By Paul Hockings and John Beierle


Badacar, Badager, Baddaghar, Bergie, Budaga, Buddager, Buddagur, Burga, Burgher, Vadaca, Vadacar, Vuddaghur, Wuddghur (all former spellings).



The name "Badaga" (northerner) was given to this group because they migrated from the plains of Mysore District, just to the north of the Nilgiri Hills, in the decades following the Muslim invasion that destroyed the great Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in A.D. 1565. Badaga is also a common name for the Gaudas, who are by far the largest phratry in this community. In the nineteenth century the name was spelled in various ways. The Badagas are the largest community in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu State (formerly Madras) in southern India, between latitude 11& and 11&30' N.

The Badagas occupy only the small Nilgiris District at the junction of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu states, but they share their territory with many other tribal groups and an even larger number of fairly recent immigrants from the plains of south India. The district area is 2,549 square kilometers, about the same as the state of Rhode Island. Although the majority of Badagas are still small-scale farmers, there is now a sizable middle class living in the four main British-built towns on the plateau, and the community can boast several thousand college graduates. Badaga doctors, lawyers, teachers, and government officials are very plentiful, and there are also a few professors, agronomists, and politicians. Although still largely a rural population, they have as high a rate of literacy (in Tamil and English) as the inhabitants of Madras City. A few households can boast cars and imported videotape players. Several dozen doctors, engineers, and architects have recently settled with their families in America.


The Badagas number an estimated 145,000 (1991), about 19 percent of the district population of 630,169 (as of 1981). Progressive attitudes have made the Badagas an unusually successful farming community. Population figures from the official censuses bear out this success: in 1812 there were reportedly only 2,207 Badagas; by 1901 there were 34,178. By developing intensive cash-crop cultivation they have managed to accommodate this greatly increased labor force and improve their standard of living. With birth control in practice now for some twenty years, the annual population growth rate is down to about 1.5 percent (our estimate).


All Badagas-and only Badagas-speak Badaga, or more correctly Badugu, a Dravidian language. It is now a distinct language, but it was originally derived from sixteenth-century Kannada (or Canarese), which belongs to the South Dravidian Subfamily. Today it contains many words of English and Tamil origin, as well as many from Sanskrit. In premodern times the language served as a lingua franca among the various Nilgiri tribes.


The early Badagas, refugees from the Muslim invaders of Mysore, had to cut their farmsteads out of the Nilgiri forests. They continued some slash-and-burn cultivation there until the 1870s. By that time the land demands of British tea and coffee planters, then resident for half a century, had created a market for farmland, which tempted many Badagas to sell some of their land. But most of their land was retained. By the early twentieth century they were pursuing advanced education and some urban professions. For many years now the Badagas have been adapting to their own use certain alien customs and techniques. Nowhere is this more evident than in agriculture.


The villages, each inhabited only by Badagas of a particular clan and usually containing no more than several hundred people, consist of parallel rows of stone or brick houses with tiled roofs. They lie along the slope of a hill on its leeward side, for protection from the westerly monsoon. The fields spread out all around. Up to a half-dozen temples and shrines for different Hindu gods are found in each village. Modern villages have electricity and piped water to communal taps, but not long ago the water supply was a nearby stream or at best a channel running into the village from a stream. One other universal feature is a village green, important as a council place, playground, dance ground, funeral place, and general grazing area for the calves. The traditional Badaga two-room houses, still in common use, are built in groups of a dozen or less to form a continuous line along a level piece of ground. They are now made of whitewashed brick and have tiled or corrugated-iron roofs, but the traditional building material was wattle and daub. Scarcely any thatched roofs now remain.



