Although in numbers the Todas are by far the least among the
native dwellers of the Nilgiris,
yet by reason of their antiquity, peculiar features, dwellings, modes of
life and livelihood, the greatest interest attaches to them.
Many theories as to their racial origin have been advanced; that, on account of their peculiarities of features and dress, they are of Roman descent; and even that they are of the lost tribes of Israel. But Dr. Cardwell's theory that they are a Dravidian race of Scythian origin driven from the plains by Aryan invasions is the most generally accepted.
But the Todas themselves believe that God dropped a pearl on the Nilgiris, out of which sprang the mother Goddess, Thakkirsi, who, with a tap of her cane, created, out of the dust of the hills, the first Toda and his Buffalo. The influence of this legend on the Toda life and religion is profound, for their entire social and religious life revolves around their buffaloes and it is only with much reluctance that a Toda can be forced out of, what he believes, in his birthplace in the Blue Mountains (The Nilgiris).
But whatever their early history, they have been regarded by other hill tribes as lords of soil, and accordingly collected, and still in a measure collect. As a consequence, perhaps, the Todas are most dignified in their bearing. They are well build, and of medium height; the men averaging five feet four inches, and the women, five feet. They are being almost European contour, with decidedly Roman noses, bright hazel eyes, good teeth, and an abundance of rather coarse but glossy black hair, which is worn in a crop by the men but in thick ringlets by the women. The expression of their countenance is open, fearless, and agreeable, and their smile pleasant, though rather vacant.
Way Of Life
The Todas lived in a village, which is called as "Mund". The dress of the Todas is simple but picturesque. They wear the traditional "Puthkuli", a unisex garment of coarse, white cloth embroidered in red, blue and black with Toga-style.
Their houses are igloo-like oval-pent-shaped huts made of bamboo and dried grass fastened together with rattan, and thatched. The entrance is small and access to the inside is possible only by crawling. Inside is a single large room with an elevated sleeping platform on one side and space for cooking and the kitchen shelves on the other. Outside the one-roomed house is a raised platform for sun basking.
The Toda temple in each Mund is similar to these huts, though they may be slightly bigger and have walls of stone slabs instead of wooden planks plastered with dung and clay as in the case of the dwellings. Toda women are not allowed anywhere near these temples, or near the other Toda cathedral (which are called as "Boa"). Only four of these tall, conical structures remain today and are hence of much interest to the visitors. But the Todas themselves do not consider these temples very important.
Todas wealth are measured by Buffaloes they have, and, hence, all misdemeanors have to be compensated for ion heads of buffalo stipulated by the caste council; buffaloes are sacrificed at funerals so that the dead man may continue to live in comfort in Amnor (the underworld), bamboo milk container and churners are the main object of worship in the Mund temples and the main prayer of the Todas, when translated, means "May all be well with the male children, the men, the buffaloes, the female calves and everyone".
Besides their simple lifestyle that has, for centuries, revolved around their magnificent, long-horned buffaloes, the Toda System of Marriage has also generated much interest. Marriage ties are very loose and frequent exchange of marriage partners (for a price, of course, to be paid in buffaloes by the man who covets another's wife) and extra-marital sexual liaisons are a way of life. Significantly, there are no words in the Toda language for 'adultery' and 'illegitimate'.
The Toda culture recognizes only the 'social' father accords the newborn with the sub-caste and caste affiliations of this father who is wedded to a woman on the new moon day of her seventh month of her pregnancy in a quaint ceremony called "Purshutt".
The woman chooses the 'husband' and the caste council and the 'marriage' is said to have been performed after the presentation of a miniature bow and arrow by the man to the woman. Thereafter, the man is accepted as the 'father of all the children the woman gives birth to, even if it may be after her 'husband's death. She may, of course, opt for a change of partner, in which case the new man in her life will present her with a bow and arrow and her 'husband' with the stipulated number of buffaloes.
The Todas, only about a thousand of whom are left today, are a simple, good-natured clan, all and aristocratic in bearing, copper-toned and sharp-featured. The men tend to the Buffaloes and the women crafts fancy ringlets and silver jewellery and embroider shawls and bed and table lined for the tourist market.
The lure of the modern world is beginning to catch up with the Todas. Concrete structures are beginning to replace the traditional Toda huts and many of their youth are stepping out of their Munds to mingle with civilized people, to study and work in offices. But they are a fiercely independent people, proud of their heritage of history and culture. At social gatherings of the Todas even today, the traditional rites are still observed and the laws laid down by the elders are still followed.