Gondwana

How it got its name
Notes by Craig Robertson
March, 2008
The museum in Mumbai where I started.

I was told as a geology student in the 1960s, about 45 years ago, that Gondwana meant land of the Gonds, and that they were a tribal people living somewhere in India. The idea of going there one day stayed in my mind over all the years and many travels. It was this that I set out to find in early 2007. I started with my Times atlas, searches in library catalogues and on the web, and discovered my destination lay in the state of Madya Pradesh.

Gondwana: the word
Gondwana: "land of the Gonds". The origin of the word is hazy, but Indian historians seem to agree it was first used by Afghan traders who came into Gond territory in central India around the 11th or 12th centuries. But the Telugan people of Andra Pradesh also may well have coined the word or used it. The Telugu-English Dictonary tells us konda is hill or mountain; kondajaati, a hilltribe, goondu the name of a hilltribe, and wana a wood, forest or grove. "Gond" (also spelt "Goond") is also possibly a corruption of "Khond" or "Kond", the name of one of the tribal groups comprising the "Gonds".

Gondwana: the place
It refers to an area covering the north Godavari and Namarda River valleys, occupying most of Madya Pradesh, meaning Central Province, a state of India created from a group of old states after independence. However Gond people are spread over a wide area of central, and central eastern India covering seven states.
Key locations Seoni: one of the main towns, the forests around it were the setting for Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. It now lies about half way between Pench Tiger Reserve andKanha National Park. Kipling stayed for a few days in a jungle camp at Pench.

I cannot find any hint of it in the Jungle Book. He was using a pair of binoculars given him by a British birder. on the eastern spurs of the Maikal Hills. see below about the geology. Narmada River: the major river flowing through Gondwana. to the north all join the Ganges flowing east to the Bay of Bengal. to the south the Godivari and others also flow east. Listen to the birds in Kanha (1' 02". but the logic of the situation strongly suggests Mowgli was a Gond boy. Michael Beaman. Also the only major Indian river that flows east-west. The Palash tree (Fire of the Forest) is also common across the central Indian landscape. to the Arabian Sea. Sal forest in Kanha National Park. (There is a statue in Seoni of a boy riding a wolf.) . in gratitude for being shown the owl. Amarkantak is the source of the Narmada River. Pench Tiger Reserve Wild peafowl displaying in Kanha. My guide on an afternoon drive was Probir Patil who told me he had found the first Forest Owlet seen in 125 years. Pench Tiger Reserve Tigers in the forest. part of the Satpura Range. a major national park in Gondwana territory between Seoni and Mandla. on the southern edge of the Satpura Range: apart from it's Kiplingesque history. and its tigers. it is sacred and an annual festival is held there.In 1831 there had been a report by one William Henry Sleeman of a feral boy found with a pack of jungle dogs or wolves in the forest near Seoni. Wild boar running in the forest. it is an important birding location. 612 Kb mp3). The teak and sal forests were in Kipling's day continous from Pench to Kanha.) Pench Tiger Reserve. (The peak is a thick Deccan Trap.

upstream from Jabalpur. near Pachmarhi. Madya Pradesh Bhopal. one of the first Gondwana geological type localities. Madya Pradesh Satpura Range: a composite feature created by British mapping. one of the main Rajput Gond feudal states. Mahadeo Hills. topped by a temple. Madya Pradesh (the temple of Chauragarh is on a distant peak) Palash trees . Bhimbetka: Acheulian (Lower Palaeolithic or earliest stone age). the approximate northern limit of Gond territory. Mesolithic rock art near Pachmarhi. Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. it holds the Rani Durgavati Museum. Madya Pradesh Pachmarhi. in the Mahadeo Hills: site of Captain Forsyth's hill station (see below). Indian ethnographer Behram Mehta worked at the centre (see below. and the locality of Lameta. Around Pachmarhi there is Mesolithic rock art and a view of Chauragarh. Maikal Hills and others spread across the Gond heartland. Bhimbetka and Raisen: one of the world's most important rock art precints. Satpura Range. includes the Mahadeo Hills. another Gond feudal city state. a medieval Gond fort near Jabalpur.Mandla: on the Narmada River. an early 11th century Gond fort at Madan Mahal. Jabalpur: the main city in the Gond area. . nearby features are the Marble Rocks. there is no sign of the centre now). Near here is Tamia. Rock paintings in three phases from Upper Palaeolithic. A Gondwana Centre was set up in Tamia during the 1980s by an institute from Mumbai. on the way to Chhindwara. to study and interact with Gond people and culture. site of the Rani Durgavati kingdom (see below). (Left) Madan Mahal. Mesolithic and later historic periods. then Mesolithic.Fire of the Forest near Pachmarhi.

