Gondi people

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Gondi people
Women in adivasi village, Umaria district, India.jpg
Gondi women in Umaria district
Total population
c. 13 million [1]
Regions with significant populations
Madhya Pradesh 5,093,124 [1]
Chhattisgarh 4,298,404 [1]
Maharashtra 1,618,090 [1]
Odisha 888,581 [1]
Uttar Pradesh 569,035 [1]
Andhra Pradesh (undivided)304,537 [1]
Bihar 256,738 [1]
Karnataka 158,243 [1]
Jharkhand 53,676 [1]
West Bengal 13,535 [1]
Gujarat 2,965 [1]
Gondi • Regional languages
Hinduism (as mentioned in the 2011 census) [2]
Related ethnic groups
Dravidian peopleMuria peopleMadia Gond

The Gondi (Gōndi) or Gond or Koitur [3] are an Indian ethnic group. They speak the Gondi language which is a Dravidian language. 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 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. [8] [ page needed ] 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. [9]

According to the 1971 census, their population was 5.01 million. By the 1991 census, this had increased to 9.3 million [8] [ 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, formed the Salwa Judum, an armed militant group to fight the Naxalite insurgency. [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-Mandla, 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]


Pictographic depiction of a Gond lady. Gond lady.jpg
Pictographic depiction of a Gond lady.

Many astronomical ideas were known to ancient Gonds. [15] 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. [lower-alpha 1]


Most Gonds follow their folk religion, which retains the animist beliefs of nature, and ancestor worship. [17] [18] [19] Some Gonds also practice Sarnaism. [20] Pola, a cattle festival, Phag, and Dassera are some of their major festivals. [18]

In Gond folk 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. [18] Baradeo is respected but he does not receive fervent devotion, which is shown only to clan and village deities, ancestors, and totems. [21] 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. [22]

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. [23]

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. [lower-alpha 2] [24] [25]

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. [23]

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. [23]

Their typical reaction to death has been described as one of anger, because Gonds believe death is caused magically, by demons. [26] 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. [27]

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. [28] As of 2017, that tribal designation applies only to certain districts, not the entire state. [29] The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh showed the Scheduled Caste Gond population as 21,992. [30]

See also


  1. The Banjaras and Kolams are also known to have knowledge of astronomy. [16]
  2. 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.

[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

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Gondwana is a region of India, named after the Gondi people who live there. The name of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland was derived from Gondwana, because some of the earliest rock formations of this continent were first investigated in part of the region, in modern Odisha.

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Korku people

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Baiga tribe

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Gondi language South-Central-Dravidian language spoken by the Gondi people

Gondi (Gōndi) s a South-Central Dravidian language, spoken by about two million Gondi people, chiefly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, and by small minorities in neighbouring states. Although it is the language of the Gond people, only one fifth of Gonds can speak the language, making it vulnerable to extinction. Gondi has a rich folk literature, examples of which are marriage songs and narrations.

Verrier Elwin was a British-born Indian anthropologist, ethnologist and tribal activist, who began his career in India as a Christian missionary. He first abandoned the clergy, to work with Mohandas Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, then converted to Hinduism in 1935 after staying in a Gandhian ashram, and split with the nationalists over what he felt was an overhasty process of transformation and assimilation for the tribals. Verrier Elwin is best known for his early work with the Baigas and Gonds of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in central India, and he married a 13 year old member of one of the communities he studied. He later also worked on the tribals of several North East Indian states especially North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and settled in Shillong, the hill capital of Meghalaya.

A gotul is a spacious tribal hut surrounded by earthen or wooden walls. It is an integral part of Gond and Muria tribal life in regions of Chhattisgarh and the neighboring areas in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in India. It is a place for youths, an independent and autonomous "children’s republic" as described by Verrier Elwin. The gotul is central to social and religious life in Gond society. According to Gond legend, Lingo, the supreme deity, created the first gotul.

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The Gunjala Gondi lipi or Gunjala Gondi script is a script used to write the Gondi language, a Dravidian language spoken by the Gond people of northern Telangana, eastern Maharashtra, southeastern Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Approximately a dozen manuscripts in the script were recovered from Gunjala, a Gond village in Adilabad district of Telangana by a team of researchers from the University of Hyderabad, led by Professor Jayadheer Tirumala Rao. The script and preliminary font were unveiled in early 2014.

Gondwana Kingdom was the ruling kingdom in Gondwana region of India. The Gondwana region includes core region of eastern part of the Vidarbha of Maharashtra, the parts of Madhya Pradesh immediately to the north of it, and parts of the west of Chhattisgarh. The wider region extends beyond these, also including parts of northern Telangana, western Odisha and southern Uttar Pradesh.

Motiravan Kangali or Moti Ravan Kangale was an Indian linguist and author from the Gond community. He is known for his work on the origins and development of the Gondi language, and particularly for his creation of a script for it. Kangali authored Gondi dictionaries in English, Hindi and Marathi. He also aided efforts for the standardization and preservation of Gondi grammar while authoring several books on Gond society, culture and religion.


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Further reading

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