Was invited by Deepak last year to attend a grand festival of the Badaga community. Accepted the invitation this year with the usual gang. Deepak is a member of the badaga community.
They are popularly known for their excellent hospitality and extremely beautiful girls (show me a guy who denies this)
I had have many friends, Deepak being one of my closest.
“The Badagas (Kannada: ಬಡಗ ಜನರು) are an indigenous people inhabiting the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, southern India. The term ‘Badagu’ in old Kannada means ‘North’, so ‘Badaga’ should mean ‘Northerner’. They form the largest indigenous community in the Nilgiri region, with a population of approximately 150,000 encompassing some 370-odd villages and smaller settlements
They are most likely Dravidian by descent and they are by religion Hindus of the Saiva sect. Research has indicated they migrated to the Nilgiris from the Mysore region, sometime around 1600 after the break-up of the kingdom of Vijayanagara.
They are an agricultural people.
Some genomic studies show that they are of Eurasian origin.
Prior to being converted to hinduism they were nature worshippers; the following custom that I saw will reinforce this.
Until today I didn’t give much thought to the possiblity of unique customs being followed by the badaga community.
I was to attend a festival in one of their hattis(hamlet). The festival is one of the many that they have every year called “Hethe Hubba”.
Started from Ooty around 10 am and reached a valley near Kotagiri after tackling a heavy traffic due to the festival.
Traditionally they wear white shirts, dhothis and a headcloth. To avoid alienation I wore the same costume(this is not in my wardrobe btw).
The lack of an idol in the shape of a diety illustrated the point even more. With a small monetary contribution people say their prayers and rest, I didn’t see any lamps that are traditonally lighted for various reasons.
Standing atop this hill one thing was certain, the spot was carefully chosen to be at the centre with a 360 deg view of the entire area. The people in their white garments were walking through the tea gardens forming a white ant-like string to congregate at the bottom of the valley.
After this there was another place to visit with the same kind of custom differing only with respect to the presence of sacred buffaloes at the place of worship. They say these buffaloes roam the wilderness but return to this place at sunset.
Here there was a boy of a very young age who is the caretaker/priest for the rest of the year. It seems he lives alone and collects milk and makes ghee from it.
Also there were heavy stones lying there for the men to lift them up and drop it over their shoulders to exhibit extreme strength. Thought I could give it a try(who am I kidding?)
They have been doing this for a long time. Reminds me of the scottish tradition that goes similar to this except they use logs.
Then the finale. We moved through the gardens with the winter sun scorching our heads and rubbles blistering our feet and reached the bottom of the valley.
Here the village heads of various hamlets gather with a stick in their hand resembling the ones used by shepherds. This represents their traditional livelihood of keeping livestock.
The village heads pray to empower their sticks. Those sticks are then carried to their own hamlets and they have their own festival in their respective hamlets with the stick being bearing a great importance. This entire this is called “Hethe Hubba”.
N.B. Though I’ve summarised the many nuances of these customs I haven’t been able to verify the details.
After this they start the lunch. This includes rice, beans and potatoes with the ghee from the temple eaten in the vast openess at the bottom of the valley where there are gathered in huge numbers. Highly suggestive of a communal custom that goes back to the days when their populace was less in number.
This particular festival lasts for a week with the same procedure being followed every day until the final day when the village heads move to different places.
This festival attracts the whole of the badaga population along with the curious travellers from abroad who look distinctly out of place.
Photography is prohibited/frowned upon but we managed to get a few.Will post them soon.
All in all I found the subtle mix of strange and well known customs an enthralling experience.
Should thank Deepak and family for giving us this glimpse into their customs.