The word “Kol” appears to have been derived from the word ko, meaning “they,” or from horo, hara, har, ho, or koro—“the men”—by which the Kols identify themselves. The Kol lent their name to the language group formerly known as the Kolarian, and now better known as the Mundari or Austroasiatic language family. The Kol belonged to the Proto-Australoid ethnic stratum. The Santal, Munda, Ho, Bhumij, Kharia, Khairwar, and Korwa who are akin to the Kol were termed Kolarian tribes. The Kols are mentioned as a generic category of people in eastern India in medieval texts. In the imperial period, the word “Kol” acquired a pejorative meaning as it became a synonym for the savage, the lowly, those performing menial jobs, the militant, and the aggressive. The “Larka” (fighting) Kol was an appellation given by the British administration to the Ho and the Munda—both are related groups—who led the insurrection of 1831-1832 in Chota Nagpur. After this uprising, the word “Kol” appears to have faded out of the early ethnography of Chota Nagpur and was replaced by the names of the constituent tribes, such as Ho, Munda, etc. The Ho in Orissa still carry the name “Kolha,” with a large population (326,522 in 1981), because they came from Kolhan in Singbhum district. There are also Kolha Lohar who practice blacksmithing in Orissa.

- Grammar (193)
- Identification (101)
- Tribe and nation (619)

Some time ago the Kols were described as one of the most widely spread and well-known tribes of the central uplands—extending from Kolhan to west of the Chittor Hills in Rajasthan—but by the late twentieth century they had become identified with the Kol tribe only, concentrated in twenty-three districts of Madhya Pradesh and nine adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh. In Maharashtra the Kol are found in small numbers in Nagpur district, where they have settled down as migrant laborers. The habitat of the Kol is a very warm to quite cold climate, with low humidity and medium rainfall.


To some degree, population figures for the Kol reflect changing concepts of who the Kol are and where they may be found. In the 1961 Indian census, 432,459 Kol were counted, 386,229 in Madhya Pradesh; 98 percent rural dwelling. In 1971 there were 489,875 Kols listed in the census (probably an undercount); at least 477,730 in Madhya Pradesh alone and approximately 94 percent rural. Jumping ahead to comparable figures from 2001, there were 991,400 Kol: 955,040 in Madhya Pradesh; 88 percent rural. An expansive estimate, perhaps based on preliminary results of the 2011 census, claims 2,135,000 Kol; 1,140,000 in Madhya Pradesh (if accurate, this reflects probable undercounts in other states for earlier censuses).

- Population (161)


The Kol no longer use their ancient language and have adopted Hindi and the Devanagari script. The Kol Lohar in Orissa speak Oriya but are bilingual in Kol as well. The speakers of this language (as of 1961) number only 64,465 persons, of whom 10,267 (16 percent) are bilingual. Among the bilinguals 7,937 persons (77 percent) know the Oriya language and 2,330 persons (23 percent) speak other languages.

- Linguistic identification (197)
- Speech (191)


The Kols consider themselves to be the descendants of Sahara Mata, a member of the Savaras of epic fame; she is known as the “mother of the Kol.” The Kols of the Jabalpur-Katni area of Madhya Pradesh believe that they were earlier in Mewar (Rajasthan) and occupied its hills. They have inherited a martial character and believe that only with the help of the Kol and the Bhil peoples could Rana Pratap fight the Moguls. Nevertheless, while history has recorded the role of the Bhils, the Kols are not mentioned.

- Traditional history (173)
- Ethos (181)

The Kols are an example of a tribe that has changed considerably over time. The earliest references relate to larger, generic conglomerates on the fringe of a Sanskritic culture and civilization. Their mention in the ethnography of the British imperial period was not very specific. By the twentieth century the great Kols had disappeared, but their name clings to a small tribal population, which in 1946 was described as being very close to becoming a caste and to being Hinduized. Neither possibility has entirely materialized. The Kols have survived as a community, with an identity of their own and an adaptability that was underestimated by early ethnographers.



The Kols were once adept at non-irrigated hill cultivation. Later, when they moved into the valleys, they could not easily adapt to wet rice cultivation. Therefore the Kol are not known today as agriculturists. They work more often as daily wage laborers, collectors of forest produce, and gatherers of wood fuel. They sell bundles of wood to their neighbors and at markets. In 1946, W. G. Griffiths identified three strata among the Kol: the factory workers who were fairly well-off; the forest people and agriculturists who had enough to eat but no cash; and the wood and grass cutters who were the poorest of the lot. Their condition has not markedly changed since.

