Toda embroidery: an ancient art thriving in the Nilgiris – Tamil Nadu

Toda elders
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Toda community, their cultural traditions, and about the Nilgiri Biosphere >>

The ancient Toda community people are the residents of Nilgiris that means ‘Blue Mountains’, popularly known as Ooty. Nilgiris is the abode of many interesting tribes and prominent among them are Todas, Kotas, Kurumbas, Irulas, Mullukurumbas and Paniyans. These Todas are said to be of pastoral community and speak Toda language, belonging to Dravidian family of languages.

Speaking to City Herald, Poovadevi, belonging to Toda community said the tribe though is said to be ancient, are now in good positions serving as government officials in various parts of Tamil Nadu.

Many youth of the current generation are sportspersons exhibiting their talents in state and national-level tournaments. But they are also aware of their tradition and culture and learn the Toda embroidery right from their young age by watching elders at home.

The Toda embroidery is called as ‘Torhbohr’ or ‘poothkuli’ and the whole design of the embroidery is based on counting. It is done on a calculation and the finished product is so attractive and traditional, the whole effort and time taken to complete the same becomes a pleasure. […]

The embroidery is done on the reverse to produce a rich, embossed effect on the surface and each one has more than nine intricate designs.

The women do them out of practice without tracing the pattern or referring to a book. […]

Explaining more about their culture and tradition, Poovadevi said that they worship Panchapandavas but there is no idol worship.

A earthen lamp is lit in the temple made out of straws and the priest also has to wear the traditional dress while performing puja. Ghee is used for the lamp and no matches are used. Fire is lit by brushing the cloth with a special wood that are available in the forest.

The ‘poothukuli’ plays an important role for all the occasions, like it is used in the weddings as well as for funeral. The Toda bride and groom drape themselves with the embroidered garment during weddings and even the dead is covered with the same before the funeral rites are performed.

The wedding guests too have to wear ‘poothukuli’ embroidered fabric during the wedding and there are incidents where those who did not wear them have been fined by the community elders.

Their main food are the products made out of buffalo milk and the status of the Toda family is assessed on the number of buffaloes one owns, Poovadevi says with a beaming smile.

The embroidered fabric is a huge hit among the foreigners who visit Ooty, which is a tourist spot and is sold from Rs 5,000 and above. Poovadevi and Enrs Kuttan will impart training on the same at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manava Sangrahalaya up to July 20.

Source: “Toda community forays into reviving traditional art” by Gayathri V Raj, Deccan Herald, Sunday 11 December 2011
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