Updated Feb 16,2008: JK from Varnam.org has included this post in their history carnival. Thanks JK. We are honored.
Updated Feb 2, 2008: This post has been Desipundited. Thanks a lot Patrix.
Updated Jan 30, 2008: Thanks everyone for the great discussion. Ganesh, Karthik and Senthil raised some important points on genetics. Based on some more research, it turns out that Gonds are not the only ones that can lay claim to the oldest people of India. There are the tribes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands and the Munda who speak an Austro Asiatic language. I am still looking for clear genographic proof on which is the oldest. For now, i am concluding that Gonds are only one of the oldest peoples of India and may not necessarily be the oldest.
Many of you know that Anthropology is one of my favorite subjects. Recently, I have been reading up a lot on India’s history to get a better understanding what exactly has happened in India since the Indus Valley Civilization and before. I am utterly shocked by right wing demagogues who are systematically revising India’s history to suit their Hindutva needs. I am okay if someone wants to propagate Hindutva or any other ideology, but when it extends to doctoring history and spreading hatred and divisiveness, I am AGAINST it. I have learnt a number of things about India and I decided to share that with you all in a new series – The Real History of India. You are welcome to offer criticism.
With that prologue, I want to write about some of my findings from the period 60,000 to 5,000 BC. This post has been triggered by Archana Raghuram who says in her most recent post on tribal art in India:
There is a striking similarity between this art form and Australian aboriginal art form, in the sense they use dots or lines as fillers and not continuous color.
In my research I learnt that India was populated by Australoid People during this time. The reason for the term Australoid to is denote the unique physical characteritics of the Australian Aborigines. A majority of australoid people in India from this time speak Dravidian Languages including the Gonds – a lot of whom speak Gondi – a central dravidian language. Attempts have been made to connect Dravidian Languages to Australian Aboriginal Languages, but have been unsuccessful so far.
Let us come back to what Archana has said. Interestingly a key variety of Australian Aboriginal Art also known as Desert Art or sometimes Dot Art is mainly composed of Lines and Dots like the Gond Art. I picked up Archana’s Gond Art exhibit and a dot art painting from the Munupi tribal art from Australia and included side by side below.
I am sure you can see how similar this is although the Australian example is dot art. If you look at the Gond religion, it is a tribal religion with many similarities to other tribal religions. In my research I could not find similarities between the religions of Gonds and the Aborigines, not could i find similarities in burial/cremation customs etc.
Now let us look at physical similarities. Here is a picture of an Aboriginal man from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Here is a picture of a young Gond boy. I am sure you can see why these are called Australoid people.
Next I decided to see if there could be some clues in Genetics. So I turned to National Geograhic’s amazing Genography project which is attempting to map the movements of human beings across the planet all the way from pre-historic times (200,000 BC). My jaw dropped when i looked at the snapshot from 60,000 to 55,000 BC. You can see from the picture below that the M* genetic group left Africa and reached Australia and they passed through the Gond’s area in Madhya Pradesh. If this is the same people from that time, Gonds are likely to be
the most ancient people in India one of the most ancient peoples of India.
If you look at Aboriginal Art from 40,000 years ago it is mostly rock art and there is no comparable Gond rock art that is similar, so I looked at the Genography project’s data from the year 10,000-5,000 BC. You can see the picture below and see that some more groups have passed through to Australia via the Gond Area in India. It is likely that these latter day genetic groups who developed this dot art form took it with them all the way to Australia.
It will be easy for revisionist Hindutva ideologues to conclude that the Gonds also follow Hinduism – nothing could be farther from the truth. Please read this description of the Gond religion. Having said that, today’s Gonds do practice Hinduism and their contemporary art may reflect this.
I picked the dot art painting from the area where Australian Aborigines landed. See picture below from aboriginalart.org which shows the various tribes populating this area. The inset shown in the map below matches with the genography map above.
In sum, we seem to have found one of the oldest peoples of India.