As the rise and fall of various kingdoms was happening, new arts, crafts and production activities flourished in towns and villages. There were changes in the economic, political and social scenario over the centuries. But the changes in the social aspects were not the same everywhere. This is because different societies evolved differently.
Disparity: Already the society was divided according to the rules of varna in large parts of the subcontinent. These rules were prescribed by the Brahamanas and accepted by the rulers of large kingdoms. The gap between the high and low, and rich and poor, widened. This hierarchy between social classes grew further under the Delhi Sultans and the Mughals.
Tribal Societies: The social rules and rituals prescribed by the Brahamanas were not followed by many societies. Nor were these societies divided into numerous unequal classes. We call such societies tribes. Members of each tribe had kinship bonds amongst them.
Occupation of Tribes: Some of the tribes were engaged in agriculture for their livelihood. Others were hunter-gatherers or herders. Since agriculture was seasonal in nature, they made maximum use of the natural resources by often combining both these.
Some tribes were nomadic i.e. they were not settled at a place. A tribal group controlled land and pastures jointly which were divided among households according to its own rules. Many large tribes which thrived in different parts of the subcontinent usually lived in forests, hills, deserts and places which were inaccessible. Sometimes the tribes clashed with the more powerful caste-based societies. They retained their freedom in many ways and preserved their separate culture.
Though sometimes there were conflicts between the caste-based societies and tribal societies, they were dependent on each other for diverse needs. This dependence played a vital role in changing both the societies.
Very scanty information can be obtained about the tribes from contemporary historians and travellers. This is because tribal people did not keep written records, barring few exceptions. They preserved their customs and oral traditions well which were passed on from generation to generation. Tribal histories written by present day historians are based on oral traditions.
Almost in every region of the subcontinent, we can find tribal people. At different times, the area and influence of a tribe varied. Some powerful tribes had control over large territories.
|Punjab||During the 13th and the 14th centuries, the Khokhar tribe was very influential. Later the Gakkars gained more importance than them. Their chief, Kamal Khan Gakkhar was made a noble (mansabdar) by Akbar.|
|Multan and Sind||The Langahs and Arghuns dominated extensive regions before they were subdued by the Mughals.|
|The north-west region||The Balochis. They were divided into several smaller groups called clans. Each clan was under a different chief.|
|Western Himalayas||The shepherd tribe of Gaddis|
|North-eastern India||The Nagas, Ahoms and many others.|
|Present-day Bihar and Jharkhand||Cheros|
|Present-day Bihar and Jharkhand, and Orissa and Bengal||Mundas and Santhals|
|Maharashtra highlands and Karnataka||Koli, Berads and many others|
|Further south of Gujarat||Koragas, Vetars, Maravars and many others|
|Western and central India||Bhils|
|Present day Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh||Gonds|
Cheros: Chero chiefdoms had emerged in the present-day Bihar and Jharkhand by the 12th century. They were attacked and defeated by Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s famous general in 1591. Though large amount of booty was taken from them, they were not fully subdued by him. But the Mughal forces under Aurangzeb captured many Chero fortresses and they were ultimately subjugated.
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