The Todas: Strange Dravidian Tribe!( Post No.3234)


Written by London Swaminathan


Date: 9 October 2016


Time uploaded in London: 13-03


Post No.3234


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.



The reason I am posting several articles on the Tribes of India is to show that they have nothing to do with the civilized Dravidians. They have been living in the forests and hills of India even when the Vedic City Civilization existed; even when the Dravidian City civilization existed. We have ample proof from the Bhimbetka Rock paintings, Mahabharata ,Ramayana and Silappadikaram. But foreigners cunningly divided the Hindus by dubbing all the dark skinned people as Dravidians and others as Aryans. Anyone who reads all about the tribes will find out they have nothing in common amongst themselves. Some of their customs may be traced to the civilized Hindus. To dub all their primitive, uncultured and violent rituals as Dravidian is an insult to the civilized Dravidians—London Swaminathan


Here is a piece from Arthur Miles’ book:–

“The Todas, an aboriginal tribe of the Nilgiri hills, seem to interest foreigners more than any of the other tribes. The  interest may be explained by the fact that many attempts have been made to connect the Todas with tribes that have been lost. Despite the hypotheses of many writers that the Todas are derived from one, or several, of the races of the Malabar, their origin is buried with the secrets of the past.


They speak a language that belongs to Dravidian family.


Certain Todas of the older generation might  easily belong above the to some rather magnificent lost people, being above the average height, well-proportioned, with regular features and fine teeth. Their hirsute development distinguishes them from the other hill tribes. The hair on their heads is usually curly and abundant, their beard is luxuriant, and a dense growth of hair covers their chest and abdomen. Hair is, also, thick on the upper and under surfaces of their arms, on the shoulder blades, the thighs, the knees, and the entire end of the legs. Their eyebrows unite across the forehead and thick tufts of hair grow in and round the ears. All the men have scars on the right shoulders, which are produced by burning the skin with hot sticks (sacred fire sticks). It is believed that these scars enable them to milk their buffalos.


Venereal Disease given by Foreigners!

The men of the present generation, however, are stunted and decrepit, the result of syphilis contracted outside their tribe.


They consider it beneath their dignity to cultivate land, and when some years ago they were granted a number of acres, they turned it over to the Badagas an continued to herd their cattle. When they find it necessary to seek employment on the estates of coffee and tea planters, they never take the slightest interest in their work.


The tribe maintains herds of semi domesticated buffalos on whose milk and products they largely depend. Since the establishment of bazaars at ootacamund and Canoor,the tribe’s income  has been augmented by the sale of sale of milk and curds.  Wealth with them is judged by the number of buffalos one possesses, and a story is told by the people, that when the King visited India, the Todas wanted to know how many buffalos he possessed .


The Toda women have no idea of sexual morality. Toda women are extremely ugly and degenerate, even in early middle-life into slovenly hags. The odour of their person, caused by the rancid butter with which they anoint themselves, keeps one at a distance. They are often tattooed with circles and dots, seldom with more ambitious designs. The circles and dots are marked on the skin with lamp black and pricked out with a porcupine quill. Ornaments made of shells and beads are worn, and the lobes of their ears are pierced and brass ear rings inserted. They wear a cloth draped round their bodies. Greater numbers of Todas have been converted to Sivaism than to Christianity, however, Many Todas worship now in the Siva temples, observing the Siva rites even to marrying their girls before puberty. Toda women are all extremely lazy, and sometimes spend most of the day buttering and curling their hair. Since the opening of the bazaars, they have done a little embroidery, which they try to sell. But it is very crude, and not greatly in demand.


It is said that the female Todas have been debauched by Europeans, who have introduced the diseases from which they suffer. This, however, is a statement difficult to believe considering their unprepossessing appearance and filthy habits.


