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by. J. Krishna Moorthi:

The Badagas, a unique community in the hilly area of Nilgiris, India, also called, “The Queen of Hills,” have lived in this region many decades.  Questions have been raised about its origin and nativity to the Nilgiris.

The Badagas are one of the largest communities of the Nilgiris.  Some old theories say the Badagas have inhabited the Nilgiris since the Indus Valley civilization. Father Fenicio, a Portuguese priest, discovered the people when he came to the Nilgiris in 1603.

The Badagas told him they inhabited three hills in the region. The 1901 census of India classified the Badagas as tribes, and denoted the community as Hindu animist tribes with a tribal mother tongue.

The government of India removed Badagas from the scheduled tribe list in the 1950s, after Independence.  Still the origin of the people is unclear. Although the tribe was listed as a backward community in the Tamil Nadu State, the 1873 book, “An Account of the Primitive Tribes and Monuments of the Nilgiris,” by J.W. Breeks, the first commissioner of Nilgiris, excluded Badagas from the list of primitive tribes (while classifying three other communities in this region:

Todas, Kotas and Kurumbas on this list). Of late, social media have also been spinning stories about the Badagas origin. The most circulated theory says the Badagas were natives of Mysore, who took refuge in the Nilgiris hills to escape from Mysore King Tipu Sultan.

At a time when the tribe is virtually secluded from its peer tribes, a clarification from American anthropologist Paul Hockings, who has researched the Badagas for nearly six decades, comes as relief for the community. In a recent communication to the Nilgiris Documentation Centre[NDC],

Hockings said, “The tribe despite its sketchy history is as indigenous to the Nilgiris as the English are to Britain.”  “The length of time in their abode has no particular bearing on their indigence.The Badagas today have no cultural roots outside the district, which is also true of the Kotas and Todas, and it is in this sense that all three communities are indeed indigenous,” he said.

In fact, it was Hockings statement in the 1960s about the possibility of the Badagas hailing from Mysore that added fuel to the debate on the tribes ethnicity. Also, the history of Badagas is undocumented, which makes it difficult to trace their real origin. Badagas have a distinct language of their own which belongs to the Dravidian family of languages. Thundu, a white cloth and seeley, forms the traditional attire of Badagas women.  The attire resembles that of Israeli women.


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