Orissa offers a kaleidoscope of sensitive visuals and natural landscapes for her ancient cultural heritage. Karma Puja in Orissa is still another tribal festival where Sanskrit elements are found. It is observed by both caste-Hindus as well as tribal people. It can be placed closer to the ideal tribal tradition. The incorporation of tribal deities into the Hindu fold may be viewed as tribalization. But the degree of incorporation is directly linked with the amount of Sanskrit elements in these deities. Karma puja in Orissa is more a tribal festival but also is well within the fold of the Sambalpuri folk tradition.
In this festival, the presiding deity is either 'Karam', a God or 'Karamsani', a Goddess who is represented with a branch of Karam tree. Its celebration takes place in the bright half of the month of Bhadrab (August-September) during the rainy season. Mostly, it is held on the eleventh day of the bright fortnight. In the ritual, people go the jungle accompanied by groups of drummers and cut one or more branches of Karam tree.
The branches are mostly carried by unmarried young girls who sing in praise of the deity. Then the branches are brought to the village and planted in the centre of a ground which is plastered with cow-dung and decorated with flowers. Then the tribal-priest (Jhankar or Dehuri) offers germinated grams and liquor in propitiation to the deity who grants wealth and children. A fowl is also killed and the blood is offered to the branch. Then, he narrates a legend to the villagers about the efficacy of Karma puja. The legends vary from tribe to tribe.
Once upon a time there were seven brothers. They were busy in agriculture work. Once it so happened that their wives did not bring the lunch for them. In the evening they returned home without food and found that their wives were dancing and singing near a branch of the Karam tree in the court yard. This made them angry and one of them lost temper. He snatched the Karam branch and threw it into the river. The Karam deity was thus insulted as a result of which the economic condition of their family went on deteriorating. One day a Brahman (priest) came to them.
On hearing their story, the Brahman told them that the Karam Rani was angry and she must be appeased. The seven brothers then left the village in search of the Karam Rani. They kept on moving from place to place and one day they found it and performed the Karma puja. Thereafter their economic condition started improving. The message of the puja conveys, since the entire economy of the adivasis was dependent on land, water and forest, trees that sustain the environment must be worshipped.
Karma Puja in Orissa is an endeavour to show the transformation of a cultural element of the tribal society occurs in the form of its absorption into the regional Hindu society. The transformed cultural item may be placed with a distinct position, in the existing cultural hierarchy. The relation between the caste-Hindus and tribals remain unchanged despite the fact that tribals and Hindus may celebrate tribal festivals and vice-versa.