Toda Huts, Ooty
Toda Huts in Ooty represent the original dwellings of the indigenous people of Ooty. Though we see Ooty as a thriving tourist destination, it was not always this vibrant and modernized. Ooty was once a sleepy quaint Hill Station that mainly flourished on cattle rearing, dairy produce and farming.
The Industrial Ooty city today was once an unknown village before the settlements of immigrants from other parts of South India. Ooty was literally non-existent in the map of India till about two centuries ago when the British established Ooty as their summer retreat.
Even before civilization entrapped Ooty, this region and the surrounding areas were inhabited by the indigenous tribes of the Western Ghats who still exist and are considered as a formidable part of Society and the local Ooty population. The Todas were the larger tribal population in Ooty amongst other tribal community such as the Badaga, Kota, and Kurumba Tribes. They are primarily pastoral folks who survive by cattle herding and dairy products as their prime source of livelihood and a little farming involved as well.
The Todas are a close-knitted tribal community mainly related to each other through marriages. They reside in small Toda Huts also referred to as Todas Hamlets with just as few as ten Huts within a single Toda community spread across the gentle slopes of the pastureland of Ooty. Of these 10 Huts, one Hut is used exclusively for the cattle to sleep in during the night, the second Hut is used as a storage warehouse while the rest of the Toda Huts are used as the dwelling places of the Toda family.
Toda Huts depicts a curious hamlet like structure with the complete absence of any windows. These Toda Huts are semi-barrel shaped and the entrance is rather very small. You need to literally bend and stoop forward to get inside a Toda Hut, however, once inside, you can stand upright with little comfort. The Todas are very religious and simple in their way of life, however today; their population is decreasing to just a few numbers owing to modern influences carried over by migrants of later generations who settled in Ooty in search of better lifestyle.
The Toda Huts are oval and confined in their shapes and construction style that generally measure 10 feet or 3 meters in height, 18 feet or 5.5 meter in length and 9 feet or 2.7 meters in width.
Each Toda Hut is constructed from bamboo that is fastened with rattan and thatched roofs and exterior made of dried grass stacked together tightly. Each Toda Hamlet is confined within a wall made of loose stones while the front and rear end of the Toda Huts are mostly made of granite or dressed stones.
Each Toda Hut features a tiny arch-shaped entrance measuring about 3 feet or 90 cm in height and width. This strange small entrance is made to protect the inhabitants from wild animal attacks. The foremost portion of the Toda Hut showcases rock mural paintings, a form of Toda art which is distinct in its own right. The Toda Huts are given the peculiar confined arch-shaped by using arched thicker bamboo canes to support the shape and keep the structure intact while the thinner bamboo canes are closely interwoven, parallel to each other, to support the entire frame of the hut and dried stacked grass is used for the thatched exterior.
Several Toda Huts put together form the Toda Village also known as Toda Munds wherein a dairy headman is chosen to perform the Tribal rituals and related activities. He resides within a Dairy Temple constructed like a cone that differs from the usual half-barrel shape of a Toda Hut to showcase it as a distinct site where only men can enter due to certain Toda customs and religious beliefs. The Toda Temple is decorated with motifs of the Sun, Moon, Serpent and the Head of a Buffalo, considered as a sacred animal by the Toda community.
The Botanical Gardens houses a few Toda Huts atop one of their higher terraced slopes where a few Toda Tribes still reside apart from other areas such as Kandal Mund situated near Old Ooty, where Toda settlements are still noticed.
Despite the fact that many Todas have abandoned their traditional and distinctive Toda Huts and have been replaced by modern houses, a government undertaking ensured that these traditional arch-shaped Toda Huts are constructed and over the last decade, you will notice 40 new Toda Huts fully established including several sacred Toda dairies that have been renovated and converted into Tourist attractions in Ooty.