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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 the aboriginals such as the Badagas, Todas, Kota, Kurumba, Irula, Panniya, and Kattunaicken. Todas had “munds” that is their settlements in Ooty, Kodanad, and Ketti Mandhada, Garswood, and PPI Mund.

The Badagas had their “Hatties” that is villages throughout the district, some of the main hattis are Gundada , Katteri, Nanjanadu, Nandhatti, Pandhaluru, Yedakadu, Nedugula, Yedapalli, Bettatty, Thummanatty, Bikkatty, Naduhatty, Manihatty, Achanakal ,Honnathalai etc.

The Badagas are the predominant tribe as per the Madras Gazetteer 1908. The hills were developed rapidly under the British, who also termed the District as a “Dark Country”, akin to Africa being called the “Dark Continent”, the term “Dark” connoting that its hinterland was largely unknown and therefore mysterious to Europeans until the 19th century. Henry M. Stanley was probably the first to use the term in his 1878 account Through the Dark Continent. It has no history of its own. It had neither kingdom to conquer nor fort to capture .

During the British raj Ooty served as the summer capital of the Madras Presidency. Most historians, reporters, handbooks, regime reports and writers have but a myopic view restricting the canvas of the District to Ooty only but have ignored the other regions of the Nilgiris District. The Madras Gazetteer published by the British Government is 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 ethnical 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 because none of the aboriginal people living in the Nilgiris district had a script to record their history and most of what was gathered by the modern historians is through interviews with locals at different points of time, on interpreting some of the ballads sung by the local people, and hence there was leeway for distortion of facts and 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.

Moreover to lay claim to the District, which is a Natural Treasure house blessed with nature's bounties the non-native's from the plains/vested interests belonging to different regions have tried to create facts suitable to their claims on the district and none of these are authentic. Hence the recorded history of the District is only after the advent of the British to the District that is 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, Kundae etc.,. Further to establish that the Badagas were the Pre-dominant people of the Nilgiris, the dominant landholders belonged to the Badagas. One vague theory propounded by these non-natives is that the Badaga people migrated from the area of old Mysore state more than three centuries ago this is not correct, as there could have been trickles from the plains but these migrants migrated to the Land of the Badagas as the Badagas were the original sons of the soil of The Nilgiris District.[2] They speak a language which is very similar to the Old Kannada language.[2] They also claimed their ancestry to a village named Badaganahalli, near Mysore.[2] Six distinct groups were identified in Badagas, which are Udaya or Wodeyar,Thoreya, Adhikari, Haruva, Badaga and Kanaka.[2] In the 1930s, [IGNDP. (Indo German Nilgiri Development project) founded the Nilgiris Cooperative Marketing Society (NCMS), to help achieve better prices for Badagas farm products.[3] The NCMS was in response to chicanery by lowland middlemen who would reduce prices by playing off one farmer against another.[3] Hari Gowder was the first Badagas to be elected to the Madras Legislative Council.[4] A fifth, mentioned by Couto,[30] who fixes the date as 1220, states that while Madhava was living his ascetic life amongst the mountains he was supported by meals brought to him by a poor shepherd called Bukka, “and one day the Brahman said to him, ‘Thou shalt be king and emperor of all Industan.’ The other shepherds learned this, and began to treat this shepherd with veneration and made him their head; and he acquired the name of ‘king,’ and began to conquer his neighbours, who were five in number, viz., Canara, Taligas, Canguivarao, Negapatao, and he of the Badagas, and he at last became lord of all and called himself Boca Rao.” He was attacked by the king of Delhi, but the latter was defeated and retired, whereupon Bukka established a city “and called it Visaja Nagar, which we corruptly call Bisnaga; and we call all the kingdom by that name, but the natives amongst themselves always call it the ‘kingdom of Canara.’ ” Couto’s narrative seems to be a mixture of several stories. His wrong date points to his having partly depended upon the original chronicle of Nuniz, or the summary of it published by Barros; while the rest of the tale savours more of Hindu romance than of historical accuracy. He retains, however, the tradition of an attack by the king of Delhi and the latter’s subsequent retirement.[5]

