Part I The Creation of the Gond People and their Subsequent Bondage
The history opens in the silence and solitude of the glens of the seven hills, which are clearly the Satpura Mountains of the Central Provinces. In the midst of twelve hills, in the glens of seven hills, is Lingan, or Mount Lingana. In the Mount is a flower tree named Dati. Thence for twelve leagues (koss) there are no dwellers. Caw says there is no crow, chirp says there is no bird, roar says there is no tiger. Then follows a weird passage (in which Hindu ideas are clearly predominant), which describes the process by which the Gond people were created.
The god Mahadeva performs an act of penance (tap) which lasts for twelve months. At the end of the period, one, Kalia Adao, the Divine Ancestor of the Gonds, is born “from a boil in Mahadeva’s hand.” Kalia Adao in his turn performs an act of penance (tap), and from a boil in his own hand sixteen daughters are born. He is bitterly disappointed. Daughters are regarded by him, as by so many Indians, as by no means a blessing.
“What! Why’’ are these daughters born? I shall have cause to cast my head down. When shall I bring husbands for them?” He took hold of them, and threw them in the water. After throwing them into it the water dried up, and sixteen sorts of earth were produced. After this rather drastic way of disposing of his sixteen daughters who, the Pardhan explained to Hislop, were goddesses from whose remains the several soils known to Gonds were made (black cotton, reddish earth, sandy ground, murrum, gravel, etc.), Kalia Adao began a second penance (tap). On this occasion he was more successful. From it “ twelve threshing-floors of Gondi gods were born.” These are the ancestors of the Gond race.
Then follows an amusing description of the wild Gonds in their primitive state. Ignorant, dirty, madly fond of sport, they incur the displeasure of the great god Mahadeva, who, by an ingenious and most ungod-like trick, lures them, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, into a vast cave, where they are incarcerated. A giant Bhasmasur stands guard over it. Four Gonds, however, more slow of foot than their brethren, remain outside. Parvati, the wife of Mahadeva and a lover of the Gonds, is in deep distress at their disappearance. She commences an act of devotion (tap) and at the end of it the high god, Bhagawan, says that he will again make her Gonds visible.
Twelve threshing-floors of Gondi gods were born. Hither and thither all the Gonds were scattered in the jungle. Places, hills, and valleys, were filled with these Gonds. Even trees had their Gonds. How did the Gonds conduct themselves? Whatever came across them they must kill and eat it. They made no distinction. If they saw a jackal they killed and ate it. No distinction was observed; they respected not
antelope, sambhar, and the like. They made no distinction in eating a sow, a quail, a pigeon, a crow, a kite, an adjutant, a vulture. A lizard, a frog, a beetle, a cow, a calf, a he- and she-buffalo. Rats, bandicoots, squirrels — all these they killed and ate. So began the Gonds to do. They devoured raw and ripe things.
They did not bathe for six months together. They did not wash their faces properly, even on dung-hills they would fall down and remain. Such were the Gonds born in the beginning. A smell was spread over the jungle. When the Gonds were thus disorderly behaved; they became disagreeable to Mahadeva who said, “The caste of the Gonds is very bad. “I will not preserve them; they will ruin my hill Dhawalagiri. I perceive here and there smells.” So said Mahadeva. “Call the Gonds.” So said he to Narayan. He went, and called them. And brought them into the presence of Mahadeva. When they were standing Mahadeva arose and looked and saw all the Gonds come.
He spoke within himself, and took them away into his valley. He made them to sit in a line, and he sat at the head of them. He took substance from his own body, and made it into a squirrel. Thus he made a squirrel while bathing, and gave it life. When he made it alive, he caused it to run away. With its upright tail the squirrel ran from the midst of them. The Gonds saw it running, and they pursued it. As the Gonds were pursuing it, some said,“Kill it, kill it!” Another said,“Catch it; it will serve as a nice roast.” So saying some seized a stick, some a stone. Some seized a clod; their waist-cloths were shaking; their hair began to fly about. The squirrel entered a hole, which was the god’s prison on earth. The Gonds also followed it up to the hole.
All the threshing-floor Gonds ran into the cave. Thus all the Gonds ran; the rest, four in number, remained behind. They came to Parvati; she was sleeping. In the meantime she awoke. She cared for the Gonds. She said, “For many days I have not seen my Gonds. “There used to be noise in Mount Dhawalagiri. “But to-day there is silence. For many days there has been a smell (of Gonds). But to-day I perceive no smell. They must have gone somewhere. Mahadeva is not to be seen, where did he lead them?” Thus said Parvati. She ascended Dhawalagiri, and saw no Gonds. Then she said to Mahadeva, “My Gonds do not appear, where have they gone?”
Mahadeva arose and placed a stone sixteen cubits long at the entrance of the cave, and thus shut in the Gonds. He stationed Bhasmasur, a giant, to guard it. Still Parvati remained, asking after them. Then said Mahadeva,“Dhawalagiri began to be odorous, and I fell into a rage thereafter. “But four Gonds have survived, and they are fled.” So said he. Then Parvati thought in her mind, “My Gonds are lost.” The four Gonds who fled travelled onward over hills. Thence they went and saw a tree rising upright, as a Date tree. Which they climbed, and looked about them. They said, “There is no hiding place visible for us.” But one of them looked and saw a place named Kachikopa Lahugad. They went by the jungle road and reached that place.
There the four brothers remained. When the Gonds were not to be found, Parvati began to feel regret for them. She then commenced a devotion (tap). Six months passed. Parvati ended her tap. Bhagawan (god) meanwhile was swinging in a swing. He said, “What devotee at my resting time has begun a devotion Narayan, go and see to it.” Narayan went to see ; ascending a hill, he came to Parvati. And stood while Parvati was performing her tap, and saying, “My threshing-floor Gonds do not appear. “Therefore I commenced my devotion.” When Narayan heard this he ran ; resting and running, he came to Bhagawan and said, “Parvati is performing a devotion, and says my threshing-floor Gonds do not appear; where have they gone?” Bhagawan said, “Go and tell her, I will make her Gonds visible.”
Note: Excerpt from ‘Story of Gondwana’ by the Right Reverand Eyre Chatterton (Bishop of Nagpur).
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons shows an illustration of the Common Striped Squirrel (Palm Squirrel) Funambulus palmarum on a Tamarind Tree. The Palm Squirrel is one of the most well known and commonly found species in the subcontinent. Squirrel appear a number of times in South Asian folklore and mythology. This particular painting is from James Forbes’ book, ‘Oriental Memoirs, Vol. III’ (published in 1812-1813).