India

North-East Tribals and their connection to Ancient India

North-East Tribals and their connection to Ancient India

The various tribes in the North East which are constantly teased as being Chinese by the rest of India are actually indigenous to the land.  Many of them not only believe themselves an integral part of Mahabharata and Ramayana but also continue to follow their traditions to date. 

Out of the 54 tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, there is a tribe called Idu Mishmi which considers itself to be from the lineage of Krishna’s wife, Rukmini.  Their fables tell tales of Rukmini as the princess of current day Bhishmanagar.  The King, her father was Bhishmak and she had a brother named Rukmi. 

Mishmi tribeWhen Rukmini fell in love with Krishna, Rukmi strongly opposed the marriage and arranged for her to marry Shishupal to form an alliance.  Rukmini, hearing of this agreement, secretly sent a message to Lord Krishna to come and rescue her. 

As they were eloping, Rukmi caught up to the two and in the duel that ensued, lost to Krishna.  When Krishna was about to kill him, Rukmini begged to have her brother’s life spared.  Krishna agreed but as punishment, shaved Rukmi’s head with his Sudarshana Chakra – a visible sign of defeat – and let him go free. 

The Idu Mishmi tribe has a characteristic style of chopping their hair due to which they are called Chulikatas.  It is explained as an act of punishment inflicted by Krishna for the initial resistance offered to the marriage which later became the mark of honour. 

The Idu Rukmini is highly venerated by them as Inyi Maselo or Great Mother. 

The most important legendary account connected with the Arunachal tribe of Mishmis is that of the Brahmakunda. It is also popularly known as Parasuram Kunda; for, Parasuram, according to the Kalika Purana came to the Kunda to cleanse himself of the sin he had incurred by slaying his own mother Renuka on his father’s orders. This Kunda is in the heart of the Mishmi area. It is traditionally thought that the Parasuram Kunda as a holy place was originally a Mishmi institution and the Mishmis used to collect toll from the visiting pilgrims.

The Khasi tribe of Meghalaya are famous for their archery skills.  However, this archery is peculiar because they use two fingers only in shooting and discharging the arrows in place of a finger and thumb as done by other archers.

Most of the people in the Khasi tribe have never heard of Eklavya but legend has it that one of their ancestors gave up his thumb in Guru Daskshina and therefore the thumb should never be used during archery. 

Dimapur is the largest city in Nagaland.  Some people believe that this word is a corruption of Hidimbapur, depicting the city of Hidimba of Mahabharata, wife of Bhima and mother of Ghotokacha. He is believed to be the progenitor of Kacharis, a kingdom that was prosperous once in the region.  Kachhar dynasty is the descendents of Kirat dynasty described in Mahabharata.

There is a place in Dimapur where huge chess pieces still lie around in dilapidated state. Folklore marks this to be the place where Bhima and Ghotokacha played chess. 

Kachari Ruins1-3

Many in the Bodo tribe of Assam consider themselves to be descendants of Brahma and those not converted into Christianity practice Brahmoism

Another tribe of Assam, the Karbis claim to be the offspring of Sugriva. Karbis believe they came to the Northeast in search of purthemi kungripi (Sita Mata) during the Treta yuga, and failed to return to Ayodhya according to “SABIN ALUN“, a Karbi version of Ramayana. 

Here is a Karbi folksong about Sugriva quoted in “Ramakatha in T/F tradition of India”, ASI/Seagull books, Calcutta, 1993:

Sugriva looked below
And saw two youths,
One dark and one fair,
The dark one lying asleep
On the lap of the fair one.
For twelve days and nights
Was the dark one sleeping
On the lap of the fair one
Sugriva mused thus –
From their looks they must be brothers
How one brother is sharing
The other brother’s burden
And here I am,
Fighting my own brother
For a throne—he mused.
Tears rolled down from his eyes.
So runs the song. Quoted

Of the tribal people living in the hills, the Karbis, the Dimasas and the Jaintias are more or less well acquainted with the Ramayana lore.

GaroUkhrul in Manipur connects itself with Uloopi, the Naga wife of Arjuna who played a major role as a stepmother to Bhabhruvahana and also in saving Arjuna’s life.  Iravan was the son of Arjuna and Uloopi.  The Thangkul tribe is well known for its martial arts and they comprise of over 40% of members of National Socialist Council of Nagland that wants to establish their own sovereign state of Nagalim. 

These are just a few examples of the ancient connections of Adivasis to the great Indian epics.  Were we to dig deeper, it will become quite obvious that all the landmarks in these epics are within the land we call India today. 

All in all, India’s indigenous tribes belong to India.  Sadly, they have been segregated, used and abused the British Empire who, while ruthlessly suppressing them, imposed their religion and ideology on the people. The post-Independence political parties of India who see these tribal as nothing more than a voting bank haven’t helped much in improving their situation.  Thanks to this indifference, foreign ideologies both from Christian Missionaries with their number game and the Maoists of China threaten to rip the North-East apart from rest of India.

It is high time they were given their rightful place in the country. 

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  • A really informative piece. I had always felt it was unfair to call our NE cousins names. Every Indian should read this article.It will help reduce prejudice against people of North East

  • . This is incomplete article. How can you not mention about babrubahon, son of manipur pricess and arjuna, babrubahan was the only person who defeated arjuna in battle. and how can you forget about king bhagadutta, who faught the war riding elephant and killed by Bhima.

    • Thank you for your comment, I am sure there is far more out there that is probably missed. Will look into the ones you have mentioned and incorporate it into the article.

