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People of Ooty

People of Ooty

The people of Ooty totals to a population of 762,141 residents according to a survey of 2001 with 59.65% of urban dwellings. The literacy rate of Ooty is 81.44%, considered as one of the highest in the State of Tamil Nadu.

The indigenous People of Ooty constitute of several tribes residing in the Nilgiris Hills of unknown origin, however, the recognised tribes are the Paniya tribes, the Badaga people and the most prominent tribes known as the Todas whose livelihood mainly relies on cattle rearing and are famous for their traditional silver jewelry and red, white and black embroidered shawls, a must buy during your visit to Ooty.

The Toda people are a small idyllic tribal community who reside on the isolated plateaus of the Nilgiris Hills of South India. Prior to the late 18th Century, the Todas were considered at the top hierarchy amongst other tribes who locally coexisted in a caste-like community with the Todas which included the Badaga, Kuruba and Kota people.

The Todas dominated the region of Ooty and its surrounding areas with a population of 700 to 900 people that existed during the past century. Despite being an insignificant fraction of a large population in Tamil Nadu, the Todas managed to attract a lot of attention since the late 18th Century owing to their ethnological deviation that exhibited a distinct character different from their neighbours in terms of their manners, customs and appearance.

Traditionally, the Todas reside in settlements that constitute of 3 to 7 small thatched huts that are shaped as half barrels known as 'Mundus' and are scattered across the slopes of the pastureland. The Todas trade dairy products with their neighbours and their religion centres on the buffalo. Adherance to Rituals is a must for all dairy activities and especially when dairymen priests are ordained.

The Toda society follows the fraternal polyandry tradition which today, has been largely abandoned. The Todas also lost some of their pastureland owing to the introduction of Agriculture and Afforestation by the Tamil Nadu State Government during the 20th Century which threatened to sabotage the Toda buffalo herding culture. However, since the last decade, both the Toda society and their culture have been a focal point with efforts made to restore their culturally sensitive environment. Today, the Toda lands form a part of the International UNESCO-designated, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, and are still under the selection process of being transformed into a World Heritage Site.

The dominant language of the People of Ooty is Tamil followed by other regional languages that are spoken such as English, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. 'Toda' is the language spoken by the Toda Tribes and 'Kota' is spoken by the Kota Tribes respectively. The Badaga OBC community population of around 250,000 people speaks the Badaga language which is similar to Kannada. This similarity suggests that the Badaga people are ancestrally linked to the people of Karnataka and there is a mention of a folklore that states that the Bagadas had once migrated from Mysore ages ago.

The Paniya Tribe resides on the western parts of the Nilgiris District and speaks the Paniya language. According to the 2001 Census, Hindus dominate the population of the Paniya tribes constituting 78.60% of the majority population followed by Christians constituting of 11.45% of the total population, Muslims forming 9.55% and others forming 0.4% of the total population.

There is a mention of the Nilgiri hills in the Ramayana of Valmiki that was estimated to have been recorded in the 2nd Century BCE; however, these Blue Mountains were not discovered until 1602 when the Europeans visited this region. It was during the 17th Century when the first European set foot into the Nilgiri forests. This region was later explored by a Portuguese priest named Rev. Ferreiri who was the only foreigner to successfully traverse through the mountain ranges during when he met the Toda Tribes. In fact, the Europeans who visited India seemed to have ignored the natural beauty of these stunning Western Ghats for some 200 years or more.

It was not until the 1800s when an Englishman decided to survey the Nilgiris but was not successful. In 1810, the East India Company decided to explore the Nilgiris Forests but failed. Francis Buchanan, an Englishman also failed in his expedition to traverse through these hills. Later, John Sullivan who was then the Collector of Coimbatore sent two surveyors named Mr. Keys and Mr. MacMohan to study the hills and they reached to as far as the lower level of Ooty. Despite the fact that they failed to notice the plateaus of Ooty, they were in fact the first two Englishmen to manage this far with exploring the Nilgiris and their mission was significant enough that led to the complete discovery of Ooty and its magnificent area.

The original discovery of Ooty and the people of Ooty can be attributed to J. C. Whish and N. W. Kindersley, who were then working for the Madras Civil Service. They visited Ooty in 1819 and reported to their superiors, the discovery of a plateau that exhibited a European climate apt for development and transformation into a summer hill resort.

Later, John Sullivan settled in Ooty and built his residence here. He reported to the Madras Government that Ooty was perfect in its climatic conditions and weather and soon Europeans began to settle in this region using their houses as holiday homes for summer stays. This attributed to a change in the cultural diversity of the people of Ooty and soon the complete valley was transformed into a summer hill resort.

Government offices were shifted to Ooty from where they functioned during the summer months and towards the end of the 19th Century, the Nilgiri hills became completely accessible after roads and the Nilgiri Railway Line was laid and this caused many people from different states to access Ooty and settle down that also contributed to the diverse positive change in the character of people in Ooty.