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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R), Jaipur

For Jat clan see Mund

Munda (मुण्डा) are an Austroasiatic speaking ethnic group of India. They predominantly speak the Mundari language as their native language, which belongs to the Munda subgroup of Austroasiatic languages. The Munda are found in the northern areas of east India concentrated in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam.

Origin of name

Robert Parkin notes that the term "Munda" did not belong to the Austroasiatic lexis and is of Sanskrit origin.[1] According to R. R. Prasad, the name "Munda" is a Sanskrit word means "headman". It is an honorific name given by Hindus and hence became a tribal name.[2]


Alexander Cunningham[3] writes that... The Mundas belong to the hill men of the north, who are spread over the Himalayan and Vindhyan mountains from the Indus to the Bay of Bengal.

Michael Witzel associates IVC with the ancestors of Munda speakers and suggests an alternative etymology from the para-Munda word for wild sesame: jar-tila. Munda is an Austroasiatic language and forms a substratum (including loanwords) in Dravidian languages.

Reference-McIntosh 2008, p. 354.

The various tribes connected with the Mundas are enumerated by Colonel Dalton[4] as the Kuars of Elichpur, the Korewas of Sirguja and Jaspur, the Kherias of Chutia Nagpur, the Hor of Singhbhum, the Bhumij of Manbhum and Dhalbhum, and the Santals of Manbhum, Singhbhum, Katak, Hazaribagh, and the Bhagalpur hills. To these he adds the Juangas or Pattuns (leaf-clad) of Keunjar, etc. in the Kataka tributary districts, who are isolated from " all other branches of the Munda family, and have not themselves the least notion of their connection with them ; but their language shows that they are of the same race, and that their nearest kinsmen are the Kherias. The western branches of this race are the Bhils of Malwa and Kanhdes, and the Kolis of Gujarat. To the south of these tribes there is another division of the same race, who are called Suras or Suars. They occupy the northern end of the eastern Ghats.

According to linguist Paul Sidwell, Munda languages arrived on the coast of Odisha from Southeast Asia about 4000–3500 years ago.[5] The Munda people initially spread from Southeast Asia, but mixed extensively with local Indian populations.[6]

According to historian R. S. Sharma, tribals who spoke the Munda language occupied the eastern region of ancient India. Many Munda terms occur in Vedic texts that were written between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. Their presence in texts compiled in the upper Gangetic basin late in that period suggests that Munda speakers were there at the time.[7]

According to Barbara A. West, the Mundas claim origin in Uttar Pradesh, and a steady flow eastward in history as other groups moved into their original homeland. They inhabited a much larger territory in ancient India.[8]

In the late 1800s, during the British Raj, the Mundas were forced to pay rents and work as bonded labourers to the zamindars. Munda freedom fighter Birsa Munda began the first protest marches calling for non-payment of rents and remission of forest dues. He led guerrilla warfare to uproot British Raj and establish Munda Raj. Millenarianism in the tribal belt started with him, and he is still revered in Jharkhand.[9]

Jat clans mentioned by Megasthenes

Megasthenes also described India's caste system and a number of clans out of these some have been identified with Jat clans by the Jat historians. Megasthenes has mentioned a large number of Jat clans. It seems that the Greeks added 'i' to names which had an 'i' ending. Identified probable Jat clans have been provided with active link within brackets.

Jat clans as described by Megasthenes
Location Jat clans Information
3. Ganges The Mandei (Munda/Manda), and the Malli (Malli), the Gangarides (Ghangas+Rad), the Calingae (Kalinga), the Prasii (Magadha), the Modogalingae The tribes called Calingae (Kalinga) are nearest the sea, and higher up are the Mandei (Munda/Manda), and the Malli in whose, country is Mount Mallus, the boundary of all that district being the Ganges.