There is no way of knowing how the diseases that have ravaged the Todas were introduced; but the fact remains that these people, once lusty of physique and temperate of habit, are suffering from some form of syphilis, and have gone over to lax and filthy practices. They deny the use of aphrodisiacs, but both men and women mix dogs’ testicles into a paste with milk, and eat the concoction to give them strength. Their food consists of rice boiled in milk, wild vegetables, wild raspberries, tree parasites, and ground orchids. Like the Chinese, they eat the tender shoots of the bamboo in the form of a curry. They are very fond of a soup which they make of the roots and flowers of thistles.



Buffalos and Dairy Products


The Todas use matches freely, except in their dairies. No one is permitted to light a match in the dairy. It was some time before these people would consent to use matches they have many superstitions about fire. They use different woods for different purposes certain woods to warm themselves by, other woods for cooking, and still others for sacred objects.


Each of their villages is composed of huts, a dairy, a cattle- pen and a temple. The huts are covered with pent-roofing, which slopes down to the ground so that a tall person must stoop to enter them. One room is sufficient for the family, whether the household consists of two or twenty. A platform built on one side of the room is strewn with buffalo and deer skins, and is used as a sleeping-place. On the opposite side, are the fire and cooking pots. No man or woman need be sensitive at undressing in full view of any others upon the platform, since the entire family tumbles into bed with clothes on and arises in the morning all ready for the day. The women may do a little hair-buttering when the men go out, but washing, unless one is going to be married, is not to be thought of.


The dairies are divided into two compartments — one the contains the butter, milk and curds, and the other is dwelling-place of the palol (dairy priest). Two paths lead to the dairy from the huts, for the use of men and women respectively. Women are permitted to go as far as the dairy door, to receive butter-milk. The dairy priest is not permitted to visit any of the huts while he holds office, and in some cases he is not supposed to visit his home or to go to another village. If it is necessary for the priest to cross water he must not pass by a bridge but must use a ford. He should be a celibate


but if he has a wife he may turn her over to his brother during his official term.



Todas will not use river water, for fear of arousing the wrath of the river goddess. A pregnant woman, like the dairy priest, must not cross water ford and she is not permitted to ford a stream. Any Toda, after wading through water, apologizes to the water goddess for disturbing her. The Paikara is their sacred river, and there is a legend to account for its origin. An uncle and nephew went out, so the story goes, to gather wild honey. The uncle was unsuccessful in his search, but nephew gathered two portions.


He secreted them in a crevice among the rocks, and told his uncle that he had found nothing. was The following day he went to the spot where the honey was hidden, and he found that it had leaked down over the rocks and had transformed itself into the Paikara river.



The Todas’ organization is divided into two classes, which cannot intermarry. If polyandry means that a woman is accessible to her husband’s brothers and relatives, then the Todas practise it. One usually thinks of polyandry, however, as a system in which women have some choice in the selection of husbands, but the Toda woman simply acquires them with her marriage ceremony. I have heard, none the less, people refer to the Toda marriage-system as polyandrous. A few years ago the Todas, in a petition to Government, asked permission to legalize their marriages. The Government decided that such legalization was not necessary, and that Toda who wished could register his marriage.


When a girl reaches puberty she goes through an initiation ceremony with a man. There is a ceremony performed during the seventh month of pregnancy, to decide who is the father of the child. The man who undertakes the honour presents the expectant mother with a bow and arrow. If the husbands are all brothers, the eldest presents the gifts, but the other brothers are also regarded as fathers. If the husbands are not brothers, the ceremony becomes a social occasion, and after much discussion one of the husbands decides to become the father. He becomes not only the father of the coming child, but of all succeeding children. And the woman still considers him the father of her children, even if he has been several years.


Until recently the Todas practised female infanticide which custom still exists to some extent though strenuously denied. An old woman used to take the female child when it was born and close its nostrils, ears.  Shortly after, its head would droop and it would die of suffocation. The old woman received four annas (four pence) for the deed.


