Pray include Badaga Culture in Tribal Cultural Centre, Ooty

The following letter was addressed to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Chennai and this website endorses the views and concern expressed by Dharmalingam Venugopal and requests for a favourable and early action – Wg Cdr. JP

Respected Sir,

Pray include Badaga Culture in Tribal Cultural Centre, Ooty

The newly constructed Tribal Cultural Centre at Ooty, a parting gift of the late, lamented Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is likely to be opened for public any time now.

Sir, it is learnt that the Badaga Culture may not find a place in the Centre. If it is true, it will mean a grave injustice to the Badaga community and to the Nilgiris.

In recent years there have been a misleading supposition that the Badagas do not belong to the original tribal communities of Nilgiris and that they were migrants from somewhere in Mysore. Nothing can be more preposterous and mindless than such claims or views.

This needless controversy has surfaced in the past few decades following some publications by foreign anthropologists. According to them Badagas might have migrated from Mysore as they believe the word ‘Badaga’ denotes ‘Northeners’. The assumption itself is highly questionable and without foundation.

Even assuming the correctness of such claims, according to such anthropologists the migration took place sometime in 1550s. That is, some 500 years ago when the world, as we know now, had hardly been formed. There was no United States or Britain or Europe; nor India or Madras or Tamil Nadu!! The people of the whole world was migrating and yet to settle down.

Is not five centuries enough to accept the Badaga claim as a native tribe of Nilgiris? Besides, there is absolutely no evidence as to who came first and who came later among the Todas, Badagas, Kotas, Irulas and Kurumbas, the main tribes of Nilgiri uplands.

The very question of Badagas or any other tribes of Nilgiris having come from somewhere is meaningless and needless. How many communities or castes in Tamil Nadu can trace their origin or where they originated? Unlike most other communities and castes of Tamil Nadu, the antiquity and social and cultural uniqueness of the Badagas have been well researched and documented by Indian and foreign scholars.

The Badagas claim for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes may not have been accepted. But none can deny their status as a Nilgiri Tribe.

Just as Tamilians include various tribes, castes and communities the Badagas too include several groups of people. A small group of Badagas even today marry from Mysore. One group of Badagas has obtained the Most Backward Class status from the state government while the rest are classified as Backward Class.

The needless controversy over Badaga history has already led to serious social, cultural, economic and administrative consequences in the Nilgiris. The discontinuation of enumeration of Badaga as a separate language in the last two census has led to a peculiar problem of not knowing how many Badagas, the largest social group, are there in the Nilgiris.

Preservation of socio-economic and cultural tradition of Badagas is paramount to the future of the Nilgiris and Tamil Nadu. Therefore, we pray your honorable self to consider this representation favorably and seek your kind intervention to :

a) Provide due space and content for Badaga Culture in the Tribal Cultural Centre before its inauguration.

b) Institute an enquiry as to why Badaga language, unlike in the previous census, had not been enumerated as a separate language in the last two census and restore its separate enumeration from the 2021 census onwards.

c) Constitute a high-level committee to confer a suitable categorization to the Badaga community, such as Mountain/Hill Tribe or Indigenous People, pending their representation for the status of a Scheduled Tribe.

Sir, your kind attention and intervention will certainly gratify the departed Chief Minister’s noble soul; for, the Badaga community was always very close to her heart.

Dharmalingam Venugopal Honorary Director, Nilgiri Documentation Centre, Kotagiri, The Nilgiris .

Comments and counter views:

Prof.Paul Hockings writes :
Dear Venu,
I applaud your appeal for the inclusion of Badaga culture in the cultural centre display, but you weaken your case somewhat in the early part of your letter by some very obvious errors. These suggest the writer doesn’t know what he is talking about. First of all, and of least significance here, Britain and Madras were indeed well-established entities five hundred years ago.

As for the word “Badaga”, all linguists agree that it means “northerner”, without any doubt. Badagas told Fenicio in 1603 that they were northerners. Since that date, it is not “foreign anthropologists” who have “claimed” this, but rather the many dozens of Badaga elders who have told them this, and ever since 1832: the literature makes this very clear, and Breeks in particular made it very clear in 1873. So calling this a “misleading supposition” is casting doubt without any supporting evidence to the contrary.

