The owners of the Nilgiri mountains: how life works in a small Indian tribe of Toda

They don't understand what money is for and what “mine” is. They consider in common everything that is sacred to them: land, mountains, women, cows, milk. This is what makes them happy


They live in the Nilgiri mountains. Number & nbsp; – 800-1000 people. They speak the Toda language, which belongs to the Dravidian family of languages ​​and has an unusually complex phonetics. All life is devoted to breeding and raising buffaloes. Tods have an appearance that is not typical for these places: they are tall, have a thin nose and European features. Traditional clothing & nbsp; – togas in the Greek manner. The origin of the Toda is unknown.

Masters of the Nilgiri mountains: how life works in a small Indian Toda tribe

Milkad of the Patol clan

Masters of the Nilgiri mountains: how life works in a small Indian Toda tribe

Representative of the Toda tribe. Former priest. Age is about 90 years old, but does not know for sure (in 2015 – Note by

Lives in the village of Mullimund near Lake Avalanch (Nilgiri mountain range, Central India). He breeds buffaloes.

“Toda are the masters of the Nilgiri”

In the beginning there were mountains, and the powerful goddess Tekerzshi lived on them. She flew over the Blue Mountains until she decided to create someone who would worship her. She hit Lake Naraker with a stick, and eighteen thousand buffaloes came out of it, and a man and a woman of Toda were holding on to the tail of the latter. So we appeared on this earth a long time ago.

We Toda are different from the rest of the Nilgiri tribes. They say we came here from afar, from some other land, but we know that our homeland is here. The Todas are the masters of the Nilgiri. This is known to all other tribes. Everyone who asked for permission to live on our land received it. We did not take a fee, but everyone around remembered who the owners of these mountains were. And now we have to pay taxes for cutting trees and grazing buffaloes to the Indian government, although these are our mountains.

We never had enemies, except for one – the neighboring Kurumba tribe, evil dark-skinned dwarfs. They practice black magic and believe that their purpose is to kill. Toda and kurumba do not meet. Seeing our buffaloes, the kurumba run away into the forest, we also bypass the dwarfs.

South Sudan

“The buffaloes, like mothers, take care of the toda and give us their milk”

Buffaloes are sacred, pure animals. Thanks to them we live. The buffaloes, like mothers, take care of the toda and give us their milk. And for a Tod, there is no one more sacred than a mother.

Milk is the main food of a Tod, as well as fruits and honey. Sometimes we buy rice at the market in Ooty (city of Outhakamand. — Approx. Around the World) or get it in exchange for milk from neighboring tribes. Once upon a time, each family had three hundred buffaloes. Now there are ten or twenty, and even then not every family.

There are simple buffaloes – females and males, and there are sacred buffaloes. Each family has its own simple buffaloes, and the sacred buffaloes are common. They live at temples, and their milk and the butter it produces are used only for ritual purposes.

The owners of the Nilgiri Mountains: how life works in the small Indian tribe of Toda

Each sacred buffalo has a name that has been passed down from mother buffalo to daughter since the beginning of time. All Todas know their names and can talk to them. Even buffaloes used to be able to talk, but the goddess Tekerzshi saw that they stopped giving milk and began to mostly chat, discuss each other, and sometimes even quarrel. And she took away their old languages ​​and gave them new ones. Since then, buffaloes have only mooed.

Once I was a priest. Any man in the tribe can be one. The tribe appoints a priest for a year, sometimes he is re-elected. The priest does not live with his wife, sleeps in the temple, does not cut his hair and nails. And any toda respectfully bypasses the priest, does not talk to him. Only a priest can take care of the sacred buffaloes, milk them and churn the ritual oil. An ordinary person, unlike a priest, is forbidden to drink sacred milk, you can even die from it.

“All the todas take care of each other”

A man-toda takes care of his buffaloes, his wife and land. Everyone takes care of each other. We do not have a prime minister or government, all issues are resolved according to conscience, at a meeting of elders.

