Most of us know ‘Gondwana or Gondwanaland.’ It was a supercontinent that existed from 550 million years ago and started to break up during the Jurassic (about 180 million years ago). Gondwana was the world’s first known supercontinent, created by the accretion of several cratons. This supercontinent included South America, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, the Indian Subcontinent, Zealandia, and Arabia. Almost 80% of the world.
However, do you know that the world’s first supercontinent was named after the Gondwana region of central India, which is derived from Sanskrit for the “forest of the Gonds”? Gonds? Gond is the world’s largest known tribe. I recently met an old Gond man who was more than happy to share some of his cultural practices. I researched a bit, verified a few facts, and wrote this article exploring the history, culture & traditions of the Gond Tribe. Let’s explore.
The History of Gonds – A Discussion
While on a long drive on NH-44 (NH-7), a road linking Nagpur with Madhya Pradesh, I paused at a Chai (tea) point for 30 minutes. It was 1:20 AM in the night, the place was colder than I expected it to be, and so I sat around a bonfire beside an old man. Four minutes of Chai-Sutta and silence was followed by a trembling voice when I was about to kill an ant who was crawling on my hands. Sallaha and Gangra – a shaky voice yelled. I stared, a little scared, at the older man, nodding. I let go of the ant and asked him, what does Sallah/Gangra mean? He responded by saying it’s the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
“Karma!” I shouted. That’s what we call it.
“Different language, same culture, same beliefs,” he responded.
“Who are you, I asked?”
“Gond.” He responded.
I took out a pen and my diary, put my laptop on a charge & started researching, reading & discussing the culture of Gonds and Gond Tribes. The old man was happy to help.
Gond Tribe – Origin and Culture
According to historians, The Gond people are those who came into Gondwana from the south (in the pre-historic era): 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. In the Gondwana region, they were mostly a race of hunter-gatherers who practiced pastoral activity and rudimentary agriculture. The baiga (village priest), the bhumka (clan priest), and the kaser-gaita (leader of the village) are the three most important people of Gond ceremonies.
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 Gonds, 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 and installed 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.
Gonds cremate their dead as per Hindu Vedic practice.
Gond and Vedic Practices
Gonds are mostly Hindus and follow traditional Hinduism. People of Gond tribes worship Hindu Gods. Here are some of their gods.
- Hardul, the god of weddings.
- Mata Kali Kankali: Mata Kali Kankali is 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-ax.
- 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. Same as Bhumi in Hinduism
- 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.
- Some Gonds worship Ravana, whom they consider the tenth dharma guru of their people and the ancestor-king of one of their four lineages.
The Pandwani is the Gond equivalent of the Mahabharata, while the Lachmanjati legend is the Gond equivalent of the Ramayana.
Many interesting astronomical ideas were known to ancient Gonds. Gonds had their own local terms for the Moon, Sun, Milky Way, and constellations. Most of these ideas were the basis for their time-keeping and calendrical activities and were related.similar to Hindu Vedic Astronomy. The Gondi language is vividly spoken by almost 3 million (30 lakh) Gonds: primarily in the southern area of their range. This region encompasses the southeastern districts of northern Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra, and southern Chhattisgarh (mainly in the Bastar division).
The language is related to Telugu.