Festival of Tusu: An Introduction

in Article
Published on: 23 May 2018

Tusu, a harvest festival, is one of the three major festivals of the Kurmi community in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. The other two festivals are Karam and Bandna. These are all annual festivals and come one after another. From the middle of November to the middle of December (according to the Bengali calendar, from the last day of Aghrahayan to the last day of Poush), Tusu is celebrated throughout Jharkhand, the Rāṛh region of West Bengal, and in some parts of Odisha. Not only the Kurmis, but many other communities celebrate Tusu. In a personal interview with the author, the Bengali poet Nirmal Halder says, 'In my childhood, in our family, we used to sing Tusu songs and worshipped Tusu for an entire month.' In the words of Sadhan Mahato, poet and cultural activist based in Purulia, 'Unlike most of the festivals, Tusu is not a religious festival . . . Tusu is a secular festival and is celebrated by people of all castes and religions, like Christians, Muslims, Hindus, non-Hindus, Adivasis, everyone.'


The festival is mainly about the collection of songs sung by the unmarried girls during the nights, throughout the month of Poush. As Sadhan Mahato says in his interview taken during the project, ‘Every day the women start praising the goddess by singing Tusu songs . . . the Tusu is prepared and worshipped at homes by chaste virgin girls. Married women do not worship Tusu'. In a personal interview with the author, independent researcher and folk singer Kiriti Mahato says:


All celebrations in our culture are related to singing and dancing and Tusu has a significant role in it . . . We can see only one Pada songs in the Jawa festival and two Pada songs or Doha in Tusu. In those two Padas it reflects all the feelings, ‘বল মা আমার মন কেমন করে/ যেমন শোল মাছে উফাল মারে.’ (‘O mother, do you know the state of my mind/It is like the thrust of the Shol fish.’)


In his interview Nirmal Halder explains:


The innumerable Tusu songs have enriched the culture of Purulia . . . the source of culture in Purulia that we get from Tusu, Bhadu and Jhumur is beyond comparison. There are remarkable extempore songs which if published will do wonders in our literature, but should not be categorized and kept at a distance in the name of folk literature . . .


As we know, Tusu is a harvest festival; and the main components of this festival are paddy and rice. After cutting off all the paddy stacks, the last stack that remains in the field is called dinimai. This dinimai is Tusu. The head of the family brings the dinimai from the agricultural field and on that same day the young girls establish Tusu. It marks the beginning of the celebrations of a month-long festival. In his interview, Sadhan Mahato describes it:


Since Tusu has no structure, we make kulungi or a hole in the wall. The main ingredients for Tusu are tush or rice husks. Some rice and flowers are placed inside the kulungi. They (unmarried girls) worship the kulungi for the whole month in the home altars, in the wall niches decorated with alpona (designs painted on walls and floors with a semi-liquid paste made of soaked rice). The choudal is something like tazia, but smaller than that, it is made of jute sticks. Inside the choudal, all the things required for worship are placed, and then carried in a procession for immersion in the river, pond or any water body.


Choudal or choural is used as the vehicle for the immersion of Tusu. This choural symbolizes the sun. Kurmi activist Siripada Bansriar says in his interview:


Choural is not Tusu, choural is the vehicle by which Tusu could go towards her marital family from her father’s house. In ancient period it was a matter of great pride for the Kurmis to send their daughter to her marital family, after she started menstruating. This was also a sign that her body was physically capable of bearing a child. Tusu is worshipped with this same feeling and Tusu finally leaves the house for immersion. Chou means four sides. Ural means flying. Choural means who can fly in all directions at the same time, and who can do that…the sun rays.


According to Kurmi rituals, Tusu is similar to unmarried girls. As a girl grows up with care in her family, the grains and seeds are also taken care of by the family which worships Tusu. The immersion of Tusu in the water is same as the leaving of a newly married girl for her marital family. Since a grain or seed can flourish only after it gets water, a newly married girl can become pregnant only after copulating with her husband in her in-laws’ house. Tusu is seen as the harbinger of life and prosperity. As a Tusu song says, ‘জলে হেল, জলে খেল, জলে তোমার কে আছে? /মনেতে বুঝিয়ে দেখো জলে স্বসুরঘর আছে’. The meaning is ‘You are joyful in the water; you are playing in the water, who is yours in the water? /Ask yourself in your mind, water is the marital family’. Rice grain is offered to the water because water is the most important element for cultivation and living.


