Photo of a cute little hut was what made me go on a journey to explore the life of the inhabitants of this hut !!!
Half barrel shaped hut belonged to the indigenous tribals of Nilgiri Hills called the Todas. They have been residing in these huts in the hills of Nilgiris from time immemorial. Todas are traditionally pastoralists and they rear a special breed of semi tamed buffaloes.
It was my friend Wilson who introduced me to Viju who resides in Kothagiri near Ooty. Viju had close links with tribals and hence was able to arrange my visit. We went to Bikkapathy Manth to meet the Todas. Bikkapathy Mandh is situated 5 kilometers from a place called Ebanad.
‘Mandh’ is the name given to a Toda village. Each village has around 3-10 houses . There are around 65 mandhs in Nilgiris The Mandhs are usually located in plains or valleys surrounded by Shola forest. Since Bikkapathy mandh was approachable through narrow and steep forest road, we hired a pick up van.
On our way we could see Toda buffaloes grazing. They had curved horns , gigantic body with short and stout legs. Todas consider their buffaloes as sacred and they are one of the rare tribes in the world who worship buffaloes. According to Todas, their goddess Thekeshi first created 1600 buffaloes and man came holding the tail of last buffalo. Woman was created from the rib of man. They firmly belief that Thekeshi created humans to take care of the buffaloes.
The buffalo also holds special significance when a Toda person dies. A buffaloe is sacrificed and the head of buffalo is kept along with the dead man. It is their belief that the soul of dead buffalo will guide the departed soul in reaching heaven !
We were received by Arumadi Kuttan , a toda tribal. He took us to his home which was a small building with 2-3 small rooms. Their his wife Devikili showed us copper vessels which were more than 300 years old, which has been passed on from generation to generation . She served us buttermilk prepared from buffalo milk. We also met Supriya , their lovely daughter.
Later, Kuttan took us to see their traditional hut where his aged mother lives. The hut was in the shape of a half barrel. The curved structure was attained by bending bamboo sticks at both end. And then tying canes across the bamboo structure. Over the canes they lay a special grass found in forest. Front and back walls are made with wooden planks, buffalo dung and clay. Floor was made with clay and buffalo dung.
The door size was 3 feet by 3 feet and I had to literally crawl on my legs to enter the hut.
Inside, there was a raised portion made with clay where they sleep. On the opposite side there was a firewood stove. Over it they hung the firewood collected from forest. Utensils were kept on a small wooden shelf. I had a lovely cozy feeling when I sat there.
Next , Kuttan took us to see their temple. Temple was also shaped like their traditional hut. The only difference is granite slab was used as door and the temple buiding was fenced using big boulders. Ladies are not allowed near the temple. Kuttan told us that there were two rooms inside. One room had a small fire place where the priest cooked food. In another room there were vessels to churn milk. Butter milk was given as prasad to the villagers. There is a lamp inside which was lit using buffalo ghee. They don’t use matchstick to light the lamp. A special twig when rubbed on cloth generates fire !
The temple in this mandh was open only during January. A villager takes up the duty of priest. He has to stay in the temple, prepare his food inside the temple and have it on a plate made using leaves of a nearby tree. At night he sleeps in a makeshift shed near the temple. Priest wears only a black lungi ! There were some huge stones weighing more than 100 kg near the temple compound. Men can marry only if they can lift the stone. Since Kuttan and family had to attend a function we left the place. Before we left, Kuttan invited us for his niece marriage which was taking place in Pakalikkod mandh.
Next day morning we went to Pakalikkod Mandh. There were only three houses in the villages.
Kuttan’s wife Devikili took me to meet the bride. I was surprised to see that bride was pregnant. Devikili explained to me that when a man and woman starts to live together , they do it with blessings of family and there is no festivities. Actual wedding takes place when the girl becomes pregnant. In the seventh month of preganancy , they invite all the Todas and a grand wedding ceremony and feast takes place.
Bride’s name was Nirosha and the Groom was Kashmadi kuttan.
The wedding took place in front of a Jambu tree located far from the house, on a vast grassland . A small hole was made on the tree.
Groom’s mother lighted a lamp and kept it inside the hole. By then more than 400 Todas had assembled in the grassland. They all were wearing traditional Puthukuli Shawl, which is hand embroidered by the women.
The women wore their hair in cute curls.
Groom came with the bride and started seeking blessings from elders. For this they had to sit on their knees and bend head. The Elderly Toda person raises his leg and touches forehead.
After seeking blessings from all the elders who gathered there, Groom left the bride in front of lamp and went inside nearby forest to make a bow and arrow using twigs of a special tree. Meanwhile, the festivities began. The men formed huge circle and started dancing to a particular tune. After a short while women too started dancing.
One hour later , Kashmadi returns with bow and arrow and gifts to his bride.
Bride’s brother gives honey to the young couple and after that they wear floral garlands and the wedding gets over.
As soon as the wedding ceremony ends, it started raining heavily and we all were drenched. As Kaumadi Kuttan insisted, we stayed back to have lunch.
Eventhough the food was tasty we couldn’t enjoy it as our clothes were wet and we were feeling uncomfortable. After lunch we thanked kuttan for inviting us for the wedding and returned to our stay.