This work is a detailed study of the religious practices, rituals and deities worshiped in the Santal Parganas region of modern Jharkhand. Though the central figure around which everything revolves in the Baidyanath Dham of Deoghar or in the entire region of Santal Parganas and its surroundings is the deity of Lord Baidyanath, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, this work tries to explore the worship of several other local deities and its relationship with Lord Baidyanath. Along with this many other diverse ritual practices prevalent in the area have also been studied here. The book, thus studies and identifies a distinct mode of religion practiced in this area within the broad framework of 'Hinduism', which has been defined as 'The Baidyanath Cult' by the author. It is to be noted that for the first time this term 'The Baidyanath Cult' has been coined in this book. The Shaiva and Shakta traditions of Hinduism have merged into one and it has also integrated several elements of the Vajrayan Buddhism and other local traditions.
This book also demonstrate the process of integration at different levels taking place in the Indian society. Both the "Little Tradition" and the "Great Tradition" of this region have been carefully dealt with here. The cultural arena of this land reflects that the "Sacred Complex" of Baidyanath Dham (Deoghar), Basukinath Dham, Ajgaibinath Dham (Sultanganj) and their "Cultural Specialists" are the main agents of this integration process. They perform their roles by different "Cultural Media" discussed in this book.
Along with the study of religion, this book also tries to reconstruct the Ancient History of Santal Parganas and its surroundings; from the Paleolithic period to the Early Medieval times. In fact, the Ancient History of this region has never been studied by any historian prior to this work. Though stray references related to this region occasionally appear in the academic studies focused on eastern part of India, but no full flagged study covering the history of Santal Parganas has come up so far. Hence, this work tries to fill this gap and may be regarded as the pioneering work on the religion, culture and history of Santal Parganas.
Dr. A.N. Jha teaches History in Swami Shraddhanand College (University of Delhi). He has an extensive background in teaching undergraduate students for about three decades. His area of specialization is the Ancient Indian History. His research contributions are focused on the peripheral areas of Bihar, Bengal and Jharkhand during the Ancient and Early Medieval Period of India. His doctoral research on the 'Baidyanath Cult' has been a pioneering work in studying the History of Ancient Santal Parganas. He is creadited to have coined the term 'the Baidyanath Cult' and is also known to have been the first person to have reconstructed the Ancient History of Santal Parganas. He has published numerous articles in refereed research journals and his contributions in the field have been widely acclaimed.
I have throughly read the manuscript of the book. The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter is very well written. The present study is primarily an anthropo-historical study into the evolution of regional culture through the medium of a sacred complex of the region. The sacred complex is a place where 'Great Traditions' and 'Little Traditions' interact and finally we find the emergence of a regional culture which is a part of the whole (National Culture at Macro-Level). However, the part has its own pecularities as well. India is a land not only of unity in diversity but also a land of diversity in unity. The present work serves a very useful purpose in this direction. The author has brilliantly used old as well as recent viewpoints and has given a good picture of the concepts governing the religio-cultural anthropo-historical studies.
In the second chapter the author has imagined 'Santal Parganas' as an independent historico-cultural zone. He has advanced good arguments from this vantage point. He has tried to reconstruct the Ancient History of Santal Parganas and hence has also highlighted a new perspective in the discipline of regional history. However, due to certain limitations he has not been able to present a systematic and complete chronological history of the region.
In the third chapter the author has attempted to study and present the systematic evolution of Shiva-Shakti cult from the philosophical view point. He has been successful in his attempt. He has referred to many primary sanskrit sources as well as to several modern scholars like A.L. Basham, Ishwar Chandra Tyagi, S.N. Dasgupta, Pushpendra Kumar and many others. He has discussed the different Saiva sects like Lakulish, Pashupat, Aghorpanthis as well as Kashmir Saivism of Abhinavagupta and the concept of 'Twelve Jyotirlingas' with which the study is primarily concerned.
In the fourth chapter he discusses the art and architecture of the Baidyanath Temples Complex. He also deals with the 'Sacred Geography' of Baidyanath Dham mentioning nearby holy and sacred places like Harlajori, Trikut Parvat, Taiwan, Rikhia etc. He has also dealt with the inscriptions found in the Baidyanath Temple Complex. The inscription mentioning the making of the temple of Lord Baidyanath by Raja Puran Mal, the Zamindar of Giddaur and a contemporary of Akbar, has also been critically assessed. The author agrees with the consensus evolved by scholars like Rajendra Lal Mitra and S. Narayan that the temple itself is very old, almost of the Gupta period or even before. Puran Mal might have built the porch or front-hall and forcibly put the inscription.
Moreover, he has lucidly discussed the holy places of the entire region which are inextricably related to the cult of Baidyanath. The holy circuit of Baidyanath Kshetra i.e. the path through which the millions of Kanwarias travel on their foot to cover a distance of 105 km from Sultanganj to Deoghar has also been mentioned. Co-relation of the cult of Baidyanath with the cult of Basukinath has also been discussed beside other Shiva-Shakti temples of Santal Parganas. The importance of Baidyanath temple as the Shakti-Pitha has also been discussed in detail. I must acknowledge that the author has done a commendable job.
