Evolution of Tribes

Learning Goals:

Evolution of Tribes: By the late 16th century, many tribes had become settled agriculturists and some even zamindars. Nevertheless, many Bhil clans remained hunter-gatherers.

Nomads and mobile people

Nomadic pastoralists moved over great distances with their animals. They survived on milk and other pastoral products. They exchanged wool, ghee, etc., with settled agriculturists in return for grain, cloth, utensils and other products. They bought and sold these goods as they wandered from one place to another, transporting them on their animals.


The most important trader-nomads were the Banjaras. Their caravan was known as tanda. Sultan Alauddin Khalji used the Banjaras for transporting grain to the city markets. The memoirs of Jahangir reveal that the Banjaras carried grain on their bullocks from different areas and sold it in towns. During Mughal campaigns, they transported food grain. When the campaign had large armies, the number of bullocks carrying grain could be as high as ten thousand!

Many pastoral tribes reared and sold animals like horses and cattle, to the prosperous people. Different castes of petty pedlars who travelled from village to village; made and sold wares such as ropes, reeds, straw matting and coarse sacks. At times, mendicants acted as wandering merchants. There were castes of entertainers who performed in various towns and villages for earning their bread and butter.

New castes and hierarchies

The demand for people with new skills arose with the growth in the economy and with increased needs of the society. Varnas were further divided into smaller castes or jatis. For example, amongst the Brahamanas new castes appeared. On the other hand, many tribes and social groups were taken into caste-based societies and were given the status of jatis. Brahamanas recognized specialized artisans which consisted of smiths, carpenters and masons as separate jatis. Jatis rather than varna became the basis of organizing society.


By the 11th and 12th centuries new Rajput clans among the Kshatriyas became powerful. They belonged to different lineages like Hunas, Chandelas, Chalukyas and others. Some of these lineages too were tribes before. Many of these clans came to be considered as Rajputs. Especially in agricultural areas, they replaced the older rulers over a period of time. This was the beginning of the emergence of developed society and rulers created powerful states by using their wealth.

Tribal People: The rise of Rajput clans to the position of rulers set an example for the tribal people to follow. Many tribes became part of the caste system with the support of the Brahmanas. But the ruling class comprised of only the leading tribal families. Others (who were a large majority) joined the lower jatis of caste society. Many dominant tribes of the regions of Punjab, Sind and the North-West Frontier had adopted Islam quite early. They did not accept the caste system and the unequal social order prescribed by the orthodox Hinduism.

Emergence of States: Impact: The emergence of state had a deep and direct relation with the social changes amongst the tribal people. This is explained below.

The Gonds

The Gonds lived in Gondwana which was a large forested region. The name Gondwana means ‘country inhabited by Gonds’. The kind of agriculture practiced by them was called shifting cultivation. The Gond tribe was further divided into many smaller clans. Each clan had its own raja or rai. During the period when the Delhi Sultans were facing a decline in power, a few large Gond kingdoms were beginning to dominate the smaller Gond chiefs. The history of Akbar’s reign, called Akbar Nama, mentions the Gond kingdom of Garha Katanga that had 70,000 villages.

Administration: The administration system of these kingdoms was becoming centralized in nature. The kingdom was divided into garhs. A particular Gond clan controlled each garh. This was further divided into units of 84 villages known as chaurasi. The chaurasi was subdivided into barhots. Barhots were made up of 12 villages each.

The emergence of large states led to changes in the nature of Gond society. The society which earlier had equality in it gradually got divided into unequal social classes. The Gond rajas gave land grants to the Brahamanas. The Brahamanas hence became more influential. Now the Gond chiefs wished to be recognized as Rajputs. Hence Aman Das, the Gond raja of Garha Katanga, assumed the title of Sangram Shah. Dalpat, his son married princess Durgawati, the daughter of Salbahan, the Chandel Rajput raja of Mahoba. Dalpat died early.

Rani Durgawati

She was very capable and started ruling on behalf of her son, Bir Narain who was five years of age. The kingdom became even more extensive under her. The Mughal forces under Asaf Khan, in 1565 attacked Garha Katanga. She resisted strongly but was defeated. She preferred death instead of surrender. Even her son died fighting, soon after.

Garha Katanga was a rich state; it earned much wealth by trapping and exporting wild elephants to other kingdoms. A huge booty of precious coins and elephants was captured by the Mughals when they defeated the Gonds. They annexed part of the kingdom and gave the rest to Chandra Shah who was Bir Narain’s uncle. The Gond kingdoms survived for some time in spite of the fall of Garha Katanga. They however became weaker and later failed in their struggle against the stronger Bundelas and Marathas.

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