All Dravidian tribes encountered by the British were not as gentle as the Todas. Some had a fearsome reputation. Chief among them being the Khonds of present-day Odisha. They lived, as most of them still do, among the remote forested tracts of the region where the territories of the Telugu, Odiya and Gond people intersect. This is one of the more inaccessible parts of South Asia. The persecution of the tribes by the British colonial authorities, and the Indian Union and State governments led (and still continues) to frequent confrontations. Though the Khonds have been much reviled for their custom of human sacrifice (known as Meriah), they were, in comparison to the British administrators and Indian officials, harmless and inoffensive. The latter must go down in history as one of the most exploitative and brutal specimens of bureaucracy.

Many Dravidian tribes and peoples (including my own, the Telugus) have a history of human sacrifice. One must not exaggerate it though. There are news reports of treasure hunters conducting sacrifices to get to hidden gold. Others conducted sacrifices to appease the gods or drive away droughts and pestilence. Over all, these were rather infrequent and remarkable events. Dravidians were not the only ones to have this custom. There is mention of Naramedha Yagna (human sacrifice) in Vedic literature. And of victims being offered to the many mother goddesses worshiped in Central and Eastern India. However, it was the Meriah sacrifice that excited much comment among the British and became part of colonial lore.

I am running short of time and will delve into this subject in greater detail, examining both sides of the divide (British and Indian), later. For now, this short extract from the book ‘The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World’ Volume II (published in 1871).

“Throughout the whole of Khondistan there is a system of human sacrifice, varying exceedingly in detail according to the locality, but agreeing in all principal points. There is one point especially which seems to be the very essence of the sacrifice, and which is common to all the tribes. The victim, or Meriah, must be bought with a price. Should a captive be taken in war, he may not be offered as a Meriah by his captor, but he may be sold for that purpose, and will then be accepted by the priests. There is no restriction of age, sex or caste but adults are thought more acceptable because they are more costly, and the healthy more likely to propitiate the gods than the sick or feeble.”

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on an illustration that appeared in the book ‘The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World’ Volume II (1871) published by J B Burr & Co.