A Kutia Kondh woman in Odisha.
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Khonds or Kandhs (Oriya: କନ୍ଧ) are an ethnic group of India. They are a designated Scheduled Tribe in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, their main divisions are the Kutia, or hill Khonds and plain-dwelling Khonds; the landowners among them are known as Raj Khonds. The Khonds speak Kui language, which belongs to the Dravidian family.
The Khonds became notorious on the British occupation of their district about 1835 for the prevalence and cruelty of the human sacrifices they practiced. These Meriah sacrifices were intended to further the fertilization of the earth. It was incumbent on the Khonds to purchase their victims. Unless bought with a price they were not deemed acceptable. They seldom sacrificed Khonds, though in hard times Khonds were obliged to sell their children and they could then be purchased as Meriahs. Persons of any race, age or sex were acceptable if purchased. Many were bought and kept and well treated. Meriah women were encouraged to become mothers.Some of the major groups derived from the principal professions they follow or the crafts they practice, for example, the cattle-breeding group takes the significant name of Gawli, derived from a Sanskrit word for cow. The names of the shepherd castes seem to be derived from words meaning sheep. Such is at least the case with Gadaria from 'gadar', on old Hindi word for sheep. Many others of these major groups called castes bear merely tribal or ethnic names. Such are for example: Arora, Gujjar, Lohana, Bhatia, Meena, Bhil, Dom, Oraon, Munda, Santal, Koch, Ahir, Mahar, Nayar, Maratha, Gond, Khond, etc.
Culture and economy
The Kondhs, or the Kui as they are locally known, are the largest tribal group in Odisha. They are known for their cultural heritage and values which center on respecting nature. Amongst the Kondhs, Maliah Kondhs are the majority group.
They go out for collective hunts eating the fruits and roots they collect. They usually cook food with oil extracted from sal and mahua seeds. They also use medicinal plants. These practices make them mainly dependent on forest resources for survival. Their religion is animistic, and their pantheon includes eighty-three gods. The Kandhamal district in Odisha (erstwhile a part of Angul district), has a 55% Kandha population, and was named after the tribe.
Dongria Kondhs inhabit the steep slopes of the Niyamgiri Range of Koraput district and over the border into Kalahandi. They work entirely on the steep slopes for their livelihood. The Niyamgiri Range provides a wealth of perennial springs and streams which greatly enrich Dongria cultivation.
The Khonds speak the Kui language as their mother tongue. A member of the South-Central branch of the Dravidian languages family, it is most closely related to Gondi, Konda and Kuvi and more distantly to Telugu.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.