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Joined: 19 Oct 2003
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2007 12:34 am Reply with quoteBack to top


A Hymn to Heththe -
the Ancestress Goddess of the Badagas of Nilgiris
(An adaptation into English by Rev. Philip K. Mulley)
Mother Endearing
Plighted fast unto us
Promises of Thee.
Come O Dodda Heththe !
Heththe of Bereghanni
Maasi is thine name
Naalku betta is thine home.
When mountains so lofty
Over us loom and Lo !
Brilliant is the bloom
Of flowers so numerous
Wreathed in silver
The smile of thee
Vaulted in the sky
The radiance of moon so benign
Golden is Thine shade
And sweet so it turns
Summers so many.
Nilgiri is thine abode
Majestic its walls all around
Bestow on us - Mighty Mother
Smother us with - boons of life
Beseech we, of thee
Blessings of Prosperity
Treasure ever, thine providence is
Measureless are offerings of thybounty
Thy protection we behold
Thy presence we adore

In the sixteenth century, the Badagas (the word means northerner) fled from the Empire of Vijaynagar and came to the Nilgiri Massif as refugees. A few hundred souls at most, they found themselves among quite unwarlike tribes-the Todas, Kotas and Kurumbas- who understandingly gave them land to settle on. Thus began one of the most successful community transplants that South India has ever witnessed.

Numbering only 500 or so in 1603, the Badagas had increased to 2,200 by the time the British arrived and made the first census in 1812. Since then there has been a staggering increase and today, the Badagas occupy 370 villages and number around 1,70,000 people, most of them commercial farmers.

Not that they achieved their present position without a great deal of struggle and torment. There was a time, back around 1860, when it looked to them as though Badaga society was coming to an end.

The Badagas are clearly aware of how they differ from other communities in this region. Thus only people of their community have Badagu as their mother-tongue; only Badaga men and women wear the distinctive dress and carry a characteristic mark on their forehead; only Badagas live in their recognized villages which bear distinctively Badaga place-names; and only Badagas can marry Badaga women. Marriage between cross-cousins is the ideal.Though a cross-cousin is preferred, a Badaga may marry women, either

Their past is of extreme importance to them. Badagas have long maintained a fairly accurate interest in their past and in teaching the young about it.

It is ironic that despite extensive research on them by western scholars, the Badagas are little known outside the Nilgiris. Even the vague perception swings widely from the Badagas being rich tea estate owners to one among the obscure tribes on the hills.

The Badagas used to be called a tribe in the past but they are not one according to anthropologists, who prefer to call them a 'community'. In any case, they are not a Scheduled Tribe or a Scheduled Caste. Interestingly, it was the Badagas themselves who refused to allow the community to be included under the Scheduled Tribes, along with the other tribes of the Nilgiris, when the commission empowered to identify such groups visited the Nilgiris in the 50s. However, of late economic compulsions have forced the Badagas to represent to the central government to include them under the Scheduled Tribes.

Are the Badagas an affluent community? Yes and no. The Badagas own a substantial share of the tea plantations and estates in the Nilgiris, make up the bulk of the small tea growers, almost monopolise the professions of doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers in the district and a growing number of them are in overseas employment. Yet, only the top 10% can be really called affluent. The next 50% are middle class and the rest 40% lead a subsistence living. Abject poverty never existed among the Badagas, thanks to their sharing and caring social system, but it is not uncommon now to see Badaga beggers in towns.

Unlike the tribes like Todas, Kotas and Kurumbas, whose numbers never exceeded about a thousand, the Badagas are the largest social group in the Nilgiris. The British kept a count of them and the other tribes right from 1812 when there were only 2207 Badagas. At the turn of the century(1901) there were 34176 of them and by the 1971 census their numbers increased to 1,04,392. After that the Census data thoughtlessly clubbed the Badagas with Kannadigas leaving the population of Badagas to speculation. Considering the fact that there has been a spontaneous tendency towards small family norms among the present generation of Badagas, the safe guess for the Badaga numbers now would be about 170000 spread over some 370 hamlets. As a matter of fact, the Badagas can do a head count of their own in a matter of weeks but, as with many aspects of the community which cries out for collective initiative, no one seems to be bothered.

Badagu, the language of the Badagas, was for long considered a dialect of Kannada. But a French Linguist has now established that it has gone through a process of individualization long enough to be recognised as a separate language. But there is no script. Tamil and English are chiefly used for writing and speaking.

Yet another popular but needless controversy surrounding the Badagas is about their origin. Researchers say before they settled in the Nilgiris the homeland of the Badagas lay in the Mysore Plain to the north of the district. The very name Badaga, which in Kannada means 'northener' bears it out, they say. The Badagas themselves as well as the researchers believe the migration of the Badagas to the Nilgiri hills happened over several centuries starting mainly with the fall of the Vijayanagaram empire in 1565 at the hands of the Moslems to Tippu Sultan's conquest of Mysore in the late 18th century. Local scholars however contend that the Badagas could not have evolved into a distinctive group unless a part of them have always been there in the hills. Evidence of a native population on the hills date from the first millennium AD or even beyond. Perhaps, archaeological evidence can settle the debate but they have long been buried under the tea, coffee and wattle plantations! And it is certainly not one of government's priorities.

The Badaga community comprises six major sub-groups. The Wodeas or the Lingayats who trace their origin to the Wodeyars of the royal house of Mysore. The Kongaru from the Kongu region in the plains. The Haruvas or the Brahmins. The Adikaris or the Magistrates. The Kanakkas or the account keepers. The Gaudas or the cultivators and the Toreas or service-providers.

The Gaudas are the dominant group and generally suffix their names with 'Gowder'. Though each group continues to preserve its identity there is hardly any social or cultural segregation among them. Most groups intermarry. Marriage with non-Badagas is rare but the number is rising in recent years as more and more Badaga youth leave the hills to seek employment outside.

Except for the small number converts to Christianity, the Badagas are all mostly practicing Hindus but they have their own distinctive and unique social and cultural practices. The customs governing marriage, death etc are exclusive to them. The worship of Goddess Heththe(Ancestral Goddess) is unique to them. The Badaga villages and their houses too are unique. Some of the Badaga women, especially in villages, still wear distinctive dress.

Badagas have a rich oral literature of history, stories, proverbs, prayers, ballads and songs. Badaga music and dance are captivating.

(Articles from:Ancient Hindu Refugees: Badaga Social History by Paul Hockings' ,Blue Mountain Revisited- Cultural Studies on the Nilgiri Hills by Paul Hockings,Blue Mountains: The Ethnography and Biogeography of a South Indian Region by Paul Hockings,A Manual of the Nilgiris District in the Madras Presidency by H.B. Grigg,The Nilgiris (Madras District Gazetteers) by W. Francis,Castes and Tribes of Southern India by E. Thurston and K.Rangachari)

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