True that we live in a high-tech world where things are becoming easier and life a bit more simpler. But we can’t deny the fact that this has brought a lot of materialism and wastefulness in our lives too. Even though we know about several such things but we still get succumbed by them. Contiguity to our world is another world where people still live in a primitive fashion. They are equally vibrant, culturally rich, have different traditions, cultures, lifestyles, beliefs, food, languages, rituals, and a totally different approach to their lives. They are an example of the anthropological wealth of Indian heritage.
List of Major Tribes in India
There are more than 550 tribes of India that have had their presence in the country for a long time. Each community has its own individuality that separates it from the other tribes. All of these communities share one thing in common and that’s the disconnection from the outside world. They are unaware of the technology and developments going around the globe and somehow they are happy with this decision. Amongst the huge number of tribes existing across the country, we have profiled the 30 most interesting and comparatively popular indigenous tribes in India and their culture this blog. Check out the names, areas they belong and what makes them so different from others.
Tribes from East India
Munda – Jharkhand
The Munda Tribe has its main habitat in Jharkhand but their presence can be seen in other nearby states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. Mundas are also found in some parts of Bangladesh. This tribal community is known to be one of the oldest to have lived in South Asian countries. Several pieces of evidence prove their presence during the pre-British era but this tribe got the admiration between 1857-1928, due to Birsa Munda.
Birsa was also believed to be a prophet and a freedom fighter who played a good part in the freedom struggle of India. During the early 1900s, several anthropologists discovered their presence and documented them on several occasions. Currently, roughly about 2 million Mundas are residing in India. On many occasions, Mundas have also been referred to as one of the strongest tribes of Jharkhand.
Pahari Korwa – Jharkhand
Another tribe of Jharkhand which is also a part of the Munda ethnic group goes by the name Korwa. These people majorly live on the Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand border but can also be found in the Mirzapur district of UP. On various occasions, the government of India has implemented and given a lot of facilities to these people for their development. There are sub-divisions in the tribe and one of them who mostly lived around hills and plateaus was given the name of Pahari Korwa. Their people mostly practice a different form of agriculture which is also known as Jhoonga Kheti. In this type of farming, the people trim the forest to grow lentil crops. The total population of Pahari Korwa is approximated to be around 1 million. Even after getting financial and infrastructural support from the government these people still prefer living in the hills, undulated, and forested areas.
The people of this tribe worship Satbahini Devi and live in mud houses. They have their own language which is also known as the Korwa language.
Baiga – Bihar
The meaning of Baiga is sorcerers and it is one of the vulnerable tribes of India. Though their feeble presence can be seen in parts of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, UP, MP, and West Bengal; they belong to Bihar. Traditionally, Baiga people preferred living a semi-nomadic life and practiced “slash-and-burn” cultivation. But now, they live in the forested parts of Bihar and majorly depend on the forest produce for their livelihood. These people use bamboo to build their houses and other household items such as baskets.
These people have a sweet spot for fresh honey and they use traditional techniques to collect it. Baiga tribe is also proficient in developing folk medicines by using their in-depth knowledge about medicinal plants and shrubs. With a rich cultural heritage, these people also have a unique dance form, music, and dramas. According to a unique tradition of this tribe, after death, the entire family has to leave their house and build a new one. Thank god, they don’t use bricks and cement for building one. Also, these people have a tattoo tradition where everyone has to get their body part tattooed at a certain age and occasion.
Santhal – Bihar
Spread across West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand, and Odisha; Santhal Tribe is densely populated in Bihar. The roots of this tribe date back to the pre-Aryan period and they are also known to be great fighters. Santhals are believed to have fought the Britishers for freedom. It is one of the bravest and courageous tribes of India. It is also believed that Sidhu; a heroic Santhal, accumulated 10 thousand of his kind and ran a parallel government against the Britishers. It was way back in 1789 when Baba Tilka Majhi fought the first battle before any Santhal. According to the latest census, approximately 49000 Santhals are living all over India; majorly in Bihar.
