Thursday, January 4, 2007

Donyi-Poloism – Is it really an indigenous faith or an alternate form of Hinduism?

Quite sometimes back, I came across a report which stated that penetration of Christianity in and around Lower Subansiri District was negligible (Joshua Project Report 2000). Then, at that time, I thought, with such an orthodox population that worships nature, would any religion make headway in the conversion process? But, I was wrong. Looking now, as in the case of Apatani plateau, conversion to Christianity has been rapid in these past few years and in case of Hinduism too, the conversion has also been going on, though not done overtly as Christianity.

This has made me think, isn’t it easy to manipulate and play around with simple, though at sometimes complex, highly orthodox Arunachalee peoples’ mindset and their outlook? I wonder, it is; and if it is on the line of their faith and belief, the easier it is. This was evident from the attendance it garnered during the recently concluded “Donyi Polo Day” (or rather Indigenous Faiths Day as was earlier known) observation on 31st last month at Donyi-Polo ground Hapoli.

What is Donyi-Polo and Donyi-Poloism?

Literally, Donyi means Sun and Polo means Moon. The descendants of mythical “Abotani”, which by and large follows animism, considers Donyi-Polo as one of their supreme powers among so many benevolent and malevolent supreme powers that governs their life. These supreme powers, in some way or the other, had some relation with the mythical Abotani as the folklore suggests. And since time immemorial, the descendants of Abotani had a ritual to erect altars of these supreme powers and make sacrifices in order to appease them, whenever these supreme or supernatural powers interfered with their lives. And this has been their religion.

But, in Indian perspective, animism is not recognized (I still remember the look on the face of interviewer when I said I don’t have any religion rather I’m an animist, in response to their question during my interview for a job – they were far from believing me, thinking either I was Buddhist or a Christian), and in order to have definite religious identity and to preserve the indigenous traditional faith, Donyi-Poloism was born and now it is recognized as a religion. And now, well, may be I guess I would say I follow Donyi-Poloism whenever I’m asked about my religion.

The Present Scenario

Going by what Donyi-Poloism stands for today, I may not say that I’m follower of Donyi-Poloism but would rather say that I’m an animist, if ever I’m asked about my religion. Why? Because it is totally devoid of the rituals that have been performed since time immemorial. Now, it has definite place of worship called “Medar Nello” or “Nyider Namlo” and has an idol too. So far, as I remember, the Apatanis or for that matter I presume even Adis or Nyishis (descendant of Abotani) had ever idol worshipped and in a designated place of worship called “Medar Nello” or “Nyider Namlo” as it is done today. Though as suggested above, only symbolic altars were erected whenever certain ceremonies or rituals had to be performed. Going by the way the rituals, that are performed now-a-days, in the so called place of worship vis-à-vis the rituals that are performed at temple, I wonder if it is akin to Hinduism or has influence of Hinduism. But then, with so many Hindu missionary leading the Medar Nallo, no wonder, if the rituals performed in the Medar Nello has Hinduism tone. And in some way or the other Donyi-Poloism has always been linked with Hinduism-Donyi with Surya Devta and Polo with Chandrama. But would someone tell those missionaries that Sun is feminine (Ayo Danyi) and Moon is masculine (Ato Piilo) unlike otherwise in Hinduism?

If Donyi-Poloism is akin to Hinduism, why people are thronging at Medar Nello?

As suggested in the previous para, the conversion to Christianity has been growing at a very rapid pace among Apatanis in these past few years and to put check on this conversion, Hindu missionary has simultaneously been trying to convert the population to Hinduism, albeit with little success. Those converted to Christianity, altogether not only stopped performing the earlier rituals but also started branding those practising the Traditional Rituals as the son of “Satan” as I’m told. This irked the highly orthodox Apatanis who performed the Traditional Rituals. And the Hindu Missionaries, which were working covertly on conversion, cleverly took advantage of this irked mindset by encouraging them to join Donyi-Poloism and to attend Medar Nello as it was their indigenous faith.

With their traditional ethos hurt and countering conversion of population to Christianity being the other motive, the people quite played into the hands of Hindu Missionaries and started attending the so called place of worship. After all, it had a Donyi-Polo tag, enough to let them believe that they are following their traditional form of faith and worship and not being almost converted to Hinduism.

