The Encyclopaedia Britannica: Mundas

MUNDAS. The Munda (Munda) family is the least numerous 
of the linguistic families of India. It comprises several dialects 
spoken in the two Chota Nagpur plateaux, the adjoining districls 
of Madras and Ihe Central Provinces, and in the Mahadeo hills. 
The number of speakers of Ihe various dialects, according to 
the census of 1901, are as follow: Santali, 1,795,113; Mundari, 
460,744; Bhumij, 111,304; Birhar, 526; Koda, 23,873; Ho, 
371,860; Tun, 3880; Asuri, 4894; Korwa, 16,442; Korku, 87,675; 
Kharia, 82,506; Juang, 10,853; Savara, 157,136; Gadaba, 37,230; 
total, 3,164,036. Santali, Mundari, Bhumij, Birhar, Koda, Ho, 
Tun, Asuri and Korwa are only siighlly differing forms of one 
and Ihe same language, which can be called Kherwari, a name 
borrowed from Santali Iradition. Kherwari is the principal 
Munda language, and quite 88% of all Ihe speakers of Munda 
longues belong lo it. The Korwa dialect, spoken in the western 
part of Chota Nagpur, connects Kherwari with the remaining 
Munda languages. Of Ihese il is mosl closely relaled lo the 
Kurku language of the Mahadeo hills in Ihe Cenlral Provinces. 
Kurku, in ils lurn, in important poinls agrees with Kharia and 
Juang, and Kharia leads over to Savara and Gadaba. The 
Iwo lasl-menlioned forms of speech, which are spoken in the 
north-easl of Ihe Madras Presidency, have been much influenced 
by Dravidian languages. 

The Munda dialecls are nol in sole possession of Ihe lerrilory 
where Ihey are spoken. They are, as a rule, only found in Ihe 
hills and jungles, while Ihe plains and valleys are inhabiled by 
people speaking some Aryan language. When brought into 
close contacl with Aryan tongues the Munda forms of speech are 
apt to give way, and in the course of time they have been 
partly superseded by Aryan dialecls. There are accordingly 
some Aryanized Iribes in norlhern India who have formerly 
belonged lo Ihe Munda slock. Such are Ihe Cheros of Behar 
and Chota Nagpur, the Kherwars, who are found in the same 
localities, in Mirzapur and elsewhere, the Savaras, who formerly 
extended as far north as Shahabad, and others. It seems 
possible lo Irace an old Munda element in some Tibeto-Burman 
dialecls spoken in Ihe Himalayas from Bashahr easlwards. 

By race the Mundas are Dravidians, and their language was 
likewise long considered as a member of Ihe Dravidian family. 
Max Muller was the first to dislinguish the two families. He 
also coined the name Munda for the smaller of them, which has 
later on often been spoken of under other denominations, such as 
Kolarian and Kherwarian. The Dravidian race is generally 
considered as the aboriginal population of soulhern India. The 
Mundas, who do nol appear lo have extended much farther 
towards the south than at presenl, must have mixed with 
the Dravidians from very early times. The so-called Nahali 
dialed of Ihe Mahadeo hills seems lo have been originally a 
Munda form of speech which has come under Dravidian influ- 
ence, and finally passed under Ihe spell of Aryan longues. The 
same is perhaps the case with the numerous dialects spoken by 
Ihe Bhils. Al all evenls, Munda languages have apparently 
been spoken over a wide area in central and north India. They 
were Ihen early superseded by Dravidian and Aryan dialecls, 
and al Ihe present day only scanty remnanls are found in the 
hills and jungles of Bengal and the Cenlral Provinces. 

Though Ihe Munda family is not connected wilh any olher 
languages in India proper, it does not form an isolaled group. It 
belongs to a widely spread family, which extends from India in 
the west to Easter Island in the easlern Pacific in Ihe easl. In 
Ihe first place, we find a connected language spoken by the 
Khasis of the Khasi hills in Assam. Then follow the Mon- 
Khmer languages of Farther India, Ihe dialecls spoken by Ihe 
aboriginal inhabilants of the Malay Peninsula, the Nancowry 
of Ihe Nicobars, and, finally, Ihe numerous dialecls of Auslro- 
nesia, viz. Indonesic, Melanesic, Polynesic, and so on. Among 
Ihe various members of Ihis vast group the Munda languages 
are most closely related to the Mon-Khmer family of Farther 
India. Kurku, Kharia, Juang, Savara and Gadaba are more 
closely related lo lhal family lhan is Kherwari, the principal 
Munda form of speech. 

We do not know if the Mundas enlered India from wilhoul.


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