Tod all women and men are mothers and fathers. When a girl turns thirteen, she stays with a man from another clan and becomes a woman. After this ceremony, a woman can lead a free lifestyle. When she becomes pregnant, she chooses her husband. The one she has chosen performs the ceremony of the bow and arrow—gives them to the woman. So he becomes the father of the child and the husband of this woman. And his brothers also become her husbands.

Masters of the Nilgiri mountains: how life works in the small Indian tribe of Toda

The groom's father gives buffaloes to the bride's family. Not every family has many of them, so often only one wife is accepted into the house. In my time, there was one wife for three brothers. And a guest could also come to her – any man she fell in love with. So that the husbands could see that the wife should not be disturbed, the guest left a wooden staff at the door. The brothers waited outside and could enter the house only after the guest had left. And everyone agreed with that. And so it is now. And it happens that a wife leaves if she fell in love with another.

Our tribe used to be strong. My grandfather could lift a hundred kilogram boulder. After the English and other strangers began to come to us from the 18th century, they began to suffer from syphilis, very few children were born, the tribe almost died out. Now doctors have appeared among us, and women are giving birth to children, as before.

in the Indonesian Asmat tribe

“We were the happiest when we had no money at all”

Tekerzshi created the tods as immortal as gods. Once a man was bitten by a snake and fell down. Others did not know what to do with him, and some began to dance, some to cry and burn a fire, and the rest brought buffaloes. The goddess liked the way it looked, and she decided to make the tods mortal so that she could sometimes enjoy the sight. Since then, the todas have been dying, their bodies are burned in a fire and a couple of buffaloes are killed so that in Amanodra, the realm of the dead, the departed can find food.

I am already an old man, my youth is behind me, and ahead of me is Amanodr. I am from the Patol clan, but now I live with another family – I feel good with them. Our children take care of the elderly, and I can come to any house, they will feed me and shelter me everywhere.

Toda simple people, honest. If one has something, he shares it with others. Happiness is not in money, but in the family. And the family is the land, relatives, friends. We do not want money, it does not bring happiness. We were happiest when we had no money at all. I don't understand people from cities. They say “mine” about everything. In our tribe, it's embarrassing to say “mine”, everything is “ours”.

The owners of the Nilgiri Mountains: how life works in the small Indian Toda tribe< /p>

We often do not have enough money even for rice, but we know much more about happiness than the rich from the city. Our women are smiling and our children are kind and caring. There are almost no evil and envious people among us, we are one big family.

When guests come to us or something important for the tribe happens, we gather with the whole mund (settlement. — Note “Around the World”) and lead a round dance. The song is much older than anything taught to Indian children in Sunday school. Therefore, instead of school, our children used to sing and dance. Now some go to school: those who live near the city, or those whose parents converted to Christianity.

We lived in peace with ourselves and nature, we did not know what hunger and war were. Now people from the city are trying to teach us happiness, not realizing that we were happier before them. But what does the opinion of eight hundred toda mean in a country where more than a billion other people live?The owners of the Nilgiri Mountains: how life works in the small Indian tribe of Toda

Population of India: ~ 1,425,000,000 people. (1st in the world)
Area of ​​India: 3,287,263 km2 (7th)
Population density: 389 people/km2

Sights: Nilgiri mountains, Avalanche, Emerald and Ooty lakes, Ooty botanical garden.
Traditional dish: masala dosa – a huge crispy rice pancake, which is wrapped in a filling of potatoes and onions with local spices and sauces.
Traditional drink: nilgiri tea growing in the local mountains . It is usually drunk with ice and lemon.
Souvenir: putkhukuli is a huge scarf-shawl with traditional toda embroidery.

Distancefrom Moscow to Coimputtura (nearest airport to Mullimund) ~6050 km (from 9 hours in flight excluding transfers)
Timeis ahead of Moscow by 2 hours 30 minutes
Visa: issued at the consular department or via the Internet
Currency: Indian rupee (100 INR ~1.2 US dollars)

Photo: V. Muthuraman/IndiaPictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images (in announcement), Alamy/Legion-media (x2), Eye Ubiquitous/Legion-media, Diomedia

Published in Vokrug Sveta # 12 December 2015, partially updated in July 2023

Maria Vdovkina

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