Vignettes of Savara Life

Indian cultural heritage comprises not only hoary tradition but also rich tribal culture handed down by tribal groups living in forests on mountains and hills. The thirty five tribal groups living in the state of Andhra Pradesh have got their own distinct cultures. Some of them have their own dialects. They may be classified as under:

Dravidian: Gondi, Koya, Kubi, Kolami, Yerukala
Mundari:  Savara
Indo-Aryan: Lambada or Banjara

The social structure of tribals is based on exogamous clan system. Some of the groups like Gond, Koya, Kolam etc have phratry system. The clans of tribals are totemic in nature. They pay special reverence towards these totemic objects. They follow various methods in acquiring their mates like marriage by mutual love and elopement, marriage by capture, marriage by service and marriage by negotiations.

Tribals preserved their cultural identity through a code conduct .They have their own laws based on faiths, values, traditions and world view of each tribe and their social heritage.

Savaras belong to a very ancient tribe. They spread across the subcontinent much before the arrival of the Aryans [if one accepts it]. Puranic ,  historical and archaeological evidence prove that they rose to great  eminence in all spheres  and created a civilization of their own. The word Savara is not different from Sabara and Sabari’s devotion and service to Sri Ramachandra is legendary. They speak savara language, which belongs to Kol Mundari group of Austro-Asiatic family of languages.

General Cunningham derived the name Savara from the Scythian word ‘sagar’ meaning an axe. The  g is replaced by v , as the two letters are interchangeable in Savara language. Dr Gidugu Sitapati proposed that  So:r  for savara  .Here, or  : man of savara., what savara signifies is not  so significant.  It signifies a man as different from plants, animals, birds etc.

By nature savaras are reserved, apprehensive, but friendly and communicative on establishing a rapport with strangers. They do not tolerate misbehaviour with womenfolk. If one pronounces a few words in their language, they exhibit delight whole heartedly. A gentle reference and talk of their customs endears one to them.

The Savaras subsist on agriculture. Savara agriculture consists of  'podu' or shifting cultivation and terrace cultivation on hill slopes besides dry and wet farming. The implements are manufactured mostly by using indigenous techniques and locally available materials. Forest labour, collection and sale of Non-Timber Forest Produce, fishing and hunting are important subsidiary occupations.

Similar to most of the primitive societies, group cohesion and intra-tribal solidarity is maintained among Savaras through social control institutions decreed by tradition. There are three grades in the traditional leadership in social precedence i.e. the 'Gamang', the 'Buyya' and the 'Parja'. The Gamang is the civil head of the village. The Buyya is the religious head. Savaras consider a Gamang to be rich with lands and other property. 'Desari' another religious functionary of Savaras attends for fixing up of auspicious days for the performance of both social and religious ceremonies. 'Kudan' is also a religious functionary who recites hymns and conducts social and religious ceremonies. The festivals of first eating of the crops, propitiation of the deities and ancestral spirits, name giving ceremony are some of the ritual functions at which 'Kudan' recites hymns, conducts the rituals and offers sacrifices.  He chants hymns while playing on a musical instrument called 'Kudansngrai'. Savaras propitiate various deities and ancestral spirits. The Gods and spirit beings of Savaras can be classified into benign and malign. The benevolent gods are those of earth, hill, pot, sun, rain, wind, stream etc. The malignant deities are associated with tiger, small pox, bloodsuckers and sorcerer. There are as many malignant spirits as there are diseases known to the Savaras.

Savara language is highly evolved and they have different words for different varieties of relationships. Languages like English and many Indian languages seem to be inadequate in comparison to savara language, for the wonderful way in which their communication and expression are developed.

Kinship words in Savara language delineate :
1. generation difference,
2. sex of a person through who relationship exists,
3. distinction of blood relatives from relatives connected by marriage,
4. recognition of condition of life of a person[dead or alive; married or unmarried], through who the relationship exists.

Teknonymy  is a term coined my Taylor to illustrate the practice of addressing the spouse (or other relative) through a child throws ample light on this curious custom. For example: Husband and wife do not call each other by name. He generally refers to her Buda-na- yeng, meaning ‘mother of Buda.’ [like Bindu ki maa in Hindi]. If they don’t have children , they simply address each other Jaandi [come, here], like dekho in Hindi, Idigo in Telugu, Ale in Kannada.


There are no set patterns for salutations and greetings among Savaras. A son does not greet his father or mother. When two Savaras meet one of them asks: “Assukojipong” literally meaning ‘are all you quite well?’

Vanaithe Vojerijangnithe” [‘which village are you going?’]. The other man replies “Bongsa assukoji Kallinitte” [‘we are all quite well. I am going to Kallinitte’]. Here, Kallinette is the name of the village under reference .

While receiving a relative one of the family members receives saying: “Assukojipong Mamang  ajungns danothetham.” [Are all you quite well Father-in-law? Have a wash, I shall give you water.”]. 

How noble is their culture and how civilized they are in receiving guests, in these days where nuclear families feel members of their parents’ families are totally different and distance themselves!

A study of kinship words in Savara language reveals their culture in no uncertain terms.