Future generations of Badagas don’t deserve to be bamboozled about their own history! Some elders have in fact told me not just that their ancestors came from Mysore, but from precisely which villages they came. The Todas have also told us that the Kotas too, a Scheduled Tribe, came from the plains, yet you make no mention of this interesting fact. A lot more could be said about this, but it is already in my books or in a 2016 volume on Indigeneity.
This said, the three points you make at the end of your request to the Chief Minister are altogether valid requests, indeed are the least that we should expect of him. The arbitrary decision to “hide” the number of Badaga speakers among Kannada speakers in recent censuses has been especially egregious, in view of the publications of grammars and dictionaries of the Badaga language by R. Balakrishnan, C. Pilot-Raichoor and myself that make the independent status of the language crystal-clear.
Let us hope that the state government takes some constructive action on this long-fesstering issue, and Badaga culture gains true recognition for its role in creating the modern Nilgiris!
Dharmalingam Venugopal counters :
Dear Paul,
I know you will take offence but the stakes are getting higher and Badagas themselves seem so ignorant of what is going on.

You know there have been several instances (starting from Aryan-Dravidian debate) in India when 'academic history' unwittingly spilled over to 'popular history' leading to unwanted consequences. Such histories are also manipulated by vested interests to score their points. So many books have been withdrawn in such contexts. That's is what is happening to the so called Badaga migration. An average clerk in the district administration thinks Badagas came from Mysore some 50 years ago !! Some money making NGOs here also question the status of Badagas as Indigenous People

I mentioned 'misleading suppositions' to mean vague assumptions and not incorrect assumptions. For academicians Badaga origin may continue to be a matter for investigation but it has caused a lot of confusion to the present outsiders and Badagas. No one really bothers to read your's or other's book. It is just word of mouth or some silly newspaper article. That is the reason why I have to do what I am doing now.

Of course, my history is poor but surely the world of today is vastly different from the world of 1800 or 1550s. Why dig up the roots of just one small community? Does it serve any purpose? On the contrary it can and has already caused a lot of trouble.

If I were a migrant from the hot plains of Mysore I would rather settle in the warm lower slopes of Gudalur than claim up all the way, risking wildlife and other unknown dangers, to settle in some remote and cold heights.

Badaga no doubt means Northener. And Badagas evidently had a great sense of geography, astronomy etc but was the name given by outsiders or Badagas themselves to outsiders coming to the hills. It is quite possibly a term to denote those like the lingayats who came to the hills in different periods.

If there had been a original and mass migration it would have found a place in our proverbs, sayings and omens etc. When Counsel of the Ancients laid down over thousand do's and don'ts for the Badagas,why were they silent on the origin. Obviously it was too old for them too !!!

I hope you understand the prevailing circumstances which make it imperative for me to bring out these issues. Of course, it is a thankless task.
Prof.Paul Hockings responds :-
Dear Venu,
I appreciate your well-reasoned letter. My books are directed at the educated public, which is including more and more Badagas. I don’t expect a casual reader in Coonoor to know what is meant by ‘uxorilocal residence’ etc., But people who are serious about this will look it up or know already. The audience I am addressing is not just people in the Nilgiris, either, but the increasingly large diaspora and especially their children who have hardly set foot in a Badaga village. These are the people who later in the century will be wondering about where their fathers and mothers came from.

And this is not an idle thought on my part. Anthropology may not be very popular in India — and one can make a strong point that the studies have been done by ‘foreign anthropologists’ for the simple reason that Badagas are not interested or trained in this. (I know about Verghese, but he studied Kotas, and moreover has been dead for many years.) It is very normal for students of Indian origin going to universities in the West, as thousands do, take some anthropology courses because they are required to take a certain number of social science courses. This often can lead to term papers or theses on Nilgiri topics.

But when they come to look into the available library resources, nearly everything is by me! And if their interest is ‘the origin of….’ they find such nonsense floating around in the heads of their friends and relatives as the idea that the Todas came from Greece (else why would Prince Peter of Greece, a good anthropologist, be interested in them?); or a recent claim on a website that “the Badagas have been on the Nilgiris for 8000 years”; or an idea that Ari Gowder shared with me that the Badagas must have come from Bengal because he saw similarities between the gudikat and decorations at Buddhist funerals in Bengal….. These baseless ideas will be useless to future generations, especially those who, we may assume, will be interested in studying the Badagas seriously. So I am doing the best I can to present all the relevant evidence for my conclusions — which can always be modified by new evidence.

