Toda is the name of an ancient tribe which lives in Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. They lead a very simple life far away from the modern lifestyle. They are believed to be one of the oldest tribes living in the mountains. At present there are around 2000 toda people living in 60 different hamlets.
Location and belief
The Toda tribe live in Ooty, proudly named as the Queen of hills. Ooty is the short form of Uthagamandalam which is derived from the term “Othakal mund”. A “mund” refers to a hamlet where a small number of Toda live as a group. They build wood houses with bamboo and they apply a lot of hand work which beautifies every Toda home. The Toda house has a very narrow entrance. One has to bend very low to enter inside. This maintains the flexibility of the body and helps to stay healthy. It also protects from wild animals.
The British built a full stone building here which was called as “Othakal mund” by the locals. It means “a place with single stone structure”. It later became Uthagamandalam and then shortened to Ooty.
The Toda tribe lead a simple life and they consider their buffaloes as sacred creatures. They believe that their goddess created them along with their buffaloes to help them live in harmony and peace. In their temples, they carve out buffalo images along with stars, lotus and X symbols.
Settlements and Occupation
The Toda live very close to nature and they do not engage in idol worship. They have temples in every “mund” and a priest lives inside the temple. People worship from outside and only the priest is allowed to enter inside the temple. The lamp inside the temple is lit with ghee.
Main occupation of Toda is associated with buffalo farming. They take milk and produce curd, butter, ghee etc. As they live in seclusion, they obtain resources for food, clothing and shelter from whatever available nearby.
Food and Language
Toda people are completely vegetarian and their staple food is rice with milk products. They eat leaves and vegetables along with spices. Most common food is called “Urundai saapadu” which is made with rice and butter milk. Rice is boiled till very soft consistency, butter milk is added, and smashed with wooden spoon. It is then served with thick butter and a spicy chutney made from red chilly, garlic, coriander etc.
Toda people speak a language which exists only as a dialect. It does not have any written form. This language is believed to be an ancient version of dravidian languages – Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada. The current generation of Toda speak Tamil very well with a slight mix of Malayalam.
Clothing and culture
Toda use an exclusive style of clothing, which they design by themselves. Their long white shawl is adorned with beautiful embroidery works woven by Toda women. They use black, red and blue threads to create designs. They have names for every design and calculate the number of stitches for each design. Hence, their embroidery works involve mathematics and creativity. Though they wear saree and other common dress, they drape this white shawl above. They create unique hairstyle by rolling their hair with ghee.
During festivals and other occasions, they dance in circles, singing their traditional songs. During wedding ceremonies, they take leaves from their sacred tree and give as gift for the bride. As they regard their buffaloes as a source of wealth, buffaloes are given as wedding gifts. From birth until death, at all important occasions, buffaloes are sacrificed. It is believed that the sacrificed buffalo travels with the soul of the dead peson to the hereafter.
Sports and education
Main sport of Toda is stone lifting. They practise this since young age and as adults, they lift weights more than 100 kg. This stone lifting can be seen in other parts of Tamil Nadu as well, and it is called as “Ilavatta kal”.
The government has initiated schooling exclusively for Toda communities as they cannot travel down the hills to attend schools. Their education is in good standards, even better than people living in other parts of Tamil Nadu. The development of Nilgiri district happened mainly because of the British, who introduced railways and convent schools to Ooty. The current generation of Toda is well educated and they have excelled in various fields.
As with the case of all other traditions, the Toda population is also diminishing due to migration and civilization. As their lives are closely associated with buffaloes, it gets harder for them to raise buffaloes due to destroyal of grasslands. This restricts the life of both buffalo and Toda. Though government tries to pull out Toda from tribal life to modern life, they still prefer to balance between tradition and civilization.