Is Donyi-Poloism really an indigenous faith?

I would say no in the present context, but an alternate form of Hinduism. It has played into the hands of missionary and now has evolved into altogether different form of faith and practice with nothing indigenous about it.


With blatant rate of conversions- be it to Christianity or to Hinduism or to Donyi-Poloism (neo-Hinduism) and with the people who still orthodoxically follows the age old rituals and practice, I fear, in near future it may flare up communal tensions based on the religion and we would be witnessing riots due to the difference in opinions among them. Also, I fear, would we be able to retain our age old traditional custom, culture and faith for preservation of which, Donyi-Poloism was created?

What do you say?


  • night

    Hey there I subscribe to your views completely. If only our people realised that they are being conned left, right and center. Only thing to do is to educate the people about these nefarious forces.

  • AG

    To put sense into the mind of these highly orthodox population, it seem futile to me. But even then, we shouldn't give up, should we?... if we want to preserve our age old tradition, rituals, custom and faith.

  • Anonymous

    you have actually drawn out the things that is happening with our people. but is this enough just to write in this blog which is most probably not accessible to most of the people. certain actions need to be taken to make people aware of the things happening. not just because our indiginiouse faith is loosin but also because the hinduasisation has very deadly implications on every culture that it had engulped. this can be seen in the tribal belts of other parts of india where hiduism has brought their indigineus faiths under their umbrella and then pushed them to the lowest ranks in their so called Varna system many centuries back. so now we have dalits and the low castes in hindu society. this is how hindus has more than 3 crore deities.

  • Image

    Donyipoloism is just that..another 'ism'.

  • Balaji

    my heart goes out to you mate! may your gods give you the strength to withstand this onslaught.

  • Anonymous

    Societal change with time is invitable.changes may constructive and some detrimental.Itis for us to identify those.Let us all think of human development and not preach hatred and fanatism.Lets grow with our own strong roots!!!

  • Anonymous

    Your concern for own society its changes in time line is very positive and good but your out is to much meder nello specific and short you require to have more abstract and distant out look. I do not subscribe to idea of proslytisation/aboundoning of own faith and culture nor am an orthodox who is aginst/afraid of societal changes in course of time. Our indigeneous Faith and culture is like a Tree as described by meder Nello goers. Reformist Like Meder Nello are new branches of That three, orthodox drying and dying branches, and proslytes branches which has been cut of and made fire wood burn in the hearth of other school of thoughts. This I poerceive you. What do you say?

  • AG

    With the post I was only trying to put in my views on if "Donyi-Poloism" can indeed be termed as an indigenous faith or not, considering how it is observed today and I guess I've given my arguments in the post above on why I don't consider it as an indigenous faith. The post seem and is Meder Nello specific because it was Meder Nello and the ritual that is performed in this institution that has made me wonder if "Donyi-Poloism" can indeed be termed indigenous or not. I would not have objected to a place called "Meder Nello" but for what it stands for now, as literally Meder Nello means Purified Place/House and nothing else.

    Having said that, I too am not against societal changes with time. Infact, I endorse it and feel that society shouldn't remain static but should change with time, if you want society to grow. What disturbs me is how the naive people are being manipulated in the name of preserving the Custom and Culture. And don't tell me you don't know which force is behind this so-called Donyi-Poloism and Meder Nello movement.

    And one question, do you really consider Meder-Nello as Reformist? If yes, why and how?

