Who are Badagas?
First of all, both the people and the language are called Badaga. The question, though appears to be a simple and straight forward one, is more complex than initially assumed. It was taken for granted that anyone speaking Badaga language ( also known as Badugu/Badagu) was considered a Badaga. The initial ‘research’ done by the westerners, in fact a large number of them being Italian/German missionaries whose ‘mission’ was to convert the hill tribes to Christianity (later joined by British officials and some anthropologists) wrongly clubbed all Badaga speaking people together and wrongly assumed that Badagas to be a community who migrated from the plains of Mysore (Karnataka).
Though, the Badagas were, initially divided into three distinct groups known as Odaya, Gowda and Thoraiya, and the Gowdas further sub-divided themselves into sects like Gowda, Haruva, Kanakka, Adhikari, Lingaites etc.
But a deeper analysis and research may lead us to come to the conclusion that the title Badaga should belong ONLY to Gowdas who were/are one of the original indigenous tribes of the Nilgiri hills in Southern India. Living in the hills for thousands of years. The myth of migration was thrust upon them due to the fact that a smaller number of, Vokkaligas from the plains of Mysore (Chamaraja Nagar), might have migrated to the hills during the reigns of Malik Kafur in the 12th centaury and later the ruthless regime of Tipu Sultan.
The clear distinction that divides the Badagas is due to the fact the the Gowdas do not marry Odayas or Thoraiyas.
Odayas consider themselves superior to Badaga Gowdas, being initially temple priests. Confined to a few villages and generally economically weaker, the Odayas, especially the males, would not enter individual Badaga houses (inner rooms like Ede Mane) though they would come to Badaga villages (hattis) and take alms of grains (mainly rice and millet (Batha). They would cook the food outside hattis and eat among themselves.
Thoraiyas were considered as domestic help (Aevil Thoraiyaru) in olden days, and were deployed to carry out errands between the hattis mainly to convey messages. Now, Thoraiyas do not like to be known as inferior to Badagas. They also live in cluster of villages and marry only among themselves.
So, it may not be out of place to call only the Gowdas as Original Badagas who live in 274 villages called hattis spread around the length and breath of the hills of the Nilgiris called NAKKU BETTA in the four Seemes (Nadus).
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