Flag of Sarnaism
The Sarnaism Symbol used by Santals
Total population
c. 5 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
West Bengal403,250[2]

Sarnaism is a religious faith of the Indian subcontinent, predominantly followed by indigenous communities in the Chota Nagpur Plateau region across states like Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh.[3][4]

The essence of the Sarna faith revolves around Nature worship. Its core principles emphasize "Jal" (water), "Jungle" (forest), and "Zameen" (land), with adherents offering prayers to trees and hills while believing in the protection of forests.[3] This belief centers around the reverence of Sarna, the sacred groves of village communities where the village deity, known as Gram deoti resides, and where sacrificial offerings are made twice a year. It is also referred to as "Sarna Dharma" or the "Religion of the Holy Woods",[5][6] and it holds the distinction of being India's largest tribal religion.[1]


Sarna means "grove" and is etymologically related to the name of the sal tree.[7][8]


The adherents of Sarnaism believe in, worship, and revere a village deity as protector of village called Gaon khunt, Gram deoti, Dharmes, Marang Buru, Singbonga, or by other names by different tribes.[9] Adherents also believe in, worship, and revere Dharti ayo or Chalapachho Devi, the mother goddess identified as the earth or nature.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April 2023)
Sarna worshippers following their religious rites

Sarna is place of worship which is sacred grove in Chotanagpur. It is called Jaher than or Jaher gar among Santal, and can be found in villages. Sal trees are in the sacred grove. The ceremonies are performed by the whole village community at a public gathering with the active participation of village priests, pahan and assistant Pujar in Chotanagpur. The priest is called Naike among Santal. The sthal typically has multiple trees like sal, mahua, neem, and banyan.

The main festival of Sarnaism is Sarhul, a festival in which devotees worship their ancestors. During the festival, the pahan brings three water pots to the sarna. If the water pots reduce in level, they believe the monsoon will fail, but if it stays the same the monsoon will come as normal. Men then offer sakua flowers and leaves.[10]


Adherents of Sarna[11]

  Santal (30.48%)
  Oraon (21.35%)
  Ho (17.87%)
  Munda (12.48%)
  Bhumij (1.72%)
  Lohar (1.70%)
  Mahali (1.07%)
  Kharia (0.87%)
  Bedia (0.67%)
  Other Tribes (4.42%)
  Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes and Non-Scheduled Communities (7.39%)

The statistics show solely Sarna adherents, without consideration of Sari Dharam or other denominations claimed to be synonymous.

According to the 2011 census of India, apart from the six major religions, namely Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and the "Not Stated" category, other religions are categorized as "Other Religions and Persuasions," within which the Sarna belief is included. In the 2011 census, the Sarna religion counted 4,957,467 followers in India, primarily in the eastern states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh, with smaller numbers of followers in Assam, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh.[2] Scheduled Tribes comprise the majority of believers at 92.60%, while Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes and Non-Scheduled Communities accounted for 7.39%.[11] Among the prominent tribes practicing Sarna are Santal (30.48%), Oraon (21.35%), Ho (17.87%), Munda (12.48%), Bhumij (1.72%), Lohar (1.70%), Mahali (1.07%), Kharia (0.87%), and Bedia (0.64%). While other tribes, such as Kisan, Kolha, Gond, Kharwar, Chik Baraik, Asur, Bhinjia, Karmali, Kora, Kol, Kawar, Birja, Mal Paharia, Savar, Birhor, Gorait, Parhaiya, Lodha, Chero, Khanwar, Suria Paharia, Mundari, Baiga, Korwa, Sounti, Binjhwar, Nagesia, Mahli, and various generic tribes, collectively constitute 4.42%.[11]

Additionally, there are 506,369 followers of Sari Dharam in India,[2] primarily followed by the Santal tribe of West Bengal, representing 94.43% of the total Sari Dharam adherents.[11]

