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II. 1.1 Contribution of tribal cultures to Indian civilisation

A study of various stages of prehistory reveals that the Indian tribal polpulation has been participating in the dynamics of mainstream social and cultural evolution from the very beginning.

Archeological records show that the aboriginal Indian population was predominantly Tribal and they constituted the basic social matrix of India.

Migration of foreign tribes into mainland India  account for the complex and diverse racial types within India as there is no paleontological evidence of substantiating their evolution.

The Indus valley civilization is the ingenious work of the Indian tribes. Later invasion of Aryan tribes and their amalgamation into Indian society led to establishment of Vedic civilization. Later Vedic period and interaction between Aboriginal and Aryan tribes i.e. Aryanisation of Indian Tribes and Tribalisation of Aryan people.

Mention of Indian tribes in ancient Indian texts (Panchatantra, Kathasaritsagara, Vishnu Purana, Harsha Charitra) and epics (Ramayana and Mahabharatha) is a testimony of the fact of their proactive role in gradual evolution of Indian society and culture.

Examples :

Mention of Sabaras or Saoras in Aitreya Brahmana

Kinnaras and Kiratas in ancient texts

Ekalavya (Mahabharata) – Bhil tribe

Mundas and Nagar tribes are said to have fought alongside the Kauravas at Kurukshetra war.

Bhima married Hidimba a tribal lady

Mention of Arjuna marrying Chitrangada, a Naga princess

India’s regional languages such as Oriya, Marathi or Bengali developed as a result of the fusion of tribal languages with Sanskrit or Pali and virtually all the Indian languages have incorporated words from the vocabulary of Tribal languages.

Tribal folklore contain anecdotes and legends from hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata

Example: the Gonds consider themselves descendants of Ravana and Mundas consider themselves descendants of Manu.

The early Buddhist Sanghas were modelled on the tribal pattern of social interaction that stressed gender equality,and respect for all members. Members of the Sanghas sought to emulate their egalitarian outlook and democratic functioning

Tribal deities and customs, creation myths and a variety of religious rites and ceremonies came to absorbed into the broad stream of “Hindu” society. In the Tribal traditions, ancestor worship, worship of fertility gods and goddesses (as well as male and female fertility symbols), totemic worship – all played a role. And they all found their way into the practice of what is now considered Hinduism. The widespread Indian practice of keeping ‘vratas’, i.e. fasting for wish-fulfillment or moral cleansing also has tribal origins.

Dental care products like datun, roots and condiments like turmeric used in cooking and ointments are also Tribal discoveries, as are many fruit trees and vines. Ayurvedic cures for arthritis and night blindness owe their origin to Tribal knowledge.

Tribals also played an important role in the development of agricultural practices – such as rotational cropping, fertility maintenance through alternating the cultivation of grains with leaving land fallow or using it for pasture. Tribals of Orissa were instrumental in developing a variety of strains of rice.

Tribal musical instruments such as the bansuri (flute) and dhol (drum), folk-tales, dances and seasonal celebrations also found their way into Indian traditions as did their art and metallurgical skills.

Thus, through the constant interactions tribal population has contributed enormously to the nation’s pre-historic and historic development and Indian civilization has been enriched with the dynamic participation of these ancient inhabitants of the sub-continent.

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