and in their history. drinking spirit distilled from flowers of the mahua tree. some Gonds were also urban dwellers of fortified feudal city states.Gondwana: the people The Gonds are a large heterogeneous group of tribal people. which includes Tamil and Telugu. Some practiced human sacrifice. that they should sleep out there.religious beliefs for example.one of the central-southern Dravidian family of languages. sometimes called the Moses of the Gonds. to the goddess Kali. Rajput Gonds . but in the mid-nineteenth century they made a point of giving it up because of public opinion. They are regarded as the aboriginal people of the Gondwana area (although another people called the Baiga are also aboriginal in certain areas of central-eastern Madya Pradesh). However only a limited number of Gond groups speak Gondi. This lasted until 1853 in the city of Nagpur. fermented date-palm juice. They have been noted for excessive drinking. There is a Gond myth of the creation of the world and the origin of the Gonds.Gondi . and also that the bush was the only appropriate place for sex. Historically. which was set up around the 1950s after independence. The Gonds are generally people who favour a habitat of forested hills and plateaus. Some were naked hunter-gatherers of the forest. and in the south. refers to the "leaf-clad Gondali". By heterogeneous we mean the groups vary a great deal in social and cultural aspects. What makes someone a Gond seems to be a loose assortment of cultural factors . Until quite recent times some still thought the only proper place for men was out in the bush. Madya Pradesh Gonds like to sit around the fire and sing at night. There is a Gond language . making them uncompetitive with the Hindus. (Left) A small Gond settlement on the edge of Kanha National Park. Ptolemy. numbering in the millions. perhaps a thousand years before we hear of "Gondwana". They are given an official status as such under an administrative scheme called the Scheduled Tribes of India. involving a divine hero called Lingo.

Statue of the Gond queen Rani Durgavati in Mandla. in the 1560s. Various other defeats of the Gond states followed. lusted after her and her kingdom at Mandla. who then had effective control over most of India. Rani was a famous beauty and the wicked Asaf Khan. She was recorded as having 1400 elephants. The Rajputs and Gonds formed alliances against the Mughals. the major growth of the areas under their influence being in the 18th century. "British" then meant the East India Company (EIC). With the probable exception of Ptolemy. who was of Rajput stock. But their movement into Gondwana was quite slow at first. In 1564 Asaf laid siege to Mandla. there was a Gond queen at Mandla. was forced to move his seat of power further south to Golkonda. They had been spreading slowly across India ever since. the Imperial Viceroy in Delhi. which had been given sole rights to trade in India by Queen Elizabeth I in about 1600. where Rani made her last stand.During the European Middle Ages. By the early 19th century the Hindu rulers of the northeast of India were in their final struggles against the British. Her son. The Narmada River at Mandla. Rani Durgavati Famously. Betul and Chhindwara. Arrival of the British That brings us to the eve of the arrival of the British. right down through it to Rajamundry in the south. for example at Mandla. the last Gond king dying in 1790. inheriting her crown. Feudalism contributed to the process of detribalization. In 1795 a Captain Blunt undertook an expedition from Varanesi (formerly Benares) to the north of Gondwana. By this time the Mughals had invaded northern India and were also pushing south into Gond territory. It was under their influence that a number of Gond groups developed feudal kingdoms. his observations of the nudity of the Gonds appear to . Her name was Rani Durgavati and she was and still is a popular figure amongst the Gonds. Rajput Hindu people pushed down from the north into Gond territory. When Rani realised she could not win the fight she committed suicide by stabbing herself.