The fifth chapter deals with rituals, modes of worship and the cultural specialists of Baidyanath Dham. He has again done a praiseworthy work and has improved upon the previous work of S. Narayan. The use of local technical terms give the flavour of authenticity to his descriptions. The descriptions of different types of worship, different kinds of vows and ceremonies, different kinds of Kanwar is lucid and again praiseworthy. The descriptions of Brahmins and non-Brahmins sacred specialists are also noteworthy.
In the sixth chapter the scholar discusses the issues of the evolution of a regional culture and tries to build up a case of regional civilization of Santa! Parganas as distinct from old concepts or regions like Anga, Sumha and Radha. He is very correct when he emphasizes the fact that the culture of Santal Parganas is not entirely tribal. This is the general misconception greatly found even among the academic circle. The Santals came very late in this region; almost at the end of 18th century and the beginning of 19th century. Hence, the major period of the history of Santal Parganas needs to be analyzed from the cultural vantage point of the Baidyanath-Basukinath Cult and neighbouring Shakti Pithas of Birbhum (many areas of Santal Parganas including Sarath and Deoghar were included in Birbhum till 1855). He has lucidly dealt with 'Little Traditions' of the region like the cult of Dube Baba, Yaksha Baba, Brahma-Devata, Babu Ojha (Village deities) and Baba Namadeva (a legendry charmakar saint). The two great cultural icons of the region—Bhavapritanand Ojha and Charu Charmakar are mentioned whose composed 'Bhajans' and 'Poems' are still sung in the area. Intresting intermingling of 'Great' and 'Little' Traditions can be observed in Chaupahra Puja, performed by the Brahmins of the area in which songs are sung by Doms and Charmakars only. The 'poems' and 'Bhajans' of both the great icons of the land are given equal importance. This is one of the most brilliant aspects of Indian Culture which has always been inclusive, integrating and dynamic, inspite of several caste injunctions and prohibitions.
Chapter seven is the conclusive part in which the author has summarized his findings. The bibliography is impressive. There are some errors, like signs of transliteration for sanskrit words are not given which is a basic defect, though, one may believe, the author might have some valid reasons for this.
However, I must say that the author has put in much labour. He has tried to envision a new civilizational region of Santal Parganas, dealt with the details of the Baidyanath cult and has studied the interactions of 'Great' and 'Little' Traditions in his field work. The methodology used and findings arrived at in this book has made this 'a must' for those who are not much aware of the historical developments of Santal Parganas area of Jharkhand. Infact, I too agree with the claims of the author that perhaps this is the first ever published academic book dealing with the Ancient History of Santal Parganas and the Baidyanath Cult. The students, teachers and researchers of this region shall greatly be benefited from this publication; I do not have slightest amount of doubt. I congratulate Dr. Amar Nath Jha for such pioneering work on Santal Parganas and expect many more brilliant works in future too.
The central figure around which everything revolves in Baidyanath Dham or Deoghar or in the entire region of Santal Parganas and its surroundings is the deity of Baidyanath; one of the twelve Jyotirlingams of Lord Shiva. The Baidyanath temple is open to all, no matter which caste, creed or religion a person belongs to.
The study of the Baidyanath Cult demonstrates the process of integration within the Indian society which is still going on, both in its 'Little Tradition' as well as 'Great Tradition'. The sacred complex of Deoghar and its 'cultural specialists' are the main agents of this integration process. They perform their roles by different 'cultural media'. The present study has tried to discuss and identify the different dimensions of religion, culture and history of the Santal Parganas region of Jharkhand at micro-level in order to understand and underline the process and forces of national integration and assimilation.
This goes without saying that the present study has been carried out at micro-level with this very perspective. It has been my long cherished dream to constitute the history of the place to which I belong. Unfortunately, nowhere in history books one finds mentions of our region which, I believe, forms a separate and continuous Geo-Cultural entity.
Though the reconstruction of the pre-history, ancient history and early medival history of the region of Santal Parganas is a very difficult task because of the near total absence of historical studies done by researchers on this subject, there is no dearth of primary source materials related to the ‘Shiva-Shakti Cult' and 'Dwadhash Jyotirlingams' which ultimately help us in identifying various ingredients of the making of the 'Baidyanath Cult' and the evolution of a distinct Geo-Cultural region of Santal Parganas and its surroundings.
It is a truth that the region of Santal Parganas has not been able to attract much attention of historians, despite the fact that it contains very rich pre-historic traditions and historical traditions. Therefore, I have made an attempt to locate the historicity and the process of development of this region (Santal Parganas) since the early medieval periods of Indian history.
One may say that the region of Santal Parganas, which has been closely associated with the historical developments in eastern India since 7th century A.D., has been a victim of 'Segregated Identity' and historians of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand have not been able to pay their due attention to this region. To overcome this age old handicap, the historians and researchers across the world will have to come forward for this important cause. Mine is just a humble beginning.
I have been constrained to use the American English; especially in the spellings of words. However, few words might have been spelt in conventional English too. I tender my apology for mistakes and inconvenience, if any, in this regard.
Similarly, I have not been able to use any diacritical marks for Sanskrit words and hence used the alphabets in such a manner that it is able to provide a proper pronunciation similar to that of written in Devanagari script. I am again apologetic for the inconvenience, if any.
I sincerely hope, this work would be useful to students, teachers and other interested readers, alike.
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