  • Anonymous

    After having read you above comments I have visited and attended the prayer session of Meder Nello and have interacted with leader spear heading the movement at itanagr,I asked them," It is apparent that you people are working aginst the conversion. What appears to many brothers is that you are an another Hindu -ism without an iota of indigeneousness ?" "It is fact than Meder Nello is a new plat Form. The birth of Meder Nello a new way of thought is not new phenomena, there is precedent that changes in time line has happened earlier, e.g. Myoko Festival was initiated in Iipyo by our fore father Dihu and Raru which was celebrated annually by Apatanis commonly, it was followed in Miido, When we migrated to present place it was celebrated at Biirii commonly, later it was separately celebrated on rotational basis which we till date are doing. Similarly, Dree festival was also celebratd village wise separately only in 1967, our senior student and elders reorganised and started celebrating at common place nenchalya has it lost the indigenousness. Due to changes in society earlier societal set up has become obsolate.Previously agarian socity has became modern and professional.In addition to this absence of traditional educational Institution and non inclusion of our cultural related subject in educational course.Resultanly, growht of ignorant youth about their own culture and faith. Therefore, this meder Nello,which is persuing to doccument, assimilate and dessiminate our age old tradition and culture in orgsnised way for our enlightened,confident posterity is etablished. Regarding inclination with other religion, Hindu, Christian or Muslim is plain reply that we incline to non. Ofcourse Meder Nello is like new born child while lerning to walk holds whatever come in hand, some orgnisation who helps us how to stand by our self are our wellwisher it would blunder to perceive us as of wellwishers." Gyati Rana said and added, " If you go through the Mythology and oral sacred litratue which is being collected by Meder Nello goer and are under compilation you will astonished to find that philosopy, morality, faith tradition and culture is far better and more scientific than that of many contemporary relgious thoughts, culture ancd tradion.Why you are reluctent to fight to protect, preserve, and promot your own age old faith and belief. Todays Situation and society demand your actions toward these objective, whatever your startagy, method, dont be a mear critic be man of action. Let us make this Meder Nello and indigenous institution to meet up the above objectives."
    I am considering my option to join the movement very soon.What do you suggest to me and to Mr. G.Rana

  • AG


    It is glad to know that after reading the post and the comments above you visited 'Meder Nello' and attended the prayer session to get firsthand experience of what 'Meder Nello' is. But you haven't expressed if the rituals performed there are 'indigenous or not' or if it has influence of Hinduism-the moot point that this post try to explore.

    Was there sprinkling of holy water synonymous to ‘Ganga Jal’ sprinkling to purify you at ‘Meder Nello’? (Though, you would argue that ’Nyibu’s’ too sprinkle water with ’kiira’ leaves while performing certain rituals.) Was there tying of ’tiipya’ thread round your wrist synonymous to ’Raksha Dhaga or sutra’ saying that it is synonymous to Abotani? But doesn’t ’tiipya’ symbolises mythical rope that Abotani used to climb down to this mortal world from the world of ’Danyi’ and which can be observed at ’Danyi’ Agyang where a black thread is hung down to the ground. Did you observe burning of incense sticks at ‘Meder Nello’? Was there symbolic representation or rather idols of Danyi and Piilo at Meder Nello? So on and so forth.

    However, I'm not sure how the rituals or prayer session are followed at Meder-Nello you visited, but from the interview that you had with the leader spearheading the Meder-Nello, it is apparent that the rituals performed there are not indigenous because you have stated that "there is precedent that changes in time line has happened earlier" and you have given instance of Myoko celebration. But here when you talk about changes in Myoko celebration, you have given your arguments only in terms of celebrations at settlements points in migratory route of Apatani, like Iipyo, Miido etc. and not on how and why the rituals are performed during the celebration which I presume has almost remain the same since its inception. You are always free to clear my presumption if I’m wrong.

    At this point, I would like to make myself clear that I’m not averse to change. In fact I endorse it and I’ve stated that before also.

    Now, if the sole objective of the institution like Meder Nello is to document, assimilate and disseminate our age old tradition and culture and nothing else as pointed out by you in the voice of Mr. G. Rana, I would like to commend the work of Mr. G. Rana, the leader spearheading the movement at Itanagar, if I’m not wrong. He is doing great service to Apatani Community in preserving the age old tradition, custom and culture. But let Meder Nello be the institution for documentation of tradition, custom and culture only and nothing else. Not even a prayer centre where all the rituals are performed with Hinduism tone (my observation of Meder Nello at Ziro).

    Now, coming to your option of joining ‘Meder Nello’, I would say it is a matter of personal choice. So, I’ve no suggestion for you in this regard.

  • AG


    I forgot to mention that Arunachal Diary has not been a mere critic but has been a man of action by trying to document the rituals,custom and tradition of Apatani through different media. To believe me check out the posts with label Apatani Society.

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