CONQUEST OF MADURAI The Madura Vijayam of Ganga Devi refers to the atrocities committed by the Sultans of Madurai and gives legitimacy to Kampana's Expedition to the Far South. According to a tradition given in this work, a mysterious lady appeared before him, narrated the wicked deeds of the Muslims and produced a mighty sword, the symbol of Pandya Sovereignty.14 Then she said:, “Now the Pandya line has lost its powers, Sage Agasthya despatched this to be placed in your strong Hands”. After blessing Kampana in his mission, she disappeared.15 Accordingly in 1370, Kampana marched from Senji on his southern expedition. After restoring worship in Srirangam Temple, the army entered Madurai Country. In the battles at Samayavaram and Kannanur- Kuppam, the invading army defeated the Muslim Forces. Then he restored God Sriranganatha at Srirangam and Hoysaleswara at Kannanur–Kuppam and marched towards Madurai. Near Madurai in 1371, the Muslims again suffered a defeat and the Sultan died fighting. From a break in the issue of coins from Madurai, it is believed that the victim was Sultan Mubarak Shah. Yet the Sultanate was not destroyed. The successors of Mubarak Shah continued to hold possession of parts of the territory. The last Sultan was Sikandar Shah. Emperor Harihara (1376- 1404) of Vijayanagara defeated and killed the Sultan and completed the conquest of Madurai Country by 1378 A.D.16 The Viceroyalty of Kumara Kampana was regarded as the brightest chapter in the History of Vijayanagara Rule in the Tamil Country. Kampana saved the land from Muslim Misrule, protected temples, established Hindu dharma and restored peace and order. But these were not very real. True that he extended the Vijayanagara Rule to the South. Yet as a conqueror, he made no distinction between the Hindu Sambuvarayas and the Muslim Afghans. Besides, he failed to safeguard the interests of his subjects, for he gave away their lands for the benefit of temples and agraharas. The Hindu Dharma meant the preservation of caste based social inequality, but this was a reactionary concept, calculated to harm social progress. Restoration of law and order was a myth, for he and his successors had to send a series of expeditions to quell Tamil Uprisings. At the most, he brought about a change and it was from one foreign rule to another, as a result of which the Tamil Country continued to languish under Kannada - Telugu Domination.17

VIJAYANAGARA RULE Nevertheless, by the last decade of the Fourteenth Century, the City state of Vijayanagara transformed itself into an Empire. Harihara II (1379-1406), the third ruler, assumed imperial titles. The Tamil Country was formed into a Province or Mahamandala under a Mahamandaleswara or Viceroy with Headquarters at Mulbagal. In subsequent times, Chandragiri was made the Capital of the Province. Kampana Udaiyar served as the first Mahamandaleswara of the Tamil Province from 1352 to 1374 and since then, Virupanna Udaiyar up to 1400. At different times, Kampana, his son Empana and his nephew Prakasa were in charge of local administration at Madurai. Kampana left behind him as many as 132 inscriptions in the Tamil Country. They usually refer to the gifts that he made to temples and agraharas. Kampana conquered the Tamil Country and reorganised the administration. Though he defeated the Sambuvarayas, he allowed their chief Rajanarayana to rule over the territory as a Vassal of Vijayanagara. Upon the death of this ruler, Kampana established his direct authority over the region. There is a version that he searched for the Pandyas and restored them to the Throne of Madurai. But there is no evidence to support this view. With the fall of Madurai to the Muslims, the Pandyas fled the Capital and by 1371 there were no Pandyas at Madurai. The Madurai Sthala Varalaru makes it clear that from the year 1371, Kampana, his son Empana and his nephew Prakasa Udaiyar, ruled over Madurai for a period of thirty three years. The Tirukkalakudi Inscription states that "Kampana Udaiyar came on his southern expedition, destroyed the Tulukkans and established orderly government throughout the country. He appointed many Nayakkanmars for inspection and supervision, so that worship in all temples might be revived as of old”. Thus, Madurai passed under Vijayanagara Rule, with temples gaining importance in their administration. However, internal and external threats presented challenges to the extension and consolidation of Vijayanagara Authority. The Cholas reorganised their declining resources and sought to re-establish their influence. The Rulers of Thennarasu Nadu in Tiruchirapalli - Ramanathapuram Area defied the overlordship of the Rayas. The Paravas of the Fishery Coast embraced Christianity and transferred their loyalty to Portugal. The Pandyas were divided into two branches-one at Tenkasi and another at Kayattar. The frequent conflicts between the two houses created disorder in the land. While the Pandyas of Tenkasi accepted the overlordship of Vijayanagara, the Pandyas of Kayattar allied themselves with the rebel powers.18 In the south-western region the chiefs of Travancore, referred to as Pancha Tiruvadis, not only warred against each other but also committed aggressions on the Pandya Country eastward. The Raja of Venad in South Travancore, occupied a large part of Tenkasi and established a Second Capital at Kalakkad. As a result, the Rayas of Vijayanagara could not for long assert their authority in the Far South. The task appeared difficult as the Gajapatis of Orissa and the Sultans of Bahmini Kingdom committed aggression on Vijayanagara across the northern frontier. During the reign of Emperor Harihara II, his Viceroy Virupanna fought against the Cholas and the Pandyas, as they made a bid to revive their power. But they were defeated and reduced to submission. By mid Fifteenth Century, the Gajapati of Orissa and the Sultan of Bahmini Kingdom made deep inroads into Vijayanagara. The forces of Orissa overran Udayagiri and advanced to Kanchi. They looted the temples and returned with a rich booty. The Banas, led by their Chief Banadhirayan, occupied Kanchi, but they were driven out by Narasimha Saluva, the Governor. This was followed by a Bahmini Invasion. The forces of Sultan Muhammed III advanced to Kanchi and looted the temples. Despite threats from the north and in view of the disturbed conditions in the Far South, Narasa Nayaka, Ruler of Vijayanagara, led an expedition to Madurai in 1497. He subdued the Maravas and the Pandyas and collected tribute. However, after his return, the Tamil Powers defied the Imperial Authority. Therefore, Emperor Krishna Deva Raya (1509–30) sent his forces under the command of three generals, Vaiayppa Nayaka, Vijayaraghava Nayaka and Venkatappa Nayaka, directing them to re-establish order in Senji, Thanjavur and Madurai respectively. They subdued the rebel powers, enforced the Imperial Authority and assumed power as Nayaks in these areas. As a result, the Tamil Country was divided into three Nayakships, with Headquarters at Senji, Thanjavur and Madurai while the northern region with Chandragiri as Capital, continued under the Imperial Rule. Yet, due to hostile combinations, military operations had to be resumed.

