Conversation with Ajit Prasad Hembram : Chhandak, Ujjwal & Pramod
The conversation with Ajit Prasad Hembram was held in Centre for Studies in Social Science (old building), in 2016. Hembram is a Adivasi activist belonging to the Kherwal branch of the Santhal tribe. It has been translated to English by the Aainanagar Team.
Kherwals live primarily in the Purulia district of Bengal and in parts of Jharhkhand. Since 2011 the Kherwals of Falaora village, Purulia, have started celebrating a martyrdom day for their mythical ancestor Hudur Durga/Mahishasura.
The custom of Mahishasura worship (as it is referred colloquially) has now spread all over India. As we continue to feel more and more stifled by a politicized Hindutva, as a society, scholars and non-scholars alike, are showing a keenness to visit the complexities of our regional histories. The Dasani festival is one such exploration. Today, the martyrdom of the Adivasi does not simply lie within books and myths, but come alive in various forms. Knowing one’s past and knowing it well is one of the principal strategies against that socio-cultural-political invasion.
A. From 5th October, 2011.
Q. What’s the story behind it?
A. One of our major festivals is called Dasani (দশানি). You can say, it is a celebration of sadness. Sadness, because our land was ruined. In the ancient times, there was a great leader of us Kherwals (খেরোয়াল), who fought with the foreigner invaders. He was eventually tricked and murdered by them. We haven’t since found a leader like him. We commemorate him and call him Hudur Durga. Dasani is a celebration of his memory.
Q. So it is a ‘martyr day’ for the Asura; tell us a bit more about its history.
A. The history lies with our elders, and we pass it to our youth. We memorialize a land that belonged to us. A land named Chaichampa (চাইচম্পা). It was a land of happiness. Those days, many of our ancestors were educated and lived in big houses. They were traders; there was no poverty among us. We mention all these in our songs.
Our leader—now known as Mahishasura—lived in Chaichampa or Champa, as it was colloquially called. During his reign, the Aryans invaded that land. Mahishasura tried to defend it. You know we call him Hudur Durga; never Mahishasura. Only later we realized that our Hudur Durga is known by others as Mahishasura.