Kinship [Classifactory]

Jojong         Avong                 Ubban              Bavung
Yoyong       Mossil                 Kakeeng           Kinar  ---  Bonni 
Dadda         Kakun                  Ayeeng             Erriboi--- Koina
Oon             Mossi                  Ensolen & Dangdi Oon
Reyang        Koyeeng              Ullong

Descriptive terms

Father    …..                           Vang
Mother…..                              Yeng
Wife……….                           Dukkiri
Husband….                             Ammonla
Father’s elder brother…           Thatha
Wife’s sister’s husband…        Saddu
Elder brother’s Wife …            Bonni
Younger brother’s wife…         Koina
Wife’s elder sister…                 Kinar
Wife’s younger sister….           Erroboi

Impact of other languages:

Saddu  from Telugu Shaddakudu or Sanscrit  Shadraka

Bavung     from    Telugu     Bava
Mamang   from    Telugu     Mama
Onni         from     Oriya      Bov
Ossi         from     Oriya      Mossil

The Savaras draw certain designs on the walls known as 'Edising'. It is also known as 'Lingor'. These designs are drawn in honour of the dead, to avert diseases to promote and on the occasion of certain festivals. These 'Edising' designs are common among Savaras inhabiting interior hilly tracts. These drawings depict the moon, the sun, animals and all the objects, which come across in their daily life.

Gidugu Rama Murthy Pantulu [1862-1940]

He did pioneering work on Savara language by bringing out a Savara Manual and Savara Dictionaries. In his collection Savara Songs he himself wrote two of the 32 songs .It was published by the Madras Government in 1912.He lived in Savara gudems [hamlets] for a number of years and compiled dictionaries and created a script for them. Since he fell ill due to Malaria very frequently, he had use quinine regularly. This culminated in his turning deaf in the evening of his life. His invaluable service is remembered by the academics now and then only. He also championed the cause of using spoken version in writing Telugu works. He was the first modern Telugu man to strive for language reform in Telugu works.

Recently Dr A. Chandra Sekhara Rao, who  did research on Savara language for his PhD from Andhra University,  scripted and  published  Savara Nerchukundaam   [‘let us learn Savara’] in Telugu. It is intended to bridge the gap between teachers who do not know savara and students who do not know Telugu.

Since 2000 , the Savara Bhasha Sangham has been organizing a short story contest in the language every year to commemorate the birth anniversary of Gidugu Rama Murthy in August. But the response is quite discouraging.

Tribal Welfare department of Andhra Pradesh state Government is extending all possible help in preserving and perpetuating the tribal culture and traditions. They are regularly holding tribal festivals, melas and publishing useful books, besides helping the tribals market their products. This paper could take shape only due to the support of the department, their personnel and publications.

Savaras are one of the most advanced tribal groups in Andhra Pradesh, as much work had been done as regards their linguistic and artistic expressions. Their art is globally acclaimed for its unique nature and distinct patterns. When asked why the Sun and the Moon prominently figure in their paintings, their answer is simple, sane and scientific. “The Sun and the Moon give light in day and night respectively. How can we ignore them?” The same is their response for painting the flora, fauna known to them.

In some of the  recent paintings one may notice electric lamp posts, cars and helicopters too, indicating impact of modernization on their lives. While trying to preserve their traditions, they are not averse to modernization. This just proves conclusively that Savaras like all tribals have innate intelligence and scientific approach to life. What they need is not our sympathy but a helping hand. Allowing them to live in peace, without tampering with their lifestyle is all the more desirable. Yet, they too need to benefit from fruits of progress in science and technology. A viable mode of blending tradition with technological developments is highly essential to enable sagacious savaras lead a respectable and dignified life.


Mazumdar, B. C. The Aborigines of the Highlands of Central India. Calcutta :1927.
Ramamurti, G.V. Savara Songs. Madras :Govt Press,1911.
Ramamurti, G.V. A Manual of So: ra(or Savara) language. Madras:Govt Press, 1931.
Ramamurti, G.V. Sora-Englsih Dictionary.Madras, 1938[Reprint Delhi,Mittal, 1983]
Singh, Bhupinder. The Saora Highlander: Leadership and Development. Bombay: Somaiya Publications,1984.
Vitebsky,Piers. “Birth, Entity and Responsibility: The Spirit of the Sun in Sora Cosmology”, L’Homme, 20:47-70.London :Viking,1980.


More by :  Dr. T. S. Chandra Mouli

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Views: 3442      Comments: 2

Comment Thank you so much Dr Chandrasekhara Rao garu for your kind words.I know the wonderful work done by you in spreading awareness of the language and culture of Savaras and preserving the same .Thanks for the info provided.Regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
26-Jun-2012 01:07 AM

Comment I appreciate the author for the information he has given.on Savaras. He has gathered a lot of information which is not ide speard.

Additional information
Telugu people call them Savara but the Savaras call themselves as So'ra.
'Savara neercukondaam' is yet to be published. A modified verson of the research thesis "A Descriptive Grammar of So'ra or Savara" of A.Chandrasekhara Rao is published as "Savara Grammar" in 2010. Dr. A. Chandrasekhara Rao is the convenor of Savara Bhaashaa sangham.

Dr.A.Chandrasekhara Rao
25-Jun-2012 12:31 PM

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