Dr. Trun Chhabra, founder of Toda Nalaavazhvu Sangam (Toda Welfare Society) and Edhkwehlynawd Botanical Refuge, an amateur scholar of Anthropology and Ecology, freelancer, and dentist by training, spoke on the topic “Toda Landscape” on 15th January, 2022, under the Pre WAC-2023 Distinguished Invited Online Lecture Series organized by KISS Deemed to be University. Dr Chhabra’s book The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology, Harvard University Press, 2015, is a glowing testimony of his scholarship.
In his talk, Dr. Chhabra mentioned about the Todas as a very small ethnic group of people numbering not more than 1500 and inhabiting the upper Nilgiri hills region. Toda society is structurally endogamous and has a peculiarly dual system of both patriarchy and matriarchy. Toda people speak a language with a complex phonetic system. They are vegetarian, pacifist and non-materialist. Through a fascinating slide show, Dr. Chhabra drew his audience into the picturesque prehistoric world of the Todas among mountains and Neolithic stone circles, dolmens, cists, conical temples, arched thatched houses with colourful murals. The Toda life is governed by sacred rites, prayers and pieties among gods who inhabit the mountain peaks and the dead who continue to be with the living, although as souls. Their life is regulated by the sacred ceremonies and rites of birth, passage and funeral. The river systems, grasslands and buffaloes with long horns arching upwards do not just signify a pastoral ecological system, but nature as life-giving, sacred and inviolate. The most significant truth about the Toda’s relationship with nature is that they believe that they are the custodians of nature, never its owners. They perform certain sacred rituals for the management of their ecosystem, which is unique and picturesque with flora consisting of ninety endemic variety of plant species, a wide variety of grasses, Rhododendron trees, medicinal plants, orchids, balsams etc. that seem to be part of the part of Toda cultural symbolism. Of the local fauna, birds are not only beautiful but also seem to have oracular power. The Pied bushchat, an astoundingly beautiful bird, is believed to play the role of warning people if they happen to transgress the sacred rules of nature. The total harmony in which the Toda people live in their world is a rebuke to the acquisitive, predatory and destructive habits of the so-called civilized people in their relation with nature.
Earlier, Professor Deepak Kumar Behera, Vice-Chancellor, KISS-DU, introduced Dr. Chhabra. Professor Pramode K. Misra, a senior Professor of Anthropology from Mysore, and Professor Anthony R. Walker, an authority on the Toda tribe, now in Brunei, joined the lively session and threw light on various aspects of Dr. Chhabra’s ethnographic work on the Toda people. Professor Gregory S, Member Secretary, UIAF, spoke about the ensuing World Congress-2023 which KISS-DU will organize in partnership with the Departments of Anthropology of the University of Delhi, Utkal University and Sambalpur University. Professor Ashok Kumar Mohapatra, senior Professor, KISS-DU conducted the question-answer session, and Dr. Sushree Sangita Mohanty, Assistant Professor, KISS-DU offered a Vote of Thanks.