Written accounts of Gonds remained rare. By the 1850s Gondwana was still one of those dark mysterious blanks in the map of the empire.. It states: "Captain Blunt's interesting journeys in 1795 give almost all the information we possess. For Gondwana the first serious ethnography was undertaken by a missionary. and Hislop's findings were published post-mortem in Papers on the Aboriginal Tribes of the Central Provinces 1866. The significant activity in the history of Gondwana is that it was during these years that the British geologists first came into the area. (Left) Old place at Lucknow still standing with holes in the walls from cannonfire. the land of the Gond race". Some journal articles about the Gonds began to be published: The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 1853 includes an item about "the Gondwana highlands and jungles [comprising] a large tract of unexplored country". Siege of Lucknow.. The famous siege of Lucknow ended in defeat for the Indians. He was the first to record the legend of Lingo but he didn't publish during his lifetime. The British penetration of Gond lands then stepped up. In 1820 a Lieutenant Prendergast noted that the Gonds were cannibals that ate their own relatives. which seems to have been the first to report on the geology and archaeology of the area. This resulted in more about the Gonds being published. probably in the 1850s. Stephen Hislop. the Indian Uprising of 1857 (also known as the Indian Mutiny and the first war of liberation depending which side you were on). However it was also the end of a significant role for the EIC. They were primarily looking for coal. Eventually missionaries and scientists followed the spread of empire and were often the first ethnographers. which had already been found by the EIC at Hoshangabad on the edge of the Gond lands near the Narmada River. the Rev.have kicked off the ethnographic record. 1857 There is little documented interaction with the Gonds until after the key event of mid-nineteenth century Indian history. We will return to that shortly.such a description would scarcely be applicable anywhere out of Central Africa". and fiercely independent. In 1860 there was an article in the EIC Gazetteer describing "Gondwana. Generally their reputation in these times was as naked savages living on roots and fruits and hunting strangers for sacrifice. There was an expedition into Central India led by a Sir John Malcom in the 1830s. India was placed thereafter under the direct rule of Queen Victoria. where they opened the first .

shortly after he died at the age of thirty-three. as the geologists were exploring the area. Captain James Forsyth During the 1860s. His book is called Highlands of Central India: Notes on Their Forests and Wild Tribes.coalfield in 1852. The most notable contribution was by the young Captain James Forsyth of the Bengal Staff Corps.in 1871. the ethnography expanded. (Left) Highlands Of Central India by Capt. He uses the word elsewhere in the book. Natural History. James Forsyth: title page. He returned to London and his account of the Gonds was published . He established a post at Pachmarhi in the Mahadeo Hills. referring for example to the "hills of Gondwana". from the tribe of Gonds who chiefly inhabit it". where he built Bison Lodge in 1862. today a little museum. probably the first book describing Gondwana.In Memoriam . On page seven he refers to "the country called by the name Gondwana. . and Sports.

Grigson The Maria Gonds of Bastar 1938 and 1949. V. e. Probably the most intriguing was by Verrier Elwin who published Leaves from the Jungle: Life in a Gond Village 1936. refers to a recent expedition into Central India by one Sir John Malcolm. The Geological Survey of India (GSI). this would have been into the area below the Mahadeo Hills and downstream from Hoshangabad. Some other major publications include:     R. Rani Durgavati's old territory. The history of the geology of Gondwana does take off in a sort of logical progression from the ethnographic history. still without mention of Gondwana. V. Russell and R. One of the main things . and seems to have been one of those English eccentrics worth a study himself. Madya Pradesh.Ethnography continued Ethnographic work continued into the twentieth century. But Lyell does not mention Gondwana (or Glossopteris. the well-named Captain Dangerfield. the final edition of the Principles was the 12th of 1875. and some archaeological finds regarding cities buried by volcanic activity in the area. Behram H. Mehta: Gonds of the Central Indian Highlands 1984 Gondwana: geology Charles Lyell. Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Hira Lal Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India 1916. the 1930s were especially productive: W. reported on the geology of the Narmada (Nerbuddah) River channel. A member of the expedition. see below).g. an arm of the British administration. From the information in Lyell's book. who worked in Gond country 1939-1949 and published The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh (1979) Some Indian authors have also published.B. is the organization that mattered. in the first edition of Principles of Geology in the early 1830s. (Right) Verrier Elwin with a Gond friend at Karanjia. He worked at Karanjia near Mandla.

