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1! HISTORY OF THE GONDS 45
from about the sixth to the twelfth centuries. They then disappear, and there is a blank till the fourteenth century or later, when Gond kingdoms are found established at Kherla in Betfil, at Deogarh in Chhindwara, at Garha-Mandla,1 including the Jubbulpore country, and at_ Chanda, fourteen miles from Bhandak. It seems clear, then, that the Hindu dynasties were subverted by the Gonds after the Muhammadan invasions of northern India had weakened or destroyed the central powers of the Hindus, and prevented any assistance being afforded to the outlying settlements. There is some reason to suppose that the immigration of the Gonds into the Central Provinces took place after the establishment of these Hindu kingdoms, and not before, as is commonly held.2 But the point must at present be considered doubtful. There is no reason however to doubt that the Gonds came from the south through Chanda and Bastar. During the fourteenth century and afterwards the Gonds established dynasties at the places already mentioned in the Central Provinces. For two or three centuries the greater part of the Province was governed by Gond'kings. Of their method of government in Narsinghpur, Sleeman said: “Under these Gond Rajas the country seems for the most part to have been distributed among feudatory chiefs, bound to attend upon the prince at his capital with a stipulated number of troops, to be employed wherever their services might be required, but to furnish little or no revenue in money. These chiefs were Gonds, and the countries they held for the support of their families and the payment of their troops and retinue little more than wild jungles. The Gonds seem not to have been at home in open country, and as from the sixteenth century a peaceable penetration of Hindu cultivators into the best lands of the Province assumed large dimensions, the Gonds gradually retired to the hill ranges on the borders of the plains.” The headquarters of each dynasty at Mandla, Garha, Kherla, Deogarh and Chanda seem to have been located in a position strengthened for defence either by a hill or a great river, and adjacent to an especially fertile plain tract, whose produce served for the maintenance of the ruler’s household and headquarters establishment. Often the site was on other sides bordered by dense forest which would afford a retreat to the occupants in case it fell to an enemy. Strong and spacious forts were built, with masonry tanks and wells inside them to provide water, but whether these buildings were solely the work of the Gonds or constructed with the assistance of Hindu or Muhammadan artificers is uncertain. But the Hindu immigrants found Gond government tolerant and beneficent. Under the easy eventless sway of these princes the rich country over which they ruled prospered, its flocks and herds increased, and the treasury filled. So far back as the fifteenth century we read in Firishta that the king of Kherla, who, if not a Gond himself, was a king of the Gonds, sumptuously entertained the Bahmani king and made him rich offerings, among which were many diamonds, rubies and pearls. Of the Rani Dfirgavati of Garha-Mandla, Sleeman said: “Of all the sovereigns of this dynasty she lives most in the page of history and in the grateful recollections of the people. She built the great reservoir which lies close to Jubbulpore, and is called after her Rani Talao or Queen’s pond ; and many other highly useful works were formed by her about Garha.” When the castle of Chauragarh was sacked by one of Akbar’s generals in 1564, the booty found, according to Firishta, comprised, independently of jewels, images of gold and silver and other valuables, no fewer than a hundred jars of gold coin and a thousand elephants. Of the Chanda rulers the Settlement officer who has recorded their history wrote that, “They left, if we forget the last few years, a well-governed and contented kingdom, adorned with admirable works of engineering skill and prosperous to a point which no aftertime has reached. They have left their mark behind them in royal tombs, lakes and palaces, but most of all in the seven miles of battlemented stone wall, too wide now for the shrunk city of Chanda within it, which stands on the very border-line between the forest and the plain, having in front the rich valley of the Wardha river, and behind and up to the city walls deep forest extending to the east.” According to local tradition the great wall of Chanda and other buildings,
1 Garha is six miles from Jubbulpore. 2 See article on Kol.
1! HISTORY OF THE GONDS 47
such as the tombs of the Gond kings and the palace at Junona, were built by immigrant Telugu masons of the Kapu or Munurwar castes. Another excellent rule of the Gond kings was to give to any one who made a tank a grant of land free of revenue of the land lying beneath it. A large number of small irrigation tanks were constructed under this inducement in the Wainganga valley, and still remain. But the Gond states had no strength for defence, as was shown when in the eighteenth century Maratha chiefs, having acquired some knowledge of the art of war and military training by their long fighting against the Mughals, cast covetous eyes on Gondwana. The loose tribal system, so easy in time of peace, entirely failed to knit together the strength of the people when united action was most required, and the plain country fell before the Maratha armies almost without a struggle. In the strongholds, however, of the hilly ranges which hem in every part of Gondwana the chiefs for long continued to maintain an unequal resistance, and to revenge their own wrongs by indiscriminate rapine and slaughter. In such cases the Maratha plan was to continue pillaging and harassing the Gonds until they obtained an acknowledgment of their supremacy and the promise, at least, of an annual tribute. Under this treatment the hill Gonds soon lost every vestige of civilisation, and became the cruel, treacherous savages depicted by travellers of this period. They regularly plundered and murdered stragglers and small parties passing through the hills, while from their strongholds, built on the most inaccessible spurs of the Satpfiras, they would make a dash into the rich plains of Berar and the Nerbudda valley, and after looting and killing all night, return straight across country to their jungle fortresses, guided by the light of a bonfire on some commanding peak.1 With the pacification of the country and the introduction of a strong and equable system of government by the British, these wild marauders soon settled down and became the timid and inoffensive labourers which they now are. Mr. Hislop took down from a Pardhan priest a Gond 5- Mythical
myth of the creation of the world and the origin of the
1 Mr. Standen’s Betfil Settlement Report. -‘ Lingo‘