This tribe has a very joyous and culture-oriented settlement. They love music and dancing. Be it a fair at any festival or occasion; Santhals always find a way to connect with music and dance. There are a few instruments that they have created including Tirio that adds to their fun of music and dance.
Birhor – Bihar
The name Birhor is self-explanatory; Bir means forest and hor means men. Therefore, the Birhor tribe includes forest men and women. These people traditionally lived as nomads and were entirely dependent on forests for their livelihood. The population of Birhor is declining over time due to extensive deforestation. These people are fond of monkey meat and other forests produce. These people still use primitive traps to catch their prey but they are very skillful. These people still use outdated products and are ages behind the revolution happening in the outside world.
These people move from one place to another in the forest very often and set up their worshipping place first. These people follow a mix of Hinduism and animism. The birth rate of these people is going down with time and death rates due to depleting forests increasing. Malnutrition amongst children and adults is a common sight in this tribe.
Toto Tribe – West Bengal
Toto is one of the endangered tribes of India that can be found in the Totopur region of West Bengal. Their numbers are depleting over time and you won’t find them anywhere outside this region. This tribe prefers to keep themselves in a shell, disconnected from the outside world. According to the last survey, the total number of people in this tribe counts not more than 1500 which is why they are also tagged as an endogamous group.
These people have a very low literacy level and employment. Mostly, these people indulge themselves in collecting sandstones from riverbeds, pen pigs, and cow herding. In a lot of case studies by anthologists, this tribe is referred to as ‘a vanishing tribe’ due to their thin numbers. The Toto tribe practices endogamous marriages and almost 80% of people in the tribe are infected by thalassemia which is a form of anemia. This infection has also reduced the age expectancy of these people and limited it to just 35 years which is way lesser than the national average.
Great Andamanese Tribes – Andaman
The Great Andamanese Tribes are from the Andaman Islands and are a part of the Negrito tribal family. With a population of just about 30,000; this tribe is also on the verge of extinction. The current population status of this tribe is a bit unclear at the moment but they are known for their physical stature, culture, and occupation. The Great Andamanese Tribes originally had a few sub-groups and communities as well but all of them disappeared over time. The staple food of this tribe includes rice, wheat, dal, and chapati. The languages spoken in the community are Jeru, Khora, Andamani Hindi.
The diversity in their culture is one of the uniqueness of this tribe. All the men in this tribe wear narrow belts made out of hibiscus fiber that suits their heavy body. They tuck their weapons in these belts when they leave home for hunting. The women showcase their tribal sense of dressing with a unique way of designing and wearing clothes.
Tribes from West India
Kokna – Gujarat
Kokna Tribe is found in a few districts of Maharashtra but they have a good presence in Gujarat. Coming up from the Dadra and Nagar Haveli, they reside in the Valsad, Ahwa-Dang, and Navsari districts of Gujarat. This tribe is believed to have originated from Konkan Patti situated in the Thane district. There are a lot of stories that revolve around the state regarding this tribe but they are referred to as one of the scheduled tribes of the country.
These people speak the Indo-Aryan language but are also able to speak and read Marathi, Devanagari, and Hindi. The staple food items of these people include wheat, rice, vegetables, goat meat, and pork. The Kokna tribe works as farmers growing vegetables and fruits in their fields. With help of government policies and rules, few people from this tribe now have started working as laborers and for the government.
Madia – Maharashtra
Madia tribe or Madia Gonds or Maria are other endogamous tribes that live in the Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts of Maharashtra. The government of India has given them the status of “Primitive tribal group.” This tribe resides in the Dandakaranya forest as well. This is one of the oldest tribes in India that have lived for centuries. Until recently, this tribe was completely cut off from the outside world having no idea about clothing, language, health care, education, and other essentials. Lok Biradari Prakalp’s establishment helped these people to know a few of their rights and a bit about other essential things including education and medication.
The people of this tribe are skilled craftsmen and hunters who use Madia as their communication language. Although they don’t follow or believe the major religions of India but they continue worshiping the forces of nature and their local deities. These people have been cut off from the outside world for a long time until recently but now they have started understanding the customs and ways of people living in developed areas.