Religious status

As a result of Western colonialism and imperialism in Asia, several attempts of indoctrination and forced conversion were carried out by western Christian missionaries in colonial India, which went on for a century, and have caused sectarian conflict in the tribal areas of the Chota Nagpur region. The arrival of the first German Protestant missionaries in 1845 was followed by Roman Catholic missionaries; conflict between Christian and Non-Christian tribals became evident in 1947–1948, when British colonial rulers left India.[12]


The neutrality of this section is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until conditions to do so are met. (September 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has suggested that Sarna religion be accorded independent category in the religion code of the Census of India.[13] Several tribal organisations and Christian missionaries are demanding a distinct census code for Sarnaism.[14][15] The then Indian Minister of Tribal Affairs, Jual Oram, had, however, claimed in 2015,"There is no denial of the fact that tribals are Hindus."[16] The comment led to protests from 300 tribals, over 100 of whom were arrested by the police to clear the way for Oram, who was going to inaugurate a fair.[17] Adivasi Sarna Mahasabha leader and former MLA Dev Kumar Dhan said that followers of the Sarna religion were not happy with the statement made by Oram and added, "If Jainism, having a population of hardly 60 lakh, can have a separate religion code in the Census forms, why can't Sarnas? This tribal religion have more than 10 crore followers spread over the Fifth Scheduled states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharastra, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha. Instead of taking steps to ensure a separate religion code, he is saying Sarnas are Hindus".[18]

In 2020, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's (JMM), which was in power in Jharkhand at that time, passed a unanimous assembly resolution on 'Sarna Code' for the inclusion of Sarna as separate religion in 2021 census, and sent to central government for approval.[19][20]

Many tribal organizations seek its recognition as a distinct religious category for indigenous peoples.[3] Several Christian churches also support the recognition of Sarna as a different religion from Hinduism.[21] But the RSS is against the recognition of Sarna as a separate religion as it believes that tribal people are Hindus.[16]


See also


  1. ^ a b Kramer, Stephanie (September 21, 2021). Religious Composition of India (PDF) (Report). Pew Research Center. p. 21. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 2, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "C-01 Appendix: Details of religious community shown under 'Other religions and persuasions' in main table C01 - 2011". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India.
  3. ^ a b c "Explained: What Is The Sarna Religious Code And What Are Its Followers Demanding?". outlook india. 18 October 2022. Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  4. ^ "Religious Complexity in Northeastern South Asia". GeoCurrents. 29 October 2015. Retrieved 2021-10-21.
  5. ^ Minahan 2012
  6. ^ "In India, Believers in an Ancient Indigenous Faith Seek Formal Recognition". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Singh, Kumar Suresh (1983). Tribal Movements in India. Manohar. p. 88.
  8. ^ Krishna, Nanditha (2017-12-26). Hinduism and Nature. Penguin Random House India Private Limited. ISBN 978-93-87326-54-5.
  9. ^ Amit Jha (2009). Contemporary Religious Institutions in Tribal India. ISBN 978-0-557-09053-2.
  10. ^ Srivastava (2007)
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^ Tribals torn apart by religion, The Hindu. 014.
  13. ^ "ST panel for independent religion status to Sarna". The Times of India. 6 February 2011.
  14. ^ Kiro, Santosh K. (2013). "Delhi demo for Sarna identity". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014.
  15. ^ Mukherjee, Pranab (30 March 2013). "Tribals to rally for inclusion of Sarna religion in census". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 2 October 2013.
  16. ^ a b All tribals are Hindus, no need for Sarna code: RSS, Times of India, 1 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Minister faces ire for Sarna row".
  18. ^ "Minister faces ire for Sarna row".
  19. ^ "Jharkhand Assembly passes resolution on Sarna Code". The Hindu. 12 November 2020.
  20. ^ Bisoee, Animesh (25 September 2021). "Tribals from nine states seek Sarna code in 2021 census". The Telegraph.
  21. ^ Church writes to Hemant demanding Sarna code for tribals, Telegraph India, 19.09.2020.



Journal articles