Unfortunately, Prof.Hockings seems to feel that everything  he claims to be correct about Badaga Origin must be accepted unless new evidence is provided. He has quoted Ari Gowder out of context. He laments that ‘I don’t expect a casual reader in Coonoor to know what is meant by ‘uxorilocal residence’ etc….or a recent claim on a website that “the Badagas have been on the Nilgiris for 8000 years”‘. I would like to remind him that Badagas are no more the docile head nodders to accecpt any thing said and claimed by ‘outsiders’ as gospel truth (pun intended) any more. They are highly educated and rightly agitated about false claims. Proof and evidence will follow about Badaga Origin in future. Let there be healthy debates that can correctly come to a conclusion. I am, being an ‘educated’ Badaga whose website has more than 480,000 hits, totally convinced that Badagas are one of the original inhabitants of the Nilgiri hills and their origin may  be thousands of years old. – Wg Cdr JP



 Sent by Dr.RK Haldorai


Revd. P. K. Mulley
[Kotagiri ,January 2017]

It was W.H.R. Rivers, the pioneer of Toda anthropological studies, who first documented (1906) the Badaga names of twelve calendar months (albeit in Toda form). He also indicated that the Todas probably borrowed them from the Badagas. Rivers did not know that the Kotas too, followed the same calendar. What is of great interest is that this calendar, according to Rivers, signalised the beginning of the new year with the new moon in October. Rivers, further stated that the full moon is counted as being on the fifteenth day after the new moon, and the new moon as being the sixteenth day after the full moon. F.J. Richards, I.C.S., tried to pursue this subject (1920), but did not make any headway in this regard.

K.H. Madha Gowder of Achanakal (1979) who prepared a Badaga calendar also suggested that the tenth day of the present day English month should be treated as the beginning of every new month, but without any conceptualisation. He posited that kuuDalu is the name of the first Badaga month. Prof. M. Basavalingam of Kil-Kotagiri, a Lingayat Wodeya antiquarian (a former Professor of English as well as a monitor of astrology) and a noted Tamil Sangam Period historian sought (1982) to make a correspondence of kuuDalu with Tamil maargazhi and stated that the Badaga new year commenced during December-January. Prof. Paul Hockings, the doyen of Badaga anthropology, first in 1989 and subsequently in 2013, tried to investigate the subject, though not with any satisfactory result.

In the light of the above observations, I consider the recent attempts of Dr. R.K. Haldorai, to make a fresh presentation of the subject, quite a tenable one. However, I have my misgivings about kuuDalu or kuuTlu being the first month. The meaning of the name – “culmination or conjunction of the cycle”, obviously makes it the twelfth month rather than the first month. kuuTlu is also the name of the lunar house of the constellation of haalamiinu in Badaga tradition. If and when this astral position is duly synchronized, it may yet throw more light on Badaga new year. The ritual chronometry followed in the commemoration of BeragaNi Hethe during this month further reinforces this position. The Badaga new year most likely then, begins with the appearance of the crescent moon (kattihere) on the third day after the new moon in January. Haalaani, therefore is the first month and kuuDalu, the last one. Moreover, the Badaga month tay when considered as the cognate of das (ten or tenth in pan-Indian vocabulary) actually happens to be the tenth month in Badaga reckoning. Tay in Badaga lexicon is also coupled with kiru (tay kiru) or north eastern monsoon. This month then is incontrovertibly followed by hemmaaTTi and kuuDalu or the eleventh and twelfth months respectively and the cycle is completed. Let us not, in this context try to confuse the Tamil names of months with the Badaga names. The Badaga rhythm of the Nilgiri-year, it needs to be pointed out is certainly anterior to and unknown in Tamil calendar in vogue. It may also be mentioned that the names of the Tamil months seem to have historically undergone a process of distortion (Hart III, 1975) and hence of no use to the Badaga system.