Ka Thakar – Maharashtra
Ka Thakar, Thakar, and Ma Thakar are different groups of tribes that fall under the same community. They are primarily found in the Thane, Pune, Raigad, Nashik, and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra. Initially, this tribe resided in the Sahyadri Range but over time, they started moving out and now can be found in several places across the state. Wherever they stay, the place is called Thakarwadi. The Ka Thakars are skillful bamboo artisans, small cultivators, fishermen, daily-wage laborers, and often seen gathering minor forest produce for their living.
This is one of those tribes of Maharashtra that has survived and expanded their territories around modern development. Like many other tribes, these are also popular for their folk songs and dance forms. Many people have also accounted for their unique but enjoyable celebration of Diwali. On this occasion, Ka Thakras light up lamps made out of Chibra fruit that’s placed on the stand of dung.
Warli – Maharashtra
Warli is one of those tribes of India that have their presence across different regions of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat. They are spread across Nashik, Thane, and Dhule in Maharashtra, Valsad in Gujarat, some places of Karnataka, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Goa, and Daman & Diu. These people are known to be small-scale cultivators of vegetables, pulses, and rice. These people also actively participate in selling fuelwood, mahua, toddy, and a few other products to the other neighboring communities for their living.
People of the Warli Tribe don’t worship any god other than nature. Warli art is based on their belief system that was established by their ancestors centuries ago and the same is being followed ever since. The people of this tribe never had a “written word” until recently and it was only their art that transmitted their belief system for generations. Where all the sculptures and drawings have always depicted their community traditions the tools have been a part of nature.
Tribes from South India
Siddi Tribe – Goa and Karnataka
Often referred to as India’s forgotten African Tribe; Siddis are found in the 3 states and 1 union territory of India. Prominently found in Goa and Karnataka, the existing people of this tribe are known to be the descendants of the people released from bondage in Karnataka, Goa, and other neighboring states. In many villages around these states, Siddis are known to have been the original settlers. This tribe is known to be brave and stories tell that they weren’t even scared of the beasts, tigers, or snakes. Initially, they were hunters but over time they started living a settled life and working as cultivators in the forest land.
Siddi is one of those tribes of India that have finally got recognition and are now a part of the “Scheduled Tribes of the country.” Over time, the life condition and situation of this tribe has improved but there are still a lot of groups living in the dense forests where help is yet to reach.
Koli Dhor – Karnataka
The residing place of the Koli Dhor tribe is mainly in the mountain range of Sahyadri which is also a part of the Western Ghats. Koli’s traces can be found in Thane, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Nashik, Rajasthan, Greater Bombay, Gujarat, and several places in Karnataka. Karnataka is known to be the origin land of this tribe. They got their name from their tradition that involves tanning of cattle hides but over time these people have found their interest in agriculture for good reasons. Koli Dhor who is also known as wadi has a unique way of building their house. All their houses are made in rectangular and square-shaped and that too without pedestals. They use materials such as mud, rice, bamboo, sticks, wooden poles, cow dung plaster, and rice hay to make their houses.
Many of these tribe members are landless and poor which is why they migrate to different cities and towns nearby for working. They work as daily wagers on agricultural lands and also as laborers.
Kodava Tribes – Karnataka
Kodava is probably known as one of the earliest inhabitants of Karnataka; especially Coorg. The origin and existence of this tribe are less known to people and the information about their history is a bit hazy. From what’s known about them; Kodavas are an indigenous community of tribes that have been hunters as well as warriors since the very beginning. These are also referred to as land-owning tribes who have a strong bond with their marital tradition and land.
This is one of the tribes of Karnataka that have been present in Coorg for a long but interestingly, since the very first census in 1871, their total population has never been more than 20% of the entire population of Coorg. This tribe has a unique traditional way of dressing themselves, unique traditional and cultural practices, social structure, language, and much more.
