Munda people

The Munda are tribal (Adivasi) people of the Chota Nagpur Plateau region.

They are found across Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Assam states of India, and into parts of Bangladesh. Their language is Mundari, which belongs to the Munda subgroup of the Austro-Asiatic language family.

There are estimated to be two million Munda people.



As Austro-Asiatic speakers, the Munda people are among the indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent.[1]

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 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.


  • Social arrangement is very basic and simple. The Indian caste system is alien to the Mundas.
  • Buried ancestors are memorialized as 'Guardian" spirit of the khunt or genelaogical family symbolized by burial stone sasandiri (not to be confused with sasangdiri, which means turmeric (crushing) stone). These are placed flat on the ground, but do not mark "graves" as such. Rather, bones of the deceased, who are cremated or buried immediately after death, are placed under the sasandiri, where previos ancestors' bones are also present. They are usually put in an earthen pot and kept there from the time of the cremation or burial till the time of the jangtopa ceremony when the actual placing of bones in the sasandiri can take place. Once every year, all members of the family are required to visit burial stones to pay their respects. This practice is formally forbidden by the Church for Christianized Munda tribals, although in reality Christians infrequently are present during the rituals. There are other stones for ancestors as well, e.g., the memorial stones (bhodiri, headstones), which are placed in an erect position, usually closer to the homestead. The landscape of chotanagpur is dotted with clusters of these two types of stones, sasandiri (burial stones) and bhodiri (head-stones).
  • Since ancient times the Munda people spread through all surrounding areas, including the chotanagpur region. In early times group having same surname or killi (who sought their lineage from a single ancestor), settled in an area-specific fashion. Each killi is identified with a specific region, though now in general the people are free to settle where they wish, and have settled all over Jharkhand
  • 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'(Caste Banishment) may be pronounced by community chieftains in such cases. Marriage is forbidden between persons belonging to the same cast(munda). A marriage between a bride and bridegroom of the same gotr is considered incest, and such a relation is socially undesirable.Gotr means Blood relation,same surname,same village gotr relation is like relation of brother and sister.
  • 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

  • Mostly Munda people follow the Sarna religion, believing in a god called Singbonga. However nearly one-fourth of them have adopted Christianity.
  • The surname of a Munda defines their identity. Many surnames are common among other tribes with minute variations. Surnames are based on natural elements, trees, animals birds or any nature related object which are often found in Chotanagpur region.
  • Common surnames among the Munda are: Topno (species of tree ant), Barla (Potter, species of fig tree), Aind (species rare river eel), Kerketta (species of rare bird), Guria, Sanga, Kandulna, Bage, Lugun, Surin, Burh/Bur, Demta, Mundu, Jojo (Tarmarind), Honhaga (younger brother), Kongari (species of rare bird), Horo (tortoise), Lomga, Samad, Purti, Bodra, Dang, Bhengra, Hem(b)rom, Dodrai, Soy, Herenz, Tiru, Bhuinya (earth).

Many Munda choose to write "Munda" in place of their surname. There are also group of Munda families who are called Sing 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 movement in an 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 25 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 district in particular.
  • Karia Munda MP. He is also the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
  • One of the well known scholars of the country Mr. Ramdayal Munda belongs to this tribe. He has been bestowed with many awards in the country and abroad for his outstanding contribution to art and culture of his tribe and state, Padmashree being the latest. Also a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. Recently he has been included in the 14 member National Advisory Council(NAC). He also heads the Tribal Advisory Council of the Gov. of Jharkhand. Also, he has contributed much to the Mundari language and literature by his books- Mundari Paath,Mundari Vyakaran, Hisir, Seled and Adidharam.

See also

Literature & Studies

  • 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.
  • "The Mundas & Their Country" by S C Roy, published in 1912
  • "Adidharam" by Ramdayal Munda and Ratan Singh Manki. The book includes all the rituals and customs practised by the Munda people. The book is in Mundari with Hindi translation. The book also an appeal to all the tribes, to unite their religion as one- 'Adidharam' on the basis of their common root.


  • 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.


  1. ^ Pre-Aryan and Pre-Dravidian in India. By Sylvain Lévi, P. Levi, Jules Bloch, Jean Przyluski.

Further reading

  • Parkin, R. (1992). The Munda of central India: an account of their social organization. Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-563029-7

External links

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