The Badaga system contains some ancient features is also of considerable interest. Dr. Haldorai’s suggestion of Salivahana association (A.D. 78) in the evolution of Badaga lunar calendar is significant. But to promote the mediation of Kannada/Telugu ugaadi in the determination of Badaga intercalary month or saribarasa is not at all necessary. It is not difficult to insert a homologous month every two years and restore to Badaga calendar, the long-forgotten sitre for this purpose. There is an old saying in Badaga – “saribarasado sitre tinguva” (or sitre occurs during an intercalary year). A tender blessing is besought of BeragaNi Hethe to provide golden shade in the month of sitre (“sitreya tinguvado sinnada koDeya naalu”). In the same hymn, summer season is deemed to precede this equalising month. In times of yore, no marriages were held during the intercalary period. But since the time when intercalation was lost track of, a custom of new complexion has come to emerge. Marriages when the spouses are of even-number of years of age, came to be discouraged in the pretext of saribarasa! An authentic intercalary (re) structuring in the Badaga calendar also needs to be less influenced by the almanacs available in the market.

A detailed examination of the etymology of Badaga names of months may not be possible in this account. But the following note on aadhire is of some antiquarian and astronomical importance. This month corresponding to April-May, crucially coincides with the asterism of the same name. Being one of the 27 segments or ‘nakshatras’ it is puzzling to note that this congruent as such does not appear to find a mention in any of the known almanacs. So it may well be that, some original and systematic base can be discerned in the Badaga almanac.

The uujena (waxing moon) and the aujena (waning moon) recalled in Badaga tradition (cf. Emeneau, 1939) can very well be traced back to Sangam times. Sangam texts like Puram 65 and Akam 201 refer to uvaa or uvaanaaL, which linguistically indicate how the cognisance of the movement of moon in earliest times might have been adopted from a common source. Last but not the least, is the Badaga word muTTu (new moon) itself means “to touch”. Astoundingly, the definition of new moon itself, is the phase of the moon occurring when it passes between the earth and the sun and providing the celestial body a touch on its path or an ingress entry into the orbit.


Happy New Year

Wishing you all

a very happy and prosperous

New Year!

Hosa Barashana Ollithe Barali !!

Happy New Year – Badaga Calandar

Today(29 Dec 2016) is Badaga New Year Day

Dharmalingam Venugopal [Nilgiri Documentation Centre]

Today is Badaga new year day- day 1 of Kudalu, the first month of the year.

“The Badaga calendar is quite different from traditional Tamil and  Kanarese ones although they all divide the year into twelve zodiacal or solar months” says, Prof. Paul Hockings, an authority on Badaga history.

The other months of the calendar are Halaani, Nallani, Aani, Aadire, Peeradi , Aavani, Peratadi, Dodda Divige, Kiru Divige, Tai and Hemmatti. The last month is said to be unique and is not found in any Dravidian calendar.

The Badaga calendar,  followed from time immemorial, was first recorded by F.J. Richards , the then Collector of Nilgiris in 1918. In a short but authoritative article in 1920, the collector gave additional information about the Toda names for the months.

“ There is no evidence that the Badagas ever inserted one intercalary month every ten years, as was done elsewhere in India, but something else has been happening to change the calendar” explains Prof.Hockings. and adds, “ We can conclude that the Badagas had been recognizing a 366 day year, with the result that every 23 years their calendar became further advanced against the Gregarian one by about 17 days, because the year is actually much closer to 3651/4 days”.

The Badaga calendar was among the many indigenous knowledge and evidence of their antiquity which gradually vanished with the opening of the Nilgiri hills after 1800.


A beautiful Badaga Poem by Mathan Rameshbabu

A beautiful Badaga Poem by Mathan Rameshbabu [Muscat, Oman]


அவ்வெ நீரட்டுவ சொக

ஹிம்பர ஒலெய
அண்டனொகெ நீரு காசி
அவ்வெய கைதாரி உரு உஜ்ஜி நீரட்டுவ சொக
திரிகி சிக்குவ ஜெனவு
கூடி பந்துனடதெ

Avvey Neerattava Soga

Himbara oleya
andaanoge neera kaasi
Avvaiya kaidhaari uru ujji neerattuva soga
thirigi chikkuva jenavu
koodi bhandhunadadhey

The beauty of Badaga language is not only the style, substance and simplicity but the way it can bring out the inner feelings so powerfully. In this short poem Rameshbabu conveys the great comfort one feels when the mother gives a hot water bath

