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Badaga community of Nilgiri Hills, from Castes and Tribes of Southern India (1909)

The Badagas are an indigenous people inhabiting the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, southern India. Their language is Badaga. They are the largest indigenous social group in Nilgiris.[1]


The Badagas are the largest aboriginal indigenous group among the native tribes of The Nilgiris District. Unlike any other region in the country, no historical proof is found to state that the Nilgiris was a part of any kingdoms or empires. It was originally a tribal land and was occupied by aboriginals such as the Badagas, Todas, Kotas, Kurumba, Irulas, Panniya, and Kattunaicken.

The Badagas had villages, called "hatties", throughout the district. Some of the main hattis are Melur, Ithlar, Thuthur, Kookal, Thudagai, Nunthala, Meckeri, Bacola, Melkundha, Kizkundha, Thanthanadu, Milidane, Nanjanadu, Nandhatti, Pandhaluru, Achanakal, and Kannerimukku. The Madras Gazetteer of 1901 described the Badagas as the predominant tribe in the area. The hills were developed rapidly under the British, who referred to the district as a "Dark Country", akin to Africa being called the "Dark Continent", with "dark" connoting that its hinterland was largely unknown and therefore mysterious to Europeans until the 19th century.

During the British Raj, Ooty served as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency. Most historians, reporters, handbooks, regime reports and writers focused on Ooty while ignoring the other regions of the Nilgiris District. The Madras Gazetteer published by the British Government was the first and only authentic report with regard to the Nilgiris, its demography and its culture. Almost all other studies quote different versions and are debated extensively, even reports submitted by the regime do not portray the real cultural, linguistic and ethnic mosaic of the Nilgiris District, as there is nothing recorded in writing like stone inscriptions, ancient monuments (excepting dolmens belonging to the Badaga people as a symbol of respect to mother nature/Earth as they were Nature Worshipers before they were influenced by Hinduism) or books. This is because none of the aboriginal people living in the district had a script to record their history, and most of what has been gathered by modern historians has been through interviews with locals at different points of time, or from interpreting some of the ballads sung by the local people. Hence, there was leeway for the distortion of facts. As the district borders three different states, there are different stories and versions to the history of the district, none of which can be taken as authentic.[citation needed] Hence the recorded history of the district only begins with the arrival of the British after 1799.

Almost all of the names of the places in the Nilgiris District are derived from the Badagu language spoken by the predominant Badaga community, e.g., Othagai, Doddabetta, Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudaluru, and Kundha. Further, to establish that the Badagas were the predominant people of the Nilgiris, the dominant landholders belonged to the Badagas.

In the 1930s, H. B. Ari Gowder founded the Nilgiris Cooperative Marketing Society (NCMS) to help raise prices for Badagas farm products.[2] The NCMS was in response to lowland middlemen who would reduce prices by playing off one farmer against another.[2] Hari Gowder was the first Badagas to be elected to the Madras Legislative Council.[3]


"Thundu" (a white piece of cloth) forms an integral part of the attire of Badaga women, and it is presented to dignitaries visiting the villages as a gesture of goodwill. Badugas marry within their community. They celebrate Mari Habba, Uppu Attuva Habba, etc., and their important festival is Hathai Habba.[4]

Notable Badagas[edit]

Former Loksabha MP Akkamma Devi, the first Badaga woman to graduate from college, represented the Nilgiri Loksabha constituency from 1962 to 1967.[5]

Belli Lakshmi Ramakrishnan M.A., was the first Badaga woman to do post-graduate studies in social work, and she went on to be the first woman gazetted officer to serve in the Tamil Nadu State Government Department of Health and Family Welfare.[citation needed]

Backward caste/schedule tribes[edit]

Badagas were in the tribe list during British period[6][6] but was not included in the list after democracy. There has been a long-standing demand to restore the status of the Badagas in the list of the Schedule Tribes under the Constitution of India, but this has yet to be considered by the Central Government.[6]


Badagas worship several Hindu deities,[4] including Shiva, but their main deity is Hethai, Ayya. They celebrate Hethai Habba in a grand fashion spread over a month during December–January every year, and the festival is celebrated all over the district.[1]


  1. ^ a b Radhakrishnan, D. (9 January 2012). "Festival of Badagas begins in the Nilgiris". The Hindu. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Special correspondent (5 December 2012). "Badaga leader’s birth anniversary celebrated". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Hockings, Paul (1980). Ancient Hindu Refugees: Badaga Social History 1550-1975. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton. p. 178. ISBN 978-90-279-7798-4. 
  4. ^ a b Radhakrishnan, D. (20 May 2008). "Jayalalithaa visits temple in Badaga village". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. 
  5. ^ Staff (23 November 2012). "Former Congress MP Akkamma Devi passes away". The Hindu Business Line (The Hindu). Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Template:The Book, The Tribal Experience in the Nilgiris, by W. Francis in 1908

Further reading[edit]

  • J.W.Breeks (1873), An Account of the Primitive Tribes of the Nilgiris; Nilgiri Manual, vol. i. pp. 218–228; Madras Journ. of Sci. and Lit. vol. viii. pp. 103–105; Madras Museum Bulletin, vol. ii., no. i, pp. 1–7.
  • Hockings, P. (1988). Counsel from the ancients, a study of Badaga proverbs, prayers, omens and curses. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Hockings, P. (1989). The cultural ecology of the Nilgiris District. In P. Hockings (Ed.), Blue Mountains: The ethnography and biogeography of a South Indian region (pp. 360–376). New Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hockings, P. (1999). Kindreds of the earth: Badaga household structure and demography. New Delhi and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Hockings, P. (2001). Mortuary ritual of the Badagas of Southern India. (Fieldiana, Anthropology, n.s., 32.) Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.