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Mushahar


Mushahar an indigenous community living in Bangladesh. Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, the Mushahar community settled in areas likes Teliapara, Rema etc of habiganj district in Bangladesh after arriving from Chhota Nagpur region of India's Bihar state; they chose the life of tea-workers. The Mushahar community living in Bangladesh number around 3 thousand.

The Mushahar people are of Dravidian origin. The ones living in Bangladesh mainly speak Bangla. Apart from Bangla, they also speak the Hindi language. The rate of education among the Mushahars is very low, only around 8%. They are not found in any other profession outside the tea gardens.

The Mushahar society is divided into six sub-clans. These are: Rikhian, Maghaia, Trihutia, Khairawar, Darwar and Ghatwar. These sub-clans are further divided into many families. marriage within the same family is prohibited in Mushahar society. They term a family as Kuria. The male offspring inherit family property after the death of a father. In the absence of father, the eldest son becomes the guardian of a family. Joint families are observed in Mushahar society.

Usually, the Mushahars themselves take actions to resolve various social problems without approaching the courts or the police administration. If anybody commits an immoral act, the heads of society awards him or her punishment. Even expulsion from society is ordered as punishment.

They arrange feasts with meat of pig on different occasions. They do not eat beef and desist from eating radish in the month of Magh. They observe cake festival on the last day of Poush. This festival is called Alanti.

The Mushahars are adherents of the traditional Hindu faith. They observe the 'Holi' and Diwali festivals, the Ram-nabami and the Janmastami of Sri Krishna. Among the gods and goddesses, their principal deity is the Shitala-devi. They regularly offer the Satyanarayan Puja and listen with rapt attention to the readings from the words of Satyanarayan. They also participate in the durga puja and the kali puja or Shyama Puja. They have a clear idea about sins and piety, and believe in rebirth based on work performed in this life. Like the Hindus, they also believe in pilgrimage and go to places like Gaya, Kashi, Kalighat etc. for the purpose. The Mushahars do not worship any traditional god or goddess of their own and do not observe any rituals for that purpose.

Among the social functions of the Mushahars, the marriage ceremonies are the most attractive. Usually, the parents or guardians make preparations for the ceremony. The lagan programme takes place five days before the marriage. On this day, turmeric is applied on the skin of both the bride and the groom at their respective residences. Oil is also applied on their body and they wear tilak (mark resembling a sesame blossom) of white sandal-paste on their forehead. The priest selects a spot in the parental abode of the bride and then cleanses it; the marriage platform is erected on this spot. This platform is called Marahu.

On the day preceding the marriage, the Kohar-bhat (rice) programme is observed in the parental houses of bride and groom. During this programme, five unmarried girls in the houses of both bride and groom cook rice and vegetable curry; these are consumed together with the bride and groom in their respective dwellings. In between the 'Lagan' and the Kohar-bhat programmes, the relatives of the bride visit the residence of the groom and hold the Satyanarayaner Katha (Satyanarayan's words) programme.

When the groom's party arrives at the bridal home on the day of marriage, they have to face the Duar-checkai. They receive permission for entry inside only after giving tips to small children who stand and block the formally decorated gateway. The groom has to offer Duar-Puja after entering the compound of the house.

The Mushahars term the formalities of marriage as Parchaban. The marriage programme starts with readings from the words of Satyanarayan on the marriage platform or Marahu. After its conclusion, other programmes called Ghat-bandhan, Konya-dan, Bhanuar and Sindur-dan take place. Later, the newly weds are taken to a room, where both of them bow their head before the Deokur or the household god. After that, feast is served for the groom's party. The ladies belonging to the bridal party present humorous songs before them. The groom's party gives tips to the singers after the feast is over. This presentation of songs is called Gari Gawai.

Another feast is served for the groom's party the next morning. The main feature of this episode is Manana (placating or allaying one's huff), where the groom is given various gifts in order to make him take food. At this time, the groom's father also receives gifts like oil, dhoti and dress from the bride's father. This episode is known as Telaban to the Mushahars. On the eve of departure of the groom's party, the fathers of the bride and groom embrace each other and together shake the marriage platform. This episode is called Marahua Hilana. After reaching home, the groom's mother welcomes the new bride. At this time, the bride stoops before the door of the house and touches the door with her forehead; this is called Duar-langai. After this, the relatives and female neighbours see the face of the bride after presenting gifts to her. The Mushahars call this phase Muh-dekhai. The groom's father arranges a feast on the day.

The Mushahars burnt the dead-bodies. The corpse is washed at the crematorium and anna-jal (food and water) is dedicated for the soul of the dead. The Mushahars perform the last rituals of the dead with the help of Aghars or non-aristocratic Brahmins. The eldest son of the dead does the Mukhagni (putting fire into the mouth) and lights up the pyre. The close relatives of the dead remain bare-footed at the beginning of the mourning ceremony and do not use oil or soap. The pinda-dan (offering balls of rice) for the dead takes place on the tenth day. Only after that, those in mourning use oil, turmeric and salt, and prepare and take food. On the last day (sixteenth day) of mourning, the Sharhaia Sraddha ritual takes place in memory of the dead. Only vegetable curry is served at this function. Those in mourning return to their normal life (including consumption of protein food) from the following day (seventeenth day after death). [Subhash Jengcham]