Kola Devaru (Clan Deity)

Kola Devaru (Clan Deity)



The Badagas are divided into fifteen ‘kolas’ (clans) which are traced in the male line. The originator of a particular clan is the clan deity (kola devaru) of that one. The originator is known as ‘devva’ and the word ‘devva’ is derived from ‘deyvam’, which means god. ‘devva habba’ (festival of god) is basically an clan deity worshipping festival and it is a living tradition of Badagas in which almost everyone in the village participates making it a real social thread connecting the entire society. The festival is one of the thanks giving harvest to ‘devva’ and it still remains untouched and is performed year after year with unprecedented pomp and splendour. Because the universality of appeal, it is firmly rooted in the religious faith and traditions and has assimilated various other cults.

To Badagas forefathers are their gods and they pay obeisance during this festival. In religious observances of Badagas the ancestral worship is predominant. We can identify fifteen ancestors for their different clans (exogamous septs). All these ancient men are called in unison as ‘hiriyodayya’, which can be equated with Tamil ‘peru udaiyar’ i.e. the great lord, lord Siva. It is to be noted here that the ancestor worship was the earliest form of worship.

Clans are maintained by two prohibitions, one on inter dining and the other on inter marriage.

It is in ‘devva’ festival time Badagas are seeking to reaffirm their identity and commitment. They are special cause to rejoice, because year after year they try to find their roots and keep their tradition afresh. This festival is important on many different levels; it has existed for centuries and sustained devotees while maintaining its complex ritual cycle. There is something intangible but deeply felt. Badagas relationship with this festival is intense often very moving.

Each clan has its own ‘devva mane’ (house of ancestor) at ‘ooru’ (head – hamlet of a clan). In the same way each hamlet has a ‘doddamane’ (ritual – house) which represents ‘devva mane’. Basically for Badgas ‘devvamanes’ are their temples and special rites are performed there during festival days, A particular ‘devvamane’ represents the particular founder of that ‘oor’ and it is important not only for its history but its rituals. The other place which has connection with this festival is ‘banagudi’ (forest temple), memorial of ancestor. It gets ‘poojas’ once in a year that too during this ‘devva’ festival. Any Badaga can act as a priest but among the clan of agnates. The essential features of ordination are abstain from meat eating on particular days, preparing him for ‘pooja’ like taking bath in stream, sleeping the previous night at devvamane etc.

While all the articles in conducting poojas are traditionally held in reverence, there are some that top the other in terms of divine association. In Badaga tradition ‘juvikindi’ (water – jar), ‘ele kannadi’ (bronze mirror), ‘jegande’ (bell) represent the very deity itself and these articles get pooja once in a year that too on ‘devva’ festival. Except this festival days rest throughout the year these articles are kept in a hidden place at forest. ‘thumbe’ (leucas), the flower that has religious significance is an integral to ‘devva habba’ and offering honey to deity is also occur.

In this festival Badagas offer their forefathers the food prepared with newly harvested ‘ganje’ (barley, hordeum vulgare) and the milk of a cow which yeaned first time. Badagas make fire by friction for boiling the milk and cooking the ‘ganje’ and offer cooked ‘ganje’ without salt or sugar. This festival is celebrated throughout Badaga land with full devotion and they are strict enough to observe the vow that not to consume any agricultural produce of a particular year up to this festival.

Hethes are goddesses of human origin and they lived different times of history. Fourteen Hethes are identified and worshiped by the Badagas. Hethes take prominent role in the overall life and activities of the Badaga society. Due this few jump to consider that Hethes are our clan deities. First of all, all the fifteen clans are not having their own Hethes. For example, the ‘thodanadu’ has no Hethe of its own. Among fourteen Hethes only few lived along with ‘devva’ (ayya). Secondly, Badagas trace their descent from one or other certain specified exogamous clan descending in the male line. In this background there is no room to consider Hethes as clan deities.