RESISTANCE OF THE TAMILS Sellappa Seluva Nayaka, the Governor of Cholamandalam, Tumbichi Nayaka of Paramakudi and Udaya Martanda Varma of Trivancore formed an alliance against Vijayanagara. Sellappa supported Achyuta Raya against Rama Raya to become the Emperor. But after succeeding to the throne, he settled the differences with his rival Rama Raya and ignored Sellappa. Enraged at this, Sellappa turned a rebel. Defeated by the imperial forces, he fled southward and supported by Travancore, occupied Tenkasi from the Pandyas. Sri Vallabha, the Pandyan King, appealed to Achyuta Raya for protection. Accordingly, the Raya marched to Tiruvannamalai and directed the military operations against the rebel powers. Taking command of the army, Chinna Tirumala defeated the Travancore Forces at Aramboli, restored Sri Vallabha to the Pandyan Throne, and forced Sellappa and Tumbichi Nayaka to surrender. The grateful Sri Vallabha gave his daughter in marriage to Achyuta Raya. During the period of internal trouble that followed the death of Achyuta Raya, the Southern Powers made another bid to overthrow the authority of Vijayanagara. Therefore, Rama Raya, the Minister of Emperor Sadasiva Raya, sent a powerful expedition under the joint command of two brothers, RamaRaya Vitthala and Chinna Timma in 1544. Marching from Chandragiri, the army reached Nagore and commenced operations against the Catholics. The forces raided and plundered the Christian Settlements. With the booty that they collected, they reached Srirangam and donated it to the deity. Crossing the Kaveri, the army took the field against the rebel powers of Thennarasu Nadu, subdued them and forced them to pay tribute. Advancing further south, the invading forces defeated the Pandyas of Kayattar and restored the territories that they occupied, to the Pandyas of Tenkasi. Through Aralvaimoli, Vithala, with his forces, entered Trivancore and wrought havoc. Francis Xavier had given an account of the loss to life and property.

