The Toda People, Their Marriage And Kinship Analysis Of Todas

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The Toda people assign a small pastoral community that live on the remote Nilgiri plateau of Southern India. Preceding to the late 18th century, the Toda close by with other communities, including the Badaga, Kota, and Kurumba, in a loose caste-like community organization. The Toda detained the top ranking among those communities (Facts and Details, June, 2015, para. 1).

The Toda population has hovered in the series 700 to 900 during the last century. Even though an irrelevant fraction of the large population of India, the Toda have fascinated, since the late 18th century, “a most disproportionate amount of attention because of their ethnological aberrancy” and their variation to their neighbors in physiology, manners, and customs (New World Encyclopaedia, December 10, 2015, para. 1).

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Toda Tribe is the most primordial and unusual tribe of Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. The Todas have their own language and their own enigmatic customs and regulations. Todas worship nature in the form of hill gods like Lord Amodr (the realm of the dead) and Goddess Teikirzi. This Tribe residing in the southern part of India is a small countrified community who worship buffalos and have dairymen who are priests of the tribe.

Todas are underdeveloped as compared to the other tribes residing around them. They are considered to be a tribe which branched off from the southern Dravidians and cut themselves away a long time back. Their traceable communication with the outer world lies in the similarities they share with another tribe of the region known as Kota. They are an interesting lot with their own bunch of traditional quirks and customs .The Ooty Tourism Board has never actively promoted them, but one must add a visit to a Toda village to your list of places to visit in Ooty (Real Bharat, July 30, 2015, para.1).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Todas is that no one really know how they got here or where they came from. It has been inferred that the Toda people are not aborigines, but came probably as conquerors or immigrants from the sea. The earliest record of the Todas is a manuscript written by a Portuguese priest named Finicio after his two day’s stay in the Nilgiri hills in the year 1602. Since then, up to the English occupation of 1812, there is no documented information relating to this tribe (We Are Holidays, March 15, 2013, para. 2).

The Todas of today believe that they have always been on the Nilgiri hills. They speak a distinctive dialect which is not a blend of other language. Toda and Kota tribes have shared genes which separate them from the other Nilgiri Hill Tribes and share their closest affinity to the Greek Cypriots (We Are Holidays, March 15, 2013, para. 2).


Traditionally, Todas do not entertain inter-caste or inter-religion marriage. However, it was found that about 27.15% and 13.19% of the younger generation of Todas are of the opinion that the inter-religion and inter-caste marriages should be accepted . Initially, the Todas used to take bride price but now-a-days the bridegroom family insists on gold ornaments, house wares etc. as dowry or bride price. Also, at the same time 77% of the Todas agree to take and give dowry. (Lawctopus. August 21, 2014, para. 6)

The marriage regulation of the Todas is otherwise very peculiar. The Todas adopted polyandry system of marriage but due to increasing education, information and awareness, they prefer monogamy system of marriage. A study found that 99.34% of the marriages in the Todas were arranged by negotiation and only one love marriage was reported. There is a strict prevention of marriage between Tartharol and Teivaliol clans of Todas because these groups are endogamous.

The data supports that among the married couples, around 97% of them say that their married life is happy and they are leading a peaceful life. Toda marriages are something very unique because their marriage takes place only after the bride conceives the baby of her husband. Marriages are negotiated and initiated usually before the partners are 2 or 3 years old and are completed at maturity, when the husband takes his wife from her home to his own hamlet. The bride after marriage stays with her husband for a month or two and then goes to her parents place. And when she becomes pregnant, a joint ceremony takes place called bow and arrow ceremony. The groom goes to the forest and makes a bow and arrow from the tender stems of the tree and presents it to his bride. If the bride accepts it, that confirms that the baby in her womb is his and she accepts him as her husband.

Also, a mother’s brother’s daughter or father’s sister’s daughter is incorporated into the patrician of a male, who is thereafter considered her husband whether or not they live together. The ceremony organized at the beginning of the seventh month of pregnancy is marked by traditional dance and songs by members within the clan wearing colourful shawls. Toda tribes residing in the interior forests near state’s Udagamandalam area have been practicing the traditional marriages style where celebrations take place not at the time of marriage but when the bride is pregnant. According to another tradition, the bride after marriage stays with her parents place and when she becomes pregnant, a joint ceremony takes place called the bow and arrow ceremony. Moreover, if the bride accepts the bow and arrow gifted to her by the husband that confirms that the baby in her womb is his and she accepts him as her husband (Countries and their Culture, 2018).

