The Gondi (Gōndi) or Gond or Koitur are a Dravidian ethno-linguistic group. They are one of the largest Adivasi groups in India. They are spread over the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. They are listed as a Scheduled Tribe for the purpose of India's system of positive discrimination.
|c. 13 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Andhra Pradesh and Telangana||304,537|
|Gondi • Regional languages|
|Native: Nature Worship with significant influence from Hinduism,|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Dravidian people • Muria people • Madia Gond|
The Gondi language is related to Telugu. The 2011 Census of India recorded about 2.98 million Gondi speakers, concentrated in southeastern Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra, southern Chhattisgarh and northern Telangana. Most Gonds, however, speak regional languages like Hindi, Odia and Marathi.
According to the 1971 census, their population was 5.01 million. By the 1991 census, this had increased to 9.3 million and by the 2001 census the figure was nearly 11 million. For the past few decades they have been witnesses to the Naxalite–Maoist insurgency in the central part of India. Gondi people, at the behest of the Chhattisgarh government, and at cost of corporate sponsorships formed the Salwa Judum, an armed militant group to fight the Naxalite insurgency; But Salwa Judum was disbanded by order of Supreme court on 5 July 2011.
The origin of the name 'Gond', used by outsiders to refer to the tribe, is still uncertain. Some believe the word to derive from konda, meaning hill, in a similar manner to the Khonds of Odisha. The Gonds themselves call themselves Koitur, which colonial scholars thought related to the Khond self-designation Kui in the same way.
The origins of the Gonds are still in debate. Some have claimed that the Gonds were a collection of disparate tribes that adopted a proto-Gondi language as a mother tongue from a class of rulers, originally speaking various pre-Dravidian languages. Genetic evidence notes extensive gene flow between the Gonds and Munda peoples to the east, but rules out a common origin, instead noting the Gonds and Munda peoples have distinct origins.
R. V. Russel believed the Gonds came into Gondwana from the south: up the Godavari into Vidharbha, and from there they moved up the Indravati into Bastar and up the Wardha and Wainganga into the Satpura Range.
The first historical references from the Gonds comes from Muslim writers in the 14th century. Scholars believe that Gonds ruled in Gondwana, a region extending from what is now eastern Madhya Pradesh to western Odisha and from northern Andhra Pradesh to the southeastern corner of Uttar Pradesh, between the 13th and 19th centuries CE.
The first kingdom of the Gonds was that of Chanda, founded in 1200. Next was the kingdom of Garha, whose founder, Jadurai, deposed the previous Kalachuri rulers in the early 14th century. Afterwards the kingdoms of Kherla and Deogarh were founded. Mandla is particularly well-known for its warrior-queen Rani Durgavati, who fought against Akbar until her death in 1564. The kingdom of Chanda developed extensive irrigation and the first defined revenue system of the Gond kingdoms. These kingdoms were briefly conquered by the Mughals, but eventually the Gond Rajas were restored and were simply under Mughal hegemony. In the 1740s, the Marathas began to attack the Gond rajas, causing both rajas and subjects to flee from the plains to the refuges in the forests and hills. Caste Hindus quickly replaced them. Maratha occupation of the Gond rajas' territory continued until the Third Anglo-Maratha War, when the British took control over the remaining Gond zamindaris and took over revenue collection. The British, who regarded the Gonds as "plunderers" and "thieves" before their takeover, changed their attitude so they saw the Gonds as "timid" and "meek by the mid-19th century. The remaining Gond zamindaris were absorbed into the Indian Union upon independence.
During colonial rule, the Gonds were marginalized by colonial forest management practices. The Bastar rebellion of 1910, better known in the tribal belt as the bhumkal, was a partly-successful armed struggle against colonial forest policy that denied the Madia and Muria Gonds of Bastar, along with other tribes in the region, access to the forest for their livelihoods. In the early 1920s, Komaram Bheem, a Gond leader from Adilabad in Hyderabad state, rebelled against the Nizam and sought a separate Gond raj. It was he who coined the well-known slogan jal, jangal, jameen ("water, forest, land") that has symbolized Adivasi movements since independence.