The royal city of the Calingae (Kalinga) is called Parthalis. Over their king 60,000 foot-soldiers, 1,000 horsemen, 700 elephants keep watch and ward in "procinct of war. There is a very large island in the Ganges which is inhabited by a single tribe Modogalingae

Clans among Mundas

Nomadic hunters in the India tribal belt, they became farmers who were employed in basketwork and weaving. With the listing of the Munda people as Scheduled Tribes, many are employed in various governmental organisations (particularly Indian Railways).[10]

Clans among Mundas are known as Killi which is similar to Sanskrit word Kula. Munda are patrilineal and clan name descends father to son. According to tradition, people of same clan are descendant of same forefather. Clan among Mundas are of totemic origin. Some clans are:

Munda Traditions

Involved in agriculture, the Munda people celebrate the seasonal festivals of Mage Parab, Phagu, Karam (festival), Baha parab, Sarhul and Sohrai. Some seasonal festivals have coincided with religious festivals, but their original meaning remains.[13]

They have many folk songs, dances, tales and traditional musical instruments. Both sexes participate in dances at social events and festivals. The naqareh is a principal musical instrument.[citation needed] Munda refer to their dance and song as durang and susun respectively. Some folk dances of the Munda are Jadur, Karam Susun and Mage Susun.[14]

The Munda people have elaborate rituals to celebrate birth, death, engagement and marriage. The birth of a boy is celebrated as an earner for the family, and the birth of a girl is celebrated as a family caretaker. Lota-pani is the engagement ceremony. Dali Takka, a monetary gift to paternal guardians, is generally paid before the marriage. Marriage, considered one of the main rituals of life, is a week-long festivity.

An ointment of scented oil and turmeric is applied to the face and body after death. Widow marriage is common. The Munda people are patrilineal, patrilocal and patriarchal.

Patthalgari Tradition

Munda people of Jharkhand also follow the old age tradition of Patthalgari i.e. stone erection in which the tribal community residing in the village buries a large inverted U-shaped dressed headstone on the head side of grave or entrance of village in which is inscribed the family tree of the dead persons.[15]

There are some other types of patthalgari also:-

Horadiri - It is the stone in which family tree is written.

Chalpadiri or Saasandiri - It is the stone in remarking boundary of any village and its limits.

Magodiri - This is the headstone of a social criminal who committed polygamy or unsocial marriage.

Ziddiri - This is the stone placed over burial of placenta and dried naval part of a newborn.[16][17]

Migration of Munda people

Migration of Munda people - Dr Naval Viyogi[18] writes....[p.226]: After the decisive defeat and having been chased out by the Nordic Aryan invaders, the Non-Aryan Harappans moved south ward along the seashore through modern Gujrat and settled there. Many groups of them fled eastward under the pressure of invaders and settled in the plains of Ganga-Jamuna. Later, when Aryan people reached there, these non-Aryans moved further towards modern Bihar and Bengal. The findings of the later Harappan pottery, or ochre coloured pottery (OCP), in the aforesaid region, is one of the solid archaeological evidence to witness this event.

Similarly the traditional history of Mundas also discloses the history of migration of these aboriginal people, apparently under the pressure of Aryan invasions. The linguistic and the archaeological evidences, of their movements, can be traced out till to-day from the whole of the Northern India. Their remains have been traced out as Brahui tribe on the North Western border; Mahar tribe (Mar or Mer) in the South-Western region; Pariyah, Bhar, Palar, Malar, Malla and Gond in the South and Santhal and Nagas in the East.

In the form of languages the remains of these non-Aryan tribes and castes are still in each and every corner of India. The Munda languages in North-East and Dravidian languages in South are spoken till to-day; their main mark of identification was the tradition of totemism; on the other hand there was tradition of Gotras in Aryan tribes and castes.

The Totemistic Tradition among the Aboriginal tribes

The Totemistic Tradition among the Aboriginal tribes: Dr Naval Viyogi[19] writes....Totem can be defined as follows : if some castes or tribes or a group of families, living together accept an animal or a plant as their totem, it is called the totem of that caste or tribe viz Monkey, bear, fish, serpent, dear, eagle, tortoise, pea-cock, duck and many plants etc.

Acharya Chhitij Mohan[20] Sen has defined the totem tradition : "From the most ancient time, in different countries, nations or tribes, a

[p.227]: particular mark or insignia (animal, bird or plant), known as totem was in practice; that insignia was a subject of great respect and full faith for each and every member of the tribe or Nation."

