Part III Lingo Subdivides the Gonds into Tribes and Institutes the Worship of their Gods

The Gonds, after their liberation, set out with Lingo from Dhawalagiri, near the source of the Jumna, for Kachikopa Lahugad, in the Satpuras. They came to a river whose flood was increasing rapidly. All save Lingo and the four Gonds got across safely. These were still far from safety when Dame, the tortoise, and Pusi the alligator, invited them to sit on their backs, and promised to convey them across in safety. They accepted the invitation and the four Gonds sat on the alligator’s back, while Lingo mounted the tortoise. In mid-stream Pusi the alligator, treacherously tried to drown the four Gonds in anticipation of a substantial meal. They cried to Lingo, who went to their assistance. They were saved and, along with Lingo, cross the stream on the tortoise’s back. The tortoise, it must be noted, is a sacred animal or “totem” to the Gonds. No religious Gond would hunt, kill, or eat the tortoise.

Lingo kneaded the flour and made it into a thick cake, and cooked pulse, and satisfied all the Gonds. Then clouds arose, and it began to rain. When the rivers flooded, and the flood began to roll, all the Gonds spoke: “O Lingo, much rain has come up and is falling.” Then all these Gonds began to walk in the middle of the river; from among all these Gonds, four persons with Lingo remained. Lingo, having seen this, began to say: “Hear, O brethren; this river is flooded, how shall we cross it?” More clouds came up, and darkness fell; then those four persons and Lingo began to speak: “Hear, 0 brethren, what shall we do, and how shall we go on ? The day is departing.” Now Dame the Tortoise, and Pusi the Alligator, were playing in the water. They came to them out of the water, and began to speak; “Hear, O brethren, why do you silently stand and cry?” They said: “Our sixteen scores of Gonds have all gone and we only have remained; “O brethren, how shall we go?” They said: “Sit on us, and we will take you across. If you keep your oath we will take you across the river.”

They replied: “Hear, O sisters. You are Pusi the Alligator, and you, Dame the Tortoise. Those four persons who are before you will keep their oath first of all. If any beat you we will not allow it, if any try to catch you we will prevent it. You shall be the eldest sister of us four persons,” said they. Dame the Tortoise, and Pusi the Alligator, came up to them, and the four Gonds sat on the Alligator’s back, leaving Lingo alone to sit on the back of the Tortoise. The Alligator went first, and then followed the Tortoise in the flood. The wicked Alligator, having taken them into the midst of the water, began to drown them. They began to cry. Then the Tortoise spoke: “Hear, O Lingo, stretch thy hand and drag them off, and make them sit on my back.” Lingo, having stretched his hand, caught them and dragged them away, and made them sit on the Tortoise’s back. Then the Tortoise took the four men on his back and went across the river; and they fell at its feet, and said: “Hear, O Tortoise, we will not become faithless to you.”

The Gonds then began, under Lingo’s instruction, to settle down to a civilised life. They built houses, prepared fields, held bazaars, and adopted an agricultural life. Then those four went by a jungle path, and ascended one hill, and descended another. Thus they went forward. They began to cut trees and build houses, and they remained not together, but here and there. Fields and houses were formed by the Gonds, and their town became large. A bazaar (periodical market) was held in Nar Bhumi (the name of the town). Then Lingo began to say: “Hear, O brethren. If you will sow millet, it will spring up.” Thus twelve months passed, and Nar Bhumi began to appear excellent. Those who had no bullocks received them. Those who had no carts received carts: thus all the houses of the city became prosperous. Then Lingo called them together, and upbraiding them for their ignorance of ordinary relationships, divided them into families or tribes, in part doubtless for marriage purposes. The actual classification of tribes adopted by the Gonds was, according to Hislop, into twelve classes.

The classification in the Epic corresponds only partially with this. To one tribe Lingo gives the name of Manakwaja, which means one who fashions “images of gods.” To another tribe he gives the name of Dahukwaja, which means “drum-soldiers or musicians.” Other names which Lingo gives, Koilabutal, Koikopal, Kolami, Kotolyal, are names still given to Gond tribes, Koorkus and Bhils, though aborigines of Dravidian origin, are now considered quite distinct from Gonds. Koorkus, however, still live in the Satpuras, and Bhils are found in the most western portions of the hilly country. All the Gonds came to Lingo, and sat close to each other in rows. While Lingo stood in the midst of them, and began to speak: “Hear, O brethren. All you Gonds understand nothing. You do not know whom to call brother, and whom father, or other relative; from whom to ask a daughter, and to whom to give your daughter; with whom to laugh.” Then those Gonds began to say: “O Lingo, you possess great and good understanding; do as you have said with all your might, and make tribes of us.”

