Karam or Karma is a harvest festival celebrated in Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Odisha and West Bengal. It is dedicated to the worship of Karam-Devta (Karam-Lord/God), the god of power, youth and youthfulness.
The festival is held on the 11th day of a full moon (Purnima) of the Hindu month of Bhado (Bhadra), which falls between August and September.
Groups of young villagers go to the jungle and collect wood, fruits, and flowers. These are required during the puja (worship) of the Karam God.
During this period, people sing and dance together in groups. The entire valley dances to the drumbeat “day of the phases
Summary of the ritual :
This festival celebrated for good harvest. Nine type of seeds planted in basket such as rice, wheat, corn etc which is called Jawa. Girl take care of these seeds for 7–9 days. In festival girls fast throughout day.
In the ritual, people go to the jungle accompanied by groups of drummers and cut one or more branches of the Karam tree after worshiping it. The branches are usually carried by unmarried, young girls who sing in praise of the deity.
Then the branches are brought to the village and planted in the center of the ground which is plastered with cow-dung and decorated with flowers.
A village priest(called Pahan) offers germinated grains and liquor in propitiation to the deity who grants wealth and children. A fowl is also killed and the blood is offered to the branch.
The village priest then recites a legend to the villagers about the efficacy of Karam puja. After puja, in the next morning the karam branch immersed in the river.
Details about the festival :
The Karam festival is celebrated usually on Bhado Ekadashi, on the eleventh day of the bright full moon (Purnima) of the month of Bhado (August–September).
The Karam tree, scientifically named Nauclea Parvifolia is the center of the proceedings of the festival.
The preparations for the Karam festival begin around ten or twelve days before the festival. Nine type of seeds planted in basket such as rice, wheat, corn etc which is called Jawa. Girl take care these seeds for 7–9 days.
The morning of the Karam festival begins with women pounding rice in the dheki, a wooden implement, to obtain rice flour.
This rice flour is used to make a local delicacy which can be sweet as well as salty. This delicacy is cooked in the morning of the Karam festival for consumption, and shared throughout the neighborhood.
Then the people begin the ritual dance with a yellow bloom tucked behind their ear.
A branch of the Karam tree is carried by the Karma dancers and passed among them while they are singing and dancing. This branch is washed with milk and rice beer (locally known as hariya). Then, the branch is raised in the middle of the dancing arena.
After reciting the legend – the story behind the worshiping of Karam (Nature/God/Goddess) – all the men and women drink liquor and spend the entire night singing and dancing; both are essential parts of the festival.
Women dance to the beat of drums and folk songs (siring). The Puja is followed by a community feast and the drinking of hariya. The next day, the Karam tree is sprinkled with curd of the seas and immersed in the river bed.
Karam is a harvest festival. The festival also has a close link to nature. People worship trees during this festival as they are a source of livelihood, and they pray to mother nature to keep their farmlands green and ensure a rich harvest.
It is believed that the worship for good germination increases the fertility of grain crops. Karam/Karma Devta/Karam Devis (the God of power, youth and youthfulness) is worshiped during the festival.
The devotees keep a day-long fast and worship the branches of karam/kadam and sal. Girls celebrate the festival for welfare, friendship and sisterhood by exchanging a jawa flower.
In whole Chotanagpur Plateau Region of Jharkhand, among the local people the Karam Festival is celebrated with great pomp and show.
Among the Oraon Tribe, the Karam festival is one of the most important festivals and holds a very important place in their social and religious life.
It is usually celebrated 15 days after the Kunwaar-Shukl-Paksh. After the fixation of the date for the festival, the local population start their preparation. For instance, they start buying the culinary-items to prepare traditional dishes, new clothes for the occasion, etc. Besides, for the Karam-Puja, they buy oil, Sindoor, Daliya etc too.
Being a very important community festival of the region, it is celebrated by the entire Oraon and other local communities of the region. Now in its modern day re-embodiment, the festivity has spread far and wide, from the rural to the urban ambience, and from Chotanagpur to other parts of country.
On the occasion of the festival, the boys and the girls are given extraordinary treatment and due importance by their respective families. The families, their mother and father, give them special “Karam-clothes”. These clothes signify the unmarried status of the boys and the girls of the family.
One of the most interesting aspects of these special clothes given as gift is that these Karam-clothes are hand-woven by the mother and father for their child, after hours of hard-works. It signifies, the clothes save them from the bad influence and the habits.
The Karam and these Karam-Clothes are considered very auspicious. It is also believed that the children are offered to Karam, for the showering of its constant guidance and blessings on the child, in fact on the entire family.
The festival of Sohrai is another interesting festival which is celebrated around Diwali.