In general Badagas use fields around the villages to practice mixed farming of millets, barley, wheat, and a variety of European vegetables, two of which-the potato and cabbage-have now assumed major commercial importance. Millets were the staple until the 20th century, and they were sometimes cultivated in forest clearings by the slash-and-burn technique. Badaga farmers use no irrigation; instead, they rely on the rainfall of two regular monsoon seasons. During the 20th century they have gradually shifted from subsistence farming of traditional grains to cash-crop farming of potatoes and cabbages. After several seasons of disease, potatoes were recently superseded by numerous small plantations of tea (which was first introduced here by the British in 1835) and cabbage fields. Crops of European origin are now grown on machine-made terraces with the help of chemical fertilizers, truck transport, improved seed, and even crop insurance; similar techniques are used on the tea plantations, which must maintain worl d market standards. Herds of buffalo and cows are kept for dairy purposes; these are less numerous than in the past, and they are never kept for meat, even though most people are not vegetarians. Poultry are frequently kept and ponies occasionally. Beekeeping is also practiced, but in earlier days only wild honey was collected in the forests. Although potatoes and purchased rice are the staples, the Badagas traditionally ate wheat and various millets. Their mixed farming produces a good variety of both local and European crops, and their diet also may be complemented with some wild forest plants. Most Badagas are nonvegetarian, eating mutton and occasional wild game. There is no evidence of opium addiction, although this was an opium-producing community in the 19th century. Illicit liquor is produced.


Although Badagas have been doing building and urban trades for about a century, until 1930 they looked to the Kotas to supply all of their needs in pottery, carpentry, leather, blacksmithing, silver ornaments, thatching, and furniture. Badagas include no specialized artisan phratries or subcastes.


This community is well known for its complex symbiosis with the Toda, Kota, and Kurumba tribes of the Nilgris. Some Badaga villages also maintain exchange relations with the Irulas, Uralis, Paniyans, and Chettis of the surrounding slopes. The closest ties are with the seven nearby Kota villages. Until 1930 every Badaga family had a Kota associate who provided a band of musicians whenever there was a wedding or funeral in that family and who regularly furnished the Badagas with pottery, carpentry, thatching, and most leather and metal items. In return for being jacks-of-all-trades to the Badagas (who had no specialized artisans in their own community), the Kotas were supplied with cloth and a portion of the annual harvest by their Badaga associates. The Todas, a vegetarian people, were the only group in the Nilgiri Hills whom the Badagas were willing to accept as near equals. The two communities used to exchange buffalo and attend each other's ceremonies. Some Todas still supply their associates with baskets a nd other jungle-grown produce, as well as clarified butter (GHEE). In return the Badagas give a portion of their harvest. Since 1930 the relationship has become attenuated, as with the Kotas, largely because the Badaga population has increased out of all proportion to the Todas and Kotas; and also because the Badagas are distinctly more modernized. The Kurumbas are seven tribes of jungle gatherers, gardeners, and sorcerers on the Nilgiri slopes. Each Badaga village has a "watchman," a Kurumba employed to protect them from the sorcery of other Kurumbas. He also takes part in some Badaga ceremonies as an auxiliary priest and supplies his Badaga friends with baskets, nets, honey, and other jungle products. The Badaga headman levies for him a fixed quantity of grain from each household in the village. Irulas and Uralis are thought to be sorcerers like the Kurumbas, if less effective ones, and are treated similarly. Some Chettis are itinerant traders who sell knickknacks on a fixed circuit of Badaga villages once a month, and have done so for several centuries. They also have minor ceremonial connections with the Badagas. Paniyans are agrestic serfs on the land of certain Badagas and Chettis who inhabit the Wainad Plateau directly west of the Nilgiris proper. In addition to the economic exchanges described above, the Badagas buy all kinds of goods in the district's town markets that were started by the British administrators around 1820.


A rigid sexual division of labor is apparent. Men do the heavy field work of plowing, sowing, and threshing, while women do the lighter work of weeding and help at harvest. All dairy operations are conducted by men or boys. Women are responsible for preparing food. Children find much of their time taken up with school, although girls are also expected to help in the home.


