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The Santal, or Santhal,[5] are an ethnic group native to India and Bangladesh in South Asia. Santals are the largest tribe in the Jharkhand state of India in terms of population and are also found in the states of Assam, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal. They are the largest ethnic minority in northern Bangladesh's Rajshahi Division and Rangpur Division. They have a sizeable population in Nepal and Bhutan. The Santals mostly speak Santali, an Austroasiatic language and that is the most widely-spoken of the Munda languages.

Santali dance.jpg
A traditional Santali dance
Total population
7.4 million
Regions with significant populations
India, Bangladesh, Nepal
 IndiaJharkhand = 2,752,723[1]

West Bengal = 2,512,331[1]
Odisha = 894,764[1]
Bihar = 406,076[1]

Assam = 213,139[2]
 Bangladesh300,061 (2001)[3]
Santali, Odia, Bengali, Hindi
 • Sarnaism  • Hinduism  • Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Mundas  • Hos  • Kols  • Kharia


According to linguist Paul Sidwell (2018), Austro-Asiatic language speakers probably arrived on coast of Odisha from Indochina about 4000–3500 years ago.[6] The Austroasiatic speaker spread from Southeast Asia and mixed extensively with local Indian populations.[7]

The early records of the Santals appear in the British sources.[dubious ][8] British officials intended to enhance the revenue by expansion of agriculture. They encouraged the Paharia people of Rajmahal hills to practice settled agriculture but they refused to cut the trees. Then British officials turned their attention to Santals, who were ready to clear the forest for practice of settled agriculture. In 1832, a large number of areas were demarcated as Damin-i-koh or Santal Pargana. Santals from Cuttack, Dhalbhum, Birbhum, Manbhum and Hazaribagh migrated and started cultivating these lands as peasants. British collected taxes from these Santals as revenue. The imposition of taxs, exploitation by Zamindars and money lenders sparked the Santal rebellion. Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, two brothers led the Santals against the Britishers but were defeated.[9][10][11]


One of the most studied, the Santal religion worships Marang buru or Bonga as the Supreme Deity. The majority of reverence, however, falls on a court of spirits (Bonga), who handle different aspects of the world and who are placated with prayers and offerings in order to ward off evil influences. These spirits operate at the village, household, ancestor, and sub-clan level, along with evil spirits that cause disease and can inhabit village boundaries, mountains, water, tigers, and the forest. A characteristic feature of a Santal village is a sacred grove (known as the Jaher[12] or "Santal Sthal") on the edge of the village where many spirits live and where a series of annual festivals take place.[13]

A yearly round of rituals connected with the agricultural cycle, along with life-cycle rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death, involve petitions to the spirits and offerings that include the sacrifice of animals, usually birds. Religious leaders are male specialists in medical cures who practice divination and witchcraft (the socio-historic meaning of the term, used here, refers to the ritual practice of magic and is not pejorative). Similar beliefs are common among other tribes of northeast and central India such as the Kharia, Munda, and Oraon.[13]

Smaller and more isolated tribes often demonstrate articulated classification systems of the spiritual hierarchy less well documented, described as animism or a generalised worship of spiritual energies connected with locations, activities, and social groups. Religious concepts are intricately entwined with ideas about nature and interaction with local ecological systems. As in Santal religion, religious specialists are drawn from the village or family and serve a wide range of spiritual functions that focus on placating potentially dangerous spirits and co-ordinating rituals.[13]

Around 4% of Santals have converted to Christianity. The vast majority still follow their original beliefs.[14]


Sohrai is the principal festival of Santal community. Besides that Baha, Karam, Dansai, Sakrat, Mahmore, Rundo, Magsim etc. are important. The Santal traditionally accompany many of their dances during these festivals with two drums: the Tamak‘ and the Tumdak’.[15]

Santali dance

Chadar Badar, a form of puppetry known also as Santal puppetry, is a folk show involving wooden puppets placed in a small cage which acts as the stage.

Dhodro banam musical instruments


  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

  1. ^ a b c d "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Statement 1: Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues - 2011". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  3. ^ Cavallaro, Francesco; Rahman, Tania. "The Santals of Bangladesh" (PDF). Nayang Technical University. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Santali: Also spoken in Nepal". Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  5. ^ Bisoee, Animesh (28 May 2019). "Brave show of support for arrested Santhal". The Telegraph. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  6. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2018. Austroasiatic Studies: state of the art in 2018. Presentation at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, 22 May 2018.
  7. ^ Schliesinger, Joachim (2016). Origin of the Tai People 3: Genetic and Archaeological Approaches. Booksmango. p. 71. ISBN 9781633239623. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  8. ^ Jha, Amar Nath (2009). "LOCATING THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF SANTAL PARGANAS". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 70: 185–196. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44147668.
  9. ^ Jha, Amar Nath (2009). "LOCATING THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF SANTAL PARGANAS". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 70: 185–196. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 44147668.
  10. ^ This is Our Homeland: A Collection of Essays on the Betrayal of Adivasi. 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  11. ^ Malik, Dr Malti (1943). History of India. ISBN 9788173354984. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  12. ^ "Jaher Worshiping Place of Santals". Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  13. ^ a b c "The Green Revolution in India". U.S. Library of Congress Country Studies (released in public domain). Retrieved 6 October 2007.
  14. ^ "ST-14 Scheduled Tribe Population By Religious Community". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  15. ^ "Chadar Badar". Telegraph. 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.


  • Archer, W. G. The Hill of Flutes: Life, Love, and Poetry in Tribal India: A Portrait of the Santals. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974.
  • Bodding, P. O. Santal Folk Tales. Cambridge, Massachusetts: H. Aschehoug; Harvard University Press, 1925.
  • Bodding, P. O. Santal Riddles and Witchcraft among the Santals. Oslo: A. W. Brøggers, 1940.
  • Bodding, P. O. A Santal Dictionary (5 volumes), 1933–36 Oslo: J. Dybwad, 1929.
  • Bodding, P. O. Materials for a Santali Grammar I, Dumka 1922
  • Bodding, P. O. Studies in Santal Medicine and Connected Folklore (3 volumes), 1925–40
  • Bompas, Cecil Henry, and Bodding, P. O. Folklore of the Santal Parganas. London: D. Nutt, 1909. Full text at Project Gutenberg.
  • Chakrabarti, Dr. Byomkes, A Comparative Study of Santali and Bengali, KP Bagchi, Calcutta, 1994
  • Culshaw, W. J. Tribal Heritage; a Study of the Santals. London: Lutterworth Press, 1949.
  • Edward Duyker Tribal Guerrillas: The Santals of West Bengal and the Naxalite Movement, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, pp. 201, SBN 19 561938 2.
  • Hembrom. T, The Santals: Anthropological-Theological Reflections on Santali & Biblical Creation Traditions. 1st ed. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1996.
  • Orans, Martin. "The Santal; a Tribe in Search of a Great Tradition." Based on thesis, University of Chicago., Wayne State University Press, 1965.
  • Prasad, Onkar. Santal Music: A Study in Pattern and Process of Cultural Persistence, Tribal Studies of India Series; T 115. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1985.
  • Roy Chaudhury, Indu. Folk Tales of the Santals. 1st ed. Folk Tales of India Series, 13. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1973.
  • Troisi, J. The Santals: A Classified and Annotated Bibliography. New Delhi: Manohar Book Service, 1976.
  • ———. Tribal Religion: Religious Beliefs and Practices among the Santals. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.

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