The Multi-ethnic World of the Nilgiris

Video: Views of the Nilgiri Hills
Views of Western Ghats and the Nilgiri Hills (The Blue Mountains)

A characteristic feature of the Nilgiris is the ethnic (caste-like) division of peoples. These groups were linked through a division of labor organized along ethnic lines (jajmani-like in structure). Today these peoples are engaged in a wide range of tasks, from agriculture and/or herding, to education and administration. Most have retained their close ties to their ethnic communities. They make up the complex weave of the greater Nilgiri community. 

Statistics: Badagas;105,000 (1972 survey), Toda;765 (1965 survey), Kota; 862 (survey 1961), Kurumba (Alu), Kurumba(Betta) 2000-5000, Kurumba (Jenna), Irula 4000 (survey 1985). 


The Lingayat community is a regional priestly caste with Karnataka connections. They are Badaga-related and had/have extremely high prestige in the Nilgiri hills area.
Video: Badaga Fire-Starting (using a fire-drill) Ceremony
Video: Badaga (Lingayat) Ceremonial Dance

This is a picture of the family of Vijay, one of my guides and translators over several years of work. His intelligence and support greatly aided my work in the Moyar Basin. He is a Lingayat living in the village of Thangamarahada. From left to right, his wife, Vijay, his father and mother. (photo taken in 1991). 


The Kurumbas were dwellers in the forests of the Nilgiris when reported upon ethnographically, and lived on jungle resources. Some of these goods, along with their magical abilities, were exchanged with other Nilgiri groups. The Kurumbas presently live in villages, working as day laborers on plantations and/or carrying out extensive agriculture, and often exploiting the forests to varying degrees. Because of their supposed magical powers they were often feared and often blamed for epidemics and other misfortunes and were frequent victims of other communities' anger.

This photo shows a Kurumba priest and fellow villager in front of a small cave some distance from the village where objects connected to rituals are stored. These objects included animal horns and pottery. The pottery vessels are revered as divinities.

The Irula

The Irula are quite similar to the Kurumbas. The consist of several groups of forest dwelling peoples, subsisting on jungle products and small gardens. The various groups live on the eastern and northern slopes of the Nilgiri hills.

Pictured here is a typical Irula dwelling constructed out of strips of wood, mud and straw. 

River Crossings

The Moyar River on the northern fringe of the Nilgiri hills (the Moyar Ditch) is crossed at several points by a pontoon ferry service (if one is lucky). 

Peoples of the Nilgiris 2 

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