A misty morning at Muthanad Mund, the fountainhead of the Todas, one of the earliest tribes in the Nilgiris

The icy cold winds rush against my face and I hold onto my rain jacket tightly. And, there is rain. Buckets of it. Through the sheets, a conical temple comes into the view. We are at Muthanad Mund, nine km off Ooty, the motherland from where the Todas are believed to have originated.

The outing turns out to be a date with the history of the Todas, one of the earliest tribes of The Nilgiris. On that misty morning, accompanied by members of the Nilgiris Adivasi Welfare Association (NAWA) R. Jagadeesan and S. Malli of Sangamam Toda Women Federation, we set off to the Toda Mund. A short drive on the Ooty-Mysore Road gets us to Thalakundah, from where Muthanad Mund is just a stone’s throw away. The Todas are at work at the potato farms. A herd of buffaloes graze lazily in the meadows and a patch of red soil that intersperses the greenery is being readied for carrot farming. Life is serene at Muthanad Mund.

The temple, a common worship place of a cluster of Toda Munds, stands tall at 15 feet and is an architectural wonder. Built with bamboo planks that are latched together at intervals by a spiral of cane, it has a patchwork on top with aufful grass in a receding pattern. “The slowly receding conical structure is akin to the engineering marvel of the Tanjore temple,” says Dr. C. Maheswaran, director of the Tribal Research Centre in Ooty. Author W.H.R. Reverse in his book The Todas discusses the structural stability of the temple which dates back to several thousand years and is as old as the Todas.

While a parabolic half-barrel shaped structure or the milk temple is prevalent in every hamlet, the conical one is found only in Muthanad Mund and Taranad Mund in Ooty. The temples are constructed at a sunken place from the slope, and the temple priest has to crawl on all fours to enter the temple. “They saw the rainbow and built this,” says Mohan Kud, a football player who has represented the Todas at National Football Championships for tribals. “It’s a sacred mund because we believe our female deity ‘Thekirzi amman’ created the clan and played about in the grounds here with her 12 children.” He retraces the history as we sip piping hot coffee at his home. S. Malli, a Toda woman, and Jayamuthu, both clad in ‘Poothukuli’ (the Toda shawl) join us and discuss the intricate Toda embroidery, which has recently won a GI certification. (“Sangamam has 400 Toda women engaged in embroidery, all we need is a permanent Culture and Marketing complex to sell our work”, says Jayamuthu).

The Toda population in The Nilgiris is estimated to be around 1500. “In 1881, there were 125 munds according to an assessment of the British. Now, 65 munds are fully occupied and the remaining used for agricultural purposes,” says M. Alwas, honorary secretary of NAWA who is also a Toda.

Muthanad Mund is significant for ‘Mudhpirthth’, an annul congregation of the Todas. “Every mund makes an offering of Re. 1 for every male in the family. We have 15 distinct clans, which belong to the ‘Thevileoll’ sect and ‘Thortazoll’ sect. ‘Oll’ refers to atkal or people. We begin our day with a salutation to the Sun. At sunset, we praise Nature. The traditions still continue. We still have the annual salt festival especially for the buffaloes— Paniuppu in winter and Koruppu in the summer.”

There is no idol worship and the ritual paraphernalia comprises a few earthen vessels and bamboo receptacles to store milk, curd, butter and ghee. From time immemorial, Todas have lived in these huts shaped like a rainbow, to tackle the wind velocity at high altitudes. Gradually however, traditional Toda homes are giving way to modern concrete dwellings.

Toda culture is buffalo-centred and the prosperity of each mund is judged by the number of wild buffaloes each one owns. The buffalo motif is every where. Stones at the temple bear the motifs of buffalo head, the crescent, sun and the stars. Every mund has a buffalo shed or Thoovarsh, a circularly large open space. The kodarsh is a small shed for the new born calves of the temple buffaloes. Todas also believe in re-incarnation, and follow an elaborate funeral ceremony, which involves the slaughter of buffaloes.

Every 10 years, they renovate the temple with the fresh supply of grass, bamboo and cane. They trek to Upper Bhavani or Avalanche swamps to get the aufful grass. It is considered a community activity and the entire village participates. And, the festivities begin.

Getting there

From Ooty, take the Ooty-Mysore Road to reach Thalakundah. Drive past the Kandhal Mund (first Toda graduate Vasamalli lives here), the chocolate museum and HPF. At Thalakundah, take the Gudalur Road. You can either drive or trek the elevation and reach Muthanad Mund in a few minutes. To know more, call NAWA office at 04266-271596/ 271576.

What Not To Miss

Visit the various Toda munds. Learn about the Toda tradition and culture, which is very unique.

Places to stay

There are plenty of hotels in Ooty.