GONDWANA, the historical name for a large tract of hilly country in India which roughly corresponds with the. greater part of the present Central Provinces. It is derived from the aboriginal tribe of Gonds, who still form the largest element in the population and who were at one time the ruling power. From the 12th to as late as the 18th century three or four Gond dynasties reigned over this region with a degree of civilization that seems surprising when compared with the existing condition of the people. They built large walled cities, and accumulated immense treasures of gold and silver and jewels. On the whole, they maintained their independence fairly well against the Mahommedans, being subject only to a nominal submission and occasional payment of tribute. But when the Mahratta invaders appeared, soon after the beginning of the 18th century, the Gond kingdoms offered but a feeble resistance and the aboriginal population fled for safety to the hills. Gondwana was thus included in the dominions of the Bhonsla raja of Nagpur, from whom it finally passed to the British in 1853.
The Gonds, who call themselves Koitur or "highlanders," are the most numerous tribe of Dravidian race in India. Their total number in 1901 was 2,286,913, of whom nearly two millions were enumerated in the Central Provinces, where they form 20% of the population. They have a language of their own, with many dialects, which is intermediate between the two great Dravidian languages, Tamil and Telugu. It is unwritten and has no literature, except a little provided by the missionaries. More than half the Gonds in the Central Provinces have now abandoned their own dialects, and have adopted Aryan forms of speech. This indicates the extent to which they have become Hinduized. The higher class among them, called Raj Gonds, have been definitely admitted into Hinduism as a pure cultivating caste; but the great majority still retain the animistic beliefs, ceremonial observances and impure customs of food which are common to most of the aboriginal tribes of India.
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