In 1916, Gondi intellectuals from various parts of Gondwana formed the Gond Mahasabha to protect Gondi culture from the increasing outside influence. The Gond Mahasabha held meetings in 1931 and 1934 to discuss ways to preserve Gond culture from manipulation by outsiders, social norms the Gonds should have and solidarity between the Gonds of different parts of Gondwana. Starting in the 1940s, various Gond leaders agitated for a separate Gondwana state that encompassed the erstwhile territory of Gondwana: especially tribal areas of eastern Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Vidharbha and Adilabad. The demand reached its peak in the early 1950s when Heera Singh founded the Bharatiya Gondwana Sangh to agitate for statehood. Singh held many meetings throughout Gondwana and could mobilize 1 lakh people at his height in 1962-1963, but his movement had died down by the late 1960s and was never taken seriously by the authorities. Other methods of agitation, including petitions and demands by various Gond organisations, were ignored by the state. In the 1990s, Heera Singh Markam and Kausalya Porte founded the Gondwana Ganatantra Party to fight for statehood.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork and oral narratives and history, as per the Gond myth, there are three kinds of Gonds - the Sur Gonds, the Nand Gonds and the Raj Gonds. The Raj Gonds descend from the elder sister hence they are the eldest in the hierarchy of their clans. The Raj Gonds are well educated, have landholdings, and are wealthier than the other Gonds.
Gond society is divided into several exogamous patrilineal units known as sagas. The number depends on the region: with Gonds in the hills of Madhya Pradesh and the northern Nagpur plain having only two and those of the southern Nagpur plain and Adilabad having four. In Adilabad, these sagas are called Yerwen, Sarwen, Siwen and Nalwen, whose names refer to the number of ancestors for that saga. In Adilabad there is a fifth saga: Sarpe saga, which for marriage purposes is linked with Sarwen although their origin myths are different. According to Gond mythology, each saga once lived in a single village but soon moved out and established their own villages. The names of these ancestral villages are preserved in culture and sometimes identified with present-day locations. The number of ancestors for each saga is a symbol of the saga, and on many ceremonial and ritual occasions the number of involved animals, people, actions or objects corresponds to that saga's number.
The saga exists mostly in the sphere of ritual, and has no real political or organizational significance. The most visible sign of saga consciousness is in the worship of Persa Pen, although this worship is mainly at the clan level. All worshippers of the same Persa pen see themselves as agnatically related and so any intermarriage or sexual relations between them is forbidden. Gonds use the term soira to refer to sagas whose members they can marry.
Each saga is regarded as performing actions essential to the society as a whole. During ceremonies and ritual events, the saga becomes important for determining roles in the proceedings. For instance, in worship of a clan's Persa pen, the clan priest is involved in sacrifice while two members of a soira saga to the celebrating clan dress the idol and cook the sacrificial food. During certain parts of Gond festivals, participants divide into saga or soira. And for serving the sacrificial meal at Persa Pen, members of each saga seat separately and are served in order of which their ancestors emerged from the cave in their origin story. However all saga have equal status in Gond society. Members of each saga work cooperatively in issues affecting their relationship with other sagas, such as negotiations about bride price in marriage. In addition, for ritual purposes, any person can be replaced by a person from the same age, generation and saga. So for instance in a marriage where for instance the brides' parents are not present, a couple from the same saga as the bride can stand in for the bride's parents in the ritual. This applies also to the relations between Gonds and Pardhans: if a Pardhan of the same clan is not found, then a Pardhan belonging to a different clan in the same saga can be brought in as a suitable replacement.
Subdivided in the saga is the pari, or clan, the main unit of organisation of Gond society. In each saga the number of clans is determined by the number of ancestors of that saga. The clans of a saga are arranged by precendence in when they emerged from the cave in the Gond creation story. This precendence regulates behaviour during some rituals, for instance during the First Fruit festival, all members of a saga eat at the seniormost member of the seniormost pari of the saga represented in the village. Group relations between senior and junior pari are based on relations between older and younger brothers. For instance, members of a senior pari cannot marry a widow from a junior pari, since it is seen as analogous to the marriage between elder brother and a younger brother's wife. Clans generally have names relating to specific plants. Some common pari include Tekam, Uikey, Markam, Dhurwe and Atram.
Each clan is divided into several parallel lineages called kita. Each of these kita has a specific ritual function within Gond society: for instance the katora kita is the only kita which presides over the worship of Persa Pen. Kita in some clans use Maratha titles like Deshmukh, bestowed on certain Gond chiefs. The kita functions only in the ritual sphere. Sometimes the clans are also divided into khandan, or subclans, which are generally organic in nature. Each khandan is like a mini-clan, in that it has its own set of ritual objects for worship of Persa Pen, and is formed when a group in a pari including a katora decide to set up a new centre for worship of Persa Pen. Eventually this group becomes solidified into a khandan.
Many astronomical ideas were known to ancient Gonds. Gonds had their own local terms for the Sun, Moon, Milky Way, and constellations. Most of these ideas were basis for their time-keeping and calendrical activities.
