BALASORE: Tribal priests are divided in their opinion over rituals over the ongoing Akhand Shikar. While some suggested that the tribals should go for ceremonial mass hunting of animals as part of the tradition, others claimed there was no tradition to hurt any animal before offering it to the deity.
According to the age-old tradition, the tribals in Mayurbhanj, Balasore and Keonjhar districts celebrate week-long Akhand Sikar (ceremonial mass hunting) at least twice a year during Makar Sankranti in January and Bisuva Sankranti in April.
They offer ‘puja’ before going into the forests for hunting. The disari/naik (priest) of the area concerned offers a cock to the deity and then suggests the tribals the direction that they should follow for hunting.
Tribal leader Bimbadhar Marndi said once the hunting group finds a prey, they attack it with their traditional weapons like bows and arrows, axes and spears.
“Earlier, before going for hunting, they used to worship the traditional weapons. After the group returns with hunted animals, the villagers distribute these among themselves,” he said.
Marndi, however, said now the old practice is being discouraged and youths are being engaged in other activities like archery and other sports competitions.
But old timers say that the tradition was not like the one which is followed nowadays. A tribal priest from Thakurmunda area of Mayurbhanj, on condition of anonymity, said in the name of tradition, some tribals are causing harm to wild animals and forests by encouraging mass hunting.
“Earlier, the tribals used to dig small ditches on the path of animals and those were being covered by leaves and branches. Later, they used to chase animals and trap them after they fall into the pits.
They distribute it after offering it before the deity unhurt,” he added.
While tribal groups complained that they are being prevented by the forest officials from observing their age-old tradition of Akhand Shikar on the pretext of wildlife protection, it is alleged that the obnoxious practice by some tribals has given rise to poaching activities in the forests round-the-year.
Tribal researcher Bimbadhar Behera said traditionally the tribals don’t go for a hunting spree and never cause any harm to endangered species.
“In those days, they were hunting animals as per their requirement. But now, on the pretext of Akhand Shikar, trained poachers are allowed to go inside the forests. Instead of using force against them, they need to be sensitised,” he suggested.
Meanwhile, the forest officials have successfully prevented the entry of separate groups of poachers into Similipal and Kuldiha reserve forests.
Night patrolling has been intensified. Deputy Director of STR Ajit Satpathy said tribal priests and teachers have been roped in to discourage tribals from mass hunting.