Water and Culture

The local communities have a special relationship with water sources such as springs and wetlands. The Badaga settlements, known as hattys, mainly on hill tops, depended entirely on upper spring sources close to Shola forests and grasslands. This water is considered to be pure and the water sources are protected and worshiped once a year in a ritual called the Halla Paruva (Water Worship). This ritual is done prior to the North Eastern monsoon to receive abundant rainfall during the season.
In most Badaga villages, one finds that an underground source or Huttu (emerging) neeru (water) has been protected for drinking water. This is a sacred place – out of bounds for outsiders, thereby reducing the risk for external contamination. With changes in and non-availability of sufficient water from upper spring sources, Badagas have also had to depend on lower valley sources for their drinking water.

In the past, families used to maintain water channels from the source to the settlement by removing blockages and desilting. This community effort led to everyone taking responsibility for the water system. Today, this practice has been discontinued with the Government bringing in piped water and the water channels having become State-owned property. The management is different, with few salaried people doing all the work. The government water supply is often insufficient in summer; and the old Baavi is used then.

The buffalo is a leitmotif (guiding motif) in the secular and sacred lives of the Todas, a once pastoral community. Changes in the landscape have led to shrinking habitats for the buffalo for water and grass. According to one Toda elder, “The Nanjanad area was a zone of large swamps – almost 20-30 kms wide and so long that the crossing would take time. These areas had good clean water sources from springs and grass that our buffaloes fed on. Government policy introduced pine, wattle and blue gum and dried up the swamps. With dryness – the land developed cracks – and our buffaloes were unable to walk on these pasture lands with the risk of slipping inside the swamp mud”.

The Alu Kurumba are a forest dwelling tribal group who have moved as tea estate labourers towards road fringes over the last two decades. Many of them still frequent their homes within thick forests, where they cultivate annual crops such as coffee and jackfruit. The Alu Kurumba in Pudur Kombei village recall how their drinking water used to come in bamboo poles, used as pipes to bring in water from uphill mountain springs. Today, they find it more convenient to use PVC-pipes and plastic buckets for water supply. A similar practice by the Betta Kurumba from Vaacikolli village of Devarshola town panchayat is the use of banana leaves for collecting rain water from the rooftops. Their regular water supply is from a water hole nearby.
Wild willow or Baige tree – is a good indicator of water according to the Alukurumbas. They believe that their roots attract water and form springs in the vicinity. In Bellathi kombei village beyond Manjoor, the Alu Kurumbas dig holes for water near these trees.

In the village of Kurumba Medu near Yellamalai, the Bettakurumbas still practice the tradition of drawing water from a spring or a swamp. They do not fetch water from the wells as they consider it “dead” water. Though there is a well close to the village, nobody uses it. They go far down the valley for fetching water in vessels from the springs. In most parts of the district, the source of springs is a sacred place out of bounds for women due to menstrual taboos. However, in a Paniya village in Melambalam, it is a Moopathi – a lady priestess who does the ritual pooja to raise the water table of the well.

This traditional connect with the water sources has been eroded over time with the government and Panchayats taking over the responsibility of providing water to the villages and towns. With growing settlements and increasing demand for water resources, there is a disconnect with the resource base that provides it. There is a growing market for bottled or tanker water supply to meet this demand, but mining of water resources coupled with uncertain rainfall and minimal efforts to harvest it are making it unsustainable.

Source: Report of the Hill Waters and Livelihoods Project, Keystone Foundation

  • Local communities, tribal and non-tribal, have a rich tradition linked to water resources. These are also reflected in their folk stories. Some of these have been compiled and included in the Calendars brought out by Keystone Foundation over the years. You can find them below. Tribal Festivals Calendar - 2017 Badaga Stories Calendar - 2017 Do let us know what you think about these publications and share any stories that you may have. We will be happy to post them here.