Many tribes are present in more than one state. The largest numbers of scheduled tribes are in the states of Odisha (i.e. 62). Madhya Pradesh is the 2nd largest state of India. Because of its centrally location, it is often called as the ‘Heart of India’. Each of these tribes has its own identity and culture which varies greatly from each other. The tribes have their distinct socio-economic, cultural, political and religious institutions which are important part and parcel of cultural heritage of India. They have contributed immensely towards the history and culture of India.
The Central India consists of plateaus and mountainous belt between Indogangrtic plain to the north and roughly to the Krishna River to the south. In this present article, the tribal residing in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, south-eastern Rajasthan, northern Maharashtra, northern Telengana, northern Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, southern Utter Pradesh and south-western West Bengal are considered as tribes of central India. The important tribes inhabiting in this zone are the Agaria, the Asur, the Baiga, the Bhils, the Bhuinya, the Bhumij, the Birhor, the Bondo, the Borida, the Gadava, the Ho, the Juang, the Kamar, the Katkari, the Kharia, the Kharia, the Kol, the Kondh, the Koraku, the Lodha, the Munda, the Muria, the Oraon, the Pardhan, the Santal / Santhal, the Savara etc.
On the basis of the distribution of the tribal population by states, Madhya Pradesh stands first having 14.7% of the total tribal population.
The tribal population of central India can be distinguished from one to another on the basis of their size of population, like, the Gonds, the Bhils, the Santals (Santhals), the Oraons, the Mundas etc have a population between one million to seven millions. On the other side, there are some tribal communities, like the Birjia, the Asur, the Birhor etc have a population of less than 200 persons.
The tribal languages of India is divided into four different linguistic families, namely, Indo-European, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and the Tibeto-Burman sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan languages. Only a few tribal groups, like the Bhil, the Halbi used to speak Indo-European family of language. For example, the Gonds usually speak their own Gondi dialect for their intra tribal communication but while they used to speak with their neighbouring people, they speak either the Chhattisgarhi or the Hindi. Similarly, the Bhil speaks ‘Bhili’, the Santal speaks ‘Santali’, the Ho speaks ‘Ho’, the Munda speaks ‘Mundari’, the Kondh speaks ‘Kondhi’ as so on as their main dialect for intra tribal communication but they also speak the other languages as per their requirement to communicate people from other communities. Recently, some tribes of central India have developed their own scripts for easy and better communication and spread of their language.
Religion and magic are the integral part of the tribal culture. Most of the tribes of central India are animist in nature. Besides, the worship of ancestral spirit is also in practice. Superstition and traditional beliefs are deeply rooted with their religious practices. It is a general belief among all the tribes of central India that everything what ever happening to them are either by the blessing or curse of the supernatural power or evil spirits. . Usually, the family or clan deities are worshiped by the head of the family or clan members but for the village level or tribe level worship they seek help of their Ojha or religious head. There are nine distinct groups of gods found among the Gonds. The Bada Deo or Ma-hadev (Pen) who is conventionally thought to be Shiva of the Hindu traditions is considered as the principal god of the Gond. Similarly, the Singhbonga (the Sun God) is the principal deity of the Santals, the Mundas and the Hos. Other deities of this tribe are Jahir era, Monika, Marangburu etc. The Juangs of Odisha believe in the supernatural power. The ‘Dharm deuta’ (sun god) is their supreme deity and the ‘Basuki mata’ (earth goddess) is his counterpart.
Most of the rituals and festivals of the tribes of central India are associated with their economic activities, i.e. related to hunting, fishing, agriculture etc.
Some major tribes of Madhya Pradesh are :