The sun is also worshipped in this festival because without the presence of the sun no germination could take place. Makar is just another name of the sun. In the day of Makar Sankranti or Poush Sankranti, which is the last day of the Bengali month Poush, people of various communities throughout India celebrate Makar festival or the festival of Sun God, which is mostly a bathing festival. In his personal interview Kiriti Mahato mentions, 'G. Possehl has said in his book The Indus Civilization that the people of Indus used to celebrate a bathing event, and also it can be seen that till today people from all over this country celebrate this day and worship the Sun God on this day of Makar.’


The festival of Tusu is also named as Makar festival. Therefore, it is clear that this festival is connected to the sun. In the same interview Kiriti Mahato says:


Now we know the scientific reason behind movement of the sun but the ancient people were also aware of it and this was celebrated by them. If we see Tusu just as a local event then it’s a failure of understanding Tusu and also of us. Tusu also has the scientific significance as the ancient people could relate the movement of sun with agriculture and they worshipped Tusu to celebrate the power of sun in the agriculture.


There are various opinions on the etymology of the word ‘Tusu’. Santi Sinha, in his book Tusu, has said: এই শস্যোৎসবে ধানের খোসা তুষ একটা বড় উপকরণ। তাই ‘তুষ–এর সঙ্গে আদরার্থক উ-প্রত্যয়যোগে ‘তুষু’ নামটি এসেছে।. . . ‘তুষু’ থেকে ‘টুসু’—দন্ত্যবর্ণের এই মূর্ধন্যবর্ণে পরিণত হওয়া নিয়ে প্রকৃতপক্ষে কোন বিরোধ নেই. (Sinha n.d.:32–33).


Sinha (n.d.:33) has quoted Dr. Suhrid Kumar Bhowmik’s opinion in his book Tusu:


‘টুসু’ নামকরণের পিছনে কোল (Austro Asiatic) গোষ্ঠীর ‘টুসা’ (টুসাউ) শব্দটির প্রভাব থাকতে পারে। কোল ভাষায় এর অর্থ হল—ফুলের গুচ্ছ। এই অভিমতের অন্যতম প্রবক্তা ডঃ সুহৃদকুমার ভৌমিক। তিনি Bulletin of the Cultural Research Institute-এর ‘Tusu Songs’-এ বলেছেন, “Perhaps ‘tusu’ is a non-Aryan word coming from Austro-Asiatic Kol origin, to mean flower, bunch of flowers, bud etc. In Santali ‘bahatusu’ means a bunch of flowers, ‘tusa’ means simply bud, a leaf of bud-a symbol of youth and beauty.


Siripada Bansriar says in his interview, ‘Tusu was made by the connection of two words, tu and su. The meaning of the word tu is maturity and su means husband.’ His designated words belong to the vocabulary of Kurmali language. It refers to the association of crop and water. But there are other references from the same vocabulary which make the meaning different. In Kiriti Mahato’s interview, he explains:


Though there are many opinions by various authors regarding Tusu but as an intellectual person of the society I think this Tusu word is derived from our Kurmali word tui and su. 'Tui' means the highest position of the sun and 'su' means the sun. Tusu means the final or highest position of the sun . . .


These opinions reflect that it is quite difficult to locate the actual meaning of the word Tusu.


There are five things which are commonly used to establish and worship Tusu. The things are, one dhakon or earthen pot, alochaal or boiled rice seeds, durva or scotch grass (scientific name is cynodondactylon), the badu flower which grows on the sal tree and one cow-dung ball. It is mainly girls who take responsibility for performing all the rituals of this festival. They establish and worship Tusu, prepare prasad (religious offering) at home, which is puffed rice or flattened rice, and finally the immersion takes place. In the interview, Kiriti Mahato says:


Women have a much more significant role than the men in all the rituals, including seeding, painting the alpona, establishing Tusu by tush, grinding rice with cow-dung balls and one small stick of paddy . . . Women from the whole family used to gather there (in front of Tusu) for one month, offer their prayers and give it for immersion on the day of Makar through choural.


Other customs of worship are also found. During his interview, Nirmal Halder spoke about the rituals of Tusu that used to take place in his Bengali household in Purulia town, around 50 years ago. He says, ‘In a clay pot, seven lamps were lighted with tush and were decorated with flowers. In the evening, my sisters sang Tusu songs and offered sweets. Later in the evening after the worship, the sweets were distributed.’


