The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology
Tarun Chhabra With a Foreword by Anthony R. Walker
180 x 240 mm
Year of Publishing
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Orient BlackSwan

The Toda people of the Nilgiris District in south India are one of the oldest indigenous groups in South Asia; they are also reportedly among the most studied and written-about in the region. While the field was dominated by Western scholars in the beginning, Indian researchers and writers began contributing to Toda studies from the early twentieth century.

The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology represents a major breakthrough in Toda studies. From his interactions with the Todas from 1990 onwards, the author, Tarun Chhabra, has collected and analysed ethnographic data that had eluded even the greatest of Western ethnographers. Through his first-hand narrative accounts of important Toda rituals, ceremonies and routines, all accompanied by visual documentation in the form of photographs and maps, he provides new data that will significantly aid the preservation of Toda traditional culture.

The Toda Landscape highlights previously unknown aspects of Toda cultural heritage:

  • Their sacred geography—sacred waters, sacred hills, and sacred trees and rocks.

  • Some sacred institutions, which have their own distinct, hitherto undocumented, rituals, and the intricacies of their traditional attire and embroidery motifs.

  • The entire domain of Toda ethnobotany.

  • The complex interweaving of myth and reality in Toda lives, evidenced in the routes Toda spirits are said to follow to their afterworld.

With its detailed descriptions of sparsely documented aspects of Toda life, all complemented with stunning photographs, The Toda Landscape is an invaluable addition to the field of social anthropology and cultural studies. Its focus on ethnobotany and the flora and fauna of the Nilgiris region will also greatly help students and scholars of environmental studies and botany.

Tarun Chhabra practises dentistry in Ootacamund, the heart of Toda country. He has authored numerous papers on some unique aspects of Toda culture, and has also lectured widely. His current passion is ecological restoration in the Nilgiris.
List of Illustrations (Plates, Figures, Maps)

List of Tables

Foreword by Anthony R. Walker


A Guide to the Transliteration of Toda

Prologue: My Toda Journey

  1. Introducing the Toda People and their Homeland

  2. The Toda Landscape

  3. The Toda Clans: Their Hamlets and Other Sacred Places

  4. Toda Dress and Embroidery

  5. Journey to Nhyoollnn

  6. The Traditional Toda Relationship with Honey

  7. Konawsh: Structure and Occupancy

  8. Sacred Peaks

  9. Sacred Waters

  10. A Journey to the Afterworld

  11. Flowers in my Toda Garden

  12. Cornerstone Plants of the Todas

  13. Balsams of the Nilgiris


Appendix 1: Flora Associated with the Toda People

Appendix 2: Fauna Associated with the Toda People

Appendix 3: Toda Landscape and Almanac Terminology

Appendix 4: Toda Sacred Chants: Some Examples

Appendix 5: Traditional Food Habits

Appendix 6: Buffalo Terminology


Select Bibliography

About the Author


1. Book Review | Published in The Hindu, 6 July 2024.
2. Book Announcement | Published in the Deccan Herald, Bengaluru, 21 February 2024.
3. Review of The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology has appeared in the Eastern Anthropologist vol.72, numbers 1-2, 2019
4. After 84 years, cobra lily blooms again | The Hindu, May 2017
5. The reading room | The New Indian Express,Chennai,2 September 2016
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