Two responses to the article
1.Hariharan Emarald Bhojan :
The Badugu Gowda clan call their clan deity by the name “Hiriyodayya”. The Badugu Haruva clan ‎call by the name “Maalingaiyya”. Wodeyaru call by the name “Jedayalinga” or “Jedayasomi”, Thoreyaru address by the name “Ketharayya” and Adhikari Clan address by the name “Kariyabettaraya. The Badaga Community is an agglomeration of various Jatis and Clans which trace their ancestry to ‎varied family trees but speaking the same language. Although we may look like a homogenous community to an outsider, factually we are not. While sincerely applauding your knowledge and work, I would appreciate representing certain practises as they are.

2. Bellie Lakshmi Ramakrishnan :
A very enlightening writeup/article. Research on our community is very engrossing and enlightening, making us yearn for more such researched articles. I kindly request you to provide more such articles about our community.
Further, we should collectively organise seminars and workshops on the cultural aspects of our community. Researchers and others interested in the welfare of our community should be encouraged to present papers on specified topics for the collation of information for the wellbeing of the community.  Your steadfast approach to bring out the unlettered knowledge of our community in writing is extremely inspiring.

I personally feel a seminar or series of seminars would ensure uniformity in presenting our cultural knowledge. Knowledge is Power and every Badaga should endeavour to imbibe the knowledge about our community.
To my knowledge, please correct me if I am wrong, majority of research material on our community was done by persons outside our community, now, the advent of the educated Badaga, the Badaga researcher, calls for us to be more uniformaly unanimous in our projection of facts about our community. The research done by the Badaga on the Badagas would stand more scrutiny.

Jayalalithaa and Badagas

Late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms.J.Jayalalithaa had a special place for the Nilgiris, where she built a bungalow for herself in Kodanaad, Kotagiri among tea estates and a soft corner for the Badagas, a local and native community. She had preferred to give Badagas the chance to become AIADMK MLAs and MPs though among the community, a sizeable section supports rival DMK party.

A much misunderstood person as very arrogant and authoritative, she was a soft person, highly intellect and an able administrator.

In her demise, we lost a true friend of Badagas and the Nilgiris!

May her soul, RIP !

Along with Badaga folk dancers in the Nilgiris on May 17, 1992


Photo- Vino John [The Hindu 06/12/2016]

The Nilgiris has lost a Patron

Next  to Chennai,  and perhaps, Srirangam, no other place was dear to Late CM as the Nilgiris. Ooty stole her heart since the 1960s when she was regular visitor for film shooting. Even prior to her first term as CM she visited Ooty whenever an opportunity arose. She was well aware of the issues facing the Nilgiris.

On taking over the government one of the first things she did was to declare a moratorium on constructions in the Nilgiris and later followed it up with the announcement of a Master Plan. The constitution of the Hill Area Conservation Authority was another major step.

On the forest side she took several decisions including a total ban on felling of rosewood trees.

On promotion of tourism the formation of a rose garden was a major initiative.

On the native people,  she was especially fond of the Badagas but the Badagas failed to make use of her good offices.

As a conservationist at heart she took only a week, after Save Nilgiris Campaign appealed to her, to withdraw the proposed Kallarpallam small dam in Kotagiri. Later she herself  moved into Kodanad.

If her intention to protect and preserve the Nilgiris did not fully materialize she can’t be blamed for it. The administration was often lax in implementing the rules and regulations. The people’s representatives and the public were also lax in making proper representations for the good of district.

The hills have lost a protector.


Photo and text by

Dharmalingam Venugopal,

Nilgiri Documentation Centre



A tribute to Ari Gowder



Ari Gowder

He was an undisputed leader of Badagas. It is accepted, with a tinge of sadness that there is no Badaga who has taken his mantle in leading the community even after 47 yrs after his demise in 1971.

Today is HB Ari Gowder’s 122nd birth Anniversary. He was the eldest son of Rao Bahadur [Hubbathalai Joghigowder] Bellie Gowder and [Jakkadha] Nanji in 1893.

Apart from being the first Badaga graduate and leading the Indian contingent for the world scouts jamboree in 1932 at Hungary, he brought many far reaching reforms in the Badaga community. He fore saw the importance of equality of women and the education of girl child. He encouraged Badaga girl students to go abroad in 1960s both on student exchange programmes and study tours.

Another great reform he was keen on was, equal share of property to both sons and daughters. This he ensured by setting a personal example and leaving behind a registered Will. His property was equally divided to his daughter in law, two grand daughters and a grand son, accordingly.