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The Cultural Practices Of Kodaikanal's Tribals Living as 'One With Nature' Threatened

Updated: May 6, 2022

The Paliyars and the Pulayars, have always lived in harmony with the nature, propagating 'oneness' with it. These tribes of Tamil Nadu, have been nature worshippers, paying homage to forests, the sky, the rain and other forces of nature. Their songs and instruments pay homage to the hills and forests of the Kodai range. Nonetheless, these practices have been threatened. Adivasi Awaaz creator Murugeshwari delves into the reasons behind it in this article.

Pillar Rocks Kodaikanal; Image Source:

The Kodaikanal hills of Tamil Nadu, are home to the Paliyar and the Pulayar tribes. While the Paliyars reside in the upper reaches of the Kodai hills, the Pulayars inhabit the lower stretches. Both have unique cultures and customs. They consider forests as their ancestors and regularly worship them. However, with the onslaught of technology, machines and the era of "development", these practices have reduced and posed a threat to the forests as well as to the cultures and the way of living of these tribes.

Polur Village, Kodaikanal; Image Source: Rajesh Vengara (

The tribes of the Kodai hills largely depend on the forests for their livelihoods. Nonetheless, they do not believe in 'owning' the forests, rather opine that the forests belong to every single organism, from a single celled amoeba to the complex sapiens. They are believers of community living. They encourage sharing of resources and discourage indulging in private ownerships. Moreover, they believe that the forests are a part of the mother earth, who along with the sky, sun and rainfall, ensures the survival of forests. Hence, for them 'Nature', and not merely forests, is important and integral to the survival of living organisms, including humans. The forests have never been harmed by animals, microorganisms and birds. Humans have been the only species to have consciously harmed forests in the name of technology, revolution and "development". One needs to question here, 'What is the meaning of development?', 'Whose development are we talking about?', 'What is the cost of these developments?', 'Who is bearing those costs?', etc. When a forest is harmed or destroyed, the habitats of various organisms are destroyed, the livelihoods of Tribals and Adivasis are destroyed, lives of all those dependent on forests are harmed and sometimes full ecosystems are destroyed.

Historically, the indigenous people have lived in harmony with the forests. However, now even the tribals have lost interest in preserving forests, as they are being inducted into the mainstream, where technology, machines and consumerism are dominant. They have been enslaved by televisions, mobile phones, varied forms of technologies and the culture of consumerism. They have forgone their history of 'oneness' with the forests. This has had devastating impacts on the cultural practices, languages, belief systems and the entire way of living of the Paliyars and Pulayars. The impact of imperialism, capitalism and consumerism on indigenous populations have been evident globally, throughout history. The history, language, culture and way of living of the indigenous people have been lost due to their co-option and induction into the mainstream through faulty measures. We have forgotten our own history and have been drawn to mainstream cultures, languages and belief systems, propagated through technological revolution. Mobile phones, televisions and internet propagate specific norms, ideas and cultures, that are part of the mainstream and create a culture of consumerism. Everyone therefore, have come in the ambit of this process, where technology is used to spread the culture of consumerism and induct everyone into the mainstream. While this reality is worrying, I am soothed by the memory of tunes/songs of Paliyars and Pulayars. They worshipped the forests with different instruments and varied songs. I remember Murugesan, one of the elders of the tribe, explaining how twelve different musical instruments were created, to worship nature, inspired by sounds of beetles, frogs and sparrows. The twelve musical instruments were created to honour the twelve hills of the Kodai range.

Image Source:

As such they were 'one with nature'. The way of living of the Paliyars and Pulayars was a rich one. It involved nature worshipping and living in harmony with it. While technology has been a boon, it has also had adverse effect, especially for the populations that are not considered a part of the mainstream. Similarly, "development" has had different connotations for varied sections of the society. Felling trees and displacing people have been some of the downsides of the process of development that has affected mostly the indigenous populations, as they are the ones usually residing near forest and mineral rich areas. All this has also affected their cultural practices, ways of governance and livelihood options, as these processes have resulted in excessive interventions from outside. Clearing of forest areas also mean encroaching the habitats of various animals, who then move towards villages. Hence, it is important to take the stakeholders onboard before formulating and implementing varied policies in the name of technology and "development". Simultaneously, it is important for us to understand that while technology can be a blessing, it is also the tool for creating a culture of consumerism, which is impacting our cultural practices, languages and way of living. A way of living based on 'oneness with nature'. Hence, we need to be vigilant about our use of technology.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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