Toda Huts: The homes of the Toda tribe

Toda tribe, in the Nilgiri hills of northwest Tamil Nadu in India, a small rural tribal community. They traditionally live in small hamlets called mund (village) composed of about ten half-barrel shaped huts.

One of the huts is used exclusively for cattle, another is a storage room, and the rest are family dwellings. Toda settlements do not have any enclosed barriers, gates, or fences.

The structures are dispersed across the slopes of the pasture on which the Toda people keep domestic buffalo.

Photograph of a Toda mund (hamlet) and barrel-vaulted houses in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu, 1869.

Toda huts are a curious construction with a complete absence of windows. They are rectangular in plan, with a barrel-vaulted roof that reaches down to the ground.

They are 3m high, 5.5m long, and 2.7m wide. The entrance of the hut is rather small (about 90cm in height and width), to protect the family from the weather and wild animals.

Each Toda hut is constructed from bamboo that is fastened with rattan and thatched. Thicker bamboo canes are arched to give the roof its bent shape.

Over this frame, thinner bamboo canes are tied in pairs running parallel to each other. Dried grass is used for the thatched exterior. The front and rear sides of the Toda hut are made usually of granite or dressed stone.

The front portion of the hut is decorated with the Toda art forms, a kind of rock mural painting.

The hut of a Toda Tribe of Nilgiris, India. Note the decoration on the front wall and the very small door Pratheep P S CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Toda place of worship amongst the Shola Forests in the Nilgiris. Pratheep P S CC BY-SA 3.0

The interior of the hut is windowless and dark and consists of a single space. A raised earthen platform about 45-60cm high is used as a sitting and sleeping place.

On the other side of the hut is the cooking area. A small hole sunk into the ground, approximately in the center of the house, divides the space into pure and impure areas.

The structure has no chimney; smoke from the fire left the house through its thatched roof.

Toda Tribal Hut, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.Pratheep P S CC BY-SA 3.0

 

A Toda hut at the village complex in the Crafts Museum, New Delhi, India

There are two types of Toda temples called paluvarsh and poovarsh. The paluvarsh type is similar in appearance and construction to typical Toda huts.

The other type of temple called poovarsh is cylindrical with a long, conical roof. These structures are used to store sacred buffalo milk and are considered more sacred than the paluvarsh.

The major Toda festivities are conducted in and around poovarsh, and only priests are allowed to enter.

A Toda temple on Muthunadu Mund near Ooty, India. Pratheep P S CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Cathedral of Todas in the 1900s

The interaction with other peoples has caused a major change in Toda culture and lifestyle. Many of them have replaced the traditional huts with houses made of concrete.

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However, since the early 21st century, the Toda culture has been the focus of an international effort for environmental restoration. A movement developed to build the traditional barrel-shaped huts. Around forty new huts were built and many sacred Toda dairies were renovated.