TODAY -

Cultural and Religious spaces and Community's Moorings

Dr Kongbrailatpam Ratnabali *



The nature and depth of man's relationship with land varies temporally, geographically, societally, economically and culturally. The first article attempted to capture the essence of deep-rootedness of tribal to their land/traditional habitat which is a place where they 'belong'. And as per Nadia Lovell, 'belonging' "with all its pragmatic connotations and potentials for tying people to place and social relationships, also evoke emotions, sentiments of longing to be in a particular location, be it real or fictive".

Therefore, land is not just a space that has some economic value but it represents a complex system wherein various elements of a society such as social, economics, culture, identity, religion, politics etc. interact and those living there have a sense of belongingness to that space. When belongingness is extended to a group of people in relation to a particular landscape, it is instrumental in creating collective identities.

When the space concerned exude high degree of cultural and or religious sense of belongingness of a community with a collective identity, it has far reaching implications. It is pertinent to mention that the degree of belongingness of communities to such spaces varies from community to community. Where the cultural and religious spaces concerned form part of the traditional religion to which the community presently does not subscribe to then the degree of attachment/belongingness to such spaces will be lower than those communities that still subscribes to the old religion.

In other words the importance of sacred spaces loses its significance gradually when the community embraces another religion to which such spaces have no meaning or when the community, in its attempt to uplift its social status, imbibes or opts practices of other dominant religion and culture that denigrate or belittle such spaces or when most of the younger generation of a community are brought up beyond the environ of these sacred spaces thus breaking the vital umbilical chord that connects them to such spaces.

It is therefore implicit that importance of sacred spaces to a community through the years is not static. Being dynamic, an assessment of the importance of such spaces is required whenever its preservation or otherwise is considered. But at the outset, a detailed mapping of the sacred spaces of a community is required at the local landscape so as to know the number as well as location of such spaces.

Once these spaces are identified, a study needs to be conducted so as to find out what importance is accorded to each of such spaces by that community. This would require an in-depth empirical study on the community's perspective on such sacred spaces. Result arrived at from such a study should be instrumental in guiding the administration as well as policy makers of any project/scheme that will have a bearing on such sacred spaces of that community.

In a field study conducted by the writer in one of the villages in Chandel district, it was found that landscape belonging to that tribal community contained natural spaces that had religious/sacredness in the form of boulders (Zakadungkung), natural stone structures (Sagol-tabi) in a river deep (Kaheava Maza), edge of a hill which looks like a five headed serpent (Mahadev). In addition to these there were other natural structures that have connection with the myths of that community.

It was found that these natural spaces had a different meaning and significance prior to the community embracing Christianity by their older generations. It was shared that the continued practice and belief of their old religion including those related to these spaces was considered to be 'a sin' once they embraced Christianity and therefore, their ancestors discarded them after conversion. But there are still members of some tribe who still believe and follow their age-old religion/beliefs which venerates such spaces as sacred.

As a result of the diversity involved, a single brush cannot paint the significance of sacred natural spaces of all tribal communities even within one State. The possibility of using such spaces to politicise the issue pertaining to autonomy over tribal's land is not underestimated. In order to manoeuvre from such unwanted politics, framing of a guideline to objectively determine the significance of such spaces to the community is the need of the hour. While framing such a guideline the emic perspective should be taken into account.

The need for preservation of sacred natural spaces of a community may not strike the administrative psyche. And the number of such spaces prevalent may make it prohibitive. But the words of Paloutzian (et al) may be remembered that "Religion and spirituality are such overpowering elements in human society that wars are fought or peace achieved through them".

Further when such spaces are considered from the perspective of those communities such as the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) where their identity, culture and religion are inextricably embedded in such sacred spaces, ignoring them may lead to violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In view of the above, a categorization of those communities which have such intrinsically valued sacred spaces needs to be done so that no inappropriate administrative action impinge upon the rights of such communities.

Religion, culture and identity being important elements of a community, respect of those spaces wherein these elements are embedded will go a long way in assuring these communities the concerns the administration has about them and will help in building the larger concept of their belongingness to this nation called India.


* Dr Kongbrailatpam Ratnabali wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on October 02 2015.


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