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Explained: What Is Bathou, The Religion Of The Bodos In Assam

A lack of theological texts, no idol worship and a complete absence of written history – yet survived since centuries on oral literature and mythological tales. 

This is Bathou, the traditional religion followed by the Bodo (pronounced Boro) community of Assam. 

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

India truly has no lack of diversity, and the little-known Bathou religion only goes to show the same. 

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The Bodo community of Assam 

The Bodos, a group of people speaking Tibeto-Burmese language, are the largest minority group in Assam. Concentrated in the northern areas of the Brahmaputra River valley, the Bodos consist of a large number of tribes such as the Kachari, Rabha, Garo, Mech.

Theyhave a distinctive culture, food and customs compared to the rest of the State. 


Bodos are spread all over North-east India as well as Nepal and Bangladesh, but they are predominant in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts of Assam.

Deep Philosophical Thought

The Boros of Assam: Ethnography, Culture and Customary Law states that the Bathou is a blend of religious faiths, philosophical ideas and guiding principles for Boro people. In the Bodo language, ‘ba’ means five and ‘thou’ means deep/ philisophical thought. Thus, Bathou consists of five principles or elements namely, Bar (Air), San (Sun), Ha (Earth), Or (Fire) and Okhrang (Sky). 

This religion is centred round the worship of Bathoubwrai or Sibwrai. i.e the supreme god of the Bodos. It is polytheistic as other Gods and Goddesses are also worshipped. 

 Followers of Bathou do not worship any idol, instead the divine qualities of the Supreme Being is believed to be reflected through the five basic elements.   

‘Animistic’ roots of Bathou

Animism (n): the belief that plants, objects and natural things such as the weather have a living soul. 

Sidney Endle in his book The Kachari, published in 1911, asserted that the Bathou religion “is “Animistic”, believing in animals, earth, air, water, trees etc having spirits which they usually called, “Modai”- all possessing powers and faculties.” 

However, other scholars strongly believe that the religion is not animistic – as they worship ‘Bathou’ as the Supreme God. 


The Sijou tree 

At the centre of Bathou religion is the Sijou tree (belonging to the Euphorbia genus) which is placed on an altar and worshipped as an ultimate symbol of the Supreme God. 


Bodos plant the sijou tree on an elevated altar encircled with a bamboo fencing of eighteen pairs of posts weaved with five pieces of bamboo split. The five bamboo strips signify the five bindings of Bathou, viz.
(i) birth,
(ii) marriage or procreation,
(iii) sorrow,
(iv) happiness and
(v) death.
At the time of planting the Sijou tree on the altar, a stone and an egg are placed below the tree, the former symbolizing firmness of their religion and the latter symbolizing fertility. 

Significance of five 

A study of the Asian Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies on the Bathou Religion of Bodos writes on the significance of the five in Bathouism. 

The Euphorbia splendens (sijou tree) is characterized by five ridges which correspond to five elements of creation and represent truth, knowledge, power, beauty and goodness. 

Bathouism is also based on five moral and spiritual messages, namely (i) messages on holy realization, (ii) messages on holy practice (iii) messages on love (iv) messages on truth and (v) messages on hatred. 

Attempt to achieve separate religious status 

In 1992 The All Bathou Religious Union (ABRU), an organization, was formed to revitalize Bathouism and propagate its religious preachings across the world.
The Speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly, Biswajeet Daimary said that the Bathou religion had its own religious practice, tradition and beliefs and the civilization of the Bodos emanated from it. 

The leaders of Bathouism have moved the Registrar General of India for a separate religious identity.       

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