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Sing Sadom

The Sing Sadom dance of the Santals is a colourful and vibrant performance that is gradually being revived by the Santals. It is performed only at Santal weddings by a group of men, to the accompaniment of pulsating tribal drums.

The Sing Sadom dance of the Santals is a colourful and vibrant performance that is gradually being revived by the Santals. It is performed only at Santal weddings by a group of men, to the accompaniment of pulsating tribal drums.
The dance had been popular about forty or fifty years ago, but had gradually faded into oblivion. In those days, there would be Sing Sadom groups with about five to six members in almost every village. Each village would craft a large bamboo horse and a group of men would then dance around with it to the throbbing sound of santal drums. 

The current revival began with a call by local tribal development authorities to all Santal village clubs in West Bengal to resurrect the dance as they best could. This was in 2020. The villagers of Bhurkundabari, all members of Sagun Thili Gounta, their local club, got to work, digging up facts and consulting with elders who had seen it being performed in their youth. 

They learnt how to craft the beautiful bamboo framework for the horse from them and choreographed a performance. They went on to win competitions and soon started receiving requests to perform at weddings by the wealthier Santals. Several other Santal villages too have started performing this dance.  

The raw materials used are easily found in the village - bamboo, jute yarn,  colourful paper, some bright saris, wire and cotton string. The tools are very basic indeed. Skilled with their hands, the Santal villagers take less than a day to craft a large brightly coloured bamboo horse, complete with tail and mane. 

The name of the dance Sing Sadom literally translates to the Day or Sun horse. According to the Santal creation story (Karam Binti), a divine horse called Sing Sadom was created by Marang Buru also known as Lita to help give shape to the topography of earth, after it was created with the help of aquatic creatures. 

Santal elders we spoke to referred to the Karam Binti again to explain why the dance is associated with weddings.  After earth was finally created, the first humans, Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Burhi, born from the eggs of a goose, began to live on it. The two children subsequently were taken to the (mythical) land of Hihiri-Pipiri and brought up under the guidance of Lita. When they grew up, Lita joined them in marriage and they bore many sons and daughters. 12 septs were eventually born out of this alliance. The Kisku clan eventually came to rule over the other clans and began to be identified as the Kisku Raj, when the community had migrated to Chae Champa (near Hazaribagh today).

The connection between Sing Sadom and a wedding may have evolved as a result of the following myth: When a village wedding took place, the well-heeled among the groom’s party, especially if they belonged to the ruling Kisku clan, would arrive on horseback. The story goes that at one such event, a couple of troublemakers in the village tried to scare the Kisku horses away by creating a ruckus with their tumdas and tamaks (drums). And this is possibly the genesis of the Sing Sadom dance, where men ride a (bamboo) horse and dance to the rhythm of pulsating drums. During the dance, the story of the horses being teased by a pair of troublesome men  is also enacted.

There is another interesting story on the theme of horses and Kiskus that has been handed down over generations. A Kisku prince was once married to a Mandi (Kisar) girl. Now this Mandi family too owned a horse which happened to be of better stock. One day, the Kisku son-in-law stole into his in-law’s home and stole their horse, leaving behind his own horse. When the Mandi family discovered this theft, they sought the help of a Jadopatia to help identify the thief. This part of the story is corroborated in the Jadopatia songs even today and illustrated in their Karam Binti scrolls, where a man is shown leading a horse by the tail. The thieving son-in-law was accosted and a fight began with both parties trying to yank the poor horse away. As a result of this altercation, it was decided by the Santal elders that Kiskus and Mandis may never intermarry. 

At any rate, whether the Sing Sadom of the dance is the Sing Sadom of the Karam Binti is not certain. It could just as well mean a horse (Sadom) dance performed during the day (Sing). In days of yore, Santal weddings would take place during the day. As part of the general entertainment, the bridegroom party would show off their skills with dances and other performances. The men from the bride`s village too would possibly counter with a show of their own skills. All of this needed to be performed during the day, for people to see.