  • -You see what you want to see –
    King Bhismak was from Vidarbha kingdom in present day maharashtra…
    Kiratas and Chinas ( chinese) fought alongside each other under king Bhagadatta in kurukshetra..how about a new hindu rashtra ‘Chindia’

  • interesting article.I knew about uloopi but not the rest.Due to indifference of our govt. missionaries converted most of the tribals.In fact in Manipur krishna is worshipped.North easterns might look different but they have their roots here.It would help if we are not judgemental about their way of dressing.eating habits etc.It is high time people realized that if somebody is difffernt it does’nt ,mean that they are inferior,We should accept everybody.North easteners should also mingle with other rather than sticking to their own kind.

  • Recently one Shiva Linga discovered at Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh. Many pilgrims use to visit the site. I shall be glad if you please high light that matter

  • Its very interesting article…by reading I just felt the people,tribes,their culture,tradition,…thank you for this great epic info..
    Respect to all the tribes over north east..not becoz of this article..
    But they are also humans like us..with great history..
    Its our responsibility to aware the world..about our culture tradition and history..
    Congrats for your efforts..
    All the best..work hard and pls give us more information and awareness ..about our past

  • We Still Believe That The Hinduism Is Related To Our Places. Every Year We Organise A Parsuram Kund Mela At Our Hills , .. The Mainland Indians Must give Respect And Be Respected .

    • We are very sorry for you. Thanks to the Modi government that we are talking and hearing about it. Hope the successive governments dont ignore NE

  • When people met together, they will have somehow relationship or connections. But it doesn’t tell where is the root. The root is the root.

  • Very interesting and informative…….The funny side of Indian History to day is that you refer to Ramayana, Mahabharata , vedic literatures and sources of information to reconstruct ancient history, but you do not consider Ramayana and History as historical events…

  • Very interesting article, extremely conflicting and important issue to raise. The fact that the majority of North-Eastern culture interestingly similar to that of the Mayan culture of South America or Mongolia or various interesting cultural practices of Chinese, and the fact that the mutual feeling of alienation from both mainland Indians and so called “North-Easterners” leave a very doubtful origin of existence.
    Article depicted “politically correct” view, perhaps this must only be a partial extract. If, however, proven with evidences and facts not just based on recent “dug up” history but by intervening modern technology to incorporate the facts and findings not just by national standards but by International standards leaving no more stones to be unturned, then perhaps we’ve worked our brain well to say “anyway,we can still live together”.

    • More research is definitely necessary. But the thrust of the article is to show the connections only. It does not say that the tribes have no connection with other cultures. Parsis, some muslims have their origin outside the land that is now india. We can live together whether or not any connections exist. This land now belongs to northeasterners as much as it belongs to the people of the mainland.

  • Also you can Include the famous Bana raja story. Where Sri Krishna’s Grandson fell in love with Bana raja’s daughter which resulted in the war between Sri Krishna and Lord Shiva’s army and thus the name ‘Tezpur’ came into existence. Places like Agni ghar etc are the testimonial of this.

  • This is a very nice effort made by the writer and it is very much appreciated. It’s hard to express how overwhelming it feels to come across such an article.
    However much of its details are wrong, especially of the naga wife from the tankhul tribe . It was actually a “serpent”(naga , means serpent in Hinduism, Jainism & Buddhism ) . I don’t mean to down grade this particular tribe but rather just hinting the mistakes and stating the facts . There are many more… Anyway, thank you for this effort. I just hope it is not politically based to please us since the North East is soon to experience a political change in the region.

  • According To P. N Dutta. “Glimpses on the History Of Assam” The Khasi had a Great king Called “Mairang” and gave his name to the modern town of Mairang, Meghalaya.which was sanskritised to “Mahiranga Danava” was one of the formidable foes of Krishna.

  • It is true there were interconnections and interactions between Mongoloid races -which is now a multiple tribes in northeast-and Aryan race which is manifested in Literatures and myths of ancient India. However it is be bore in mind that Aryans view of these mongoloid races or tribes were a barbaric like any other community in the word would do inorder establish its own suzerainity. for eg. 1857 revolt by Indians is mentioned “India first independence”by our nationalist historian but for imperialist historian it just as ‘sepoy mutiny or rebellion’. same is for Columbus when it encountered The American native tribes described them as barbaric or savage. on similar fashion if Hidimba was to denote mongoloid race or community of northeast, on epic Hidimba is a demoness just like Idu Mishmi been showed as defeated byKrishna. ..at any rate it would never portray that any tribe of mongoloid race defeating Krishna or any other deities mentioned in epic.

    other concern is one can extract history out of this epics and literature. but to historicize and to consider history it is very complicated process as it lacks chronology.

  • Karbi with connection (regard) to Ramayana, is very much connected the fact that Karbi still have opinion to say that Rama and Sita have visited in Karbi area (Karbi Anglong) during 14 years of ‘Vanabas’ and lived in a hut a place called ‘Citrakut’ or Chatra Athoi, (near Kazironga National Park) where Rama was chasing a dear (Ravana in disguise of a dear). Lakshmana arrow line stripped still to be seen today. The foundation of the hut is clearly seen even today. In Karbi Anglong still we have ‘Rama Pahar (Hills), ‘Sita Pahar’ (Hills), where the sign of Rama and Sita is found till today. That is why we Karbi have ‘Sabin Alun’ means a Ramayana in Karbi. Thanks.

  • Also should give the story about Brahmaputra and parashuram kundo. How avatar of Vishnu parashuram killed his mom with his weapon and weapon cam off from his hand only after he broke the the path for the river ( son of brahma in form of river which is now called most beautiful Brahmaputra of assam .

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