Medieval India – Tribes, Nomads and Settled Communities

Tribal Societies

  • Some powerful tribes controlled large territories. In Punjab, the Khokhar tribe was very influential during the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Kamal Khan Gakkhar, of Gakkhar tribe, was a noble (mansabdar) by Emperor Akbar.
  • In Multan and Sind, the Langahs and Arghuns dominated extensive regions before they were subdued by the Mughals.
  • In the western Himalaya lived the shepherd tribe of Gaddis.
  • The distant north-eastern part of the subcontinent too was entirely dominated by tribes – the Nagas, Ahoms etc.
  • In many areas of present-day Bihar and Jharkhand, Chero, chiefdoms had emerged by the 12th century. Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s general, attacked and defeated them in 1591.
  • The Maharashtra highlands and Karnataka were home to Kolis[also in Gujarat], Berads etc.
  • South got Koragas, Vetars, Maravars etc.
  • Bhils spread across western and central India. By the late 16th century, many of them had become settled agriculturists and some even zamindars.
  • The Gonds were found in great numbers across the present-day states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Gond Tribe

  • They lived in a vast forested region called Gondwana.
  • They practiced shifting cultivation.
  • The Akbar Nama, a history of Akbar’s reign, mentions the Gond kingdom of Garha Katanga that had 70,000 villages.
  • The administrative system of these kingdoms was becoming centralized.
  • The emergence of large states changed the nature of Gond society.
  • Certain Gond chiefs now wished to be recognized as Rajputs.

Ahom Tribe

  • They migrated to the Brahmaputra valley from present-day Myanmar in the 13th century.
  • They created a new state by suppressing the older political system of the bhuiyans (landlords).
  • During the 16th century, they annexed the kingdoms of the Chhutiyas (1523) and of Koch-Hajo (1581) and subjugated many other tribes.
  • They know to use firearms as early as the 1530s.
  • In 1662, the Mughals under Mir Jumla attacked the Ahom kingdom and defeated them.
  • The Ahom state depended upon forced labour. Those forced to work for the state were called paiks.
  • By the 17th century, the administration became quite centralized.
  • In their worship concepts influence of Brahmanas increased by the 17th century.
  • Literature and culture flourished in their time. Works known as buranjis, were written – first in the Ahom language and then in Assamese.

Trader Nomads: Banjaras

  • The Banjaraswere the most important trader-nomads. Their caravan was called tanda.
  • Alauddin Khalji used the Banjaras to transport grain to the city markets.
  • Emperor Jahangir wrote in his memoirs about Banjaras.