or at least mixed. Early workers in the field were:    J. These sediments were generally regarded as fluvio-lacustrine. Medlicott. who explored the Satpura Range. who first identified the Lameta formation in 1860. That is.G. Medlicott mapped these (although the Satpura name wasn't given until 1893 by his colleague R. Medlicott. and most likely would have stayed at James Forsyth's Lodge when they were in the area. would have been well known to these geologists of the 1860s and early 1870s.exercising their minds was the search for coal resources. The name Gondwana. Presumably the two Medlicotts were related. W.B. Gondwana rocks on the riverbank. B. they were freshwater sediments. It doesn't take too much imagination to think they all would have read the sort of journal articles described above. They knew aboutGlossopteris. These geologists discovered within the pre-Cambrian terrain around Jabalpur. although there was much debate for decades about whether some of them were marine. who delivered a report on the Chhindwara District in 1866. GSI geologists worked along the Narmada River and up into the Satpura Range. D. H. mammals and birds. a faulted trough filled with about 80 metres of Upper Mesozoic sediments. which is the main plant fossil found in the Permian coal deposits that came to be recognized as a major feature of Gondwanan remnant landmasses (the taxon was established by 1830). Blanford of the Geological Survey of India. molluscs and meteorology. It was soon revealed that there were a number of geological basins throughout the whole area of central India with the same sequence. and later read his book. the Jabalpur-Lameta sequence (named for these type localities). Adoption of the name . The crucial early example was those having formed in the Satpura Basin and later pushed up to form the Satpura Range.T. H. Oldham). one way or another. and the two Blanfords (probably brothers). which is capped to the south by Deccan volcanic intrusions. and began publishing in the early 1870s.M. Narmada River at Lameta near Jabalpur. they would have been part of a small colonial community. already found and mined by the EIC. from at least 1858. The Blanfords published works on geology.

(Henry Francis) Blanford The Rudiments of Physical Geography for the use of Indian Schools 1873 (1874 and 1878).Medlicott is credited with first naming this sequence the Gondwana series. rock series in the peninsular area of India. in a paper in the Records of the GSI: Notes on the age of some fossils of India. and has since been more or less current on the survey.. or Feistmantel has almost certainly confused it with a work listed in the British Library catalogue: H. Blanford in his little work on the Physical Geology of India". He later continued this work. In his preamble Feistmantel says: ". Geological Survey of India 1876: title page of issue with Ottokar Feistmantel's historic paper. I will at once adopt instead the name GONDWANA series or system. But for geology at least Feistmantel gets first naming honors. and published. or at least worked for the GSI). The name was proposed some years ago by Mr. The first credited with using it in print was Ottokar Feistmantel in 1876 (in spite of the name he was British.) . The Oxford Dictionary in fact names this as its first published use of the word. The latter work has either sunk without a trace. Medlicott.B. F. is that usually spoken of collectively as the plant-bearing series. The name was then adopted by other workers. in Australia.F.Henry Benedict . quite ignoring Forsyth's 1871 book and the other earlier sources.The important point here is that H.almost the only fossiliferous. This is an awkward designation. H. . Ottokar Feistmantel's historic 1876 paper publishing the name Gondwana for the first time in the geological literature. to be understood in the same wide sense as when we speak of the Jurassic or Silurian series or system. (This paper also discusses Glossopteris. He did this in unpublished reports for the GSI in 1872.. it has been once used in print by Mr.

Blanford (1896) was the first to do so in English. 1893. into the Cretaceous. It descibes the "Gondwana system" as starting at the Middle and Upper Carboniferous boundary. who published a landmark book: Das Antlitz der Erde 1885. a major break in Indian stratigraphy.T. This book collated the then known geology of the earth. The Lower Gondwana has the "characteristicGlossopteris flora". Blanford published A Manual of the Geology of India and Burma (Oldham edited the second edition. which possibly gives it a certain validity inspite of the tautology. and he specifically refers to Suess as his source. ushering in the "great Gondwana era" which started with a glacial event and followed with a long period of river sedimentation. and helped preserve it through the subsequent long geological periods. The volcanics of the Deccan Traps at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary overlaid much of the sequence. It was translated into English in the early 1900s as The Face of the Earth.B Medlicott and W. Medlicott & Blanford's Manual of the Geology of India and Burma: page describing Gondwana. and that W. had made the idea of a supercontinent of .In 1879 H. the Glossopteris flora and so forth. On the road to Gondwana . It looks like they tacked the '-land' on to distinguish the supercontinent from the original Gondwana territory.Deccan Traps: volcanic beds covering much of southern and central India Eduard Suess adds the "-land" An important example was Eduard Suess. Alfred Wegener and continental drift The similarities of the southern continents. the Permian non-marine sediments.at least according to the Oxford Dictionary . It seems . and named the Satpura Range).T. and referred to Medlicott and Blanford's book for the geology of India. Professor of Geology in the University of Vienna.that it was Suess who started using the term "Gondwanaland". Thus Gondwana was established in the geological literature. at least along its southern margins.

