eBook | Toda cultural history (Nilgiri) – Tamil Nadu

Buffalo herd Photo © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation
Learn more about the Toda community, their cultural traditions and the Nilgiri biosphere >>

Until now, historians and anthropologists believed that Todas, a tribal group in the higher altitudes of the Nilgiris, reached there about 2,000 years ago. A new study by Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru researchers shows the community was already settled there 3,500-4,000 years ago when a climate change occurred in southern India. […] 

The buffalo-tending pastoral community is widely believed to be the earliest people to move into the upper Nilgiri plateau perhaps during the 1st century AD. It remained relatively isolated, until ‘discovered’ during the early 19th century by the erstwhile British administration. […]

Source: “Todas lived in Nilgiris 3,500 years ago” by P. Oppili (Times of India, 27 August 2020)
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/77771591.cms
Date visited: 16 December 2020

THE TODA AND CULTURE HISTORY: SOME REFLECTIONS FROM A DRAVIDIAN TRIBE OF NILGIRI HILLS

Jakka Parthasarathy
Key Words: Cultural relativism, Tamil Language, Acculturation, Culture Core

Culture history is a perspective developed by anthropologists whose common concern is the inference of historical relationships from the observed spatial distribution of culture traits. Culture history continues to be an influential force in anthropology.

Each culture or each society in tribal communities possessed its own rationality and coherence in terms of which its customs and beliefs are to be interpreted. In India, the ethnographic world is in fact made up of communities and cultures in constant contact and change.

The paper seeks to examine the culture history and increasing rationality in the contemporary world among the Toda, a primitive tribal group inhabiting the Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu State. The Toda people are living only on the upper plateau of the Nilgiri hills with an average elevation of 2300 ft. at the junction of the Eastern and the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu State of India. The total Toda population as per 2001 census is 1560. It has been inferred that the Toda people are not aborigines, but came probably as conquerors or immigrants from the sea. The cultural relativism of the Todas with the hill habitat raised curious academic inquiry about ‘Who are the Todas?, How do they come to be living on the Nilgiri Hills?

Toda shrine Photo © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation
Learn more about the Toda community, their cultural traditions and the Nilgiri biosphere >>

The manuscript written by a Portuguese priest named Finicio in the year 1602, after his two day’s stay in the Nilgiri hills, is the earliest record on the Todas. From 1602 up to 1812 of the English occupation, we do not have the culture history of the Todas. Todas have received much attention mainly from their pastoral occupation of tending herds of buffaloes, living in half-barrel shaped huts, lacto-vegetarianism, fraternal polyandry, colour of the skin and unique physical features.

Todas today believe that they had always been on the Nilgiri hills. The ritual aspect of religion around sacred buffaloes and dairies, system of kinship, life cycle rituals connected with birth and death, dry funeral ceremony after nine months of cremation, priests who are bound to lead a life of celibacy with worldly thoughts, divination and magic, the custom of giving a cloth as the essential marriage ceremony etc., defend that Todas are a Dravidian tribe. Toda people speak a distinctive dialect which is not a blend of other languages. The Toda priests use sacred words during prayers. Earlier scholars, Bernhard Schmid, Caldwell, Pope and Rivers had accepted that Toda dialect is Dravidian and ascribed two-thirds of the Toda vocabulary to classical Tamil language. The paper also focuses attention on the possession of Toda rationality and coherence in understanding their own culture history. The paper concludes by arguing that the Toda customs and beliefs are in fact in constant contact and change but not going away form Dravidian philosophy. The study is based on field work conducted as a cultural anthropologist for the past two and half decades.

Source:  http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/00151/WCTC_Souvenir_-_Par_151107a.pdf
Date Visited: 16 April 2012

Toda elders Photo © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation
Learn more about the Toda community, their cultural traditions and the Nilgiri biosphere >>

Of all the tribes of South India, the Todas of the Nilgiris remain as the most widely studied ethnic group till date, owing to its unique physical characteristics (such as tall stature, fair complexion, pointed and long nose), culture traits (such as half-barrel shaped huts, buffalo-centred culture, lacto-vegetarianism, weaving of embroidered shawl, the putkuli) and linguistic features (such as the phonetic correspondences of proto-Dravidian […], presence of residual suffixes and rich vocabulary of buffalo terms). Consequently, based on the above-cited unique characteristics, this tribal group has caused postulations of various hypotheses on their origin such as Scythian, Vedic Aryan, Israelite, Macedonian, which have been considered as mere fantastic suggestions and rejected by other schools of thought. […]

Although the Todas have been studied and documented both intensively and extensively by various scholars of India and abroad, the people of the Toda community still feel and express that both their culture and language have not yet been understood correctly and completely. […]

Source: Foreword by M.A. Siddique (Director of Museums, Chennai): Todas of the Nilgiri Hills: Anthropological Reflections on Community Survival by Jakka Parthasarathy (Director, Tribal Research Centre at M. Palada, Udhagamandalam), 2005

Tip: read or download the free searchable file (backup PDF, 1,5 MB) >>
Source: http://www.e-books-chennaimuseum.tn.gov.in/chennaimuseum/images/250/mobile/index.html#p=6
Date Visited: 15 December 2020

The breathtaking Nilgiris are home to a number of indigenous tribes, one of which is Toda. Unfortunately, the once thriving tribe has fewer than 1,000 members today. Based on the yardstick set by our modern education system, these tribesmen and women are considered illiterate and backward. However, one has to visit their homes, interact with them and see their craft to truly understand the depth of their knowledge, art, traditions and sensibilities. The Toda tribe is largely dependent on buffalo herding and embroidery for its livelihood. Its members are incredibly skilled artisans known for the red-and-black embroidery on white fabrics that has even earned them a GI (geographical indication) tag. They live sustainable lives, in harmony with nature where all their resources are available. The Toda tribals have their own language, which does not have a script.

Over the last century, their numbers have been dwindling. The sharp decline in their population is largely related to the decline in agriculture land, much of which has been lost of afforestation. With their dwindling numbers, their art, craft and traditions are facing a slow death. If not preserved, the day is not far when their unique embroidery, for instance, is lost forever.

The Todas are an extremely closed community, barely connected to the rest of the world and, thus, deprived of the opportunities connectivity offers. They are not alone in leading marginalized and excluded lives. Overall, Scheduled Tribes account for 8.6% of India’s population, according to the 2011 Census. […]

Source: “Preserving our vanishing tribes, their heritage, language and wisdom” by Osama Manzar (Livemint, 8 September 2017)
URL: https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/AhrviHfdlAluJ6ffBBpUQN/Preserving-our-vanishing-tribes-their-heritage-language-an.html
Date visited: 17 March 2021

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