TAMBRAPARANI PILLAR The Badagas, as the Vijayanagara Forces were referred to, desolated the villages and committed atrocities. The inhabitants were put to death or were forced to find refuge in forests. Two inscriptions on the Suchindram Temple indicate that the forces of Travancore took their stand at Kottar, but they were defeated. The Raja accepted loyalty to Vijayanagara, paid tribute and ceded his territories on the eastern side of the hills to the Pandyas of Tenkasi. Vithala erected a pillar of victory on the banks of the Tambraparni to commemorate this victory.19

RAID ON PEARL FISHERY COAST In 1545, Vithala marched to the Fishery Coast. The Portuguese had their settlements at Manappadu, Punnaikoil, Vambar and Tutucorin. They converted the Paravas to the Catholic Religion, secured their loyalty and collected taxes. The loss of revenue from pearl fisheries and the complaints of the Brahmins of Tiruchendur against the Christians, irked the Rayas. The letters of Francis Xavier suggest that the Badagas overran the Fishery Coast and raided the villages. Yet no major victory could be won, as the Christians escaped to the forests and islands. On the withdrawal of the forces, the Portuguese and the Paravas returned to the coast. The Portuguese now dared to collect taxes from the pilgrims going to Rameswaram. Therefore, Vithala won the aid of a Muslim Pirate of Malabar by name, Irapali, for a joint operation against the Portuguese from land and sea. In 1553, as a result of simultaneous operations from land and sea, the Portuguese were defeated. Their shops were destroyed and settlements were captured. The Paravas now agreed to pay a tribute of 70,000 pagodas to Vijayanagara. Thereupon, the Portuguese sent a relief expedition from Kochi, defeated the Muslims and secured the release of the prisoners of war. This came as a serious blow to the prestige of Vijayanagara and emboldened the Raja of Travancore to defy the Imperial Authority. Vithala sent an expedition to Travancore, but it suffered reverses. 20The military operations undertaken on a large scale indicated the increasing opposition that the Badagas encountered in the Tamil Country. The repeated expeditions caused destruction of property and loss of life on an extensive scale. Though they made their advent as saviours against the Muslims, the Rayas did nothing to win the confidence of the Tamils. They could maintain their authority so long as they could maintain their military presence in the country. In 1565, the Deccan Sultans defeated the forces of Vijayanagara near Talikota. As a result, the Rayas lost much of their influence and the Empire entered the stage of decline. Sanjay Subrhamaniam says, exchange of insults, “wide ranging and non-sectarian,” particularly between Ramaraya and Husain Nizam Shah had precipitated the battle. 21 The local governors, the Nayaks, took advantage of the situation and asserted their independence. The result was the rise of the Nayak Kingdoms of Senji, Tanjore and, Madurai in the Tamil Country.22 The Vijayanagara Kingdom ruled a substantial part of the Southern Peninsula of India for three centuries, beginning in the middle of the Fourteenth, and during this epoch, this Indian Society was transformed from its medieval past toward its modern, colonial future.23 To conclude, the Vijayanagara Period spanning more than three centuries forms an important Chapter in the history of Tamil Country .In its heyday of colonization, it comprised the whole of the four southern provinces of Kaarnataka, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The general history of the Vijayanagara period has been studied in good detail by many scholars. It is no more a 'Forgotten Empire' as it was certainly so in the 1920s when Robert Sewell wrote his A Forgotten Empire. The first half of the Fourteenth Century following the fall of the Pandya Empire was a period of confusion and Tamil Country was subjected to three Muslim attacks from the north. There were some chiefs ruling here and there. Then followed a short - lived Muslim Sultanate at Madurai. Within a couple decades of the establishment of the Vijayanagara rule in 1336, Tamil Country was colonized and became a part of the Vijayanagara Empire and continued to be so until the time of Krishnadevaraya. Thereafter the local Nayaks asserted their independence and the ties between Tamil Country and Vijayanagara became a nominal one. The successors of Krishnadevaraya ruled over most parts South India until the fateful battle of Talikotta in 1565 which put an end to the glory of Vijayanagara in Tamil Country. The question whether it can be considered as a separate province is difficult to answer. If there were such provinces, .there is no word in inscriptions to denote them. But Tamil Country may be treated as a province in the sense of a separate administrative division, from the fact that a mahamandalesvara was separately in charge of this.[6]


"Mundu & Thundu" (a white piece of cloth) forms integral part of attire of Badaga women and the same is presented to dignitaries visiting the villages, as a gesture of good will . Badugas wil marry within their community and also they follow different tradition function during marriage session. They celebrate a great festive yearly once that is "hethai habba". and they celebrate maangali Habba , Uri Habba Karthigai Deebam ect ect ect....[7]


Former Loksabha MP, Akkamma Devi was the first Badaga woman to graduate from college and represented the Nilgiri Loksabha constituency from 1962 to 1967.[8] Belli Lakshmi Ramakrishnan M.A., was the first Badaga woman post graduate in social work, and went on to first woman gazetted officer to serve in the Tamil Nadu State Government Department of Health and Family Welfare.[citation needed]Mrs. Sivakami Nandha was the first Badaga woman IPS officer.