- Tillage (241)
- Labor supply and employment (464)
- Occupational specialization (463)
- Buying and selling (432)
- Internal trade (438)
- Classes (565)


The most important forest produce collected by them is the wood-apple, which is used for preparation of dyes and herbal medicine; it is dried and sold at a good price.

- Ethnobotany (824)
- Paint and dye manufacture (386)
- Pharmaceuticals (278)
- Buying and selling (432)


A few Kols own land, but most are landless. Those who have land enjoy free ownership rights over a patch of land for three years, and after the lapse of this period they become bhumiswami (lord of the patch of land). As a result they cannot sell their land without the express permission of the district collector. The forest where they collect wood fuel or wood-apples belongs to the government but they do not pay any taxes. They also graze their cattle on government land for which no tax is paid.

- Real property (423)
- Buying and selling (432)
- Public welfare (657)
- Lumbering (313)
- Pastoral activities (233)
- Districts (634)



The kin terms used by the Kol of Jabalpur are similar to those used by the local non-Kols. The terms are of a bilateral type in which there are different terms for father, father's brother, and mother's brother. Generation differences are explicit (e.g., beta = son, pitaji = father, aja = grandfather). Kinship terms are mostly denotative. Specific terms are used for kin of the same generation, such as mother = dai, wife's mother = thakuration, husband's mother = didi, or again father's sister = fua, mother's sister = mosi. There are classificatory terms too. A sister, mother's brother's daughter, father's sister's daughter, and husband's sister are all referred to as baia. The terminological system resembles the Hawaiian type.

- Kinship terminology (601)

The Kols are divided into a number of subdivisions such as the Rautia, Rautel, Dassao, Dahait, Kathotia, Birtiya, and Thakuria. In Jabalpur the Kol mainly belong to the Rautia and Thakuria subdivisions, whereas in Nagpur they are mainly Rautia. These subdivisions are endogamous units (baenk) that regulate marriage. Griffiths (1946) listed about twenty-two kulhi (baenk); William Crooke (1896) gave a list of nine septs, but now only seven are known. The members of the baenk do not intermarry. There is a belief that one baenk is superior or inferior to another, and no intermarriage is thus possible between them. But in recent years a Rautel may marry a Kathotia and a Kathotia a Dassao. The members of Thakuria baenk, who consider themselves superior to all others, do not intermarry with members of other baenks.



Monogamy is the rule but polygyny also occurs. As there is an adverse sex ratio with the Kol females outnumbering males, the Kol keep concubines (rakhelu). A rakhelu may belong to any baenk. She is kept in a separate house if the wife is alive. Keeping a rakhelu is a status symbol, well publicized and recognized by throwing a feast for members of one's kin group (biradari). A widow cannot remarry but can be a rakhelu. The wife's younger sister can be kept as a rakhelu after the death of the wife, and after an elder brother's death his wife is often kept as a concubine. A wife's elder sister and younger brother's wife are avoided for such relationships. Girls marry between 14 and 18 years of age and the boys between 20 and 24 years. Marriage with cross cousins, parallel cousins, sisters and their daughters, or a wife's elder sister is strictly forbidden and persons contracting such marriages have to pay a fine and/or throw a feast to gain the community's approval. The Kols pay a bride-price (chari), which consists of cash, a calf or a goat, and such ornaments as a bangle (kangan), toe ornament (lacha), etc. In recent years chari has given place to dowry (dahej) comprised of cash and utensils. Giving dahej is a status symbol; educated boys get cash, a bicycle, etc. With the poorer Kols, chari is still in vogue. Wearing the color vermilion and bangles are the symbols of marriage for women. The rakhelu also use these symbols. Marriage by elopement formerly was in vogue; this practice is now rare. Incompatibility, adultery, and barrenness are primary reasons for seeking a divorce. In the case of a divorce, older children stay with the father, but the babies may go with the mother. A divorced woman does not get any compensation nor can she claim any portion of the husband's property. The dahej or chari is never returned. Adoption (godnama) does not require any formal permission from the community nor is a feast to be given to seek approval of it. Only the village messenger (kotwar) has to be informed verbally and he in turn informs the leader (sarpanch). A child, male or female, taken on godnama gets a share of the inheritance (if there are other sons of the deceased) or else all of it (if the deceased has no son). The rakhelu and her children form an appendage of the family.

