Around 70 million Indians who belong to more than 1000 tribal groups, follow their own religious concepts, practices etc.. These people always encounter their ancient religious forms in disintegration and their place being filled by practices of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism.
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Tribal Belief System
Tribal concepts are intricately interlaced with ideas regarding nature and dealings with local ecological systems.
The religion of the Banjara Tribe is based on Hindu and Muslim forms of worship. Their most important deity is the Banjari Devi whose shrine is located in the forest. The Banjaras also worship Shiva Bhaia. These two deities are mostly worshipped by the Banjaras and are believed to be responsible for all the activities occurring within their community.
The Banjaras believe in ancestral spirits who are benevolent. The Banjaras are strong believers of witchcraft, spirits and ghosts.
The supreme deity is Thakurji, and a court of spirits (bonga), who manage different aspects of the world. These spirits must be appeased with prayers and oblations in order to ward-off evil influences. A distinctive feature of the Santhal village is a sanctified grove on the perimeter of the settlement, where numerous spirits live and a series of annual festivals go on. The most important spirit residing amongst Santhals is Maran Buru (Great Mountain), who is conjured up whenever offerings are made.
Many Bhils of western India, have Hinduism, along with their belief system. There exists a myth of descent from a tiger ancestor. The Jhabua Bhil and others believe in Bhagavan or Bholo Iswor, who is a personal supreme God. They also believe in minor deities who have shrines on hills or underneath the trees.
Todas are a tiny pastoral community living on the Nilgiri Hills in South India. There are many superior godlike beings, the two most important being On and Teikirzi. On is the male god and he had procreated the Todas and their buffaloes. He was himself a dairyman. Teikirzi is a female deity is known to have established Toda social and ceremonial laws. Most other deities are hill-gods, each linked to a particular hill. There are also two river-gods belonging to the two main rivers. Toda religion is based primarily upon the buffaloes and their milk.
Many tribes like the Kadugollas of Karnataka, who worship gods such as Junjappa, Yattappa, Patappa, and Cittappa. They are devoted to Shiva also.
Similar beliefs are common among other tribes of north-east and central India like the Kharia, Munda, and Oraon. The Naga tribes in the north-east Indi, believe in a specific earthquake god who created the earth out of the waters by earthquakes. The sons of this God now watch over mankind and punish those who perform wrong deeds. Other deities without name or form reside in the mountains, forests, rivers and lakes. Head-hunting was a significant practice, since fertile crops depended on a sprinkling of blood from a stranger over the fields. Reincarnation is believed by many Naga tribes and the dead are buried in the direction from which their ancestors have arrived.
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