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THE MYTH OF BADAGA ORIGIN & MIGRATION
The Badagas are one of the important people of the cultural heritage of Karnataka and TamilNadu, and the largest single community in the Nilgiri Hills which nestle at a point where the rugged beauty of the Eastern Ghats merge with the wooded verdancy of the Western Ghats, in Tamilnadu. Since the Badagas have no script, their history has been documented in other languages (mostly English) by non-Badaga historians and anthropologists (mostly westerners). Since the Nilgiris formed part of the Mysore state domains till 1799, the question of the migrations of the Badagas to the Nilgiris, does not arise.
It is said that during the reign of Tipu Sultan, seven brothers and their sister were living in a village called Badagahalli on the Talaimalai Hills near Mysore. One evening as the sister, who was a ravishing beauty, was busy making preparations for the milking of the cows as usual, one of the calves broke loose from the tree to which she had tied it . Not finding anything handy with which to tie it again, she uncoiled her long, luxuriant hair and held the calf back with it, while her brother milked the cow.
Legend has it that Tipu Sultan was riding in the vicinity and was witness to this sight. He was captivated by the sister and wanted to marry her. The brothers, who were staunch Hindus, disguised themselves and their sister, and fled by night to the Nilgiris. Legend has it too, that when they reached River Moyar, which is the northernmost limit of the Nilgiri District, their pursuers started to close in on them. The family is said to have placed a ‘Shivalingam’ on the ground, and prayed before it. The river Moyar is then said to have parted, and the refugees to have crossed over, while their pursuers were drowned by the closing waters.
The distinctive dress of the Badaga women is said to be the disguise adopted by them in flight, and the tatt-ooing on their fore-heads and fore-arms, a measure taken to make them unattractive. Legend also has it that in their hurry, they forget to pickup a baby asleep in a cradle, and even today, as a reminder of that lapse, the more orthodox Badagas will not use a cradle for a baby. The brothers are said to have settled down near the present village of Bethelhada. After a short stay there, they separated and dispersed in different directions. The oldest brother told one of his younger brothers to follow a deer and build a village where it stopped. The younger brother followed his instructions and settled down in Kinnakorai, where the deer stopped. Another brother settled down in Koderi, yet another in Hubbathalai. These brothers where the founders of the Porangad division of the Badagas.
The establishing of three other ‘semais’ or divisions have interesting histories behind them. It is said that as one group of Badagas or Gowdas reached the Nilgiris, they took shelter in a forest and in their hurry to leave, left a baby behind, which crawled into a cave. A Toda who happened to pass by glimpsed the baby, and enticed it to came out, but it would not. He then went and brought his own child and sprinkled some roasted amaranth grains in front of it. As the Toda child started picking the grains, the Gowda baby joined him, and the Toda father brought him up and it is said that he is the founder of the ‘Thothanad’ division of the Badagas.
According to another account, two Gowda brothers arrived from Mysore and reached Nunthala. They were very hungry. The younger brother is said to have shot a pigeon, and to have roasted and eaten it, while the elder brother abstained. It is said that the vegetarian brother is the ‘Hethappa’, or ancestor of the Kundah Division of the Badagas, while the non-vegetarian brother, the founder of the Mekunad Division of the Badagas.
Badaga Henno, Sathiyada Manno
The title is only a rough translation of Badaga woman-hood, for there is no exact English translation for Sathiya – the nearest words are blessed or divine. (‘Mannu’ means soil). The Badaga woman is the epitome of ‘Shakthi’, and many of their festivals, legends, ballads and folk – tales are centred around women. In fact, the chief festival of the Badagas, Hethai Habba, is centred around ‘Hethai’, a woman imbued with divine powers, and who was subsequently deified. It is significant that though the Badagas are a patriarchal society, their women are held in high esteem. The high status of Badaga women perhaps derives from three main factors – the absence of a dowry – system, divorce by mutual consent, and widow-re-marriage. There is no stigma attached to widows; in fact they are part of the mainstream community, and in the fore – front of auspicious functions like engagement and wedding coremonies. Also, there is the practice of ‘hengava nadathodu” - a tradition of giving a daughter / sister material, emotional and moral support throughout her life.
Traditional Badaga women are very hardworking, and are the mainstay of the family and the community. They till the soil, harvest the produce, collect fire – wood and water, and tend the cows, in addition to looking after their families. Since the Badagas have been mainly agriculturists, the Badaga women’s ethos is closely connected to the soil. In fact, even the proverbs of the Badagas evoke this ethos – for e.g : “Hennogiri, mannogiri” (A daughter’s / sister’s curse will turn the soil barren).
During the past 50 years, however, Badaga women have become educated by leaps and bounds, and many of them are doctors, lawyers, engineers, educationists, scientists, research scholars, journalists, social workers etc., living and working all over the world. Outstanding among them is Smt. Akkamma Devi, the first woman – graduate, and the first woman member of parliament in the Badaga community.