- Polygamy (595)
- Composition of population (162)
- Status, role, and prestige (554)
- Visiting and hospitality (574)
- Secondary marriages (587)
- Regulation of marriage (582)
- Mode of marriage (583)
- Ethnophysics (822)
- Termination of marriage (586)
- Adoption (597)
- Dissemination of news and information (203)
- Inheritance (428)


Residence is patrilocal in general. Nevertheless, there are instances when a man stays with his wife after marriage, to look after her inherited property.


Both movable and immovable property is inherited by sons equally and no extra share is given to the eldest or the youngest son. After marriage, the daughters cannot claim any share of the deceased father's property; however, if the deceased left no son, then the daughters can claim his property. A childless widow owns her husband's property. The property of a dead bachelor goes to one of his siblings. A divorced woman cannot claim any share in property while staying at her natal house but can insist on maintenance for life.



As described above, the Kol are divided into twenty-three endogamous subunits called baenk, and status and wealth distinctions are based on occupation.

- Clans (614)
- Status, role, and prestige (554)
- Accumulation of wealth (556)
- Occupational specialization (463)


The Kol have a council comprising three elderly personages (mukhobar) including a malik (headman) selected by the villagers. In Kol society a malik is a highly revered man. His son may become malik if the villagers so decide. On the death of a malik, his wife may perform the duties of her husband (as malik) until the villagers choose a new one.

- Community councils (623)
- Community heads (622)
- Status, role, and prestige (554)
- Activities of the aged (887)
- Social readjustments to death (768)


The malik and mukhobars are competent to handle cases involving the Kols. Whenever a dispute arises between a Kol and a non-Kol, the village council (panchayat) is approached. If the conflict refers to two villages it has to be decided by a larger body (nyaypanch) that covers five or more villages. The pradhan who is the chief of the nyaypanch is assisted by an nupopradhan and a few panches, one of whom may be a Kol. The mukhobars within a village are contacted whenever there is a dispute involving infringement of community norms.

- Community heads (622)
- Community councils (623)
- Informal in-group justice (627)
- Inter-community relations (628)
- Judicial authority (692)



The Kol mainly profess Hinduism. The 1961 census recorded 100 percent of them as followers of Hinduism. In the 1971 census 99.67 percent of the Kols were listed as Hindus and 0.32 percent as of “indefinite belief” (another name for the traditional tribal religion); 0.01 percent did not state their religion. The 1981 census recorded 99.7 percent of the Kols as followers of Hinduism, 0.28 percent as professing “other religions” (the tribal religion), and the remaining 0.01 percent as Christians, Muslims, or Jains. Evangelization since then may have raised the percentage of Christians to 0.08, with 0.21 percent other. Thus there has been no significant change during the period 1961-2013.


The Kols' own priest (panda) is an important functionary in Kol society. He officiates at the rituals centering on the worship of Desai Dur in April and Sorokhi Devi at any appropriate time, for the welfare of the Kol villages and Kol households. The panda also serves as the exorcist (ojha) who drives away evil spirits that cause sickness. Both offices are often held by one and the same person.

- Priesthood (793)
- Organized ceremonial (796)
- Magicians and diviners (791)
- Magical and mental therapy (755)


The Kols continue to worship their family deities, Babadeo Baba and Marhi, and village deities such as Shankarji, Kherdai, Hardola Baba, Hanuman, and Bhainsaur, which are generally considered benevolent. Kols visit the sacred centers at Allahabad, Bandakpur, and Maihar Mata. For acculturated Kols living in multicaste villages the Brahman priest worships the deities belonging to the Hindu pantheon for the Kols and officiates at rituals connected with life-cycle ceremonies. The Kols celebrate festivals like Ramanavmi, Dassara, Rakhi, Holi, Diwali, Janmashtami, and Shabari Jayanti.

- Spirits and gods (776)
- Sacred objects and places (778)
- Priesthood (793)
- Organized ceremonial (796)


The Kols have no performing or graphic arts; however, they have a rich repertory of tribal legends.

- Art (530)
- Mythology (773)


The Kols usually cremate the dead; burial is for persons who have died of snakebite. In the first case the period of pollution ends on the thirteenth day, while in the second case it lasts three days.