Gond – Andhra Pradesh
Gonds are probably one of the largest tribes living in South Asian countries. With over a strength of 9 million people, they are probably one of the largest tribes in their world. Their traces can be found in various parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal. Gonds are further subdivided into 4 different categories namely, Madia Gonds, Raj Gonds, Khatulwar Gonds, and Dhurve Gonds.
The staple food of this tribe is Kodo and kutki that are two types of millets. Consuming rice for them is a luxury and that’s done majorly during festivals and other occasions. These people believe that nature and its elements are the only gods of this world. They pray to earth, air, and water.
Chenchu Tribes – Andhra Pradesh
Chenchu tribes are prominently found in the central hilly areas of Andhra Pradesh. These are Hindu Aboriginals that have a strong presence in the Prakasam, Mahboobnagar, Kurnool, Nalgonda, and Guntur districts. The Chencus still find hunting more comfortable than farming. The people hunt down animals and sell their flesh after filling up their stocks. The meat is exchanged for other items. Some of the groups of this community collect forest products such as beedi leaves, roots, tubers, fruits, honey, gum, tamarind, mahua flower, and other items. After collecting these items, they sell them to the government officials and traders for a small income. These people weave plates and cups from the tobacco leaves and sell the mahua flowers, honey, in the local market. According to the 1991 census, Chenchu tribes have about 8% of the population from the total population of India which was nearly 68 million people.
This is one of those tribes of India that has a strong presence across the southern states of India including Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. These people worship Hanuman, Lord Shiva, and Goddess of Fire. Some groups also worship Garelamai Sama, who is known to be the Goddess of the forest for protecting them from every danger.
Toda Tribe – Tamil Nadu
From all the tribes that are present in India; Toda is the most ancient of them all. These are known to be unusual tribes that reside in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. The tribe has its language and secretive rules, regulations, and customs. Their rituals include worshiping the hill gods, the realm of the dead (Lord Amodr), and Goddess Teikirizi. These people are also known for their finesse in garment embroidery. The women of this tribe mostly use black and red threads on the white background that gives it a rich effect.
The people of Toda majorly rely on their cattle as they produce milk products but some of them have also become experts in silver-smith work. In the older days, Todas believed themselves to be the descendants of Pandavas. Due to this belief, they had a tradition where one woman had to marry all the males in a family and they all became her husband. There has been a lot of saying around these people and some also believe that Todas are the descendants of Alexander’s Macedonian army who invaded India in 327 B.C.
Irula Tribe – Kerala
Have you ever heard about the daredevil snake catchers of India? The dark-skinned people as they call them are none other than the Irula Tribe members. One of the most popular and ancient tribes of India; Irula lives on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. These people play a vital role in the development of anti-venoms because they are known for catching snakes not just in India, but across the world.
There is an interesting story behind their popularity. Romulus Whitaker, a famous wildlife conservative and herpetologist, set up a cooperative in the outskirts of Tamil Nadu in 1978. He used the knowledge and skills of the Irula Tribe to catch snakes to produce anti-venoms. Ever since then, people of this tribe have even visited other countries to help people get relief from snake invasions.
Kurumba Tribe – Tamil Nadu
There are four tribe communities or groups that have a dense population in Southern India. One of those is the Kurumba Tribe that lives around Nilgiri Hills. This tribe is also known to be one of the oldest in the area. Although, there is a lot of debate on their origin but the most sought-out of them all tells that the Nilgiri residers are those who crossed over to TN from Kerala and Karnataka. The current group of Kurumba that lives in the sub-division of Kothagiri, Gudalaur, Kundha, Coonoor, and Pandalur of Nilgiri district are now included in the Scheduled tribe group of India.
The people of the Kurumba group were known as healers because of their extensive knowledge of medicinal plants. The most important element for this tribe is honey. They collect and preserve it because it comes in the use of many medicines they make. These people practice shifting cultivation, trapping, and foraging small animals and birds. Over time, these people have shattered their forest boundaries and have started working as day laborers.
