Munda Tribe- Culture, Tradition & Socio-Economic Status of Mundas and Famous Personalities

Updated November 10, 2022

Mundas are prominent tribal Community of Chhota Nagpur plateau region. Ethnic language Mundari, festivals of Mage Parab, Phagu, Karam (festival), Baha parab, Sarhul and Sohrai are typical to them. Folk songs, dances, tales and traditional musical instruments give them a distinct identity.

Apart from Chhotanagpur, the Mundas’ population also inhabit in adjacent regions of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and West Bengal. Madhya Pradesh., Tripura and Rangpur division of Bangladesh also have some Munda population. Mudas of M.P. and Mura of Tripura are Mundas only. Broadly, Munda tribe is found in the northern belt of east India

Mundari language belongs to the Munda subgroup of south and southeast Asian (Austroasiatic) languages. In Mundari dialect Munda is the term for the headman of a village. Equality of sex in Mundas is really praiseworthy wherein, both sexes participate in dances at social events and festivals.

History of Munda Tribe & Perspective Differences

Different historians and researchers have different opinions over the existence of the Munda tribe in India. Paul Sidwell, a researcher and consultant in linguistics, specializing in Southeast Asian language history, believes that about 4000 to 3500 years ago, Munda languages arrived on the coast of Odisha from Southeast Asia. The Munda people initially spread from Southeast Asia, but mixed extensively with local Indian populations.

Historian R. S. Sharma says that tribals who were the speaker of  Munda language occupied the eastern region of ancient India. They are in existence from 3000 to 4000 years ago because many Munda terms are found in Vedic texts that were written between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. And the texts compiled in the upper Gangetic basin in later Vedic period, that describe their presence also suggest that Munda speakers were there at the time.

According to Barbara A. West, the Mundas claim origin in Uttar Pradesh and were settled in a very large area in ancient India.

Mundas were the unprivileged and oppressed community during the British rule. They were forced to pay rents and work as bonded labourers to the zamindars. The Mundas’ leader Birsa Munda started the struggle against inhuman policies of colonist British Rule, Moneylender and landlords. He started the one of earliest tribal movements in India against the payment of rents and remission of forest dues.

Birsa fought hard against the colonist British rule to establish Munda Raj. This made Birsa Munda, a stalwart freedom fighter. As a tribal leader and a folk hero, he became the only belief of fundamental transformation in tribal belt. His bravery and struggles against the unjust law of British rule is widely commemorated in Jharkhand.

Occupation of Munda Tribe

In ancient time, Mundas were used to be Nomadic hunters in the India tribal belt and later they switched their occupation to wood cutting and farming. Since, most of them don’t have their own land so they work as labourers (sajhedar) or crop shares. Herding, weaving and basketwork are also among their main occupation . Mundas come under schedule tribe Category. So, with the introduction of reservation system, many of the Mundas made way into various government Jobs (particularly Indian Railways).

Culture and Tradition of Munda Tribe

Today, one fourth people of Munda tribe are converted into Christianity. Most of them follow Christianity but apart from Christianity they have their own religion, Sarna. Sarna emphasizes on the belief of one God.  And, they believe on the almighty power known as Singbonga, the god of sun. Their prominent language is Mundari and farming is among their main occupations.

Along with involvement in agriculture, the Munda people also celebrate the seasonal festivals of Sohrai, Karam, Phagu, Baha parab, Mage Parab and Sarhul. Some their seasonal festivals have coincided with religious festivals, but without tempering their original meaning. They have various folk songs, dances, tales and traditional musical instruments and naqareh is their main musical instrument. Mundas call their dance and song as durang and susun respectively. Some of the their major folk dances are Jadur, Mage Susun and Karam Susun. Sexes of both kinds participate actively in dances at social events and festivals.

