The Badagas are said to have migrated from
Mysore 400 years
ago and make up about one-fourth of the total population of the
Nilgiris district of
Tamil Nadu. Though the Badagas were essentially
agriculturists, they are socially, educationally and even economically
Compared with the other hill tribes, the outstanding characteristic of the Badagas is their progressiveness. In intelligence, and adaptability to European methods and occupations they are far superior. Their dwellings, cultivated lands, and general mode of life, all manifest this superiority. As in number they are about six times as strong as the remaining tribes put together, they chiefly represent the natives of the hills - a virile, wholesome, and industrious people.
Due to the Muslim invasion that destroyed the Hindu Empire of Vijayanagar in AD 1565, a group of people from the plains of Mysore district were forced to flee their homes to later become the largest community in the Nilgiri hills. Collectively called the Badagas, these people, have a specific language called "Badugu" and occupy the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
The name Badaga, which has been spelt as it is pronounced, Budaga, and corrupted to burgher, literally signifies, "Northener". They are a tribe of the "Karnarese" of Mysore, and without doubt, their migration from North (Badaku) accounts for the origin of their name.
Most of the Badaga villages scattered over the plateau present a pleasing appearance with their neat rows of tiled, one-storied houses, surrounded by tiny fields, the houses, themselves, are built of mud, stone, or brick, and are covered with tiles. The villages of Badagas are called as "Hatti".
Industrially speaking, the Badagas did not have specialized artisans until later in the 1930's. Hence, they relied heavily on trading with neighbours, such as the Todas, Kothas, and Kurumba tribes, for basic necessities.
Initially, the Badagas manage to survive by using slash and burn farming techniques. But recently, as a response to the growing middle class, they started producing cash crops for added income. Generally, the Badagas farm millets, barley, wheat, potatoes, and cabbages (the latter two produced mainly for extra income). They also keep large number of cattle, and sell a good part of their dairy produce to Europeans.
There are number of graded castes among the Badagas. The Lingayat and Wodeya clans are at the top of the group, and the Toreyas at the bottom. Different clans of various hierarchies have specific functions in the community. The Tuneri village, for example, produces the hereditary position of Badaga chief, the Lingayat village, produces gurus that oversee life-cycle rituals, and the Wodeya, Haruva, and Kurumbu clans produce priests of various functions.
The Badagas are Hindus of the Shiva sect; the shrines and temples of them are numerous. They celebrate festivals like "Hethe Hubba", "Deva Hubba", "Dodda Hubba", "Sakklathi Hubba", "Jadeswami Hubba" and "Mangkali Hubba". They also celebrate the major Hindu festivals like Diwali, Pongal, Ayutha Puja, etc.
The Badaga language is a mixture of Kannada and Tamil. Though there is no script for this language, it has a fairly rich oral literature, poetry, songs, and prayer charts.
The customary dress of Badaga men is a single, coarse, unbleached cloth, edged with red or blue stripes and turbans are worn. The Badaga women wear upper and lower cloths of the same material as that worn by men. Their ornaments consist of brass, iron and silver. Girls of a marriageable age are tattooed on the forehead and the chest is also tattooed with lines and dots.
Their complexion is fair, their features are pleasant, their hair black and straight and they are of medium height. The Badagas are a gentle and light-hearted people who are fond of music and songs.