Adivasi Women


Santhal Woman by Jamini Roy

In the beginning, said a Persian poet – Allah took a rose, a lily, a dove, a serpent, a little honey, a Dead Sea apple and a handful of clay. When he looked at the amalgam – it was a woman. Being aboriginals, the Adivasi women of Chota Nagpur have not lost these qualities yet.

A typical Adivasi girl is best described in the words of Rabindranath Tagore:

The Santhal girl comes and goes

Along the pebbled path under the silk cotton trees.

A coarse saree wrapped tight around her slim dark form.

Some forgetful maker at the dawn of time

In the midst of making a black bird

From rain darkened cloud and lightning

Suddenly found the clay

That this woman was fashioned from.

Her two wings he hid

Away from the world within her soul

On quick feet she seems to fly as she walks .

On her perfect arms she wears a few white

Lacquered bangles,

Atop her head a basket filled with mud,

She comes and goes again and again.

The end of her saree

Skimmed by red

Paints the sky with the delicate touch of palash

The month of Poush draws to a close,

The north wind seems to whisper a message from the south.

Upon the branches of the Himjhuri

Young green leaves glimmering with life

In winter’s golden sunshine.

A kite flies far away in the pale blue sky.

The amla vine sheds its cloak of fruit,

Around it children gathering in hope.

The winding forest paths skeined in light and shade,

Where dry leaves eddy in sudden swirls

On the whim of the startled wind.

While in the bushes stealthily

A lizard in silence waits under cover of grass.

The Santhal woman comes and goes again and again.

My mud brick home

Is slowly taking shape, workers fill the place

A little at a time they raise the walls

Their backs bared to the sun

Every now and then

The trains can be heard whistling afar;

The hours pass, the day draws to an end,

A bell rings where sky meets land

I sit and watch,

Hesitant my thoughts as I muse – this young girl

Who has for her own sake

Blossomed forth in body and soul

That easy feminine strength best expressed in the giving of herself

Tempered with the sweet serenity of compassion,

I have employed her, paying her for work –

Stealing the very strength that suffers insult at being priced

Using money to break her down

There she comes again, the Santhal girl, her basket filled with clay.

(This rendering of the poem from

Excerpts from Adivasi Women, published in Indian Nation 5  July 1970

Indian Nation 5 May 1970


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