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Elwin, Verrier – The great Karma dance of the Gonds



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The Tribal World – Verrier Elwin
The Gonds have few arts or crafts, they do not weave and only rarely carve in wood. Their pots and their baskets are usually made for them by others. They have adopted to a considerable degree the religion of their Hindu neighbours. Their language, which is a Dravidian tongue, is now spoken by less than half their people.

Their culture survives in their memories of the past, for they have an extensive mythology, in the legendary history of their old kings and heroes, and in the dance and song at which they are still expert. There is a story that long ago, at the beginning of all things, there were seven Gond brothers who made a feast in honour of Bura Pen, their great god. They spread sumptuous offerings before him, but he did not appear. Nothing could tempt him. Then they asked their youngest brother to make music for them but he refused, and it was only when they heaped gifts upon him, gold and silver, jewellery and all manner of ornaments, that he consented. Then with a gourd and a piece of wood and a strand of wire (some say it was a hair of his own head) he made the first fiddle and played so exquisitely on it that the god came down to bless the feast.

Gond poetry is simple and symbolic, free of all literary conventions and allusions. It is a poetry of earth and sky, of forest, hill and river, of the changing seasons and the varied passions of men, a poetry of love, naked and unashamed, unchecked by any inhibition or restraint. The bulk of the poems are songs of the dance and the most poetic of them are perhaps the songs of the great Karma dance which is common to many of the primitive tribes of central India. This dance symbolizes the growth of the green branches of the forest in the spring; sometimes a tree is set up in the village and the people dance round it. The men leap forward to a rapid roll of drums and the women sway back before them. Then bending low to the ground the women dance, their feet moving in perfect rhythm, until the group of singers advances towards them like the steady urge of wind coming and going among the tree-tops, and the girls swing to and fro in answer. They often dance all night until, lost in a rapture of movement, they surprise the secret of the Lila, the ecstasy of creation, that ancient zest in the glory of which God made all things.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps