Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Rediscovering 'Oththakkalmandu' from 'Ootachamund'

Todas in 1871

As many hardly know that the 'formal' terms, which stand for place names like Coimbatore, Trichy, Ooty and so on, lost their interesting etymologies due to their mispronunciation by the English people when Tamil Nadu came under their rule. With Kovan Puthur becoming 'Coimbatore' and Thiruchirapalli becoming 'Trichnopoly' the name of a Toda hamlet Othakkalmandu on the Nilgris too got corrupted to Ootachamund. Worse still, it is a great pity that a new, meaningless Tamil word 'Udhagamandalam' emerged from the corrupted English expression 'Ootachamund' and further it was pointlessly shortened to Ooty in English and Udhagai in Tamil. Also, with Todabet meaning the tall mountain of the Todas, the English mispronounced it as 'Dottabet', which has again corrupted to Dottabetta !
Despite Ooty being their nearest picnic spot for Coimbatoreans today, long ago, they considered the enchanting Nilgiris as abodes of God and places of great mystery. With heir heights inaccessible to mortals, the people of Coimbatore had long believed that ascending them would be a sacrilege and whoever that attempted to do so would be doomed to death.
And just think of what these god-fearing, superstitious people would have done about two centuries ago, when a few British officers declared their proposed ascension to the hills. Particularly, the poor residents of Mettupalayam at the foot of the Nilgiris, staged a hunger strike protesting the decision of the British. Going a step further, the Brahmins of Mettupalayam even tonsured their wives' heads as a symbol of mourning, since they felt that the irreverent act of the British officers was sure to bring a social disaster. The Brahmins also read aloud conjurations and chanted mantras to send the English to 'Narak' (hell) condemning their blasphemous intentions to intrude into the Gods' abode.
Though the two curious British surveyors Ki

ndersley and Whish were the first people from the plains to set foot on the Nilgiris through an indescribable dangerous expedition, John Sullivan, the Collector of Coimbatore, later took a well-planned journey to the hills in January 1819.
With their discovery of Oththakkalmundu in the Nilgiris, the British did not fail to trace the etymology of the place name. As they came across a great number of sepulchers on the hill, they assumed that the place could have got its name as Oththakkalmundu with 'Oththakkal' indicating the single, large unhewn stones used to construct the sepulcher and 'Mundu' meaning a tribal Toda hamlet. Moreover, their unearthing of tools made of iron and bronze from the sepulchers, predated the history of the place with the possible existence of another ancient race there. Supporting the hypothesis, the Todas too disclosed to the British officers that the sepulchers had been there since time immemorial from the days of their ancestors.

Compiled by: B. Meenakshi Sundaram

Source : The People of Blue Mountains – By H.P. Blavatsky

Enclosed downloaded vintage picture of Todas shot in 1871. 

Link to my article in The New Indian Express:

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