Gondi people

The Gondi (Gōndi) or Gond or Koitur[3] are an Indian ethnic group. They speak the Gondi language which belongs to Dravidian language family. They are one of the largest tribal groups in India.[4] They are spread over the states of Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra (Vidarbha),[5] 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.[6] They are an Adivasi group (indigenous people) of India[7]

The Gondi language is closely 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 the broader languages of the region they live in.[8]

According to the 1971 census, their population was 5.01 million. By the 1991 census, this had increased to 9.3 million[9][page needed] 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.[10] Gondi people, at the behest of the Chhattisgarh government, and at cost of corpotare sponsorships formed the Salwa Judum, an armed militant group to fight the Naxalite insurgency; But Salwa Judam was disbanded by order of Supreme court on 5th July 2011 [11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

The first historical references from the Gonds comes from Muslim writers in the 14th century.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 AD.

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 Kalchuri rulers in the early 14th century. Afterwards the kingdoms of Kherla and Deogarh were founded. Mandla is particularly well-known for their 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 were deposed and the Gond Rajas were simply under Mughal hegemony.[12] The Maratha power swept into Gondwana in the 1740s. The Marathas overthrew the Gond Rajas (princes) and seized most of their territory, while some Gond zamindaris (estates) survived until the advent of Indian independence.[14]

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.[15]

The Gond are also known as the Raj Gond. The term was widely used in the 1950s, but has now become almost obsolete, probably because of the political eclipse of the Gond Rajas.[9][page needed]

Many astronomical ideas were known to ancient Gonds.[16] 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.[a]

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.[18] At present, the language is only spoken by one fifth of Gonds and is dying out even in its traditional linguistic range.[citation needed]

Most Gonds follow their hindu religion, which retains the animist beliefs of nature, and ancestor worship.[19][20][21] Some Gonds also practice Sarnaism.[22] Pola, a cattle festival, Phag, and Dassera are some of their major festivals.[20]

In Gond folk(hindu) religion, adherents worship a high god known as Baradeo, whose alternate names are Bhagavan, Sri Shambu Mahadeo, and Persa Pen. Baradeo oversees activities of lesser gods such as clan and village deities, as well as ancestors.[20] Baradeo is respected but he does not receive fervent devotion, which is shown only to clan and village deities, ancestors, and totems.[23] 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.[24]

Like village deity worship in South India, Gonds believe their small 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.[25]

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 carry an image of Ravana riding an elephant in a procession to worship him, and protest the burning of Ravana's effigies.[b][26][27]

The Gonds venerate plants and animals, especially the Saja tree. In some places, death is associated with a saja 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. Seoni gonds 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.[25]

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.[25]

Their typical reaction to death has been described as one of anger, because Gonds believe death is caused magically, by demons.[28] Gonds usually bury their dead, but their kings usually cremated as per Vedic practices. Increasing Brahminical influence has meant that 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.[citation needed]

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.[29]

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.[30] As of 2017, that tribal designation applies only to certain districts, not the entire state.[31] The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh showed the Scheduled Caste Gond population as 21,992.[32]

This article includes material from the 1995 public domain Library of Congress Country Study on India.