By Dr Dyavanapalli Satyanarayana
The tribal population of Telangana constitutes about 10 per cent of the total population of State. Not only the percentage is a good one but also it shows a wide range of diversity which is essential for sustenance of a race of region.
One of the areas for the diversity is languages. The 10 per cent population speaks about 10 different languages whereas the 90 per cent of the population in the State speak only a few languages. The tribal languages are: Gondi, Koya, Kolami, Naikdi, Chenchu, Kaikadi (Yerukala), Lambadi, Nakkala, Konda Kammara and Marathi.
Gondi is largest spoken language in India since Gonds spread are living in many central Indian States. It appears to be one of the oldest languages of the country too. Scholars have proposed that the earliest race that inhabited Indian subcontinent was of Gonds and hence they preferred to call earliest form of Indian subcontinent as Gondwana. They love freedom and independence and held their own sway over their regions for most of the historical periods.
Whenever a threat was posed from outsiders they protested. We come across such freedom fighters as Ramji Gond and Kumram Bheem. These historical accounts are narrated in Gondi by their dependent community Thoti by playing a special musical increment called keekri. Their clan histories are also recited by one more dependent community Pardhan. Pardhans are the most literate tribe in the State. But the mother tongue of Pardhans is Marathi.
Similarly Andhs too speak Marathi. The Sanskrit word of Andh is Andhr. Satavahana clan of Andhras is said to have established first ever empire in entire Deccan two thousand years ago at Kotilingala, Jagtial district. Their inscriptions were in Maharashtri variant of Prakrit language, majority scholars say. Even today, the Andhs living in Telangana (across erstwhile Adilabad district) speak Marathi. Therefore, it can be surmised that Marathi also has its origins in Telangana.
Interestingly, Kolami has roots connected to the script/language of the Indus valley civilisation going back to years of history and its words are akin to Telugu but also to few other tribal languages carrying historical memory through its folklore. PS Subrhmanyam, a well-known scholar on Kolami language, says that other tribal languages – Naikdi and even Naiki of Chanda of Maharashtra – can be considered as dialects of Kolami for all practical purposes. All the dialects of the language Kolami are on the edge of disappearing now.
Similarly, only a minor stock – Bhasha Koyas – among the major tribe of Koyas, speak Koya, a typical language along the fringes of Chhattisgarh bordering the river Godavari in Telangana. Majority of Koyas (90 – 95 per cent) have forgotten their language. Likewise, Prof Haimendorf who produced an ethnographic volume on the tribe of Chenchus says that the Chenchus have forgotten their language long back and learnt to speak Telugu as their mother tongue.
Yerukalas (Kaikadi), Nakkalas and Konda Kammaras have migrated mostly from southern regions in the past and hence carried their Dravidian root words though they speak their own languages. Lambadis too have migrated a few centuries ago to this region, yet they retained their own language. However, they did not have script.
Almost all the tribes of Telangana sing contextual songs and have dependent communities to recite their clan histories. If such folklore is preserved the language diversity of Telangana can be preserved for posterity.
Prof Haimendorf tried to preserve Gondi by teaching Gondi culture through Gondi primers during 1940s. During the recent times too, the State Government’s Tribal Welfare Department is trying to conserve the tribal languages through such primers in all the major tribal languages of Telangana.
Now you can get handpicked stories from Telangana Today on Telegram everyday. Click the link to subscribe.