Bodo Tribe – Assam
Almost all the North-Eastern states are home to several tribes of India. One amongst them who live in the state of Assam is Bodo Tribe. Due to their rich culture and a good population, Bodo is often signified as the true ethnic tribal community of the seven sisters. The majority groups of the Bodo tribe live near the Brahmaputra Valley and they are known to be the first settlers of Assam. Bodo Tribe is also the first cultivator of rice and rear silkworms.
Bodo people love dancing and singing at festivals and other occasions. Though everyone in this tribe now speaks Bodo which is a beautiful language, people in the initial time did use Assamese and Roman scripts to communicate. Their dressing sense and dresses are very exquisite making the women look beautiful and glamorous.
Nyishi Tribe – Arunachal Pradesh
Nyishi is one of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh that is also known as Dafla and Bangni. They are mostly found in Eastern Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. They are proficient in speaking the Tibeto-Burman language. These people have been supporting their livelihood by farming. They practice a slash-and-burn form of agriculture and some of the members hunt and fish. These people are fond of living at heights which is why they are usually found at an elevation of 3000 to 6000 feet above sea level. They live in houses built of pilings. These people worship the spirits of nature.
The members of this tribe follow the clan-based system of relation. There are three major clans, namely, Dollu, Dopum, and Dodum. These people are warm-hearted and they believe in giving equal rights and status to the women of the clan. They also believe that women are symbols of strength, prosperity, and peace. This is the reason why men of the family always take suggestions from their female counterparts before making any decision; be it small or big.
Bhutia Tribes – Sikkim
You might have heard about the Bhutia Tribe of Sikkim. Though you can find some groups of this tribe in West Bengal as well but they have dominating numbers in Sikkim. A survey showed that 14% of Sikkim’s population is of Bhutia Tribe. Now, this gives a fair idea of how dominant this tribe is. This tribe originated from Tibet but migrated to Sikkim in the 16th Century.
You can find Bhutia Tribe in the hilly area of West Bengal such as Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Mostly you will find them in the dry valley of North Sikkim. Bhutias are simple and warm-hearted people who prefer living in joint families. Their main occupation of this tribe is agriculture.
Angami Nagas Tribes – Nagaland
Angami Nagas are one of the tribes of India who belong to the state of Nagaland. 20 different tribes live in Nagaland and Angami Nagas are one of them. With a total population of around 12 million, this tribe is known to be one of the prominent ones in the state. The majority of Angami Nagas live in Kohima which is divided into 4 regions. In the North region- Agamis live in villages of North Kohima and Dimapur district, in the south, they live in the foothills of Mt. Japfu, rest of them live in the west and east portion of Kohima.
Angami Nagas are popular with their expertise and knowledge for the artwork and woodcraft not just in the North-Eastern States but across the country. This tribe has such finesse in their work that they are named as the producer of cane furniture, beds, bamboo work, powerful machetes, beautiful shawls, and much more things. They are also fond of music and they use flute and drums to create tunes and rhymes. They also follow a culture where the love of music is passed from one generation to the other. They are also popular for their traditional dance where they form a circle around a bonfire and dance to music.
Garo Tribes- Assam
India is well known for its diversity; then be it the languages, cuisines, landscapes, or any other thing that is being talked about. Keeping this expression alive is the Garo Tribe in the North-Eastern States of India. This tribe is known for its culture and colorful lifestyle. For their existence in Assam, it can be said that they are immigrants to this land. They originated from the Garo Hills of Meghalaya and then settled at various places.
This tribe migrated from the Garo Hills to the other states of the seven sisters during the first half of the 19th century. Wangala Festival is one of the main festivals of the Garo Tribe and they celebrate this festival with a lot of zeal. It is a very colorful festival that is celebrated when the first crop is harvested. People wear colorful dresses and dance to their traditional music.
Khasi Tribes – Assam
The Khasi Tribe is known to be the earliest immigrants who settled in East Assam from Myanmar. After settling down in most parts of the state they established their own kingdom until the British invasion. The small groups of these people can be found in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, and West Bengal. In different areas, they are called with different names such as Kassi, Khasa, and Khasi Pahris. After Assam, their large population can be found in the Meghalaya region.
