Identification. The word "Kol" appears to have been derived from the Mundari 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.
Location. The tribe that today bears the name Kol is restricted to a part of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Earlier 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 now they are identified with the Kol tribe only, distributed in twenty-three districts of Madhya Pradesh and nine adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh. In Maharashtra the Kol are found in Nagpur District, in small numbers, where they have settled down as migrant laborers. The habitat of the Kol is a very warm or quite cold climate with low humidity and medium rainfall.
Demography. In 1971 there were 489,875 Kols listed in the census (probably an undercount).
Linguistic Affiliation. 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 (15.93 percent) are bilingual. Among the bilinguals 7,937 persons (77.31 percent) know the Oriya language and 2,330 persons (22.69 percent) speak other languages.