Ooty: The Land of the Badagas

Popularly known as the queen of mountains, Ooty or Ootacamund is located in the Nilgiri Hills and is officially known as Udagamandalam. The Nilgiri hills derive their name from the blue flower Kurunji that blooms every twelve years giving the slopes a bluish tinge. This hill station has an ideal climate thus making it suitable for a visit in any season.

Ooty was originally occupied by the Toda and Badagas along with other hill tribes. These tribes coexisted through specialisation and trade. The major tribes of Ooty are Kotas, Todas, Badagas, Kurumbas and Nayakas.

Ooty has been a part of multiple kingdoms like the Vijayanagara, the Hoysala, the Nayakas and more. It was given to the British East India Company under an agreement by Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The British fell in love with its nature and named it the capital of the Madras Presidency.  In this long history, the local inhabitants were forgotten – we are looking to revive them!

History of Badagas

The Badagas’ migration to Ooty traces back to familial wars in the Nilgiris and the Kollegal Hills. Due to feudal violence in those regions, they moved to Vijayanagar, where they were able to fulfil their needs. After the first World War, the barter system was replaced by the cash economy, which made the Badagas shift their cultivation from traditional millet to potatoes. By 1920, most of them started to work as tea cultivators.

Badaga Lifestyle

A Badaga village
Image Source: BadagaFiles

The Badagas live in about 303 villages, called “Hattis”, throughout the Nilgiri district. These houses are built over a slope on a single file and have common walls made of stones and concrete. One can see the small hattis on their drive around the Nilgiris. The clusters of these houses nestle on the slopes surrounded by tea. One will also notice women working among the tea bushes and potato and cabbage fields.

This community is said to be greatly skilled at stimulating the productive capacity of fertile lands. As soon as the Badagas approach a settlement, they get into the task to clear rocks and other irregularities –rendering it cultivable. The work is seen to rely on patriarchal conventions, where women take care of the home and men venture out to cultivate coffee. Shifting cultivation among the Badagas has been ceasing, who have now made their settlement in the Nilgiris. So, their culture has undergone quite a bit of intermixing in the past few decades.

Badaga Culture

The Badaga community has its own rich set of culture and traditions. The language the Badagas speak is called “Badugu.” Badaga weddings are different than any other regular Hindu wedding. The groom’s side organises a traditional feast after the marriage which is known as Maduve Hittu. Usually, the wedding ceremony takes place in the groom’s place.

Badaga people during a festival
Image Source: GoHeritageRun

The Badaga people worship Hethai Amman who’s their goddess. They have nine gods in total among which Kada Hethai and Kada aiya are the names of a couple of Gods. They don’t worship idols. During their major festival called Hethai, the Badagas perform the Badaga dance to please their goddess. The Badagas also celebrate festivals like “Dodda Hubba”, “Deva Hubba” and “Hethe Hubba”. They also celebrate major Hindu festivals like Diwali, Ayutha Puja, Pongal, etc.

Dance plays an important role in almost every functions and festival for the Badagas. Even during the death of a family member, they perform the Badaga dance. The funeral pyre is lit by the eldest brother in the particular sect of the community.

Badaga Dance
Image Source: MakeItHappen

Badaga Dress

The traditional white attire of the Badagas
Image Source: GoHeritageRun

The people of this community have a great liking for white colour. So they dress up in this particular colour on all occasions. The most striking thing is the white turban which is their customary dress. The elderly women of the Badaga community, wear the mundu wrapped around the body and the thundu tied on the head.

Badaga Food

Traditional Badaga Food
Image Source: TheHindu

On a regular basis, the Badagas consume Kali which is made out of Raagi, butter beans, Sandagai and green leaves. In occasions such as weddings, festivals and even during death, they prepare Thuppadhittu, a sweet dish which is made of white flour and buffalo ghee. 

Present-day Badagas

A Badaga woman on a tea plantation
Image Source: GreenNest

Today, they are a well-sustained society, nestled within nature, and continue to practice their unique cultural frameworks, configuring in the modern world. The Badagas have been fighting to regain their lost status as tribals from the 1970s. In 2014, they also filed a petition in the Madras High Court to get included in the list of Scheduled Tribes.

The most suitable time to visit Ooty is from October to June. The nearest airport from Ooty is Coimbatore, a domestic airport which is approximately 88 km away. There are regular flights to Coimbatore from almost all the major cities in India. Once in Coimbatore, one can take the road to go to Ooty in a bus or a private car.

Did You Know?

The name “Badaga” (northerner) was given to this group because they migrated from the plains of Mysore District.

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.

Girls of marriageable age are tattooed on the forehead and the chest with lines and dots.

Some other tourist attractions in Ooty:

Mudumalai National Park
Location: 45 km from Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, 44 km from Sterling Ooty Elk Hill.

Cairn Hill
Location: 3 km from the Sterling Ooty – Elk Hill resort, 2 km from the Sterling Ooty – Fern Hill resort

The Stone House and the Oak Tree: John Sullivan’s Legacy
Location: 3 km from the Sterling Ooty – Elk Hill resort, 4 km from the Sterling Ooty – Fern Hill resort

Rose Garden

Location: 1.5 km from Sterling Ooty – Elk Hill resort, 3 km from Sterling Ooty – Fern Hill resort

Book your stay at Sterling Ooty Fern hill or Sterling Ooty Elk hill to explore the Badaga culture and experience Ooty at its best with Sterling D&E and Sterling D&E Impressions.


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