In The Folk Songs of Chhattisgarh, (1946), translated by Verrier Elwin and Shamrao Hivale, one song goes:
In this kingdom of the English
How hard it is to live
To pay the cattle tax
We sold a cow
To pay the forest tax
We have to sell a bullock
How are we to get our food?
This was written around the time when the Gonds were gradually deprived of their kingdoms, during the onset of British colonialism. The Gonds or the 'Koiture' are a heterogeneous group spreading over large areas from the Godavari gorges in the south to the Vindhya Mountains in the north. In Madhya Pradesh, they inhabited the dense forests of the Vindhyas, Satpura and Mandla in the Narmada region of the Amarkantak range for centuries. The central province was called Gondwana since the Gonds reigned here. As many as four separate Gond Kingdoms situated in the northern, central and southern parts are mentioned in the Ain-I-Akbari. In this, one can find the mention of the Gond kingdom called GarhaKantanga that consisted of 70,000 villages during the Mughal era.
Post independence and with the efforts of many pioneers in freedom fight including Verrier Elwin, they have been recognized as one of the 'Scheduled Tribes' under the Constitution of India. Gonds are further divided into four tribes, namely: Raj Gonds, Madia Gonds, Khatulwar Gonds and Dhurve Gonds.
Patangarh is a small village in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh. It is located on the SH-22, 60kms away from Dindori. It is on the way to Amarkantak, which is a unique natural heritage area. It is the meeting point of the Vindhyas and the Satpuras, with the Maikal Hills being the fulcrum. This is where the Narmada River, the Sone River and Johila River emerge.
The environment is populated with dense vegetation. This green is what also lends the tribe its name. The trees take a bright new coat of green foliage in the month of April. Tall Sal and Sagoun trees mainly cover it. Tendupatta, Mahlonpatta and Char are the small forest products that are collected each year. The main crops that are grown in the district are Rabi and Kharif. The other harvests include wheat, paddy, maize, Kodo-Kutki, Ramtil, mustard, Masoor (red lentils), Matar (peas), grams, Alsi and soya-beans.
The region is drained by the headwaters of many of India's major rivers. February sees the start of the hot season, with temperatures rising to over 40Â° C (104Â° F) in early June. The summer brings the monsoon rains, with precipitation amounts varying from 47 inches (120 cm) to over 63 inches (160 cm) in the more southeasterly locations. Late September marks the return of the cool, dry weather of winter.
The village comes to be strategically placed near the State Highway - 22, which easily connects it to the cities for purposes of supply or traveling, to sell paintings. There are no shops at the village. It is mostly filled with the beautifully painted mud houses of the tribe. The village has ample electricity and is unusually devoid of plastic and other wastes. Clean surrounding, greenery, simplicity and artistic inclination of the people are the inviting factors that lure the visitors to come and stay there. The village is gifted with the serenity of a beautiful sunset.
The dwellings are mostly houses made of cupping mud around a thin wall of brick. Long clay tiles on rafters form the roof of the houses. The walls and floors of these houses are adorned by the paintings of the families residing in these houses. The open verandah serves as meeting space, where the family collectively sits and paints.
A few families presently build their houses with cement and concrete. They consist of a living room, kitchen, veranda, a special room for women to use while menstruating and a shrine for the clan's Gods.
The Gonds dress in a simple manner with the men in 'Dhoti' (loincloth) and the women in cotton Sarees and 'Choli' (tight fitting cropped blouse). Many youngsters seem to be contemporarily clothed with pants and t-shirts.
The staple foods of the Gonds are millets known as 'Kodo' and 'Kutki', which they cultivate. They are boiled to make a broth or consumed as dry cereal. Vegetables are either grown in gardens or collected from forests along with roots, tubers and even honey. Rice is luxury and is cooked during feasts and celebrations. They are fond of meat but must abstain from the flesh of animals that are their clan totems. Gonds grow their own tobacco for smoking and brew the Mahua liquor.
Though the Gonds are animistic (the belief that animals,plants and even inanimate objects have souls), there are influences of Hinduism in their culture. There is also sometimes the influence of the hierarchy from Hindu royalty. For example, the Hindu festival Dussera is celebrated by the Raj-Gonds (an influence of the Rajputs).
Persa Pen is the most distinctive feature of Gond religion. Like many other tribes, Gonds worship a high God known as 'Baradeo' (literally meaning the big deity), whose alternate names are Bhagavan, Sri Shambu Mahadeo, and Persa Pen. These are the names for the God popularly known as Lord Shiva. Baradeo oversees the activities of lesser gods. He is respected but does not receive fervent devotion, which is shown only to clan deities. Each Gond clan has its Persa Pen, who protects all clan members. The Persa Pen is essentially good but can be dangerous and violent. Many Gonds believe that when a Pardhan (bard) plays his fiddle, the deity's fierce powers can be controlled.
Another distinct practice is the Ghotul system. Under this system, unmarried young boys and girls live together in separate huts where they can intermingle and live in whatever way they desire. During this period, they participate in dancing, music and local story telling. If everything goes fine and satisfactorily, the duo can get out of the Ghotul and marry. Muria Gonds mainly practice the Ghotul system, which is related with Goddess Lingopan.
Their favorite deities are Ghashyam Deo and Goddess Danteshwari, who they worship in rituals, celebrations and village feasts. During these occasions, animal sacrifices are made and large quantities of Mahua is consumed. The Gonds are an exuberant tribe who believe in good humor and good food.
Their rich cultural heritage is alive and passed on through the songs and dances in their celebrations. These retell the stories from the Gond mythology. Sometimes these dances are just done in frolic when they gather on full moon nights. Cock fighting is another favorite pastime.
Their favourite deities are Ghashyam Deo and Danteshwari Goddess, whom they worship in rituals, celebrations and village feasts. During these occasions, animal sacrifices are made and large quantities of Mahua is consumed. The Gonds are an exuberant tribe who believe in good humour and good food.
Their rich cultural heritage is alive and passed on through the songs and dances in their celebrations. These retell the stories from the Gond mythology. Sometimes these dances are just done in frolic when they gather on full moon nights. Cock-fighting is another favourite pastime.
The story begins at the time when the earth was still in its early teens; its surface changing fast, eruptive owing to the volatile movements below its crust. The primordial ocean, Tethys dividing the Angara-land from the Gondvana-land (today's central India) had in its womb, the Himalayas, which sprung up as the lands collided. Several thousand years later, with the advent of the fiercest of the species on its subdued surface, earth became the fighting grounds for the conqueror races. As the Mahabharata states; after the fateful war at Kurukshetra the vanquished Aryan clan of the Kauravas headed southwards in India, conquering the lands of the native Dravidian tribes, whom they contemptuously called 'Gondvana'. This aboriginal 'Gond' tribe still forms a part of the naturally gifted central province of India.
According to folklore, The Almighty had a huge boil. This boil inflamed, became ripe, burst and drained out. The drained fluid gave birth to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. From Lord Shiva's urine falling on Earth, plants began to grow. Goddess Parvati became pregnant on consumption of these plants. From her womb came the eighteen plantations of the gods of the Brahmins and the twelve plantations of the gods of the Gond tribe.