Heritage is a fundamental source of individual and group identity, vitality, and solidarity. Indian tribal community has been a subject of great interest. Everything which the ancestors bequeath may be called heritage— social structure, religious beliefs, cultural aspects, etc.
It is imperative to highlight the socio-cultural nuances of the tribes of India with a special emphasis on the cultural aspects of the Gonds of Central India. According to the 2011 Census, the tribals account for 109 million and represent 8.6 per cent of country’s total population. The Gonds are the largest in number among other tribes of the country.
The social structure of the Gonds is one of the oldest and most unique systems established by their chief preceptor Pahandi Pari Kupar Lingo. This system is still prevalent with its uniqueness despite many interventions by the non-natives.
The community as a wfiole has marched a long way from its primitive stage of social development, while some of its sections have reached a fairly advanced stage of civilisation. They have 750 paadings (clans) and 2250 paadi (totems) and initially 12 saga divisions, which have reduced to four only.
The Gond family is the smallest social unit. An aggregate of families constitutes the clan. The family is a unilateral social group consisting mainly of parents and their children, both male and female. Only unmarried daughtersare regarded as members of the family.
They form a part of their husbands’ family post-marriage. The Gond family is patrilineal and patrilocal.
The social group wider than next to the family in the social structure of the Gond community is the clan. The Gonds use the term ‘pari’ to express their group. The clan among the Gonds is a unilateral group consisted of family members of which bear the same clan-name.
The members of the clan believed that they have been descended from a common ancestor. The clan being patrilineal a man passes on his clan name to his children. It is only the male who automatically takes the patronymic on birth, preserves it till death and it is carried forward by his children.
There are numerous sub-castes known by different names among the Gonds. The Pardhans, Ojhas, Nagarchis, Dholis and others consist of individuals born in a particular sub-caste. The Raj Gonds, Khatola Gonds, Madia Gonds, Dhur Gonds, Dadve Gonds, Mokashi Gonds, Gaita Gonds, Koyas, etc., are all integral in the composed compound community, the Gond. They seem separate but are set out from one and the same social source of Gonds from the ancient past. They are the limbs of the same body inhaling the same breath of faith, culture and custom of the Gondi tradition.
Kinship The order of kinship determined the social relation of an individual to another, and an individual to group members, which regulated their mutual rights and duties. The system of kinship however, did not change as rapidly as the type of family and the form of marriage.
Status of Women In a customary Gond society, most of the domestic work is centered around a woman. She looks after the children, rears livestock, cooks food for the family, etc. In all the major
conflicts within the family, the husband consults his wife and often honours her opinions. A woman is excluded from certain ritual observances. However, with the changing times, there have been some changes in their status in the Gond society.
There existed various types of marriages in the traditional Gond society. Among the Gonds, marriage is forbidden between blood relatives. Marriages among the children of maternal uncles and paternal aunts are favoured. Apart from the wishes of the boy and girl, receiving the consent of the father and mother is paramount.
The Raj Gonds, the mling Gonds, or are married according to Hindu customs, while in the common Gonds, the marriage ceremonies are conducted by doshi, or Baiga. Widow marriage is allowed in the Gond society. Many of these practices are still prevalent even today.
In a Gond society, religious beliefs are important. Some of the important components that form the basis of the Gond religious belief system are: myths, spirits, belief in life after death, ancestor worship, sacrifice, sacred plants and trees, animals and birds. However, this belief system has undergone a change as a result of the influence of external religions.
The Gonds are firm believers in omens and myths. In important decisions, they pay attention to inauspicious omens and delay the execution of a plan for a more auspicious time. The diviner is called by different names among different sub-groups of Gonds. He is called as Pujar, Bhagat, Baiga. Gunia, or Panda, etc.
There are several religious festivals of the Gonds such as Akliari, Jiwati, Pola, Diwali Nawo tindana, Dussera, and Phag or Shintga. Many of these are connected with agricultural season. The Gond festivals are collective rituals. They are celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm.
The Gonds are also accustomed to sacrifices to their deities. They offer buffaloes, cows, pigs, goats, and fowls to propitiate the Gods. The reason for sacrifice is to cure a person from sickness, which is supposed to be caused by the spirits. The sacrifices are made to ward off the evil spirits from harming the village community.
The Gonds have their own concept of death. Death is a natural phenomenon with supernatural implications, and the animistic religion of the Gonds gradually found both diseases and death to be under the influence of powerful spirits. The funeral rites are part of the metaphysical significance that the death occupies an important occurrence in the birth-life death cycle. Initially, burial was only practiced by the Gonds, however the ruling classes had started cremation and since then both burial and cremation are being practiced.
The Gonds had evolved their own cultural practices in the process of their social formation, without much interaction with the other culture. Their cultural practices are simple and have been translated through generation to generation by means of oral tradition.
The food habits of the ordinary Gond is somewhat uniform. The technique of cooking a meal includes frying, boiling, baking and roasting. Their staple food is the gruel of millet and rice, boiled in water. Another common dish is the broth or juice of millet. Sometimes, dried flowers of ‘mahuwa’ are mixed into the gruel. More than 18 dishes are prepared out of mahuwa. The preparation of cakes of millet flour and wheal is very popular. They are generally jugat eaters but avoid totem animal.
Gonds are very fond of liquor. They generally prefer liquor distilled from mahuwa flowers. It is not only a welcome stimulant, but also an important part of their religious and social ritual. It is essential for every offering; it is consumed during weddings and funeral feasts; it is also indispensable at caste dinners.
Dresses and Ornaments
The male members of the Gond society used to wear dhotis up to their knees, a vest. and shawl over the shoulder and a turban on their head. They wore silver bangles on their wrists, wearing bangles is a sign of good fortune, a locket around their neck and earrings. The women wore six-to-eight-yard saris reaching to the knees and tied with a belt. The women love jewellery. The ornaments are not only meant for asthetic purpose but they are also believed to be protective. They also tattooed their bodies. Tattoos are seen as true jewellery that remained with the women even after they died and are said to please the Gods. However, introduction of the modernity has changed the dressing habits of the Gonds.
Art & Craft
The Gonds are expert in arts and crafts. They also have an expertise in beautiful wall paintings and floral designs that depict geometric designs and stylistic figures of plants and animals on the walls of their houses. They are masters in the art of personal decoration. Thus, those are of the values Gond culture, which are worth preserving. The geometric and symbolic designs carved on wall and door, on comb and tobacco-case are thousands of years old, going back to the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley.
The traditional Gotul institutions of the Gonds used to inculcate a sense of discipline and co-operative endeavour among its members. It was not just a club for meeting the boys and girls at night, as it was depicted by some scholars. It was the centre of learning and had a religious affiliation to it. When institutions, the Gotul used to be an educational and cultural centre. It inculcated integrity and uniqueness among all the members of the Gotul. The members used to share stories, local idioms, wisdom saying, paheli, talks on ecology and forestry, medicines and herbals, hunting and fishing. They also use to play various games. Thus, they were mentally tough and physically fit. However, with time, the Gotul system had lost its originality.