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The Badugas are the peoples living in the Nilgiri district in Tamil Nadu, India. Throughout the district the Badugas live in nearly 400 villages, called Hattis. The Badagas speak a language closely related to Kannada called Badugu.
Badaga family in the Nilgiri Hills, 1909
The name Badaga, meaning 'Northerner' comes from Old Kannada 'Badagana,' meaning North. They were believed during the time of the Britishers to have descended from Lingayat refugees who settled in the Nilgiris in the early 12th century.
They claim to come from seven siblings living in the Talamalai Hills. After they fled from a Muslim ruler who tried to rape their sister, they settled in different parts of the Nilgiris. The second brother, Hethappa, was working outside when two Todas raped his wife and took his goods. He sought the aid of two Bayaluru, who agreed to help him if they married his two daughters. They killed the Todas and the inhabitants of the village at the time claimed descent from the Bayalurus and Badaga daughters.
Thundu (a white piece of cloth) and Seeley forms an integral part of the attire of the Badugu women.
Badugas marry within their community and follow their own marriage traditions. Their important festival is Devva Habba. Devva Habba provides significant insights into the origin of Badugas. They have certain rules and regulations to be followed in implementing their cultural rituals from the birth of a child and follows through functions like puberty, marriage, naming ceremony, seventh-month pregnancy, housewarming, and finally in death.
They worship their seven founding ancestors under the name Hethappa or Hetha.
During time of early 1900s they were known to swear very solemn oaths by the Sri Mariamman temple. For this they bathed, brought coconut and fruit, and killed an animal. The head they put on the step of the shrine, and from seven feet off they would walk to the temple step and put out the light that was shining in front of the idol. Even the Britisher judges, in court, would also abide by this practice and occasionally send witnesses to do this ritual along with a Court official to ensure they were telling the truth. Even today they place great reverence in Sri Mariamman: in April they celebrate a car festival at the Sri Mariamman temple in Udagamandalam when they pull the car with the image of Sri Mariamman to their music and dance.
The Badaga language is not a dialect of Kannada, although it is closely related. The Baduga community was formed in the Nilgiris out of small groups that banded together. LACITO in Paris houses numerous varieties of Baduga stories and songs collected over the past two decades.
Several Badaga have become officials in various parts of the Indian Government. Former Lok Sabha MP, the late Smt. Akkamma Devi, was the first Badaga woman to graduate from college and represented the Nilgiri Lok Sabha constituency from 1962 to 1967. Belli Lakshmi Ramakrishnan M.A., was the first Badaga woman post graduate in social work, and went on to be the first woman gazetted officer to serve in the Tamil Nadu State Government Department of Health and Family Welfare.
Scheduled Tribe Status
There is a long-standing demand to restore the status of the Badagas in the list of Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution. The Badagas were on the tribes list during the British Raj, as per the 1931 census. After Independence, Badugas were on the Scheduled Tribe list during the 1951 census, but were later removed.
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