===Backward caste=== There is a long standing demand to restore the status of the Badagas in the list of the Schedule Tribes under the Constitution of India, which is yet to be considered by the Central Government.[9]


Badagas were originally nature worshipers and worshiped "Hiriyod Iyya and Hethai" but after the influence of the migrants from the plains they now worship several Hindu deities,[7] including Shiva. But their main deity is "Hethai" and they celebrate "Hethai Habba" in a grand fashion which spreads 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 c d Thurston, E. (1909). "Badagas and Irulas of Nilgiris". Bulletin [of Madras Government Museum] (Madras, India: Madras Government Museum) 2 (1): 2–7. Retrieved 6 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Special correspondent (5 December 2012). "Badaga leader’s birth anniversary celebrated". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Hockings, Paul (1980). Ancient Hindu Refugees: Badaga Social History 1550-1975. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton. p. 178. ISBN 978-90-279-7798-4. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Radhakrishnan, D. (20 May 2008). "Jayalalithaa visits temple in Badaga village". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Special correspondent (30 July 2011). "Include Badagas in ST list: Jayalalithaa requests PM". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. 

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.
  • Jayaprakash.B. Wg.Cdr.(2009). Badagas of the Blue Mountains [1]
  • Balasubramaniam,B. (2009). Paame - the history and culture of the Badagas of the Nilgiris. Elkon Press,Bangalore [2]

  • Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire, New Delhi, 1995, pp. 16–23.
  • Domingo Paes commented that : “ In this city you will find men belonging to every nation and people' (

Ibid., p. 256.).

  • Subramanian, N., History of Tamilnad, 1565-1956, Madurai, 1977, p. 1.
  • Basavaraja, K.R., 'Vijayanagaraa' A Magnificent City of the Medieval World', in Kasturi Misri

Memorial Lecture of Twenty-Fifth Annual Session of South Indian History Congress, Tirunelveli, 2009, p. 72.

  • It is not certain whether the present District of Tanjore formed part of the Sultanate of Madurai. The

Sultans seem to have exercised supremacy from Trichinopo1y as proved by their coins and by the observations of Ibn-batuta.

  • Mabar refers to the Pandya Country.
  • Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by her own Historians, Vol.III, London, 1871, p. 339;

Krishnaswami Iyengar, S., South India and Her Muhammadan Invaders, Oxford, 1921, pp. 186–187.

  • Mabar from 1323-1371', in Journal of Madras University, Vol. XI. Madras, pp. 41–65.
  • Madras Epigraphical Reports, ( M. E. R.), 1925, Paragraph 29.
  • T.T., (Tirupati Inscriptions )Nos. 178 and 179.
  • Krishnawami Iyengar, S.,A., History of Tirupati, Vol. I, Madras, 1941, p. 424.
  • Selvakumar, D., Tiruchirappalli Region Under the Vijayanagara Rule, Karur, 2007, pp. 12–13.
  • Thangavelu, G., Thai Nila Varalaru, (Tamil), Part-II, Chennai, 2002, p. 21.
  • Chopra, P.N., et al., History of South India, Vol.II, New Delhi, 1979, p. 31.
  • Rajayyan, K., Early Tamil Nadu : History, Society and Culture, Madurai, 1993, p. 116.
  • Thangasamy, S.A., Vijayanagara Empire, Madurai, 1976, pp. 27–30.
  • Krishnaswamy, A., The Tamil Country Under Vijayanagara, Annamalainagar, 1964, pp. 41–48.
  • Husaini, S.A.Q., The History of the Pandya Country, Karaikudi, 1962, p. 128.
  • Madras Epigraphical Reports, Paragraph .36.
  • Arunachalam, S., The History of the Pearl Fishery Coast, Annamalai Nagar, 1952, pp. 87–117.
  • Sanjay Subrahmaniam, Courtly Encounters, Translating Courtliness and Violence in Early Modern

Eurasia, Cambridge, 2012, p.-1-4; The Hindu, 27 November 2012.

  • Sathyanatha Aiyar, R., History of the Nayaks of Madura, op.cit., pp. 1–28.
  • Burton Stein, Vijayanagaraa, New Delhi, 1993, p.xi.