The Munda tribe have numerous of rituals to celebrate birth, death, engagement and marriage. When a male baby takes birth in munda family, they celebrate it as an earner for the family and when female baby takes birth, they celebrate it as a family caretaker. There are many other rituals like, engagement ceremony as Lota-pani and giving a monetary gift to paternal guardians as Dali Takka. And among all these, Marriage is ritual of great significance. When someone dies in Munda tribe, they apply an ointment of scented oil and turmeric over the face and body of dead.

After the death of male counterpart, the female counter part (widow) can marry to whomsoever among the tribes she wants as widow marriage is common among them. The Mundas are patrilineal and the clan inherits from father to son. The clans of the Mundas are signifies as Killi which is similar to the Sanskrit word Kul. According to the tradition, people of the same clan are descendants of the same ancestor. Some of the mundas clans are Bodra, Dang, Gudia, Hemrom, Jojo, Kula, Nil, Mus, Pandu, Sandil, Purty, Runda, Tiru, etc.

People of Munda tribe in Jharkhand also follow the old age tradition of Patthalgari which means stone erection. In patthalgari, people of the munda community buries a large inverted U-shaped dressed headstone, having inscription of the family tree of the dead persons. Some of the patthalgari are Horadiri, Chalpadiri or Saasandiri, Magodiri and Ziddiri.

Economic Condition of Mundas aka Munda Tribe

A 2016 research paper on subsistence strategies of Mundas in a village of Sunderbans in West Bengal says that poor economic conditions and landlessness made many to migrate out of their residences. To earn better livelihood, Mundas are helpless to be a migrant than to work within the homeland.

Mundas are engaged in forest product collection, cultivation, small business and agricultural as well as non-agricultural jobs. Some families are also into various occupations like farming, wood cutting, herding and fishing. The said research paper also finds that younger generation of Mundas preferred to be migrant workers.

Famous Munda Personalities

Munda is a dynamic Indian tribe, it has produced the great personalities with no number in every field and profession. Here are  some of the notable mundas.

  • Birsa Munda- DOB (1875-1900), Known For (freedom fighter, religious leader, folk hero)
  • Rohidas Singh Nag- DOB (1934-2012), Known For (creator of “Mundari Bani” script)
  • Tulasi Munda- DOB (1947), Known For (social activist)
  • Sukra Munda- DOB (not known), Known For (politician)
  • Ram Dayal Munda- DOB (1939-2011), Known For (scholar in languages & folklore)
  • Nilkanth Singh Munda- DOB (born 1968), Known For (politician)
  •  Kariya Munda- DOB (born 1936), Known For (politician)
  • Jaipal Singh MundaDOB (1903-1970), Known For (politician, hockey player)
  • Arjun Munda- DOB (born 1968), Known For (politician)
  • Anuj Lugun- DOB (born 1986), Known For (poet who received the 2011 Bharat Bhushan Agarwal Award)
  • Amrit Lugun- DOB (born 1962), Known For (Ambassador to Yemen, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation director)
  • Dayamani Barla- DOB (not known), Known For (Journalist)

Questions Mostly Asked About Munda Tribe- FAQs

Q. Mundas Are Primarily Found in Which State?

Ans- The Munda tribe has most Population in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha Chhattishgarh, West Bengal, M.P and Tripura. Thus, broad inhabitation of Mundas is the northern belt of east India. The Rangpur division of Bangladesh is also a residence of the Munda.

Q. What is the Caste Category of Munda tribe?

Ans- Mundas come under Schedule Tribe Category in almost every state of Indian Union. This tribal Community mainly lives in Chhota Nagpur plateau region and the adjacent areas. and speak Mundari.

Q. What is the occupation of Mundas??

Ans- In ancient time, Mundas were Nomadic hunters but later, switched their occupation to wood cutting and farming. Since, most of them don’t have their own land so they work as labourers (sajhedar) or crop shares. Herding, weaving and basketwork also make their occupation.

Q. What is the Religion of Munda Tribe?

Ans- Today, one fourth people of Mundas are converted into Christianity. Most of them follow Christianity but they still have their own religion, Sarna. The Sarna emphasizes on the belief of one God. And, Mundas believe in the almighty Singbonga, the god of sun.

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