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The Munda are tribal people of the Chotanagpur (Jharkhand) region, which is spread over eastern states of Indiamarker (Jharkhandmarker, Biharmarker, West Bengalmarker, Chhatisgarhmarker, Orissamarker and Assammarker), and in parts of Bangladeshmarker. Their language is Mundari, which belongs to the Munda subgroup of the Austro-Asiatic language family; the Munda language group is in fact named after the Munda people. There are some two million Munda people (twenty lakhs).


As Austro-Asiatic speakers, the Munda people are among the indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent.

The term Munda given to this community designates the name of the leader of the tribal community. The munda call themselves "Hodoko" which means "Human Beings".

Though nothing much exists in contemporary history, oral stories, myths, ballads and songs provide some minimal information here and there. The 'Munda People (who generally identify themselves as "Hodoko (human beings)") have been living in the same region/place for quite a long time, considering it their home from birth to death.However, many of their folk ballads and songs or festivals display traits alien to chotanagpur region.


  • Buried ancestors are memorialized as 'Guardian" spirit of the Gotr or family symbolized by the burial stone sasangdiri which means "yellow stone" or "turmeric stone". Once in everyone's life all members of the family are required to visit memorial stone to pay their respects. This practice is forbidden to Christianized Munda tribals, despite the absence of any offensive or forbidden acts, as prescribed by Christian dogma. These memorial stones are buried in an erect position at the place of gotr concerned.
  • Since ancient times the Munda people spread through all surrounding areas, including the chotanagpur region. One group surnamed gotr, settled in an area specific fashion. Each gotr is identified with a specific region, though now in general the people are free to settle where they wish.

  • Endogamous marriage is normal with the exception of marriage to members of the Santhal, Ho, Kharia and Oraon (Kurukh) communities. However, the current population is better educated and members sometimes abandon Munda tradition to marry a non tribal.Harsh punishments such as 'Jaat nikala'(Community Banishment) may be pronounced by community chieftans in such cases. Marriage is forbidden between persons belonging to the same gotr. A marriage between a bride and bridegroom of the same gotr is considered incest, and such a relation is socially undesireable.
  • The Santhal, Ho and Kharia communities are considered blood-brother tribals, marriage with them is common. However, marriage with an Oraon is acceptable only due to a special relationship, the "Uncle-Nephew" relation. The reasons for this relationship are surrounded by many myths and remain lost in antiquity.

Religion and Identity

  • Mundas maintain their own religion, called Sarna, in which they worship nature and natural powers. They believe in a supreme being called Singbonga, which means "the Supreme Spirit/God" (not Sun God). 'Sarna' is not classified among the vedic religions Hinduism.
  • Common surnames (Gotras) of the Munda: Topno, Barla, Aind, Hemrom, Guria, Herenge, Surin, Horo, Sanga, Samad, Soy, Kongari, Bage, Bhengra, Purti, Demta, Tiru, Munda, Kerketta, Jaria, Dhanwar, Kande, Binde, Jatarma, Burh, Kandulna, Lugun, Lomga, Singh mundas, etc. Sarna Mundas prefer to write their tribal name 'Munda' in place of surname.

  • Jesuit Father John-Baptist Hoffmann (1857-1928) spent his life studying the language, customs, religion and life of the Mundas. He published the first Munda grammar in 1903. Later (with the help of Menas Orea, a Munda wise man and scholar to whom he paid rich tribute) Hoffmann brought out a Encyclopaedia mundarica, 15 volumes, gathering all that was then known of the Munda people. The first edition was published posthumously in 1937. A third edition came to press in 1976.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 ethic names. Such are for example: Arora, Gujjar, Lohana, Bhatia, Meena, Bhil, Dom, Oraon,Munda, Santal, Koch, Ahir, Mahar, Nayar, Maratha,Gond, Khond, etc.

Munda Counting

  • "One"-Mi-a-en
  • "Two"-Bariya
  • "Three"-Apiya
  • "Four"-Upuniya
  • "Five"-Modeya
  • "Six"-Turiya
  • "Seven"-Eya
  • "Eight"-Irliya
  • "Nine"-Ariya
  • "Ten"-Geleya
  • "Twenty"-Hissi.
The counting system is apparently Decimal, with higher numbers created by combining words from these in required order like "Twelve"-Gel-bariya[ten-two]an example of a famous munda is birsa munda.

Notable Mundas

  • Birsa Munda, lead a late 19th century independence movement during British colonial rule in India
  • Jaipal Singh, formed the Adivasi Mahasabha political party in 1938, with himself as its president. After independence the name of the party was changed to the Jharkhand Party, to accommodate non-tribals seeking to achieve long term goals. He was the first to demand a separate Jharkhand state for tribals. He captained the Indian field hockey team to clinch the gold in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He is well known for his sportsmanship and political skills.
  • [ Nirmal Munda ],In 1934, Spearheaded the the movement in a organised form with some demands like i)New land settlement ii)Non Payment of Tax iii)Abolition of forced labour iv)People's right over forest v)Spread of education. Government started collecting taxes by force and warrant was issued to arrest Nirmal Munda. Nirmal Munda took it as challenge, gave a simultaneous call to the people to gather at Simko (a village near Raiboga Police station, Orissa) on 25th April 1934. Captain Boscoe, a political agent, arrived with armed forces and asked people to identify Nirmal Munda. Having failing to get any response, the agent gave firing order which resulted in loss of some 300 people lives. Nirmal Munda was arrested.'Simko Firing'was an historic movement in India's freedom of struggle in general and of sundargarh distric in particular.

Munda ethnic flag

A picture of the Munda ethnic flag is linked below.



  • HOFFMANN, John-Baptist: Mundari Grammar, Calcutta, 1903.
  • HOFFMANN, John-Baptist: A Mundari Grammar with exercises, 2 vol., Calcutta, 1905-09.
  • HOFFMANN, John-Baptist: Encyclopaedia mundarica, 15 vol., Patna, 1930-37.
  • PONETTE, P. (ed): The Munda World. Hoffmann commemoration volume, Ranchi, 1978.

Further reading

  • Parkin, R. (1992). The Munda of central India: an account of their social organization. Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195630297

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