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 Cultural Description of Mudugas
(Department of Linguistics University of Kerala)

By Dr. N.Rajendran

The term ‘tribe’ is not defined very clearly in the books which describe the language or culture of the so- called tribes.  A section of the people was notified as Scheduled Tribes in India, under the President’s Order in 1950.  Some scholars hold the opinion that this classification is political rather than strictly ethnographic.  Before declaring a group as tribe it is necessary that we should consider their physical features, area of settlement, social distance from the advanced groups, marriage systems(polygamy, polyandry, marriage by service, purchase and exchange), so rorate and levirate marriages, taboo, religious conventions, materials culture, language etc.  A.A.D. Luiz opines that ‘the existence of discrimination, culture, and customs, combined with the fact that they are nomadic, primitive and still a observe taboos and conventions likely to be described by modern society as derogatory and anti-social is proof to confirm a group as a tribe.  If habitations are far from civilization, and if the external features of a tribe are present, these will certainly strengthen the decision. 

      In kerala the main tribal concentrations are in the NorthWynad of Cannanore District, South Wynad of Calicut District and the Attappady hills of Palghat District.  The tribal population of these three districts constitute 74.6% of the total tribal population of the State.  According to the 1971 Census, Kerala State has a total population of 213.47 lakhs of which the tribal communities constitute 2.69 Lakh i.e, 1.26% of the total population. 

 Attappady Tribal Area

     Attappady, one of the prominent forest regions of Kerala is situated in the north eastern part of the Palghat district of Kerala.  This 765 square Kilometres of area is bounded on the east by the Coimbatore district of Tamilnadu, north by the Nilgiris, south by the Palghat taluk and on the west by the Karimba, Pottassery and Mannarghat revenue villages of Mannarghat taluk of the Palghat District and Ernad taluk of the Malappuram district.  The elevation of the Attappady valley ranges from 750-1000 metres.  The highest peak of this area is the Malleeswaram peak which has a height of 1664 metres. Bhavani and Siruvani with their tributaries form the river system of Attappady area.  These two main rivers together have a catchment area of 652 sq. kms. and it is estimated that the annual utilisable flow is 1019 million cubic metres.  The important crops grown in this area are ragi, chama, (Pannicum milliare), tuvara, groundnut, castor, cotton, paddy, blackgram, horsegram, sugarcane, tapioca, tena (Sataria italica) etc.

    ‘The name Attappady was ascribed to this region because of one of its peculiar features.  Till recently this region was grossly infested with blood sucking leeches, the Malayalam name for which is ‘atta’.  ‘Pady’ is the Malayalam for settlement.  The menance caused by this leeches in this region even now especially in monsoon is widely known and people even dread to face the risk of treading on this region.  It was thus aptly termed Attappady.’

          In India, an integrated programme of intensive development of tribal area was introduced in 1957 and 43 tribal development Blocks were opened in various states having concentration of Scheduled Tribes.  The criterion adopted for opening a Tribal Development Block was that the block should have a minimum area of 200 sq. miles and a population of about 25,000 and that more than 66% of the population should be tribals.  Since Attappady area satisfied the requirements, a Tribal Development Block was started there from April, 1962.  The Attappady area is divided into three revenue villages as well as three panchayats.  They are Attappady I (Agail Panchayat), Attappady II (Pudur Panchyat) and Attappady III (Sholayar Panchayat).  The Tribal Development Block is divided into ten village circles and each circle is being served by a village extension officer.  It is estimated that there are about 116 tribal hamlets in the Attappady area.  According to the Census Report of 1961 the total population of Attappady was 20,798 of which 13,123 (63.09%) were tribals.  In the 1971 Census the tribal population constitutes 16536 against the total population of 39,183 which shows that the percentage of the tribal population has decreased to 42.2.

 3        Census of India, 1961, Vol. VII, part VI G., Village survey Monographs -Tribal areas.


                   TABLE I.

 Distribution of Population in each Panchayat of Attappady4



Scheduled Tribe









































4.  Report on integrated Tribal Development Project for Attappady.  (State Planning Board: Trivandrum, 1976).

          Adequate medical facilities are not available in the Attappady area.  At Agali there is a Government hospital which has eight beds.  Besides, there is one Government Dispensary at Pudur, a project dispensary at Mukkali, a Maternity and Child Health Centre and a Government Rural Dispensary at Sholayar, and also one Mobile Medical Unit which is stationed at Mukkali.  As a whole, there are 19 schools in the Attappady area of which 17 are L. P. Schools. one is U. P. Schools and the remaining one is a High School.  Except two unaided schools in the Agali Panchayat all schools are run by the Government.  Of the 17 L. P. Schools 4 are Residential Basic Schools.  According to the Statistics available the total number of school children in Attappady area is 3130 of which the tribal students are only 271,i.e., 8.65 percent of the total school childeren.  And the level of literacy of the tribal population of  Attappady is only 5.64 percent.

           The population of Attappady consists of non-tribals and tribals.  Among the non-tribals,  there are Hindus, Christians and Muslims: and it is considered that these non-tribals are immigrants.  Most of them are labourers and few are agriculturalists and traders.  The tribal population of Attappady constitutes three major communities viz., Irulas,  Mudugas and Kurumbas.  Numerically Irulas form the largest tribal community while Kurumas form the smallest.


Distribution of Tribal Population of Attappady according to the 1961 and 1971 Census Reports5 

Total Community




Total No


Total No


















5.  Report on Integrted Tribal Development Project for Attappady (State Planning Board: Trivandrum, 1976).

Collection of Data 

          An intensive cultural and linguistic information from a single settlement is of far greater importance than conducting a vide and extensive survey of the whole settlements with lesser information details.  So only six Muduga settlements have been selected and the data have been collected during the months of May, June and July, 1975.  The settlements selected are Mukkali, Kakkuppady, Pettikkallu, Abbunnuru, Ommale and Kallamale of the Attappady Tribal area.


           Mudugas live in remote forest settlements of the Attappady tribal area.  They do not mind living within a short distance from Kurumbas and Irulas.  But they always prefer to be as far away as possible from the civilized people of the plains.  The Muduga settlements are found in forest areas near the river Bhavani which gives them drinking water.  Regarding the history of the Mudugas, the Census Report states thus:  ‘Mudugas are believed to be the earliest immigrants of this region.  They are of Tamil origin and are believed to be immigrants from Coimbatore district.  The purpose of their immigration was an abitious plan to extensive agricultural activities in the fertile virgin soil of Attappady forests.  The history of their immigration dates back to 15th Century or even prior to that.  The religion of this tribe is a kin to Hinduism.  They were,  during the past,  subjects of the Vijayanagar Hindu Empire.  The Mudugas are worshippers of Lord Siva.  Saivism(Worship of Lord Siva) is Considered to be older than Vaishnavism (worship of Lord Vishnu).  As the mudugas are still worshippers of Lord Siva and are oblivious to any influence of Vaishnavism, it can be reasonably presumed that they had emigrated from the plains even prior to the propagation of Vaishnavism 6.

6.  Census of India, 1961, Vol. VII, Part VI. G., Village Survey Monographs, Tribal areas.

General Characteristics 

          As a tribe the Mudugas are shy and do not like the company of the non-tribal people in the plains.  They like to have as little contract as possible with the outside world and do not like going to the adjacent town for getting their requirements.  They buy their requirements of  clothes and ornaments from the nearest weekly market and the daily requirements such as oil jaggery, match box etc., from the nearest shop.   

          The Mudugas consider themselves as superior to the tribes like Kurumbas and Irulas, though they have marriage relationship with the Kurumbas.  Though they have contact with the Irulas they won’t allow them to enter into the huts and won’t eat in the huts of Irulas when they take part in the ceremonies, such as marriage etc.  There are few instances of inter-tribal marriage relationships with Kurumbas.  Only Kurumba girls are married to the Muduga males and no instance of a Kurumba marrying a Muduga girl.  One of the informants Panali of Pettikkallu settlement and his elder brother married Kurumba girls from the Todukki Kurumba settlement of Attappady.  Mari, the mother of Panali says that the amount of bride money is less among the Kurumbas and that is why her sons married the Kurumba girls, and also by rule they are not prevented from marrying Kurumba girls.

           The Mudugas are very superstitious.  If any unnatural death takes place they attribute it to evil forces.  They believe in good and bad omens.  They have their own auspicious days and time.  Mondays are considered to be good days for ceremonial functions.

           The women of this community are industrious and they work as labourers in the field,  collect tubers and other forest produces, weave mats and baskets.  The Mudugas receive the guest who visits their settlement and extend whatever help they can.  They invite the non-tribal people of that locality known to them for their festivals and ceremonies.  They help each other in agricultural operations, hunting, fishing etc.            

           The Mudugas have not changed much by contract with the civized people or by any of the welfare schemes which the Government has implemented for the development of the tribes.  They have a limited culture of their own which they maintain in isolation.  In the matter of education their condition is miserable.  Generally the Mudugas are generous and hospitable, peace loving and God fearing.

 Population and settlements

           Numerically Mudugas are the second largest tribal community in the Attappady area. According to the 1961 Census their population was 1881 which increased to 2370 in 1971.  There are 18 Muduga hamlets in Attappady.  They are: 1. Chudakki, 2. Thazhachundakki,  3.  Veerannuru,  4. Karuvara,  5. Ommale,  6. Kallamale,  7. Kottamale,  8. Chitturu,  9. Chandakulam,  10. Koravanpady,  11. Ummathupadiga,  12. Molakamby,  13. Thekkumpanna,  14. Abbannuru,  15. Kottiyuru,  16.  Pettikkallu,  17. Kakkuppady, and 18.  Mukkali.


           The Mudugas are generally seen to be black complexioned though fairer than the Irulas.  They have average height and stout body.  Generally they are snumb nosed with somewhat pointed chin.

 Hamlet and house 

          The Mudugas live in clusters with 12 or so households in each settlement.  The Muduga hamlets are referred to as ‘uru’ and the huts a ‘kure’.  The small squatter huts are low ceillinged with the ceilings not exceeding five feet from the floor level.  It is believed that the huts supported by bamboo splinters and thatched with forest grass have small doors and low ceilings, they being so designed as to withstand the onslaught of adverse climatic conditions and strong winds.  The floors are plastered with cowdung, clay and soil.  These huts ordinarily contain two small rooms, the backroom (ullara) is being used as kitchen and the front room (vettara) is for the storage of agricultural products and as the place of worship of the household deities.  Besides there is also an adjoining verandah in the front of each hut, referred to by them as ‘dinne’. 

          Besides these huts, there are houses provided by the Government which consist of a long hall separated into several apartments by brick walls.  The apartments are brick buildings with tile roofs, which they refer to as “ottujure’.  Although these are high ceilinged ones they are also provided only with two rooms and a front verandah. 

Household articles 

          The huts are very sparsely furnished and consists only of mats made of grass and bamboo splinters.  Mats are spread out to sleep and offered for the guests to sit.  The pounding of paddy to rice and other grains are usually facilitated by means of wooden mortars and pestles often situated outside the huts and each hamlet possesses only a pair of these.  The earthernwares are used for cooking and serving and seldom are copper and aluminium vessels made use of.  The hamlets  are situated along the banks of the ‘Bhavani’ river.  A peculiar feature of it as distinct from other rivers of Kerala is that the course of its flow is from west to east.  The river sustains these tribesmen and the water drawn from this river is carried by pitchers made of clay, brass and copper.  A chimney lamp of earthernware lights the darkness.  Besides each huts possesses baskets and wickers of  different size made of bamboo, cane etc.  While these tribesmen are quite dexterous in producing household utensils from bamboo and canes they depend on the markets for the earthernware.

 Dress and ornaments 

          The apparel of the men are sober and consists only of a handloom towel round the waist reaching upto the knee and the upper portion of the body is wrapped in a dhoti slung from the shoulders.  Men are also seen wearing banians and rarely are shirts used.  The boys sport knickers.  Elderly Mudugas toil in the fields with only the loin cloth tied around the waist.

          The women’s apparel consists of a brightly coloured strip of cloth five feet long and four feet wide referred by them as ‘cela’  ‘The ‘cela’ wraps this tribal women folk from the upper part of the breast to the knee.  While indoors the upper portion of their body is exposed and the ‘cela’ is tied around the waist, but, while outdoors the top portion of their body is not exposed.  All through Attappady area only Muduga woman was seen wearing skirt and blouse.  This woman is named Celli, a resident of the Muduga settlement, who works as a sweeper in the office of the Kerala State Electricity Board.

           Both men and women have their earlobes punched.  While the men folk are not observed wearing any ear studs, the womenfolk use ear studs and rings.  The women wear nose rings on either side of the nose.  Rings are used extensively by both sex; while men wear only finger rings, the women adorn their fingers and toes with rings.  Bangles made either of plastics or metals adorn the slender wrist of the women.  Necklaces around the necks are either of the black coir chord or of stones.  The most priced piece of jewellery is the necklace of 25 paise and 50 coins interspersed with small rings held together by a coir chord (panamala).  The other ornaments are made up of cheap metals.  Gold is conspicuous by its absence in their adornments. 

          While the women wear their hair long, men cut their frequently.  Women’s hair-do is very  simple, they roll the hair and is kept in a bunch behind their head.  Tatooting, which is very common among the women, is resorted to only infrequently by men.  The

figure of fish, rat, scorpion, crab etc., are usually tatooed by womn in the hands, legs, chest,and forehead.

            They do not use oil on the hair or on the body.  As the ladies go to the river for taking water they keep their body clean by washing,although they take bath rarely.  Men do not take bath  or wash their body usually, only occasionally they go to the river and wash their body.


      Each Muduga hamlet is perished over by a headman (muppe).  The hamlets of mudugas are reserved exclusively for themselves and are devoid of other tribes such as Irulas and Kurumbas.  The headman is assisted in his administrative responsibilities

by three men ‘Kurulate’, ‘vandari’ and ‘mannukkare’.  The headman is kept informed of all the happenings in the settlement.  All the ceremonies are presided over by  the headman,  these include deaths, marriages, births etc.   The  permission for hunting by the

tribesmen has to be sought and is granted by the headman.  A portion of the game is the

prerogative of  the headman.  He is the arbitrator of all dispute arising in the villages and

is vested with the authority to punish the accused.  The accused in the disputes are fined a

penalty of nt less than five rupees.  The penalty due is aportioned aong the headman and his asistants.

     In each settlement, opposite the hut of the headman, is erected a thatched shed (cavati)

where guests to the settlements are entertained.  As a rule,  the guests are feasted on the food brought  from outside, as it is taboo to serve prepared within the village.   This guests are free to cook their own food provided the provisions for it are brought along with  them.  If however, the food is provided by the headman the necessary arrangements are made  by ‘Kurutale’, and  ‘vandari’; the expenses are advanced byt the headman which is ultimately defrayed by each member of the community.  All transactions conducted without the prior  permission of the headman are treated as null and void.   A

confession is extracted from those who indulge in these and suitable punishment is meted out.  All decisions regarding the administration of the settlement is made in the headman’s hut and attendenceof all elder members of the community is obligatory.

      In the absence of the headman  all powers are delegated to the  ‘Kurutale’ and ‘vandari’.  Though in the matters of administration all powers rest with the headman, the farming operations and the connected ceremonies are under the strict control  and guidance  of the ‘mannukkare’.

      The position of the  headman and his assistants pass from one generation to the next hereditarily by partrilineal law of succession.  In the absence of major male heir for the headman,  the administration is entrusted to the 'kurutale' and ‘vandari’ until the heir comes of age.   In the event of the headman dying heirless i.e., without any male children,

the post reverts eiher to his sister’s  son or to his younger brother.  An election is resorted to fill the post of the elder, should it fall vacant, with voting right to all members of the community, incase where the deceased headman possesses no younger brothers.  


       The Mudugas had  rights to private plots of land.  Their principal agricultural products are chama, ragi, paddy, redgram, blackgram, horsegram, cotton, groundnut, ginger, sweet potato, tapioca etc.  In the interior of the forest ‘Cannabis sativa’ also is grown. 

      All over the settlement the farming operations start simultaneously.  With the prior

permission of the headman, the ‘mannukkare’ chooses a Monday; considered an suspicious day for sowing as well as other  religious ceremonies,  proceeds to the plot with the seeds subject to  sorcery and initiates sowin a parcel of land which would have been previously ploughed for the same purpose.  The initiation of the sowing operation os done very solemnly with no on lookers or tribesmen  in the near vicinity.  Four days after, the sowing intiation ceremony, the farming  operation starts with accompaniment of music and songs,closely watched and guided by the headman and his assistant.  Agriculture is characterised by labour sharing without the attendent crop share; the proceede of the harvest remaining the absolute property of the owners.  Community members  polluted by birth, menses, death etc.  are barred from working in the fields.  In order to protect the standing crops from the degradations of wild animals both men and women take up residence near the plots till the harvesting is over.  ‘Mannukkare’ apportions a share of the harvest due to him for his intiation  ceremonies;  for it is considered that due to his good offices and services that rich harvests are reaped.  The products of the land is sold even before it is harvested, the proceeds of which are utilised for procuring other necessaries of sustenance.   They seldom save for a rainy day.


     Besides working in their own fields their labour services are eagerly sought after to work in the fields of non-tribals.  They work from dawn to dusk and during farming

season their services fetch the tribesmen  Rs.4.50 and the women Rs. 3.50.   Others who do not choose to work in  non-tribal’s  land proceed to the interior ot fetch the fruits of the forests.   The forest provides theses men with a good means of livelihood and often

the  proceeds from the sals of the forest products yield a larger income than working in non-tribal’s land.  The pricipal forest products are honey, cardamom, tuber etc.  Domestication of animals are also quite common among these people.  The community’s cattle, goats, fowls etc., are reared and led into the pasture by femalw children of the community.  Generally they do not consume either egg or milk which find their way into

the local market. 

      As savings are meagre or not at all undertaken, the monsoon requirement of subsistence are met out of sales of their cattle and livestock.  Leisure of women and children are devoted for the weaving of mats, baskets, etc., out of bamboo, cane and grass.


           Permission of the headman is required before hunting is undertaken.  Huting, which starts in the evening is carried through night till morning, is conducted in a group.  Their game consists of pork, deer, civet, cat, wild fowl, jackals and bear.  While bows and arrows are not used, the killing of game is facilitated by the use of spear, cleavers and guns which a few of the tribesmen possess.  Aids of hunting dogs are not sought.  The consumption of the flesh of the bear is a taboo, hence it is dried and sold in the local markets.  The blood of the killed animals is collected in an earthern pan and after it has been peppered and salted and heated mildly, is drunk on the spot of the killing itself. 

          The proceeds of the hunting is submitted to the headman from which a share is apportioned for himself and ‘mannukkare’.  While the share of the headman is that to be feasted among the members of the community, the remaining part of the kill is shared among the hunters themselves.  After an elaborate religious ritual amounting to almost a ceremoney, the game is cooked in two different ways: one for the headman and his associates and for the tribal folks: and the other for members and the wives of the hunting expedition.  The first claim on the cooked food to the headman and his assistants.  This is then followed by the feasting of the members of the hunting team after which others feed on the cooked meat.  After the religious rituals and the reasting is over the tribal folks except those who participated in the hunting and their wives return to their huts.  For the participant of the ‘kill’ another feast is hosted by the headman and his associates, consisting of choice  dishes.  Following this the headman is seated in front of a plate on which is placed beedi, cigarettes and betel leaves. The headman will be accompained by all his associates.  The members are offered the articles placed in the plate in return for which they pay their tributes in coins ranging 25 paise to rupee 1.  The participants, after this, fall at the headman’s feet prostrate when he blesses them with his hands on their heads.  When the proceedings of the day are over all of them trek back to their huts.  The monetary returns of the day are shared  among the headman, ‘kurutale’, ‘vandari’ and ‘mannukkare’.

 Food and Drink

           Rice is very dear to them  even though they consume it  very sparingly.  Their staple food consists of tubers consumed either raw or cooked.  Next to the tuber ragi and wheat occupy the important places in their diet which is boiled in steam and converted in to a paste like diet.

           Before going to work in the morning, they break their night long fast only either black tea or coffee sweetened by jaggery.  The noon meals consists of tapioca and rice gruel which is either provided by their employers and if not are procured from the nearby tea shops.  Supper constitutes the most importanty meal for them and is cooked and served in their own huts.  The supper consists of ragi or wheat boiled in  water with pepper and salt added to it.  Though sugar and rice are freely available through the ration shops  they prefer to sell it at a profit.  The meat of the hunt and fish angled from the stream also form  part of the supper. 

           Liquor is freely consumed both by men and women, and children as a rule do not.  The liquor is distilled by them secretly.  Smoking of tobacco is freely indulged in  both by men, women and children.  Cannabis smoking is also freely resorted to and is enjoyed by them very much.

 Crime and Punishment

           All members are under the force of threat made to submit the laws and morals of the tribal society.  Non-observance of these laws will be counteracted with a fine of not less then  Rs.5/-.  Without the sanction of the headman intercaste marriages  are a taboo and is met with ostracism from the tribal society and also they forfeit the right to stay in the Muduga settlement.

           When a woman conceives without a formal wedlock, she is questioned for information regarding the paramour’s identity.  If she withholds the information she is tied to a post usually provided in  front of the headman’s hut, and she is caned till the information is extracted.  In spite of this, if the woman chooses to withhold the information a more severe punishment awaits her.  A red hot iron rod is placed on her lips and face till she submits herself.  If the abettor happens  to be a member of the same tribe, a similar treatment is also meted out to him, before directing him to marry the woman in question, whether he happens to be married or unmarried.  A bride-money is also requisitioned which amounts to twice the usual sum a penalty.  If the abettor happens to be a non-tribal he is brought to the settlement and is asked whether he is prepared to marry her or not.  If he declines to marry he can do so by paying a penalty of Rs.100/-.  In that case the woman is allowed to stay back in the settlement itself and her pregnancy will be aborted using indigenous medicines.

 Diseases and treatments

           Medicines are administered by the sorcerer.  Resort to sorcery is done in the event the indigenous medicines out of herbs fail to secure a cure.  Emulets or talisman is tied around either the waist, wrist or around the neck on those suffering from serious maladies.  No treatment is applied on those suffering from smallpox known as ‘ammavilayatta’ among this tribe.  It is believed that the out-break of the smallpox is dure to the ire of the Goddness ‘mariyamma’.  For thel prevention and cure of the smallpox, a chicken is sacrificed at the shrine of the ‘mariyamma’.

 Family Planning

           Not only among the Mudugas but also among other tribals of Attapady not more than 3 or 4 children for a family were observed.  The contraceptives used are oral; an indigenous medicine out of the herbs.  It is an extract of the vine called ‘netungali’ together with certain other obscure plant and is consumed early in the morning before breaking the fast, after it has been dissolved in goat’s milk.  The women are expect to observe a strict regimen for seven days.  Sweets are a taboo.  Inspite of this if the women conceive and antidotal medicine is administered.