Then Lingo, out of the sixteen scores of the Gonds, separated four score, and told them to rise. He caught one of them by the hand, and said: “O friend, become Manakwaja.” Then that man became Manakwaja. Then he caught another by the hand, and said: “Become, O friend, Dahukwaja.” And he became Dahukwaja. He then caught another by the hand, and said: “O friend, be Koilabutal,” and he became Koilabutal. Then he caught another by the hand, and said “You become a wild Koikopal.” And he became Koikopal. Thus the four scores were divided. Out of the remaining twelve bands, four more were separated. The first band he made to be Koorkus, and the others he made to be Bhils. The third he made to be Kolami, and the fourth he made to be Kotolyal. Thus eight bands were divided. Then follows a rather obscure passage in which Lingo instructs the Gonds in their worship. It  was the Hindu month of Weishak (May). A goat of five years old, a crowing cock, a three-year old calf, and a cow two years old, are brought together for the sacrifice.

The sacrifice of the calf and cow are, it must be remembered, abhorrent to the Hindus, but were apparently common amongst the Gonds of early days. Two bards, or minstrels, “Manozas” are summoned. The idol god, “Ghahara Pen” (or the Bell God), is one of the Gond gods. His idol is formed by stringing together a set of small tinkling bells. The Sacred Fan, wherewith to fan the gods, is also brought. The next idol god to be made is Parsapot a name for Pharsa Pen. His image is made of iron  commonly found in the Satpuras. He is represented by a spear, and is still worshipped by Gonds. The next idol god is the  Stick God, made of the bamboo. Arriving, then Lingo said: “Come, O brethren, we cannot see God. Anywhere; let us make a god, and we will worship him.” Then all the Gonds with one voice said: “Yes, O brethren, bring a goat, five years old, a crowing cock one year old, a three-year old calf, a cow, two years old; and call two of the Manozas (bards).” Then they named one god Ghahara Pen (the Bell God). Lingo said: “Bring a chouri (fan) made from the tail of the wild cow. Then,” said Lingo, “Open the shop of the ironsmith, and make the god Parsapot of steel. Go to the jungle and cut a bamboo stick, and bring it.”

Lingo then bathed in a dhotee, and applied the sacred tika, or mark, to his forehead, both of which rites are clearly borrowed from Hinduism. Lingo then called two of the Drummer tribe to the assistance of the minstrels. A strange piece of ritual is enacted. The Chain God, an idol made of an iron chain, and worshipped by Gonds as Sakla Pen, is then bound to one Stick God, and Pharsa Pen, the Iron God, is bound to another Stick God. Then the Sacred Fan is waved over it, and Pharsa Pen is worshipped. Two other female members of the Gond Pantheon, Manko Rayetal and Jango Rayetal, probably wives of Pharsa Pen, appear. Lingo behaves like one possessed; a sight commonly seen amongst Gond devotees. In the morning Lingo arose and went to a river, and bathed, and wore a dhotee (a cloth round the loins).

And applied the tika (sacred mark) to his forehead. “What!” says he. “ Hearken, O brethren, to the Ozas (bards). Call two Dahaking drummers”; they brought the Stick God. Then Lingo bound the Chain God to the stick, and placed another Stick in the god Pharsapot; and the Gungawan Chouri (the cow-tailed fan) was waved over it; and with joined hands they said: “Hail! Pharsa Pen.” He lifted the stick, and the goddesses Manko Rayetal, Jango Rayetal, And Pharsa Pen came, and stood there; and Lingo was possessed of them. Then Lingo became a man devoted to god, and moved and jumped much: Lingo was in front, and behind were goats, cocks, a calf. And all the Gonds assembled in one place. Then leaving the village of Dhanegaon, they went, in rude procession, into the forest with their gods, the sacred string of bells, the sacred spear, the sacred chain, the sacred fan. The Stick god leads the way. Then the bearers of these consecrated emblems are ordered to stop. The sacrificial ceremonies here described are still practised by the Gonds. They came, and began to say, “This is a thick jungle.” Then the Gonds called on the gods to stand still. They fell at the feet of the gods, and asked where they should make seats for the gods of each band.

Then all the Gonds came in front and, with joined hands. Stood and began to ask Pharsa Pen; who replied: “Hear, O brethren, between twelve glens and seven dales go, and make a place for us gods.” Then in front went the Stick God, and behind followed all the Gonds. The Satpuras mean Seven Valleys or dales. They arrived, and after alighting they began to pick up grass and lift stones. Then said Lingo, “Hear, O brethren. Do you see yonder a Bijesal tree? Go and cut it and make a kettledrum from its wood.” They, taking an axe, went and cut it. Some held a pitcher, and brought a pitcherful of water; some digged earth, and made a platform, and placed on it the Stick God. Some said, “Our drum is not ready. Burn this fire in front, and light the lamp.” They wetted five tolas weight of vermilion in ghee, and threw five tolas of ral (resin) on the fire. Then sat Lingo with joined hands before the God Ghahara, the Bell God.