Picture of Toda Hut


Violent Funeral Ceremony

Several funeral ceremonies are arranged for a deceased Toda. The first occurs when the body is burnt; the second may be a month or two months later while subsequent services may be held at any time agreed upon by the relatives and friends of the deceased. To the second and later ceremonies visitors are invited. Everyone goes to the spot where the body was burnt, and the women, usually relatives of the deceased, work themselves up to the necessary pitch of lamentation. They commence with moaning, but finally reach a stage of what appears to be genuine grief and actually cry. In spite of this lachrymose exhibition, they will turn and beg if any foreigner approaches, and after acknowledging the coin, will return to the mourning. Sometimes the bones are taken out of the ground, where they have been buried after the cremation. The skull is placed on a cloth, and everyone makes obeisance to it. It is then anointed with ghee.


A buffalo is usually sacrificed to conclude a funeral ceremony at which Todas from all the surrounding villages (or mands, as they call their settlements) have assisted. Boys are sent out to search for the required animal, which is frequently half dead and bleeding from the nose when they finally drive it to the place chosen for the sacrifice. Sometimes a bell is tied on its neck, and its horns are smeared with butter, before it is finally despatched by a blow, or a series of blows, from a club. When the buffalo is sacrificed before the cremation, the deceased may be placed upon the animal, his face resting on the rump and his feet on the head. If this is done, the manifestations of grief become frantic, and the uproar can be heard for miles. Sometimes the hair is cut from the head of a corpse, to be wrapped round the skull after cremation before the bones are interred.


Toda Children

The Toda children are fond of games, and will burlesque any sacred rite when they feel inclined. They will mimic marriage and funeral rites, and sometimes even the puberty ceremony. The men are fond of sport, especially if they can exhibit their strength, and running, wrestling, lifting heavy weights are favourite diversions. Bets are made when weights are lifted, and arguments may be started, which end in blows. It has been my experience that Indians cannot bear to lose in a game, and lack entirely the real quality of the sportsman, that of being a good loser. Quite recently an Indian tried to bribe the King’s Royal Rifles to acknowledge defeat by the Calcutta Customs in a game of football. The lance-corporal and the goal-keeper were approached by the Indian, who offered them one hundred rupees each if the Royal Rifles lost the game. They were to receive a small sum in advance, and the rest when the game had been lost. The two men made an appointment with the Indian to receive the first instalment, and in the meantime informed their trainer of the affair. The police were on hand to witness the handing over of the money and an arrest was made. Later, the man was released on bail”.


from the Land of the Lingam by Arthur Miles, 1933


My comments

In the Nilgris and its surroundings we see Irulas, Todas, Badagas and Kurumbas. Though all of them are classified as Dravidians, they have different marriage, funeral customs and different gods. This shows that they are NOT driven out of Indus valley and they all don’t belong to the same group. The fact of the matter is they have been living in the forest from Vedic days leading an independent life. Till the foreigners invaded and occupied India they were not at all disturbed. When the Christian preachers went into the jungles to convert them, the problems started. After foreigner’s intervention they contacted sexually transmitted diseases. Todas have very strange customs. Some of them may be compared with modern day city dwelling Hindus. Even foreigners couldn’t explain their customs. Todas and Irulas must have been living from time immemorial along with other tribes of India. Ramayana and Mahabharata have lot of information about the tribes and it shows that they lived at the time of city civilization. Even theTamil epic Silappadikaram describes both city and forest life of the tribal people. Silappadikaram gives a long list of articles they brought to the Chera King Seran Senguttuvan whose capital saw lot of Roman gold. So foreigners are wrong in saying that these people were driven out of Indus cities. In fact, these tribes have been here even before the Indus valley civilization began. Mahabharata gives a list of products that Yudhisthira got from the tribal people.


Sacrificing buffalos at the funeral is spread up to Celebes island of Indonesia. They think that the more the buffalos they sacrifice better it would be for the dead person in the afterlife!


My earlier post on Todas:-

Edwin Arnold’s Visit to Toda Tribal Hut in 1885 (Post No.2867), posted on 4 June 2016