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Kotas: the artisan tribe of Nilgiris

Kotas have been living in the Nilgiri mountains for ages alongwith other tribes like the Todas, Kurumbas, Irulas, etc. From where and when they came to these mountains is little known, though numerous legends are recorded by foreign travellers starting from the 1820’s.
W. H. R. Rivers stated in 1906 “…..peculiar relations between the three tribes (Todas, Badagas and Kotas) are amongst the most intersting features of social life of the Nilgiris.  The Todas are purely pastoral people….. The Badagas (not a scheduled tribe) are chiefly agricultural, the Kotas are artisans and mechanics, and both supply the Todas with part of their produce.  Their (Todas) privileged position is usually held to be due to the tradition that they are the “lords of the soil” ….and the produce Todas receive ….. is supposed to be of the nature of tribute.”
The Kotas are found only in the Nilgiris district and they live in 7 settlements.  The Kota settlement is called a Kokkal and usually has 2 names – one in their language (their spoken language does not have a script) and the other in Tamil.  One Earth Foundation recently conducted a study on art & craft in Kokkal – Sholur – called Kurugoj in Kota language. Here are some interesting observations from our study tour
Houses in a Kota settlement are arranged in a row formation with several rows.  ( house = pai)
The area or yard between rows is called a ‘Keri’ and each keri has a name eg.,  nadukeri, ikeri, kil keri, etc.  This unique feature of their settlement also plays a significant role in arranging marriage alliances.
All houses have common side walls, thatched or tiled roofs and have 3 doors.  These are ‘munivail’ (main door), ‘naduvail’ (middle door) and ‘mevail’ (backdoor.  Bricks are used for construction.
The Kotas traditional shawl is known as ‘Varad’ (white) used both by men and women.  A woman returning to the village from outside is expected to change into their traditional dress immediately upon return.  This is a single piece of white cloth called ‘Kir’ worn from chest to knee and tied with a rope called ‘sat’ around the waist.  The women part their hair in the middle and roll it at he back holding it with a silver pin. Men and women both wear ear-rings – Kodk.
The Kotas are the only artisan tribe of the Nilgiris.  They practiced pottery, blacksmithy, goldsmithy, tool making  and carpentry.  Interestingly, they were also musicians that performed at the ceremonies of the Todas and Badagas.  Rev. Metz stated (1874) “…..Kotas…………practiced the industrial arts and were therefore essential almost to the very existence of the other tribes………”
Most of the crafts practiced by the Kotas are on the decline.  There are only a handful of women (3-4) who do pottery, very few men are involved in blacksmithy and a few carpenters are struggling to continue their age old craft.  A troupe of Kota musicans is almost impossible to locate.  One Earth Foundation conducted a survey amongst the dwellers of Kokkal – Sholur and found that most artisans had taken up work in plantations or as labourers and were only indulging in  their craft against orders.  Asked if their children would learn the skills from them – the response was a clear NO.  How can we assure the survival of this rich art and craft culture of the Kotas?

For further information please contact
Raminder Chowdhary
Tel: +91-80-41276433
Mobile: +91-9008000338

4 Comments to “Kotas: the artisan tribe of Nilgiris”

  1. I’m strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. When possible, since you gain expertise,keep writing and happy blogging;2

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  4. Good piece of work by ONE EARTH FOUNDATION, i would like to point out minor errors (i.e.) the three doors mentioned in the house of kotas is Front door is called MUNNWALL, the door in the middle is NADDUWALL and the back door is MAYWALL. The traditions attire of the women, you have mentioned is called as KEER usually worn from the chest to below the knee and the final one is about the ear ring which is quite common among men and women of the tribe, it is called as KADDKU and not Kodk as mentioned. This comment is written for the sake of better understanding and authenticity and not intended to hurt the feelings of the writer. GOOD WORK GO AHEAD, ONE EARTH FOUNDATION.

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