Toda Tribe

Context: A fashion label collaborates with the reclusive Toda tribe of The Nilgiris to celebrate ethnic motifs and embroidery

  • These tribals in the Nilgiris are working with the fashion brand on their famous Toda embroidery, which has been awarded the GI tag.
  • A Dravidian ethnic group of the Nilgiris, the Toda people live in small huts made with bamboo and mud called munds.
  • There are currently about 2,000-odd Todas living in the district.


  • Todas, a tribal group in the higher altitudes of the Nilgiris, settled there 3,500-4,000 years ago when a climate change occurred in southern India.
  • This buffalo-tending pastoral community is widely believed to be the earliest people to move into the upper Nilgiri plateau perhaps during the 1st century AD.
  • It remained relatively isolated, until ‘discovered’ during the early 19th century by the erstwhile British administration. 
  • The Toda people are living only on the upper plateau of the Nilgiri hills with an average elevation of 2300 ft. at the junction of the Eastern and the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu State of India.
  • It has been inferred that the Toda people are not aborigines, but came probably as conquerors or immigrants from the sea.
  • Of all the tribes of South India, the Todas of the Nilgiris remain as the most widely studied ethnic group till date, owing to its
  1. unique physical characteristics (such as tall stature, fair complexion, pointed and long nose), 
  2. culture traits (such as half-barrel shaped huts, buffalo-centred culture, Lacto-vegetarianism, weaving of embroidered shawl, the putkuli) and linguistic features (Toda language has characteristics of proto-Dravidian language).
  • Toda lands are part of The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-designated International Biosphere Reserve and their territory has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Todas mostly have a large herd of buffaloes. Their livelihood is mainly by producing milk products.
  • And they are also experts in silver-smith works. This tribe lives in munds, which consist of five buildings or huts, out of which they use three as dwellings, one as a dairy and the other as a shelter for the calves at night.
  • Todas have believed that they were the descendants of the Pandavas. True to that belief, they follow polyandry (polygamy in which a woman has more than one husband)
  • Toda tribes are vegetarians. People do not eat meat, eggs that can hatch (fertilised eggs) and fish but some villagers eat fish. They make Buffalo milk into butter, buttermilk, yoghurt, cheese and drink it plain. Rice is the main food which is eaten with dairy and curries.

Puthukuli – An embroidery art practiced by the Toda tribes

  • Todas can be easily identified with their dressing style.  Toda Tribe dress consists of a single piece of cloth for both men and women.
  • These shawls are adorned with the Toda embroidery, called Poothkuli or Puthukuli. 
  • The style of work is called Pugur in the Toda language (meaning flower) using red and black threads on a white background giving a rich effect.
  • Todas generally create their tattoo motifs and patterns using these threads. A piece of white fabric is beautifully enriched with rich red and black motifs.
  • Poothukuli holds a very important role in their festivals and funerals.

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