Religious System of the People

Here, we present the traditional religious life and belief of the Nagas without mentioning the imported faiths like Christianity, Buddhism, etc. We will mention these present day religions from the perspective of how they have brought changes to the Naga society.

Religious Life of the People
The traditional religion of the Nagas is creation-centered. All things are understood within the framework of creation. The Naga religion has no founder and thus no historical or personality is central in the Naga religion apart from the creation. It is community-oriented belief system, which is sprung up from the community of the people and practiced in the community. However, some outsiders could not comprehend the depth of the belief system of the people. Some scholars like British Captain C. H. Cole just assume that the Nagas are simply animists and do not have a higher belief system comparing to the other cultures. But in a close look one can see that the Nagas also practice more than animism and some more interesting belief systems. Therefore, we would like to present here  the religious components that frame the belief system of the Nagas.
  i.      Belief in a Supreme Being: The Nagas alike the other people have the idea of a Supreme Being, which is central to their thinking. This Supreme Being is pictured in the creation and creation is the “Exegesis of the Supreme Being” which declares the existence of the Supreme Being. Thus, creation is a manifestation of the Supreme Being. He is understood as the Creator and sustainer of the universe, the judge, the ultimate savior, protector and provider. This belief in a Supreme Being shaped much of the ethical aspects of the Nagas. Several names are employed for the Supreme Being, to name a few:  Thishaw, Maitai, Atengpu, Khёnüng Thongpu, etc. These names are different expressions of the Nagas for the Supreme Being and there are some more by which the Nagas address that Supreme Being.
ii.      Ancestral and natural worship: The Nagas believe that failing to please the spirits of their ancestors can cause misfortune in the family as well as in the village. Reverence for them is appreciated and their spirits are well honored with sacrifices and offerings. Apart from this nymph, the Nagas perform natural worship also. Natural worship includes worship of lesser spirits and deities who are said to dwell in the natural objects such as rock, river, tree, tiger, snake etc. In fact, these objects are some of the religious symbols in the minds of the Nagas. It is said that these spirits are usually malevolent looking for destruction upon the people. Therefore, the Nagas live with fear of these spirits around them and worship them with sacrifices and offerings in order that they may be away from the punishment and misfortune.
iii.      Priests and witchcrafts: In the Naga society, the local priests play a very important role. They are well regarded as of good and respected with a high reverence. Priesthood is hereditary but for some it is not so. However, a person to be a priest must be the one who is morally upright in the society. Priests play several roles in the religious life of the Nagas. They are sometimes spiritists, doctors, magicians, ritual performers and so on. The Nagas depend on these priests in times of sickness, problems and misfortune. They usually interpret dreams, omens and prophecies. It is said that they can even foretell some events such as war, raids, fortune, death, etc. They practice necromancy and act as intermediary between the two worlds: visible and invisible.
      Witchcraft is not uncommon among the Nagas. These practitioners are considered as of bad who harm other fellow beings. They are always condemned in the society. It is said that these witchcrafts do not practice willingly but it is hereditary which they cannot avoid passed down from their ancestral. They especially harm the spirits of the people during new moon and full moon periods as to sustain their life. It is said that during these periods, they are restless and their blood gets boiling unless they harm people. However, these practitioners are always a target of hatred and revenge in the society. In some tribes, the neighbors usually excommunicate them from the village or else get rid of them when they harm any of their fellow beings. When they die, they are not buried in the same cemetery.
iv.      Ceremonies, rites and sacrifices: Ceremonies, rites and sacrifices are intrinsic part of the religious life of the Nagas. These are an attempt to comprehend the natural phenomena. The Nagas try to understand the mysterious natural phenomena that surround them in a simple and possible way without much scientific systematization. Hence, ceremonies, rites and sacrifices are considered a means to grasp the chaotic world order.
    Ceremonies are varied according to the occasions such as birth ceremony, naming ceremony, marriage ceremony, death ceremony, etc. Rites and sacrifices are prescribed by the priests. Sometimes these are also done individually without the help of the priest. The villagers perform these rites and sacrifices in order that they may have good health, long life, good harvest and prosperity to their families, clans, village and generation as well. The objects of sacrifice are especially domestic animals such as rooster, dog, and pig and so on. However, no human sacrifice is found or heard among the Nagas any case apart from myth saying.[1]
v.      Life after death: Belief in life after death is also very common among the Nagas. The Nagas see human being as a dichotomic being having both material and immaterial aspects viz. body and spirit. The deceased spirits are migrated to the abode of death. The abode of death has two places one for the good and the other for the bad or heaven and hell in Christian parlance. The people who are morally upright, who perform all the required duties  and practice justice while living on the earth are said to enter the abode of the righteous but  those bad ones are not allowed to enter the abode. They are restless having no peace and they remain as evil spirits that try to harm people around. They continue to live in the state of suffering, curse and miserable condition. It is believed that the dead souls also need some basic elements for survival in the land of the dead. Therefore, during funeral the deceased family members have to kill animals, put shawls, clothes and items that the dead person had used while s/he was alive. Failing of which the dead soul would keep reminding them to do soon. There is also a prevalent belief that the dead souls could be transformed into a living being such as bird, butterfly, tiger, grasshopper, etc. Thus, the Nagas conceive the unknown world in their mind and try to project it in their own way.

A word to summarize: "The Nagas followed their indigenous belief system and tried to comprehend the chaotic world order without much emphasis on metaphysical realm even though they fear the unknown powers that are around them. However, they were in need of someone who would properly give them a real freedom and eternal life, which is beyond human effort but found only in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world." A. Makury.



[1] Some of the Naga tribes like Ao and Makury Nagas believe that once upon a time there was a great flood that no power could stop it but covered almost all the earth killing many people. Finally, at the request of the priest the Chief of the village had to sacrifice his only daughter to appease the god of that flood as they were about to be carried away the gigantic flood. Apart from such saying, no practical human sacrifice has been heard of among the Nagas.