When a man wishes to arrange a marriage for his son, he chooses a suitable girl, who should be, and very often is, the matchuni of the boy, the daughter of his mother’s brother or of his father’s sister. The father visits the parents of the girl and if the marriage is satisfactorily arranged, he returns home after staying for the night at the village. A few days later, the father takes the boy to the home of his intended wife. They take with them the loin-cloth called tadrp as a wedding gift and the boy performs the kahnelpidithi, salutation to the father and mother of the girl, and also to her brothers, both older and younger than himself and then gives the tadrap to the girl. The father and son return home on the following morning. Sometimes, the girl returns with them to the village of her future husband, but much more commonly, she remains at her own home till she is fifteen or sixteen years of age. If a man has not been married in childhood, he may undertake the arrangement of his marriage himself and visit the parents of the girl unaccompanied by his father, and in this case the girl may at once join her husband if she is old enough (Wikisource, December 9, 2013, para. 1).

From the time of the child-marriage, the boy has to give a tadrp twice a year until the girl turns ten years old. The tadrp which is given at first is very small, worth perhaps only four annas, but as the girl becomes older it is expected that the garment shall become larger and more valuable. If any member of the girl’s family should die, it is expected that the boy’s family shall, on each occasion, give them a sum of eight annas or a rupee. This gift is called tinkanik panni litpimi or “we give a piece of money to the purse”. Formerly the boy’s family also had to contribute one of the buffaloes killed at the funeral, but this custom is now obsolete. The contribution of buffaloes and money from the boy to his parent-in-law is called podri. The boy has to take part in a ceremony at the funeral in which a cloth is laid on the dead body, and with this ceremony there is associated a further gift of one rupee paid to the relatives of the dead person by the family of the boy who has married into the family of the deceased (Wikis, January 14, 2010, para 3).

Certain ceremonies are performed shortly before the girl reaches the age of puberty. One is called puttkuli tazar utiti or “mantle over he puts” in which a man belonging to the Tartharol if the girl is Teivali, and to the Teivaliol if she is Tarthar, comes in the day time to the village of the girl and lying down beside her puts his mantle over her so that it covers both and remains there for a few minutes. Fourteen or fifteen days later a man of strong physique, who may belong to either division and to any clan, except that of the girl, comes and stays in the village for one night and has intercourse with the girl. It might be a subject of reproach and abuse for the remainder of the women’s life and it is even said that men might refuse to marry her if this ceremony had not been performed at the proper time (Wikisource, December 9, 2013, para. 6).

In 1871, four percent of the entire Toda population had syphilis. Under Toda polyandry, women married brothers, and the first child born is going to be the oldest brother, the second child the second oldest and so on. The first husband It is usually some years later, when the girl is about fifteen or sixteen, that she joins her husband and goes to live with him in his village. The parents of the husband announce that they will fetch the girl on a certain day, which must be one of two or three days of the week; different for each clan. The husband, accompanied by his father and a male relative of the same clan, goes to the village of the girl, and the three are feasted with rice and jaggery. The husband puts five rupees into the pocket of the girl’s mantle and then takes her home. If the boy does not wish to live with the girl when the time arrives, he may annul the marriage by giving one buffalo as a fine ( kwadi) to the girl’s parents but on the other hand, the parents of the girl have to return as many buffaloes as he may have given as pidri at funeral ceremonies. If the girl refuses to join her husband, the fine is heavier, and at the present time usually amounts to five or ten buffaloes, the number being settled by a council according to the circumstances of the people. The girl’s family must also return any buffaloes given as podri. According to Harkness, the fines were in his day were much heavier, i.e. three buffaloes when the men annulled the marriage, and as many as fifty when this was done by the women and the Todas admit that the fine for refusing to fulfill the marriage contract is now lighter than it used to be (Wikisource, December 09, 2013).


Toda practiced polyandry in the old days because there was a shortage of the women. A woman took several husbands as opposed to polygyny (where a man has several wives). According to anthropologists, the Nilgiri Hills and the Himalayas are the only places on the earth where polyandry has been practiced. One of the problems with polyandry is that it leads to an increase in was usually a cousin picked out for the bride when she was three-years-old. Once she was an adult she could choose her own additional husband. Men were expected to bring gifts to the marriage: a shawl the first year, gold the second and a buffalo the third year. Often times, the father of a child was not known and a special ceremony was held in which the woman selected one of her husbands to care for the child even though he might not be the natural father. The ceremony was conducted at night and the selected “father” gave the pregnant mother a bow and arrow, symbolizing his willingness to care for the child. Polygamy was also practiced. Some wealthy Toda men took a second or even third wife (Facts and Details, June, 2015, para. 6).

