Toda tribe is one of the first tribes inhabited the Nilgiris, a mountain range in the western ghats of India. In the previous blog, I put together the general information about their unique lifestyle they had in those ancient times. In this blog, I’m going to share what I saw as their life today while visiting and interacting with them in their mundu/village in Ooty.
Toda Tribe Today
Toda people today lead a normal life like you and me. They go to school and everything, take up 9 to 5 jobs and live in houses that are similar to the mainland Tamil Nadu. However, the village I visited is a small area where all the tiny houses are accommodated.
To put into perspective, Ooty is known as the queen of hills. According to wikipedia, John Sullivan, who was appointed by the East India company then wrote to the officials describing Ooty as:
" ... it resembles Switzerland, more than any country of Europe... the hills beautifully wooded and fine strong spring with running water in every valley."
Ooty belonged to the Toda tribe and it was known as Ottakalmandu which later became Udagamangalam and for ease known as Ooty. This is the land given out to Sullivan for Rs.1, as I mentioned in one of the previous blogs, in a time where these tribes had no concept of money. Ooty is one of the busy cities with booming tourism and the Nilgiris is a reserved biosphere and also got a World Heritage tag.
Now, all they have is this little area with tiny houses and few cattle. Maybe this generation doesn’t feel any difference since they are brought up there but I find it really sad about this transition.
We met Laxmi entering the village, who introduced us to the rest of the people, mostly the elders of the village. They were pretty happy about taking pictures and well, not much familiar with selfies. So, we had a good time taking selfies :D
After that we went to see their temple. It is a dome shaped small huts made of natural materials. Entry to the premises is restricted with many categorizations.
We found a building which is a community hall close to the temple. The open terrace of this building was a good place to see the temple more clearly. There were few buffaloes having a good time there. They didn’t seem like the water buffaloes shown in the pictures from the olden times though.
There were many men on the terrace gathered talking in Toda language. Most of them we met downstairs while talking to the elder ladies. They were all nice to invite us for tea to their houses and we politely refused.
Talking to them brought a lot of new information and practises. These men don't belong to the village we are visiting. They all came to attend the funeral that happened two days before. They were all married from this village which is why they were there, and they were ready to leave the place.
I was more interested to know about the temple and rituals. One of them said, they are not allowed in this temple since they are from another village. He continued, in his village there are three such temples unlike the only one in Ooty. And, the rituals go on year around in those temples whereas in the Ooty temple it has become once a year, more or less for the sake of keeping it alive.
There was a stone almost near to the board that read “No Entry” and females are not allowed to go beyond that. There were kids playing with the cattle close to the temple. They also talked about a foreign tourist coming there and entering the temple without the knowledge of the villagers. Now, they have filed a case against him. They do take their diary temples very seriously.
Talking to one of the men, he said, “these days children from all the tribes go to school together and study together. However, we are not supposed to share food”. Well, those rituals run deep in their minds even though the times have changed a lot.
It was nice to talk to them, get to know a lot of things about the tribe. They invited to their own villages, which to me sounded like a privilege after knowing their rules about outsiders and such. And of course, we had to take a picture of them!
Toda tribe only marries within the tribes and there are only a few of them today. From the photographs and in real, they all had similar facial features. Especially the nose and the oval face shape. There was only one girl out of everyone I saw there who had a round face.
Talking about marriage, they still strictly follow the marriage inside the tribe only thing seriously. Those who marry outside the tribe are not allowed to enter the village again or don’t stay in touch with the families. Such an act is rather considered a disappointment.
Talking to Laxmi also confirmed that, she said, these days the younger generation are getting married to other people and things are slowly changing. People are starting to accept that but she’s not for it. We were back at Laxmi’s place to buy some embroidered clothes.
She was back from an exhibition at Chennai and had all the things in the car. We were in her house to take a look at the materials and she insisted on having lunch. By now, it was already past lunchtime and we agreed to it. She brought some rice, a potato curry and some butter in the middle.
It was something we didn’t really expect and really grateful for. The butter was incredibly soft and tasted good. Did I mention one of Toda tribes trade is their homemade butter?!
These are the items the ladies sold which are made out of their embroidered cloth. The price ranged from 250 for the sling bags to 2000 for the shawls. There were tablecloths, shawls in different sizes and more. She displayed it all on a mat.
Chi bought a long shawl which we had decided from the shops we saw in Coonoor. They also have a proper shop inside Ooty botanical garden. The price is the same since it was a collective work of all the ladies in the tribe.
After that, we spent some more time with everyone there. The eldest of the tribe is an old lady in her 80s. She was very sick and bedridden. I visited her and her bone was weakened. They were treated with allopathic medicine and healthcare is not something they lacked.
Laxmi took us down to the town in their car since she was also going there. By the time we reached Coonoor my phone was dead. I got a call the next morning and it was Laxmi. She said she tried calling yesterday to know if we reached back safe and that was something sweet and unexpected.