Oraon’s origin lies with Oritae

Columnist

This assertion is based on observations made in The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (60 AD) by an unknown Egypto-Greek seafaring trading ship’s master. Manuscript copies are in Heidelberg and London. The Erythrean Sea is the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the trade of the region including Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean with India is described.

This is an account of trade during the Roman emperor Nero’s time. It explicitly mentions the Oritae as a Dravidian race ( Notes, Ibid, p.161-162). One of its major translators from the Greek as well as annotator, Wilfrid H. Schoff (1912), held that the Oritae were a Brahui speaking people. It would seem clear that they were the ancient ancestors of today’s Oraon tribe in Jharkhand.

The principal town of the Oritae was Oraea, a small market at the mouth of the Purali river in what is now Pakistan ( a hundred miles north-west of Karachi on the Makran coast; (25- O’N, 66- 15E).

Alexander the Great marched half his army down the Makran coast in 325 BC. Arrian the Greek historian described the people on the coast as people called Anabasis by Alexander (and the source of the name Adibasi)in Vol1, 21-22 of Indica, xxi,xxiv, xxv, calling them the Oritae (Greek:Oritians), their capital being Ora.

Till today they worship a deity called Ora.Bonga. They are noted (in 60AD) to be dressed like Indians and equipped with similar weapons (i.e. bow and arrows) but their language and customs are different to people of the surrounding area. Their territory stretched along the Makran coast 150km from the Arabis river (Pliny(vi, 25-26).

They were a hill dwelling race who faced Alexander in their capital called Rhambacia according to Diodorus Siculus (xvi, 104). The name Oritae meant “ hill dwellers”. In Greek, the name given may be found to have Greek origin. “Brahui” in Persian also has the same meaning. Their name for themselves was that given their language, which is Kurrukh.Ora has been identified by historians as the same as Ur, the ancient capital of Chaldea, connected with Sun worship. The Oraons worship the sun-god Singbonga.

Some authorities think their race also reached Ceylon, but many including Henry Heras (1951) identified them with Tamils and Coorgis of South India.

John Marshall pointed out in 1924 that the presence of Brahui in Baluchistan points to the place Dravidian languages entered India via the lower Sind valley. The Brahuis broke off from the mainstream Dravidian languages when they entered the Indian sub-continent around the 4th millennium BCE (M.S.Andronov & K.V.Zvelebil). The Oraons according to the linguist Asko Parpola were the writers of the Indus script since he reads that script using the Brahui language.

According to him the present-day Brahui (Kurrukh, or North Dravidian) speakers are the Oraons of the Chotanagpur plateau and its surrounding areas (including Raigarh in Madhya Pradesh, the Malto speakers of the Rajmahal hills or Mal-Pahariya, and in West Bengal)( Asko Parpola, Deciphering the Indus Script ,Cambridge Univ.Press, 2000, pp.160-175). J.H.Elfenbein (1987) locates the North Dravidian homeland on the Narmada river.

It is reasonable to follow Parpola and Elfenbein , and hold that the Kurrukh and Malto migration to Jharkhand was via the Narmada and Sone river valleys, thence via the North Koel and Damodar into Jharkhand, and from there to the Rajmahal hills.

I have conjectured that the Kurrukhs were the Kurus of the Mahabharata, which is of interest. One of the amazing modern discoveries is that there is evidence in the numeral system of Proto-Dravidian for both a decimal and octonary system ( Ibid. p.169). One of the most widely supported hypotheses was proposed in 1953 by the anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf who suggested the North Dravidian languages came through Iran around 700 BCE with the megalithic culture which spread to South India.

These are some of my thoughts on the Oraons who are a handsome tribe of Jharkhand today. I think I have given enough to set people thinking about this much wandering people who today have managed to make a homeland in South Jharkhand, and who face such massive onslaughts through destructive development and new coal mines in their territories in Hazaribagh,Godda and Rajmahalin North Jharkhand.

For they are among the founders of Indian civilization and might have been the progenitors of Ancient India’s gift of the decimal system to the world.

Mehergarh (Neolithic 7000-3000 BCE) “from Neolithic times to the Indus Civilization” is where we find the first comb-cut pottery (khovar), the site described as “the oldest city in the world” (Jean-Francois Jarrige, Museum Guimet, Paris, 2006).

The people of Mehergarh were Brahuis and were the first people who created the Indus civilization. In the Kachchi plain of Balochistan near the Bolan Pass in present-day Pakistan . It was situated just to the south of Mohenjo-Daro. Motifs of the Mehergarh pottery include the familiar forms found in the present Khovar and Sohrai tribal art of Jharkhand. Also, the Iranian Ibex (Capra ibex) is found in Mehergarh comb-cut pottery.

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