The Sun is known as Lingo in the Gondi languages. Lingo also happens to be the name of a Gond culture hero. His exploits, well known among members of the Gond nation, were translated by British colonial administrators and missionaries who visited the tribe’s Central Indian homeland – Gondwana. One such book is ‘The Story of Gondwana’ by the Right Reverand Eyre Chatterton (Bishop of Nagpur). I will be publishing excerpts from the book in this series about Gond culture. Given below is the first installment.

The Story of Lingo

No account of the Gonds would be complete without some reference to the quaint songs which link themselves with the name of Lingo, the Gond prophet, and which form a sort of Epic once recited by Gond Pardhans, or Bards. This Epic for so we may style it, was first brought to light half a century ago, by the Rev. S. Hislop, one of the pioneer missionaries of the last century. Hislop in his wanderings amongst the Gonds, and in his researches into things Gondian, first heard of it from one of their Pardhans, or Bards. He reduced it to writing in the Gondi language with his own hand shortly before his too early and tragic death ; and the task of having it translated, first into Hindi, and afterwards into English, was carried out under the direction of his friend, Sir R. Temple, the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces. The English translation as it is found in these pages is that of Sir R. Temple himself, which is in every way to be preferred to a paraphrase cast in the metre of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,’ by Captain Forsyth in The Highlands of Central India. Reading it for the first time in Forsyth’s paraphrase and with his not very sympathetic comments fresh in my mind, I was certainly not prepared for the quaint humour and real charm revealed in Sir R. Temple’s translation.

This Epic, as Sir R, Temple truly says, is “a compendium of Gond thoughts and notions.” Though abounding in things borrowed from the Hindus, it is possessed of real originality, and in many passages steeped with Gond ideas. It was customary for Gond Pardhans to recite it to circles of listening Gonds at marriages, and on other festive occasions. Now that under changed conditions of Gond life it is seldom if ever heard (it is, I am told, quite unknown in most parts of modern Gondwana), it is well that Hislop’s interesting discovery should be rescued from the oblivion into which it has undoubtedly fallen. As to how old this story of Lingo really is, no one can say. One or two scholars with higher critical tendencies have suggested that it is possibly of Brahmanic origin, and that it may have been foisted on the Gonds for the purpose of popularising amongst them the worship of Shiva. Sir R. Temple in his editorial notes expresses the view that though the original form must be quite ancient, yet the framework of the story, as it now exists, was clearly composed after the arrival of the Aryans amongst the aborigines in Central India. The Epic was never written, and the modern Gond Pardhans, being unlettered men, do not attempt to explain its history.

Sir R. Temple divides it into five parts. Such a division is a good way of reminding the modern reader that it was probably sung or recited in parts. It is also a convenient way of separating the various subjects treated in the Epic.

Part I — deals with the creation of the Gond people and their subsequent bondage.

Part II — tells of the birth, life and death of the mythical hero, the Prophet Lingo.

Part III —deals with the revival of Lingo and his delivery of the Gonds from bondage.

Part IV — deals with the sub-division of the Gonds into tribes and the institution of the worship of the Gonds.

Part V — deals with the institution of the rites of marriage amongst the Gonds by Lingo.

As Sir R. Temple’s translation fills many pages, it is necessary for us to omit considerable portions of it, and to confine ourselves to its more interesting parts, especially those which throw light on Gond customs.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons shows a painting of Gaur (Bos gaurus) or Indian Bison on the Pachmarhi Hills of Central India. Gondwana was the name by which the homeland of the Gonds was known to outsiders, both Indian and British. This was a hilly and remote country, covered by forests and rich in big game. The illustration is from Captain J. Forsyth’s book, ‘Highlands of Central India’ (published in 1872).