According to legend, Badagas acquired their first land as gifts from the Kotas and Todas already settled in the area; as time passed they simply cleared new plots from the forests. Until 1862 such swidden cultivation was still common, but henceforward it was prohibited by state law. This regulation has not been a great hardship, however, because the richer and more valuable fields are the permanent ones close to each village. Irrigation is very rare but terracing is now widespread. House sites often have gardens attached. For more than a century each farmer has registered all of his land holdings with the local government and has paid an annual land tax proportional to the amount of land and the quality of the soil. Government also registers nonfarm land for such purposes as a village site, public grazing, cremation ground or cemetery, temple site, roadway, or government forest.



Each village belongs to just one clan and commonly contains several lineages made up of numerous extended families. About a century ago a new Badaga Christian phratry emerged, which is now made up of numerous clans each following the usual rules of exogamy. A male always belongs to his father's extended family, lineage, clan, phratry, and village. This is also true of girls, but only up to a point: once they marry they usually move to a new village and are merged with the social units of their husbands. There are no family names, though lineages, clans, and phratries usually have names, and villages always do.


Badagas have a Dakota-type terminology. The cousin terminology is of the bifurcate-merging (Iroquois) type.



The favored marriage partner is a cross cousin, preferably a father's sister's daughter, or else a mother's brother's daughter. But other, more distant relatives are acceptable, provided clan exogamy is observed. Beyond this the Badagas have what are, for Hindus, some unusual regulations. Most remarkable perhaps is that hypogamy is as acceptable as hypergamy; marriages may occur between couples coming from certain clans of different status, yet in these cases it does not matter whether the groom is from the higher or the lower clan. Generation level is recognized as a distinguishing feature of men alone; women may change their generation levels if they marry successive husbands belonging to different generations. It is even theoretically possible for a man to marry a woman and her daughter and granddaughter simultaneously, provided he does not thereby marry his own offspring. All three wives would thus attain the generation level of their cohusband. Gerontogamy-old men taking young wives-is not at all uncommo n. Although a dowry has become a requirement during the past few years, it is not a traditional part of the Badaga marriage arrangements. Instead a bride-wealth of up to 200 rupees was, and still is, paid by the groom's family. This sum does not purchase the girl but is payment for the ornaments she brings with her to the wedding, and hence it has increased over the years with the price of gold. Every Badaga village belongs to one particular clan or another and hence is exogamous: at marriage a bride has to leave her natal village and move to her husband's. Polygyny is acceptable, though not nearly as common as monogamy. The newly married couple always takes up residence in the husband's natal village, either under his father's roof in a patrilocal extended family, or in a new house built nearby. It is very common for them to sleep in a small room built on the veranda of the father's house until the first child comes, when they make arrangements to get their own house. Although a young wife may repeatedly vis it her own parents for short periods, especially to give birth, the married couple never live with them. Divorce and remarriage are easy for men, even for women, and are acceptable practices. Widows can remarry without adverse comment. Divorce is quite common, with the children and all property belonging to the husband.


Both nuclear and extended families occur, but the small size of the houses places restrictions on large extended families. They usually split up once the patriarch of the family has died. A nuclear family may often include a mother or close collateral relative who is widowed. Although household servants are now rare, until about fifty years ago there were indentured children from poor Badaga homes working as domestic serfs.


Property is impartible until the owner's death, and then the land can be divided equally between his male heirs, normally his sons. Although an agreement on the partition of the land may be written down and signed by the beneficiaries, there are still many disputes over the inheritance of land. The general principles of inheritance are: male heirs should divide the land and cattle equally among themselves, or, alternatively, they should maintain them as a joint property if they continue to be a joint household; females do not inherit anything; and the family's home goes to the youngest brother among the heris. This latter practice of ultimogeniture allows the widowed mother of those heirs to be housed and cared for by a younger and hopefully vigorous son. If a wealthy man leaves other houses too, these are divided up among his other sons. In poorer families the house is somehow partitioned among the sons and their wives, but the youngest son is nonetheless the owner and has to be compensated by them for the s pace they use. Headmanship of a village or group of villages is hereditary, and it passes from one incumbent (before or after his death) to his brother and then to the eldest son of the deceased man. Some household articles or money may be given to a wife or daughters by a dying man, at his request.