There are many customs, rituals, and traditions that are followed by the people of the Khasi Tribe. According to one of their traditions, every child in the tribe is recognized by mother’s name and not father’s. According to them, it’s the mother who inherits the child as well as the property and not the father. The law of this tribe states that marriages are a completely civil contract and the marriage age of men is 18-35 and women 13-18. Though arranged marriages are in trend here but young people have the liberty to choose their partners.
Korku – Madhya Pradesh
Korku is one of those tribes of India that boasts its strong presence in central India. They are mostly found in Khandwa, Betul, Burhanpur, and Chhindwara districts of MP, Chhattisgarh, and some adjoining parts of Maharashtra as well. These people make their huts from grass and wood and prefer living in small groups. In front of every house, there is a small storage place where people store the cattle feed and farm produce. Right from the beginning, Korku has been cultivators and shared their love for the forests with Gonds. They are excellent agriculturists having pioneered coffee and potato cultivation.
Though the Korku language is termed as one of the 196 endangered languages by UNESCO, there are still some groups like Potharia Korku who have preserved the language. The Potharia Korku group lives somewhere in the Vindhya Mountains. There is a distinct cultural heritage of the community and their traditional healing methods are still practiced amongst these people. A Munda which is a memorial pillar is installed by the Korku people every time a member of their group dies.
Abhuj Maria – Chhattisgarh
Abhuj Maria is one of those tribes of Chhattisgarh that have been living in hiding. This group has been living an isolated life and has never tried establishing a connection with the outside world. Abhuj Maria is a subtribe of Gond that can be found in the secluded regions of Narayanpur Tehsil of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Abhuj Maria is one of those tribes who have successfully kept their quintessential culture alive and intact, to date. Following their tradition, the members of this tribe have adorned themselves with iron rings around their necks. This group is not a nomad but they mainly practice “slash-and-burn” cultivation. Over time they have also started using other forms of settled cultivation. The main outputs of their cultivation include two types of millets, namely. Kolha & Korsa and rice. The main festival celebrated by this group is named Kaksar that falls in June.
Bison Horn Maria – Chhattisgarh
Bison Horn Maria is a fairly popular tribe that gets its name from its distinctive head-dress which is made from wild bison. The wild bison is now an extinct species but these people use their already existing skulls to wear during wedding ceremonies. This tribe can be majorly found in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. They are also present in some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The new-age headdress in this tribe is made from cattle horns.
Bison Horn Maria is an introvert tribe that has chosen to stay in the dense forests. These people practice shifting cultivation and depend on the forest produce for their survival. Different groups amongst this tribe follow and pray to different gods.
Kamar – Chhattisgarh
One of the tribes of Chhattisgarh that prefer living in hills, forests, and valleys; away from the urban civilizations for good. They are present in different parts of central India majorly in the Rewa and Raipur district of Chhattisgarh. There are few places in Madhya Pradesh where you can find these people. Mostly, people of the Kamar tribe earn living from bamboo handicrafts by selling them for tea, rice, and liquor. Their second occupation is farming which is followed by gathering forest produce and then fishing and hunting. Those groups living deep inside the forest are still hunters and they prefer not to contact the outside world at all.
The larger Kamar villages are still located either near the foothills or deep inside the forests but you can find a few smaller groups living along the roadsides. Every hut in the settlement is made out of mud and all of them have a family god. The family god is created in the form of iron chains and for their decorations, they put some peacock feathers around it.
Bhil – Madhya Pradesh
Bhil is probably one of the largest tribal groups that live across India. This group can be found anywhere in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh. This group gets this name from the word ‘billu’ which signifies bow. The people of Bhil have been hunters for centuries and their expertise in using bow and arrow contributes to their name. Over time, these people have now become farmers and have staple food including maize, fruits, and rice. These archers also had a deep knowledge of their surroundings and geography that helps them in adapting to their surroundings.
During the initial time, this group was also known to be an expert in guerrilla warfare but as already told above they have now become inclined towards agriculture. They are also medical specialists and skilled sculptors.