in Jharkhand, there were two brothers named Karma and Dharma. Karma emphasized the importance of actions to the people, showing them the path of duty, while Dharma guided them towards righteous conduct and a moral life. Among these two brothers, Karma was considered a deity by the people, and they worshipped and celebrated him every year with dance and festivities.
This tradition has been cherished by the people, continuing to this day. According to the customs of various indigenous tribes from different districts of Chhattisgarh, Raja Karma once performed an all-night dance to appease his chosen deity when he faced adversity. This event led to the popularity of the festival. Some tribal communities in Jharkhand believe that Karma Devi resides in a specific tree called the Karma tree, and to please her and bring prosperity to their homes, people decorate branches of the tree with various items. They worship the tree and engage in night-long dancing and celebrations.
Another story related to this festival revolves around a wealthy merchant from a town. The merchant had seven sons. After the death of the merchant, the seven brothers decided to explore different states for business opportunities. They left one of their younger brothers behind in their home. As they traveled, whenever night fell, they would rest wherever they found shelter. They bought goods at a low price wherever available and sold them at a higher price where they could. Eventually, a year had passed, and they had accumulated a lot of wealth.
They loaded their entire stock and wealth onto bullock carts and returned home. When the eldest brother reached near the village, he sent the younger brother home while the rest went to conduct their business. When the younger brother arrived home, he found that people in the village were engaged in the Karma dance on the day of Bhadrapad Ekadashi. The seven sister-in-laws, along with others, were dancing in a circle, while the youngest brother was playing the mandar (a traditional musical instrument) in the middle of the circle. When the brother who had just returned home saw this, he also started dancing. After waiting for some time, the eldest brother sent his other brothers home one by one, and all of them, too, joined the Karma dance. Finally, when the eldest brother arrived home, he brought a cow and a bull as well.
However, he was upset when he saw the dancing scene and did not like it. Therefore, he broke the Karma branch with an axe. Seeing this, all the brothers and people in the village went into their rooms. When the eldest brother reached home, he did not find any of his belongings and stocks there. Only stones were lying where his goods had been. But for now, there was nothing he could do.
A few days later, when it was time to farm, the brothers sowed paddy in their fields. The rice crop of the six brothers grew well, but the eldest brother’s crop did not yield much. At the turning point in their fields, the Karma deity was playing. When the eldest brother saw this, he got angry and asked why the deity did not favor him. Karma Devta replied that it was the destiny of the eldest brother because he had broken the Karma branch. The eldest brother repented for his mistake and begged for forgiveness. Karma Devta, filled with compassion, explained to him how to remove the troubles of everyone and left.
After this, the eldest brother set out in search of Karma Devta. On the way, he met a woman with a large anthill on her back. The woman told the eldest brother that if he met Karma Devta, he should also speak to her about her suffering. As he continued on his journey, he encountered another woman with grass growing on her head, who also asked him to convey her pain to Karma Devta. Finally, when he reached the riverbank, he tried to drink water, but instead of water, he saw blood. A little further, he found a horse and thought that it would carry him across the river. But this did not happen either. Finally, he rested under a tree, and there he found a python. He thought the python might help him cross the river. After pleading with the python, it eventually agreed to carry him across the river.
On reaching the other side, he found Karma Devta and apologized for his actions. He also explained the suffering of the two women he had met and the river’s strange behavior. Karma Devta, pleased with his repentance, blessed him with prosperity and a life full of happiness.
Upon returning, the eldest brother started serving Karma Devta and observed the Bhadrapad Ekadashi fast with proper rituals. Karma Devta was appeased, and he bestowed blessings of happiness and prosperity upon the eldest brother and the entire village.
The Karam Festival is a captivating blend of cultural heritage, nature worship, and communal celebration. It serves as a reminder of the deep connection between humanity and the environment, as well as the significance of gratitude for a fruitful harvest. With its rich traditions and legends, the Karam Festival stands as a symbol of unity and thanksgiving among the diverse communities that partake in its festivities.