Babies are breast-fed for a year, then weaned on solid food; in fact they begin eating boiled rice at 3 to 5 months. For about a century children have gone to local schools, from the age of 6. Younger children usually stay near home during the day, even though their parents may be out working in the fields. Grandparents and other elders stay in the village to mind and educate the small children. In later years the children help with housework and cultivation when needed and when school obligations permit. The main childhood ceremonies are naming (before the fortieth day), head shaving, ear boring, starting at school, nostril piercing, milking initiation (for boys at age 7 or 9), and girls' puberty rites. Tattooing (formerly done on girls) is no longer practiced.



India is a constitutional and democratic republic, and the Badagas have been involved in electing representatives to the state legislature since 1924. But their own traditional sociopolitical organization also is still alive.

The community is divided into a number of phratries. It is not correct to call these units subcastes, for they are not altogether endogamous and they have no forms of occupational specialization. They are like subcastes, however, in that they form a hierarchy, with the conservative Lingayat group, the Wodeyas, at the top and the headmen's official servants, the Toreyas, at the bottom. Between these two extremes there are one phratry of vegetarians and three phratries of meat eaters. It is arguable that meat eaters and vegetarians constitute two moieties. The Christian Badagas, started by the first Protestant conversion in 1858, now constitute a separate meat-eating phratry ranked below the Toreyas but respected for their progressive habits. Each phratry is made up of several exogamous clans: two each in the case of Toreyas, Bedas, and Kumbaras, three in the case of Wodeyas, and more in the other cases.


Traditionally Badagas lived in a chiefdom, and they are still under a paramount chief. This is a hereditary position always held by the headman of Tuneri village. Below him are four regional headmen, each in charge of all Badaga and Kota villages within one quarter (NADU) of the Nilgiri Plateau. At the most local level a village has its own headman, and several neighboring villages (any number up to thirty-three) constitute a commune. Each commune takes its name from its leading village; its headman is also the commune headman.


The Badaga council system still has some influence, although its judicial authority has been greatly undermined by modern courts of law and the Indian legal system. Each headman has his own council, made up in the case of communes by the constituent village headmen; the regional council is made up of the commune headmen; and the paramount chief's council, rarely called together, consists of all the headmen from all levels. The legal procedure requires that a dispute or crime be considered first by the hamlet council-with the headman's judgment being final-but a decision can be appealed up through the hierarchy of councils. Major land disputes and cases of murder formerly would be brought to the paramount chief after consideration by councils at a lower level. In early times the headmen could dictate severe punishments, including ostracism and hanging. Today the headmen are mainly involved in small disputes and in ceremonial duties, and the district magistrate's court handles more serious cases.


Although intervillage feuding and factionalism are still common, and the massacring of supposed Kurumba sorcerers sometimes occurred in the last century, warfare as such was unknown between the Nilgiri peoples in pre-British days, although it often occurred on the adjacent plains of south India. Badagas have no offensive weapons, only the nets and spears that were once used in hunting. A few now own shotguns for the same purpose.



Except for perhaps 2,500 Christians (Protestants and Roman Catholics in similar proportions, converts since 1858), all Badagas are Hindus of the Shaivite persuasion. A sizable minority are however of the Lingayat sect, which is almost confined to Karnataka State (formerly Mysore). This is a medieval sect, which adopted Shiva as its only deity and which still worships him through a phallic symbol, the linga. Among Badagas the sect is represented in the entire membership of several clans, namely Adikiri, Kanakka, Kongaru, and the three which make up the Wodeya phratry. The Hindu Badagas, including these Lingayat clans, worship quite a number of gods, all of which are sometimes explained as "aspects" of Shiva. These include Mahalinga and Mariamma (the smallpox goddess), together with many deities unknown outside the Badaga community, among them the ancestral Hiriodea and his consort, Hette.