The Gondi language is spoken by almost 30 lakh Gonds: mainly in the southern area of their range. This area encompasses southeastern districts of Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra, northern Telganana and southern Chhattisgarh (mainly in Bastar division). The language is related to Telugu. In the early 20th century, the language was spoken by 15 lakhs: around half their population at the time, the rest having shifted to other regional languages. Then also almost the entire population was bilingual. At present, the language is only spoken by one fifth of Gonds and is dying out even in its traditional linguistic range.
Majority of Gond people still follow their traditions of nature worship, but like many other tribes in India, their religion has had significant influence from Hinduism. The name of the native Gond religion is Koyapunem, which was founded by Pari Kupar Lingo. Some Gonds also practice Sarnaism. Pola, a cattle festival, Phag, and Dassera are some of their major festivals.
In Gond folk tradition, adherents worship a high god known as Baradeo, whose alternate names are Bhagavan, Kupar Lingo, Badadeo, and Persa Pen. Baradeo oversees activities of lesser gods such as clan and village deities, as well as ancestors. Baradeo is respected but he does not receive fervent devotion, which is shown only to clan and village deities, ancestors, and totems. These village deities include Aki Pen, the village guardian and the anwal, the village mother goddess, a similar paradigm to folk traditions of other Dravidian peoples. Before any festival occurs these two deities are worshipped. Each clan has their own persa pen, meaning "great god." This god is benign at heart, but can display violent tendencies. However these tendencies are reduced when a pardhan, a bard, plays a fiddle.
Three people are important in Gond religious ceremonies: the baiga (village priest), the bhumka (clan priest), and the kaser-gaita (leader of the village).
As Kupar Lingo, the high god of the Gonds is depicted as a clean-shaven young prince wearing a trident-shaped crown, the munshul, which represents the head, heart, and body. There are many shrines to Kupar Lingo in Gondwana, as he is revered as an ancestral hero.
According to the Gond religion, their ancestor Rupolang Pahandi Pari Kupar Lingo was born as the son of the chief Pulsheev, during the reign of Sambhu-Gaura several thousand years ago. Kupar Lingo became the ruler of the Koya race and established the Gondi Punem, a code of conduct and philosophy that the Gondi practice. He gathered thirty-three disciples to teach the Gondi Punem to the distant lands of the koyamooree.
A principle in the Gond religion is munjok, which is non-violence, cooperation, and self-defense. Another part of Gond belief is salla and gangra, which represents action and reaction, similar to karma in Hinduism. To prevent people from destroying themselves in conflict and discord, they are supposed to live under the Phratrial society. Among the beliefs for the Phratrial society include the need to defend the community from enemies, working together and being in harmony with nature, and being allowed to eat animals (but not the animal representing a totem).
Like village deity worship in South India, Gonds believe their clan and village deities have the capability of possession. The person being possessed by the spirit ceases to have any responsibility for their actions. Gonds also believe disease is caused by spirit possession.
Many Gonds worship Ravana, whom they consider to be the tenth dharmaguru of their people and the ancestor-king of one of their four lineages. They also worship Kupar Lingo as their supreme deity and their ancestor before Ravana. On Dussehra, the Gondi inhabitants of Paraswadi in Gadchiroli district carry an image of Ravana riding an elephant in a procession to worship him, and protest the burning of Ravana's effigies.
The Gonds venerate plants and animals, especially the Saja tree. In some places, death is associated with a saja (Terminalia elliptica) tree. Stones representing souls of the dead, or hanals, are kept in a hanalkot at the foot of a saja tree. When there is no specific shrine for the village mother goddess, the saja tree is her abode. In addition, the Penkara, or holy circle of the clan, is under this tree. Gonds in Seoni believe Baradeo lives in a saja tree. The Mahua plant, whose flowers produce a liquor considered purifying, is also revered. In many Gond weddings, the bride and groom circle a post made out of a Mahua tree during the ceremony, and the Gonds of Adilabad perform the first ceremonies of the year when Mahua flowers bloom.
Gonds also believe in rain gods. One early British anthropologist noted how during the pre-Monsoon hunting ceremony, the amount of blood spilled by the animals was indicative of the amount of rain to follow.
The gods are known as pen in singular, and pennoo in plural. Other gods worshipped by the Gonds include:
- Mata Kali Kankali, the ancestral mother of the Gondi forefathers. She is associated with Mahakali.
- Dulha-Pen, the bridegroom god. He is represented by a stone, a man riding a horse, or a battle-axe.