According to the traditional Toda practice, a woman in a polyandrous union was the shared spouse of a set of brothers with whom she lived in a common home. But today, as with female infanticide, polyandry no longer exists among the Todas. Another custom that arose from the shortage of women was the institution of “marriage by capture”. This allowed men to take the wives of other men if they paid a compensation of buffalo to the former husband. Polyandry, polygamy and “marriage by capture” are rarely practiced anymore (Facts and Details, June, 2015).

In polygamous institutions, children of different mothers but the same social fathers are brothers and sisters, and intercourse between them would be “vile incest”. In his (or her) quaint language, the web author writes: “The birth of a child is in no way connected with togetherness” (Frontline, March 12, 2004).

Social paternity, on the other hand, was (and remains) of crucial importance for without it an individual has no social, economic or religious status in the Toda society. Such paternity is bestowed, as the web-author correctly observes, through the ritual that the offering by a male (man or boy) of a symbolic bow and arrow to the pregnant women, representing his acceptance of the fruit of her womb. But this is not a Toda marriage ceremony, as it is suggested. Marriage occurs in infancy, because of ritual requirements that no Toda should die unwed and it is entirely wrong that “a boy selects a girl and lives with her in her parents’ home” (Frontline, March 12, 2004, para. 8).


The Toda mainly follow the classificatory system of kinship terminology. A single term is used to designate a number of relatives of the same rank and sex. Cross-cousins and the spouses are called by a common term of address. The term ‘father’ is applied to all male relatives of father’s status. The members of his own clan are not the only kin whom a man is not allowed to marry. The Todas have a general term pillol for those relatives whose intermarriage is prohibited. The term is applied by a man not only to the woman whom he may not marry, but also to the families in general into which he may not marry. This, however, is only a loose way of using the word and putting on one side this sense with which the word may be used, the following are the pillol of a man:

  • The daughters of his father’s brothers, whom he would call akka or enda.
  • The daughters of his mother’s sisters, also akka or enda.
  • The sisters of his father and conversely the daughters of his sisters, ie.,his mumi and his wankugh.
  • The daughters of the sisters of his father’s father, i.e., of the sisters of pian (Important India, 2018, para. 4).

Kinship system is also seen as a method of organising marriage relations between groups. Through marriage, a female is recruited as wife, as a daughter-in-law and so on through her marriage into another group and a male through his marriage is recruited as husband, son-in-law of his wife’s parents’ group. The kinship group’s alliances, thus, are transacted through marriage. The members of the family are linked with one another by kinship bonds based on blood relationships with only the exception of a husband and a wife who are bound by marriage. Every member of the family behaves and expects others to behave in particular way, as sanctioned by social norms. This behaviour pattern is learned by an individual through the socialization process. The mutual expectations in the family are based on kinship ties. A kinship system is not an unorganized aggregation of individuals. In fact, it is a system in which the relations between individuals in the family and between families are organized (Your Article Library, para. 1).

Kinship bonds are very strong and considerably expanded in tribal societies and also in rural communities. Along with modernization, technological development, the kinship system has shrunk and has got circumscribed to only ‘not so distant relatives’. Studies of kinship system have been done, largely by social anthropologists and only a few of them by the sociologists. The names of some important anthropologists associated with studies of kinship are: Rivers, Kroeber, Lowie, Radcliffe-Brown and Irawati Karve (Your Article Library, para. 28).

The kinship is helpful to study the means of genealogies. The Toda are having a well-planned kinship which has gotten some interesting features also. The most important feature is the use of the same terms for mother’s brother and father-in-law on one hand but on the other for father’s sister and mother in law. The important features of Todas is the system of existence of two well-marked groups of terms expressing bonds of kinship. One is with speaking of relatives and another one is speaking to relatives.

The following are the terminologies for the Toda Kinship. With regard to grandfather, they call it pian and it is used to refer to both paternal and maternal grandfathers and also their brothers. With regard to grandmother, they call it piau and it is for both paternal and maternal grandmothers. They address their fathers as in and mothers av. The son is called mokh, daughter kugh, grandson mokh pedvai mokh, granddaughter mojg pedvai kugh, elder brother an, brother of same age egal, younger brother nodrved , elder sister akkam, younger sister nodrvedkugh, mother’s brother and wife’s father mun, father’s sister and wife’s mother mumi, sister’s son mammokh, child of a mother’s brother and father’s sister matchuni, husband or for wife kotvai. The general name for the male relatives of wife is paiol and for son’s wife is motvilth. Another interesting point is that the Toda system has two set of kinship term, those used in direct address and those used when speaking of relatives who do not correspond closely with one another. This system distinguish widely between elder and younger members of the family and clan (Zigya, 2018, para.1).


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