Most villages have two or three kinds of priest. In addition, the Lingayat clans have gurus to perform their special life-cycle rituals, and various Christian missionaries, priests, and nuns work in the villages too. Men of Woderu clan, one of the three clans of the high-ranking Wodeya phratry, function as village priests for all non-Lingayat villages. The position is hereditary and usually life-long. All Wodeyas are vegetarian and form an endogamous unit, thus maintaining the high standards of purity expected of priests. The Haruva clan, some of whom claim descent from Brahmans, are a non-Lingayat group who also supply some hereditary priests (even though it is widely felt that the claim to Brahman descent is unsubstantiated). In addition some villages have an accessory priest from a Kurumba tribe who, like the other two sorts of priest, helps in the performance of a few annual ceremonies. Haruva priests usually perform regular temple worship and also the life-cycle ceremonies for individual families. All pr iests are traditionally paid through a levy of grain or other produce from each house in the village they serve. There is no hierarchy of the priesthood, except that the Lingayat gurus, spiritual advisers who perform life-cycle rituals, do belong at the lowest level in a nationwide Lingayat hierarchy. Because menstruation is considered an impurity, women never serve as priests. Some however become possessed during ceremonies and speak for the gods. A few men exorcise ghosts, although this service is often performed for the afflicted by non-Badaga exorcists and charm makers (mantravadis).


Each village celebrates about a dozen festivals during the year. The most important are Dodda Habba, "Great Festival," which begins the agricultural year in November, and Deva Habba, "God Festival," which celebrates the harvest in July. Mari Habba is intended to keep smallpox away for the year and is celebrated in a few villages by a fire-walking ceremony in which the devotees walk unscathed across glowing charcoal with no protection for their feet. Life transitions are marked by ceremonies, including those mentioned above associated with child rearing, weddings, and funerals. On rare occasions each Badaga commune used to hold a huge memorial ceremony (manevale) in honor of a whole generation of the dead, once the last member of it had passed away. This ceremony was last performed in 1936.


While the verbal arts are highly developed in the forms of sung epic poetry, tales, proverbs, and riddles, no visual arts are practiced at all. Even embroidery for Badaga shawls is done by women of the Toda tribe.


Over the centuries the Badagas have developed their own folk medicine: its practice is largely in the hands of women, and it depends heavily on mixtures of local herbs. Spells are relatively unimportant in curing, though crucial in ghost exorcism.


The funeral is the most important of life-cycle ceremonies and the only one to be conducted by the village and its headman rather than by one's own family. Its ritual can last for a total of 11 days, culminating in the release of the soul from the village environment.


Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

There are ten documents in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography Badaga file, eight are written by Paul Hockings, whose fieldwork covers a thirty-year span (1962-1994) and cover the period from 1550 to 1990. Two early sources (Thurston 1909, document no. 1; Sastri 1891-1892, no. 9) round out the file and provide overviews of selected aspects of Badaga society and culture. Hockings's three major works are his dissertation on Badaga sociocultural change (Hockings 1965 (1989), no. 5), a social history (Hockings 1980a, no. 2) and a demography (Hockings 1999, no. 11). He wrote shorter pieces on a salt giving ritual (Hockings 1968, no. 3), folk medicine (Hockings 1980b, no. 4), origin folk tale (Hockings 1987, no. 7), kinship (Hockings 1982, no. 8), and funerary rites (Hockings 2001, no. 10). Hockings is a solid ethnographer in th e British Social Anthropology school tradition and covers Badaga culture from the first contact with Europeans in the early 1800s up to the 1995. His strengths are a thorough analysis of social organization and structure, including kinship, marriage and their associated rituals.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article, "Badaga," by Paul Hockings. In Paul Hockings (Ed.), Encyclopedia Of World Cultures, Vol. 3. 1992. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. John Beierle wrote the indexing notes and SYNOPSIS in April, 2004.