Edwin Arnold’s Visit to Toda Tribal Hut in 1885 (Post No.2867)


Translated by London swaminathan


Date: 4 June 2016


Post No. 2867


Time uploaded in London :–  9-25 AM


( Thanks for the Pictures)




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From the book : “India Revisited” by Edwin Arnold, Year of Publication 1886, London


From Madura we travelled northwards and westwards through Trichinopoly and the temples, villages, and tobacco fields of Coimbature region; aiming to reach the Nilgris and spend three or four days in the refreshing air of the favourite hill station of Ootacamund.


I became myself friendly with a community of the Todas, who live near Ootacamund. I was even invited to crawl on hands and knees into the small square opening which forms the front door of their hut, and partook the buffalo milk from a bamboo pot in the bosom of a Toda household.

The subjoined description of this singular race – which represents no doubt, the original dwellers of India – appears generally accurate:


“The Todas, or, as they are more commonly called Toruvars ( a Tamil term for herdsmen) number about one thousand, including women and children, and divides themselves into two classes  – Pakis, or Terallis, who can hold all sacred offices; and Katas, or Tardas, who are the laymen. The Todas are singularly a handsome race, tall and athletic, with Roman noses, beautiful teeth, and large, full, expressive eyes. They never wear any covering on the head, but their jet-blach hair is allowed to grow to the length of six or seven inches, and forms a thick, bushy mass of curls all round. Their women retain their good looks longer than the females of the low country, and many of the girls are exquisitely beautiful. Their dress consists of a short under-garment folded round the waist, and fastened by a girdle.  Over this is thrown a sort of mantle, or Toga, which covers every part except the head, legs, and right arm.  The tresses of women are allowed to falling natural profusion over the neck and shoulders.


Their villages, which they call, Munts or Mortts, generally situated on some lovely verdant slope, near the borders of a wood. They breed no animals save the buffalo, nor do they engage in agriculture or any other pursuit, but wander over the hills, of which it is said they are the aborigines, free and unshackled. In their Mortts, the dairies form a separate building of superior size, which is viewed by them as sacred, and into which no female is allowed to enter.

Toda Temple II

Temple of Truth

They have a temple dedicated to Truth, but there is no visible representation within; in fact nothing but three or four bells in a niche, to which libations of milk are poured out.  They salute the sun on its rising, and believe that, after death, the soul goes to Om-norr, ‘the great country’, respecting which they do not attempt to furnish any description. They have sacred groves, called Teriris, and to these herds of buffaloes are attached, whose milk is allotted entirely to the calves; and the priests of these groves are called Pal-al, from Tamil words signifying Milkmen.

They are honest, brave, inoffensive and contented; but, on the other hand, they are indolent, and do not esteem chastity a virtue.

Their dwellings more resemble the dens of beasts than the abodes of men. A door about two feet high, and so narrow as almost to forbid ingress, leads to a dark, dirty chamber, where a whole family may be found huddled together. Yet, even here, in spite of their rude dress and not over cleanly habits, the beauty of their maidens cannot be overlooked.  Their symmetry of form, and tender and delicate expression of their features, enable them to stand a comparison with the paler beauties of the West.


Indus Valley Scene, buffalo sacrifice


Among the most singular of their customs is the sacrifice of buffaloes at their funerals, attended with a strange sort of game. These animals which are of a prodigious size, and far larger and wilder than the buffaloes of the plain are driven into an  enclosed area by a party of young men armed with huge clubs, who join hands and dance a sort of circular dance among them. They then with shouts and blows, excite the fury of the herd, and at a given signal two athletic youths throw themselves upon a buffalo, and, grasping the cartilage of the nostrils with one hand, hang on to the neck with the other. Two or three more rush to their aid, while others strike the animal with their clubs, and goad him on to fury. After a time, when the buffalo is nearly exhausted, they fasten a bell to its neck and let it go.in this way they overpower the herd in succession, and resume their dance, which is concluded by a feast. The next day a similar scene takes place; but on this occasion the buffaloes are dragged by their sheer force of six or eight men up to a mantle containing the relics of the deceased, and there slain with a single blow from a small axe. In the desperate struggles of the infuriated animals to escape, the Todas are often severely wounded; but the courage and strength they display is very remarkable, and it is a point of honour for those who have first attacked an animal not to receive assistance.

toda buffalo

Many men, one wife!

Another singular, though not unique, custom of the Todas is that of polyandry, also found among the Nairs of Malabar and the hill tribes of the Himalaya. The brothers of a family regularly have one wife, and the same arrangement is frequently, nay, generally, adopted with others not related. As a consequence of this, female infanticide was formerly practised, and though stopped for a time by the exertions of the late Mr Sullivan, has, it is feared, been again resumed.


Many conjectures have been made about the origin of the Todas, but yet as no traces of their past history have been discovered.


Their language is quite isolated, the sounds of it are deeply pectoral, and it seems to have no affinity either with Sanskrit, or with any language of the East”.


Let me add to this, from personal observation, that the Toda women, like all those of Hindostan, have beautiful feet. Oh, maidens of England, who pinch the delicate symmetry of your insteps and toes into tight boots and shoes, comprehend that a corn is unknown to your Indian sisters! The meanest coolie woman has a foot, perfect, unbroken, neat, and constantly washed and trimmed. Only the converts to Christianity cover the foot, and spoil its wonderful beauty.

toda woman, new IE

These people live, in truth, the wildest life imaginable, amidst the loveliest recesses of the Kunda and Doddabetta peaks; enjoying an air without parallel for purity, and almost unbroken sunshine and solitude. They are destined, however, to disappear before the civilization which has invaded their breezy summits, and curtailed the grazing grounds of their buffaloes. Yet the divine atmosphere of “Ooty” has already saved more lives than all those of existing Todas, and will be hereafter the means of restoring many a weary and sinking servant of the state. It is difficult to explain the marvellous restorative effect of the upland of the “Blue Mountains”.


Sub-headings and pictures are inserted by me—london swaminathan.



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