- Gansam, the protector of villages from tigers. He is represented by a stone on the village boundary or a platform and a pole. Animals were sacrificed to him.
- Hardul, the god of weddings.
- Bhivsen or Bhimal, the god of strength and the earth. He is associated with rocks, mountains, and rivers, and certain hills and rocks are considered holy sites of Bhivsen.
- Nat Awal or Dharti Mata, the goddess of fertility.
- Bhum, the earth and the mother of humanity.
- Nat Auwal, the mother goddess of the village. She is invoked when the village partakes in a ceremony, from seasonal rites to prayers against disasters.
- Thakur Deo, the male guardian of the village.
- Hulera-Pen, the protector of cattle.
- Maitya-Pen, the demon of whirlwinds.
- Narayan-Pen, the sun god.
- Kodapen, the horse god.
- Maswasi Pen, the hunting god.
- Kanya, the water spirits.
In addition to these gods, the Gonds worship ancestral deities known as Angadevs. There were seven groups of Angadevs, organised by numbers up to seven, and rescued by Pari Kupar Lingo from the Kachchargardh caves. In one version, there were twenty-eight Angadevs, and in another version, there were thirty-three Angadevs (or Saga Deva).
In the other version, the Angadevs or Saga Deva were the children of the goddess Mata Kali Kankali, after she ate a flower given to her by a sage. They were raised in Raitad Jungo's ashram, and while they were playing, they met the gods Shambu and Gaura. Gaura offered them food, but because they were annoyed by the children's mischief, Shambu and Gaura imprisoned them in the Kachchargardh caves. For twelve years, the children relied on a pond and a mythical bird who provided them food to survive. Kali Kankali pleaded to Shambu to release her children, but he rejected her pleas. Raitad Jungo then asked Pari Kupar Lingo to help him free the children, and Pari Kupar Lingo approached the bard Hirasuka Patalir. Patalir played music on his kingri, and the children were filled with strength to push the boulder blocking the caves from the outside world. Patalir was then crushed by the boulder. Ever since, the Kachchargardh caves became a site of pilgrimage, and Kali Kankali became one of the dharmagurus of the Gondi people.
Their typical reaction to death has been described as one of anger, because Gonds believe death is caused magically, by demons. Gonds usually bury their dead, but their kings usually cremated as per Vedic practices. cremation has become more and more common. With a person were buried their worldly possessions. According to Gond mythology, the dead have an interest in the future of the living, and so the dead are placated so that the living remain prosperous. For the deceased with an unnatural death, the ancestors will invite them to join them as a sacred domestic spirit. Otherwise, they might become an evil spirit.
They are a designated Scheduled Tribe in Andhra Pradesh, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha, and West Bengal.
The Government of Uttar Pradesh had classified the Gondi people as a Scheduled Caste but by 2007, they were one of several groups that the Uttar Pradesh government had redesignated as Scheduled Tribes. As of 2017, that tribal designation applies only to certain districts, not the entire state. The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh showed the Scheduled Caste Gond population as 21,992.
- Komaram Bheem, freedom fighter
- Dalpat Shah, King of Garha
- Hridayshah, King of Garha
- Chakradhar Singh, King of Raigarh State
- Bhajju Shyam, Artist
- Jangarh Singh Shyam, artist
- Venkat Shyam, Artist
- Durga Bai Vyom, Artist
- Motiravan Kangali, Indian linguist and author
- Baburao Shedmake, Indian tribal freedom fighter
In popular culture
Gondi people have been portrayed in Rajkummar Rao starrer movie Newton (film).
- Ajanbahu Jatbasha
- 'Yerlung' means seven, 'sarlung' means six, 'silung' means five and 'nalung' means four in Gondi
- The Banjaras and Kolams are also known to have knowledge of astronomy.
- The Gonds’ worship of Ravana is also a vehicle for resisting pressure from Christian missionaries and right-wing Hindu groups, and to preserve the distinct Gond culture.
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With the exception of those who adopted Islam, or Christianity as their religion, and these are very few, the Gonds belong to the Hindu society..
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gondi people.|
- Gond Tribal Art — Madhya Pradesh, archived from the original on 22 June 2015.
- Gond Tribal Art — Madhya Pradesh.
- Reconstructing the population history of the largest tribe of India: the Dravidian speaking Gond
- Sinlung — Indian tribes.
- Gond – The History.
- « Animating Tribal Art » by Leslie MacKenzie and Tara Douglas with the Pardhan Gond artists, 8:16
- Gond painting 2, 6:54
This article includes material from the 1995 public domain Library of Congress Country Study on India.