he refers to works as early as 1857 amongst the vast literature that he had read. Calcutta. Canberra (ANU 1973). it was a theory with a serious lack of explanation. focusing on the South America . in Buenos Aires. debate was still going. New Zealand officially dropped the "-land" from . held in Wellington. He was not a geologist. Speculation on the 'fit' between South America and Africa goes back to Francis Bacon in 1620.West Africa match up which was supposedly one of the strong arguments in support. and Neil Archbold. an intellectual rebel who looked outside the box. He published the first edition of his book The Origin of Continents and Oceans in 1915. The debate on drift theory raged for decades. From a geophysical point of view. but a trained astronomer who mainly worked as a meteorologist until his untimely death on an expedition on 1930. a recent president of The Royal Society of Victoria.) In fact explaining Gondwana was a significant part of the intellectual challenge to come up with an acceptable theory of the earth's geological history. These debates were aired at a series of nine international Gondwana symposia held from 1967 to 1994. a former ANU geologist and an uncle of mine. and he wrote from a standpoint of the continuous contraction of the earth. Mac Dickins. Ohio. While growing numbers of geologists and biogeographers tended to support it. started by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and taken up by various host organizations every few years. Harking back to my years at Melbourne University in the 1960s. it just didn't make sense. Some time in the mid1960s Owen Singleton gave a lecture putting forward the stratigraphic objections. the geophysicists were the last to accept it. amongst those raising various questions. The proceedings from each of these symposia are available in various libraries. Cape Town. Eventually palaeomagnetism proved it must have happened and plate tectonics solved the mechanical problem. According to Mary White (in her book The Greening of Gondwana 1986) the fifth of them. we were taught that continental drift was akin to having a ship of butter ploughing through a sea of concrete. The debate was won by the continental drift proponents but arguments have continued about various anomalies ever since with people like Sam Carey of "expanding earth" fame. There was a lot of talk about land bridges and sunken continents which created more problems than they solved. (Suess was just one of numerous references. Wegener was an interesting character."Gondwanaland" well-known by the time Alfred Wegener proposed his theory of continental drift in 1912. Hobart and Hyderabad. Sao Paulo. Wellington. a theory Wegener was seeking to refute.

Geological Society of Australia Special Publication 21. A. but it was absent in the proceedings of the sixth symposium. and a web search will bring up further conferences in recent years. There have been bands and other music groups: Gondwanaland. an imagined space. It has become a land of the imagination. Information on this page may be accessed and read for personal use. a part of William Heinemann. Otherwise photographs. The material may not be copied or communicated to other parties without permission. It seems to have acquired some particularly Australian cultural associations. Reed Books Pty Ltd. 2008. Patricia Vickers-Rich and Thomas Hewitt Rich: Wildlife of Gondwana: the 500-million-year history of vertebrate animals from the ancient southern supercontinent 1993. A more recent publication: V. Images from publications by Forsyth. with aborigines and Australiana. as it is a tautology. March. Gondwana and popular culture In the meantime Gondwana or Gondwanaland has passed into popular culture. Gostin (Editor) Gondwana to Greenhouse: Australian Environmental Geoscience2001. REED. I can't find any confirmation of this in the proceedings for that fifth symposium.the name. Medlicott & Blanford are all out of copyright. Sydney. some in popular science:   Mary E. See The Study Interview with Vic & Olga Gostin. Back to home page Note: These notes and accompanying images are from a talk presented to the Victorian Ornithological Research Group (VORG). recording and text © Copyright Craig Robertson. . and some totally over the top books like Craig Robertson's Song of Gondwana. Geological Survey of India (Feistmantel). White: The Greening of Gondwana: the 400 million year story of Australia's plants 1986. There have been many symposia since the 1960s. a choir Gondwana Voices. 2008. There have been various books. Sydney. Elwin. There was a conference on the flora of Gondwana in the 1960s.