Donyi-Poloism taking roots in Arunachal Pradesh


The prayer of Donyi-Polo rent the air this morning reminding me today being  Sunday is weekly day to pray the almighty in Naharlagun E-Sector’s. Kargu Gamgi by the believers. I drews towards the sacred place where priest Yayik Hai was busy in worshipping Donyi-Polo while Karjum Angu chanting the hymns.

Donyi-Poloism, the indigenous religion of the Tani and other Tibeto-Burman peoples ofArunachal Pradesh, is symbolized by  ‘Donyi’ and ‘Polo’ means ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’.  The name was chosen to revitalize and institutionalize to protect it from the onslaught of modernity and other outside religions, pioneered by Golgi Bote Talom Rukbo in 1964.

The gradual erosion of state’s indigenous identity and traditions was attributed to the impacts of foreign culturea since 1950s threatening the time tested rich cultural mosaic for which Rukbo was instrumental in conceiving the idea of  an umbrella to bring all Tibeto-Burman folks to have a common identity with values for a meaningful life.

This rejuvenation movement resulted in the roots branching out to strengthen the faith further.  Donyi-Poloism, a religion that makes no distinction, is more relevant in the present day context as its believers pray for the greater welfare of the entire humanity while practicing the much needed tolerance towards other cultures. The religion is unique as women priesta (nyibus) are equally revered unlike  other religions.

Rukbo, known as father of Donyi-Poloism for institutionalization of the Tibeto-Burman folk religion, believed that the main reason of the easy erosion of the traditional culture was that it lacked a written literature. Thus, prayers and hymns were composed to recover and revitalize the endangered rituals. His conviction was: Tradition means the way of living of a society practicing its socio-religious culture, economic life, the way of preserving history, literature and all other norms of social life inherited from time immemorial which may be called social character and identity.

Three major cultural organisations were founded by 1986, namely Tani Jagriti Foundation, the Donyi-Polo Youth Federation and the Donyi-Polo Yelam Kebang while many Adi and Tani intellectuals reflected Rukbo’s ideas, and these gradually spread across the tribes and even beyond the Tani people. Thus, December 31, the day when Donyi-Polo Yelam Kebang (DPYK) was set up, is celebrated annually as Donyi-Polo Day.

Since then, temple areas (gangging), a sacred enclosure popularised by the DPYK since 1996, have been consecrated, religious literature and prayer hymns have been collected and published. To meet the growing number of adherents in the revival, the DPYK had introduced orientation courses, twice a year, to train groups of youth to send back with books and icons to their native villages to encourage people to construct temples and conduct prayers. This spiritual revival movement spread all over the state.

Justifying the adage –Loss of culture is loss of identity – the indigenous people, being nature worshipers, have given different names to their religions and places of worships, like Donyi-Polo (Dere) by the Galos since 2000s; nyedar namlo (pure place) by the Nyishis since early 2000s; Danyi-Piilo (meder nello) by the Apatanis since 2004, Rang-fraism by Tangsas, and Intayaism by Mishmis of Changlang and Diabng Valley districts. Other names are Kine NaneDoying Bote,  Pedong Nane and Guumin Soyin. The instituionlisation resulted in conduct of prayers at the sacred places every Sundays with chanting of hymns by the priests (nyibus).

The Donyi-Polo believers’ prayer echoed and perhaps joined with the same sound of their Red Indian counterparts, to reestablish the fact mitakuye oyasin (we all are related) and that Arunachalees are a global community.

“Culture is our identity and if it is lost, our identity is lost,” they reemphasized again to drive home the message that indigenous faith is the mother of all religions as has been proved across the world.

Their wisdom reminded me of mitakuye oyasin, the outcome of the International Conference of World Elders of Ancient Traditions and Culture, conducted at Jaipur during February 5 to 10, 2006. Fulbright scholar Vijay Swami, Tashi Tom from Tawang and Willa Namchoom from Chowkham,  who were among 250 delegates from 42 countries spread across five continents and representing 257 traditions, were astonished to find striking similarities in dresses, ornaments, food habits and rituals.

“Yes, we belong to the world community as nature worshippers despite the geographical barriers but  are the same across the world,” was the admiring comment of Donyi-Polo believer Dr Joram Begi.

Swami, in his article ‘Continuing traditions in developed nation’ wrote that there are about three billon people, called Native Americans, who live in a typical traditional style in the high-tech, tip-top, eye-catching modern America. Their lifestyle has been uniquely blended with the modern world without affecting in any way their age old culture, value system and sometimes even their dress and hairstyle. They have great pride and respect for what they are and the White Americans too appreciate them with dignity. This has been well projected in various museums in Philadelphia and Washington DC through displays, pictures and documentaries.

Jolene Rickrd, guest curator, has rightly put it in 2004 and displayed in National Museum of American Indians that “Claiming our future on our own terms-that is self determination. Self determination means control of our lives and our land, knowing our traditions and understanding our relationships to each other, insisting on our right to be who we are. We know that our future depends on integrating traditional knowledge with the modern world. One without the other is a  world out of balance.”

Arunachalee communities as such do not need any interference from outside in any way in their faith, traditions, customs and practices. If Native Americans, living in America itself, could keep their traditions intact today in spite of displacement and intimidation, it is not too late for the Arunachalees, believes Swami.

Since Rukbo represented Donyi-Polo Mission (DPM) at the Interventional Association for Religious Freedom Congress (IARFC) in 1984 and 1985 and at its Bangalore meeting in 1986 and pleaded for recognition of Donyi-Poloism as a full-fledged religion, the indigenous renaissance has reached the length and breadth of the state with numerous dersekargu gamgis, nyedar namlos, meder nellos, holy places of  Rang-Fra springing up. There were 400 kargu gamgis and 128 Rang-Fra centres till 2009. When contacted Trade & Commerce Parliamentary Secretary Phosum Khimhun, a Rang-Fra believer himself, confirmed that the indigenous faith movement has been gaining ground.

Moreover, it was state’s senior IAS officer Hage Kojeen, who on behalf of DPM, had attended an International Religious Freedom Congress at Seoul in South Korea during August 2-10, 1996, representing Donyi-Poloism to draw global attention about the social significance and value of this indigenous faith.

Delegates from different nations during deliberations had hailed Donyi-Poloism as a universal religion, Kojeen recalled while talking to this editor today.

The Vishwa Hindu Parisahd (VHP) working for the cause of save treditional culture and identity of local Arunachalees since its inception has so far distributed 10,000 Donyi-Polo flags.

Donyi (Sun) and Polo (Moon), representing  female and male in the tradition, is called Ane Donyi (Mother Sun) and Abo Polo (Father Moon), the analogy through which the Divinity (Sedi) can be described, representing the way in which the divine principle manifests itself, ie, eternally veiling, unveiling and then revealing himself in nature; providing harmony and balance to the universe, for example in alternation of light and darkness, heat and cool, or unity (analogically, the Sun of the daily sky) and multiplicity (analogically, the stars of the night sky).

The practical expression of Donyi-Polo faith can be found in daily life and actions of people as they call themselves “Donyi O, Polo Ome“, means “children of the sun and the moon” while a believer in distress invokes DonyiPolo. Such expressions of Donyi-Polo faith upholds providently the world, rewarding the righteous and punishing wrong-doers. The divine pair is revered as the highest holy figure governing fate. Donyi-Polo, used in the sense of “truth” in sacral speech, is an epitome for wisdom, enlightenment, right conscience, truthfulness, and selflessness. People with wisdom are called “DonyiPolo Ome” (children of truth) while elders are regarded as “DonyiPolo Abu” (representatives of the truth).

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