A broad vista into the life and culture of the Todas, a primeval race of people living in the inner Nilgiris, secluded safely in the folds of the Western Ghats. This is what famous, dentist turned accomplished ecologist and botanical specialist, Dr Tarun Chhabra offered us in his day-long workshop at GSFS. His non-profit trust EBR - Edhkwehlynawd Botanical Refuge – is institutional in the ecological and cultural restoration of the Upper Nilgiris.
He took us back in time, exploring the Todas’ ways of life, pastoral culture and their intricate relationship with the environment. Dr Chhabra’s research and photography skills showcased his extraordinary documentation of the lives of the Todas and other tribes of the Nilgiris, such as the Irulas, Badagas, Kurumbas, Kotas and so on.
A Toda Temple at Mullimunth
Our knowledge of flowers, plants and trees are quite limited; but this practicing dentist showed us that there’s more to the flora and fauna of the Nilgiris, and the close-knit community living of the Todas. The tribals use specific plant species in their rites of passage, in the construction of their traditional dwellings and dairy-temples and even for denoting a person’s age, wisdom and anxiety levels accurately. They have also used the flowering cycles of plants to even denote the different stages of each season.
In the workshop, yesterday, we were witness to the artistic expressions of Mother Nature – photographs of the rare Cobra Lily and the family of Impatiens, which are endemic to the Upper Nilgiris. He also explained to us the seeming resemblance between various animals of the Nilgiris to those of the Himalayas. It was quite strange and left us wondering what had transpired eons ago.
We were awestruck to see how a dentist so passionately and meticulously documented decades of life of the Todas, especially their ecology and anthropology. The systematic planning and execution of his research transported into an ancient world, untouched by civilization and technology. It was an exotic presentation, and by the end of which, we were asking for more, having savoured the experience of communities living in harmony with nature, even in the 21st century.