Ghahara Pen began to jump about, and possessed the body of Lingo. Pharsa Pen began to play also. Then they took a pitcherful of daru (liquor). And sprinkled it on the stick, and said: “Hail to you, Pharsa Pen!” And, with joined hands, they fell at his feet. While they were falling at his feet. The Goddess Rayetal possessed the body of Lingo, who moved and danced much. Then he began to speak thus: “Bring to me victims — the goat five years old.” After bringing the goat they fell at his feet. And washed its head, and applied vermilion, and poured Daru (liquor), into its ears. Then after catching the goat by the feet, they threw it before the god. And the goddess Rayetal possessed the body of the goat, which began to shake its head, ears, and whole frame very much. Then two or four persons ran and caught it, and threw it down, before the Goddess, and killed it. Then blood was sprinkled around. And they placed the head before the Goddess, and took the body.

Then a white cock, a year old, was brought, and they killed it. And began to play a good tune on the Kingree (a one-stringed guitar), and the drum. The Goddess derived pleasure therefrom. Then the two feet of the calf were washed, and so was its mouth; vermilion was applied to its forehead. Then they threw the other animal down, and killed it too. The head of the calf was placed before the Goddess. Then said Lingo: “ Hear, O brethren; remove quickly the skin of the calf, and roast its liver.” They brought stones and made an oven, and placed a pitcher on it. The pitcher was filled with water, and flesh was  put in it. The leaves of a tree were cut and brought, and made into plates. And in a brass-plate they placed cooked rice, liver, flesh, and they lighted four lamps, and took and placed them before the gods. Some made an offering of silver up to the knee pieces as a present to the god. Thus a heap of silver up to the knee of a man was gathered before the God.

Then follows a passage in glorification of the Pardhans, or priest caste, introduced by the Pardhan reciter of the song. The present of a horse is a mark of high honour. The Horse god, Kodan Pen, is sometimes worshipped by the Gonds, and sacred images of the animal are to  be seen in the Chanda district. The Pardhans are notorious for their averseness to any kind of labour. Then Lingo spoke: “ Hear, O brethren: The offerings are good in the courts of the god. There is no one to receive these offerings. Hear, O brethren: From the midst of all these Gonds someone should become a Pardhan. And we will give this offering to him.” Then Lingo looked well among the company and saw an old hoary-haired man, first of all; and having looked on him, held his hand and said; “Become a Pardhan, and we will give you much  wealth and clothes; we will give you a horse, and whatever you ask us we will not refuse.” “Well, brother,” said the old man, “ I am fit for nothing but to sit and eat.” All saluted him; and some gave clothes, some gave silver pieces. Some gave him a pipe.

Lingo then divided the Gond tribes into families of seven, six, five, and four. This division, which at first sight seems obscure, refers to the groups or families among the Gonds, which consist of people who worship seven gods, six gods, five gods, or four gods. These sects, or septs, influence their marriage arrangements, as a seven-god worshipper cannot marry one of the class of seven-god worshippers, but must select a partner from one of the other classes. As they were rising Lingo said: “Hear, O brethren and friends.” Then said they, “What shall we do, O brethren?” He rose and made seven persons out of them to stand aside, and said to them: “You become a family of seven.” He then made six persons to stand aside. And said, “You become a family of six.” He took five more aside, and made them to stand, and breaking surface of the earth, a family of five were formed. To the remaining four he said: “Be divided into families of four and five.” Then Lingo, having accomplished his task, and having solemnly bade the Gonds to keep faith with their “totem” the tortoise, departed to the Gods.

It is to be feared that Lingo’s last admonition about the treatment of the tortoise has been forgotten, for many Gonds in the present day show no respect for the tortoise, eating it as readily as they do other animals. After saying this, he reminded them to keep their promise with the Tortoise. Then they all made salutation. Lingo said: “O brethren, look yonder towards the Gods.” All persons looked behind, but Lingo vanished and went to the Gods. While they were looking behind, they said “Where is our Lingo gone?” There is much to charm one in this old-world story. Its sympathy with the jungle, its appreciation of the beauty of nature, and the quiet humour of those who take part in its little dramas, all serve to make it peculiarly attractive. Those who know the Gonds, and, indeed, most Indian aborigines, well know their child-like sense of humour, and love of a joke, and how in this respect they differ from the sadder, if wiser, Hindus.

Note: Excerpt from ‘Story of Gondwana’ by the Right Reverand Eyre Chatterton (Bishop of Nagpur).

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons, and shows an illustration of  the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska) by Philbert Charles Berjeau (dating back to 1878). In the Gond epic, it is Dame (a tortoise that can swim, most probably a terrapin) that rescues the Gonds from Puski, the crocodile (referred to in the book as an alligator).