The characteristics of totemism after Majumdar, may be summarized thus: "killing certain animals or eating them is tabooed in some clans. Some tribes bear sign there of. The totem animal, when it dies is ceremonial mourned and burled as a member of the clan concerned. The skins of the animals, which are the totems of cans, are donned by the totemic group on specified solemn occasions. Many totemic groups paint their persons with the picture of the totemic animal and take the picture as their coat of arms or even tattoo it on their bodies. The totem animal, if dangerous, is propitiated in the belief that it will spare the members of the totemic clan. If, the totem plant or animal is edible, the members may eat it on ceremonial occasions or after offering their excuses to the animal. The clan recognizes mystic ties with the animal species and believes that the animal will foretell the future, protect and warn the members of tribes. The assumptions, with regard to totemism, are that totem organization is universal. J.F. Maclenon was the first to understand the significance of totemism as a primitive social institution." [21]

Majumdar, gives an account of totemistic tribes as follows[22] : "According to ethnographic Survey of India, the Santhals have more than 100 totemistic clans, Hos have more than 50, Mundas 64 and Bhils 24. Many castes in Orissa, the Kurmi, the Kumhar,the Bhumia, who have advanced in culture in recent years are named after the serpent, pumpkin, Jackal and other totems. The Katkaris of Bombay, the Gond tribes of M. P. and of Rajasthan also have clan names after the fauna and tribes of their habitat.

The Dhelki Kharias, a major section of the Kharias of Chota Nagpur plateau, are divided into eight totemic clans viz. Soren (rock or stone) Muru (Tortoise), samad (deer), Barliha (a Variety of fruit), Gharhad (bird) Hansda (the eel), Mail (dirt) and Topna (kind of bird). These names show how a totem may be an animal plant or often material object or a part thereof."

It is clear that all these castes and tribes were sometimes, organized into totem system. But now owing to spreading of education and civilization, above system has also lost its grounds.

Distribution of Munda people

The Munda are found in the northern areas of east India concentrated in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam, they are also found in the Rangpur division of Bangladesh.[23]The Munda also reside in adjacent areas of Chhattisgarh. They are one of India's largest scheduled tribes. Munda people in Tripura are also known as Mura, and in Madhya Pradesh they are often called Mudas.[24]

External links


  1. Parkin, Robert (1993). "Second Reply to Pfeffer" (PDF). University of Oxford. p. 161. Retrieved 18 December 2020. "The term 'Munda' is of Sanskritic origin and therefore not original in any sense to Austroasiatic speakers, although it has come to be used by one tribe as an alternative to their own term 'Horo' (Le. Roy's group; cf. Pfeffer above, p. 154; also Parkin 1990: 17, 23)."
  2. Prasad, R. R. (1996). Encyclopaedic Profile of Indian Tribes, Volume 1. ISBN 9788171412983.
  3. Alexander Cunningham: The Ancient Geography of India/Eastern India, p.506
  4. Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, 1866, 158. I write Santal in preference to Sonthal, as I believe that the short o is only the peculiar Bengali pronunciation of the long ā.
  5. Sidwell, Paul. 2018. Austroasiatic Studies: state of the art in 2018. Presentation at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, 22 May 2018.
  6. Schliesinger, Joachim (2016). Origin of the Tai People 3: Genetic and Archaeological Approaches. Booksmango. p. 71. ISBN 9781633239623.
  7. Sharma, R. S. (2005). India's Ancient Past. Oxford University Press. pp. 2, 118–119. ISBN 978-0-19-566714-1.
  8. West, Barbara A. (2010). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 564. ISBN 9781438119137.
  9. Pandey, Prashant (18 September 2017). "Jharkhand: Amit Shah launches scheme for villages of freedom fighters". The Indian Express (in American English).
  10. "List of Schedule Castes". Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. 2011.
  11. आदिवासी गोत्र
  12. Roy, Sarat Chandra (1912). The Mundas and their Country. Asia Publishing House.
  14. Prasad, R. R. (1996). Encyclopaedic Profile of Indian Tribes, Volume 1. ISBN 9788171412983.
  17. "The Constitution set in stone: Adivasis in Jharkhand are using an old tradition as a novel protest".
  18. Dr Naval Viyogi: Nagas – The Ancient Rulers of India, pp.226-227
  19. Dr Naval Viyogi: Nagas – The Ancient Rulers of India, pp.226-227
  20. Bharat mien jati bhed, pp.111-112
  21. Majumdar D.N. pp346-347
  22. 3
  23. "Adivasi Volume 52, Number 1&2" (PDF). Web Archive. December 2012. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 November 2016.