After the labour of the whole year, people enjoy some prosperity at home during this period. Therefore, they have time and money to celebrate the festival. That might be a reason behind the celebration which takes place on a huge scale. Sadhan Mahato, in his interview, emphasizes:


I think India witnesses the highest numbers of fairs during this Tusu festival in the month of Poush. There is no community (in the area) where Tusu festival is not celebrated; at least a cock fight would be there. On this occasion, all the cultural activities like songs, dramas and different kinds of tribal dances such as nachni dance, chhou dance are performed to explore the diversity of this festival.


With time, Tusu songs are becoming outmoded with the onset of different forms of entertainment. The hegemony of mainstream culture took a toll not only on the folk cultural activities but also on other aspects of the culture. In his interview, Nirmal Halder says:


Tusu festival and Tusu songs of our childhood were completely different from those of the present time . . . However, with modernization, urbanization and technological developments all these festivals are slowly becoming obsolete. Moreover, with my advancing age, it turns out that the folk festivals are slowly moving towards the villages . . . while associating ourselves with modernity, we say that we are not involved in these festivals or we are not connected to them. But these are always connected with the people of Purulia, be they Brahmin, Baidya, Kayastha, Haari, Muchi or Bauri (castes). All the people were involved with it. With passing days, we are letting ourselves drift away from these festivals . . .


He pointed to a few more critical issues:


Another point is, nowadays the folk festivals are being organized by the corporate houses, which look bad. Now we see people from the city are coming to enjoy Tusu. Since Tusu is a festival, people come for fun. They sing, dance and have party and that is all. However, they don’t know the significance of Tusu which all of us carry in our mind. For the urban people Tusu is only a festival for enjoyment which the rural people celebrate, but they do not know the roots of Tusu.


Tusu songs are still an important part of popular culture and new songs are being written. These songs include mythological stories, contemporary political issues, local issues, etc. The two stanzas below reflect the mood of a contemporary Tusu song based on the Ramayana:


দৈয়বের নির্বন্ধ দেখ নাহয় কোভু খন্ডন।

শ্রীরাম রাবনে দেহে বাজিল ভায় মহারণ।।

বানের উপরে বান আকাশে করে গমন।

দেবগনে বলে প্রভু রক্ষা কর নারায়ন।।

কুপিল রাবন রাজা যত ছিল বীরগণ।

অন্তরীক্ষে দেবগনে দেখে সবে মহারণ।।

রাবনে বলিছে আজি বধিবরে তোর জীবন।

অভয় বলে অহংকারে অবশেষে হয় মরন।।


বীরহনুমান কাঁদে কাঁদে যত সৈন্যগণ।

হারাইলাম আমিও ভাই প্রাণের অনুজ লক্ষণ।।

কেন বা রাবন সঙ্গে করিলাম মহারন।

আমার প্রাণের নিধি হরিয়া নিল সমন।।

অন্তরিক্ষে ডাকি বলে ইন্দ্র যত দেবগণ।

অভয়ে বলিছে আমায় খমা কর নারায়ন।।


There are popular local music videos which follow the Tusu’s tune and these are also called Tusu songs. Apart from the tune and rhythm, these songs do not have any other resemblance with the ‘traditional’ Tusu songs. A few such songs are—‘মনে পড়ে তোর মুখের হাঁসি, তোকে ধনী ফাঁকা যদি পাই’ ('Mone Pode tor Mukher Haansi') by Birochon Mahato and Anima Mardi; ‘টুরকু ছঁড়াই তোকে ভুলাইল’ ('Turku Chhodai toke Bhulailo') by Rohin Mahato and Mrityunjoy Mahato; ‘মকর পরব আসছে ঢেউ মাইরে’ ('Makar Parba Aaschhe Dheu Maire') by Paresh Mahato and Anjana Mahato.


Tusu songs are sung today through these new age songs, which reflect the traditional ways of singing. Gradually, the new songs will become part of the tradition. This is how Tusu remains an important part of folk culture and people’s life. Although the form of the festival, the songs and their content have changed with time due to technological advancement, corporatization, and an evolving notion of entertainment—Tusu continues to be a source of happiness, celebration and festivity.


(The cover image of this article is courtesy of Pinki Biswas Sanyal.)



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