The Gonds are one of the most famous and important tribes in India, known for their unique customs and traditions. They are mainly a nomadic tribe and call themselves as Koytoria. The term ‘Gond’ is derived from the Telugu word ‘Konda’ which means hill. Gond Tribes are primarily located in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, eastern Maharashtra, northern Andhra Pradesh and western Orissa. With a population of over 4 millions, Gonds also form the largest tribal group in central India. In Chhattisgarh, Gonds are the largest tribal group in terms of population and are mainly concentrated in the southern part of the state. More than 20 % of Gonds in Chhattisgarh live in Bastar region only. There are 3 major sub-castes of Gonds in Bastar – Maria, Muria and Dorla.
The Gonds are predominantly Hindus and like to live to live in groups in small villages. The main language of the Gonds is Gondi but about half of Gond populations also speak Indo-Aryan dialects including Hindi. The Gonds are traditionally agriculturalists and some practice shifting cultivation even today. Other major activities of Gonds include collecting forest produce, fishing, hunting, forging metal goods in cottage industries and other primary sector activities. Gonds also have a special skill that has been passed down every generation and that is the secrets of the medicine plants. As there are no proper health facilities in several areas, they still follow the traditional system of medicines and use plants and herbs for curing various ailments. Gonds are also known for practicing social hierarchy system like Hindus and the Gond society is regarded as highly stratified and not conforming to the usual image of egalitarianism among tribals.
But, the Gonds have gained enormous popularity for their unique and distinct social customs and traditions and have become the subject of great interest among sociologists and researchers all over the world. They prefer marriages within the blood relations mostly according to Hindu rites and customs. Sometimes mock elopements are also arranged. Divorces, remarriages, widow marriages, marriages with the wives of the brothers and between brothers and sisters are common. One of the unique characteristics of the Gonds marriages is that the groom has to pay bridal price to the father of the girl and in this way the system gives respect and power to women in the society. Other most popular practice among Gonds of Bastar is the ‘Ghotul’ system. In this system, the unmarried young boys and girls live together in separately made huts and allowed to intermingle and practice everything they desire. During this period they interact and enjoy themselves by participating in dancing, music, local story telling and much more in a drunken mood. If everything is fine and both of them are happy, they can get out of the Ghotul and marry. The Ghotul system is mainly practiced among the Muria Gonds and the origin of this system is related with their goddess ‘Lingopan’.
Over the years, several of the tribal communities have settled down in safe haven ievery corner in quite large numbers. Also the Gond tribes identify themselves as `Koytoria`. . Majority of these Gond tribes are adapted to the religion of Hinduism and are mainly concentrated in the rural areas.
If one traces out the origin of the word Gond, one finds it no difficulty to find out the fact that this has been taken from the Telugu word `Konda` which signifies hill. Also there are several surveys that have been carried on the region, which has thrown some light on the total population of the Gond tribes. It has been enumerated to be more than four million thus making the Gond tribes the largest tribal community of the Central India.
In order to carry on conversation, these Gond tribes have developed fluency in the beautiful Gondi language. Quite a handful of these Gond tribes also converse with each other in numerous dialects of the Indo – Aryan language family. Hindi is also quite popular amongst these Gond tribes.
Following the tradition of several other tribal communities of the Indian subcontinent, these Gond tribes too have adapted certain occupation in order to meet the basic necessities of their day-to-day living. I
n general these Gond tribes are the cultivators Some of these Gond tribes even exercise shifting cultivation till date. Other chief occupations of these Gond tribes are namely gathering forest products, hunting, fishing, and devising metal goods in cottage industries and other prime arenas of the Gond society. When one loses her husband, the Gond widow can get married to the younger brother and it is also not necessary, he need to be always married. She also can marry the elder brother of the deceased husband or any one else. Do
wry system is also prevalent amongst this Gond tribal community. Gond tribes acquired the knowledge of making medicine from several herbs and plants, which also down the years, have been passed on to the next generation. In fact till today due to the absence of health amenities of the modern times, this Gond tribal community follows the customary medicinal system. Utilization of the plants and herbs are made in order to cure several diseases.
The whole of the Gond society has a rich heritage of culture as highlighted in several of cultural elements. If one dissects the whole of the Gond tribal society , one can find the presence of few sub castes . Important ones are namely Maria, Muria and Dorla . Like any of the Hindus, these Gond tribes practice the system of social hierarchy. In fact the Gond society is considered to be highly stratified and not conform to the values of equalitarianism amongst themselves.
However, whatever traditions this Gond tribal community is following has gained high acclamation amongst all the researchers and anthropologists of the whole country. In the matters of marriages, these Gond tribes have a preference for going for blood relations as per rules of several of the rituals and practices of Hindus.
At times `mock elopements` are also approved. Other common practices of these Gond tribes are divorce, remarriage, widow marriage, marriages with the wives of the brothers and between brothers and sisters. The Gond tribal community has exercised a special rite. According to this ritual, the groom has to pay bridal price to the father of the prospective bride. This is a mark of showing respect to the females of the Gond community. There are also some other unique systems that have been developed by the Gond tribes. `Ghotul` system is a famous one that has been widely accepted by most people of this Gond tribal community.
As per the norms of the system, although the unmarried young men and women of the Gond community reside in separate houses, they have got the permission to mingle and do everything they want. During this whole period they interact and take pleasure in dancing, music, local story telling and much more in quite a frenzied mood. Interestingly, if they find themselves to be compatibly and can nicely gel with each other, these Gond male and female can get out of the Ghotul and go for marriage. This practice is specially prevalent amongst the Muria Gonds and the origination of the whole system is connected to the goddess `Lingopan`, whom these Gond tribes revere in great veneration.