The Toda people, a small seemingly insignificant tribal people in the highlands of Southern India, reveal much about life in India. They have existed with a community the size of a small town, numbering around 800, for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Previously they had lived associated with other small tribes, including the Badaga, Kota, and Kurumba tribes. The Toda held a leadership position among the smaller tribes. Although they live in a tribal community of 800 or so people, clusters of groups of three to seven small thatched houses lived immediately together. People in those clusters, called munds, usually had kinship relationships.
The Toda people have a few distinguishing characteristics that have made them the object of much study by cultural anthropologists. Indeed, the study of the Toda lead to the creation of the fields of Social Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. Traditionally, until recent times, the Toda practiced fraternal polyandry. With a male to female ratio of three to five, the practical reason for that arrangement becomes readily apparent. Why more men survive to adulthood than women is less apparent. The reason for abandoning the practice may lay in contact with modern India.
The revered place of the buffalo in Toda society represents a second remarkable feature of their life. Over the centuries, the Toda came to rely heavily upon the buffalo for their livelihood. They created religious and social values around the buffalo, including their origin myth. The first sacred buffalo had been created by the gods before the first Toda man and woman. Kona Shastra, the annual sacrifice of a male buffalo constitutes their central religious ceremony. The person who tends the holy sacred buffalo, the divine milkman, has the highest position in Toda society.
The Toda way of life has been threatened by contact with modern India, a shift from herding to agriculture, and a loss of grazing land as a result of the government of Tamil Nadu conducting a reforestation program. UNESCO has declared the Toda peoples home land, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, an International Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO also has the region under consideration as a World Heritage Site. Both those initiatives by UNESCO may help the Toda people preserve their traditional way of life. Yet, the conveniences of modern life, such has more comfortable housing and clothing, as well as the benefits of the Information Age, may hasten the demise of the Toda peoples traditional religious beliefs and social practices.