 Music, dance, sports and games

          The folksongs of these tribals may be broadly divided into two categories.  There are those which are sung mostly while at work.  Popular among these are ‘gembeppattu’ and ‘uttattupattu’.  These are rendered by women only.  While the ‘gembepattu’ depicts the story of the husband; ‘uttattupattu’ portrays the feeling and emotions of a tribal girl deeply in love.  These songs graphically illustrate the trails girl deeply in love.  These songs graphically illustrate the trials and tribulation so f lovelore young tribal maiden.  Besides they have ‘vittupattu’ at the time of sowing and harvesting.  Songs are rendered and dances are performed during the leisure of the night.  During this time there are songs and dances set apart for women, men, and children.  Children dance to the tune of the music forming a circle with their hands entwined.  The sowing and funeral ceremonies are also accompanied by songs with musical instruments.

          Competitions for dance, drama, music, athletics and martial arts are held once in a year in connection with the festival of the ‘malliswaran’ temple.  The winners are felicitated and sweets distributed to them.  The winner of martial arts holds a place of pride in these competitions.  Movies constitute another source of pastime for them.


          The principal God of Mudugas is ‘malliswaran’.  It is believed that he is an  incarnation of Lord Siva.  The abode of ‘malliswaran’ is a top the hill known as ‘malliswaramuti’.  The legend is that the Mudugas have consecreated his idol there.

           The myth is that Lord Siva and Goddess Parvathi chanced to come to the Mudga settlements.  The sight of this unfamiliar couple sonn sentforth enquires as to the purpose of their visit.  On ascertaining it was found out that Goddess Parvathi wanted a light and ‘puja’ everyday while the demand of Siva turned out to be light and ‘puja’ once in a year.  Parvathi’s demand was difficult to be met while at the same time Siva’s was well within their means.  So they banished Parvathy and consecrated Siva’s idol atop the hill.  To this day, the vow of the tribals at the request of Siva is observed unfailingly every year.  At the foot on the way to the hill is the shrine of ‘malliswaran’ where all tribals irrespective of age and sex are permitted.

           Pilgrimage to the ‘malliswaran’ peak is undertaken once in a year.  Women are barred from participating in this pilgrimage.  Men are required to subject themselves to a strict regimen for seven days.  After an early morning ablution they administer a dose of turmeric milk, and only after this they are allowed to take any other food.  Alcohol and flesh of animals are prohibited.  Contact with women and the consumption of food prepared by them are disallowed.  New utensils are used for the purpose.  On the morning of the ‘Sivaratri’ day all in  the settlements worship the shrine of ‘malliswaran’ from whence they proceed to the bank of the Bhavani river.  The participants of the pilgrimage carry with them offerings to the God  which consists of oil, coconut, banana, camphor, rice, jaggery, ghee etc.  These are handed over to the priest who has specially arrived  for the purpose of ‘puja’ from Nilgiri.  He bundles the tributes to the God and places it on the head of the pilgrims for which he receives a token payment in the from of dakshina.  The piligrims then proceed to hill top leaving besides others to wait for their arrival from the hill.

           The prilgrimage is led by the ‘pujari’ with others following them closer on the heels.  The whole atmosphere reverberates with chanting of the names of Gods.  The idol of ‘malliswaran’ is unapproachable to all except the priest. All the ‘pujas’ and the accompanying religious rites is the sole responsibility of the priest, after he has denuded himself of all clothes.  Besides lighting in the evening, a desert (payasam) is prepared with the ingredients which are offered as tributes to the God.  After the ‘puja’ they eat that desert and spend the night there entertaining themselves with dance and music.  Next day morning they descend from the hill top to the accompaniment of chants proceed straight to the shrine of ‘mallisvaran’ from where accomapnied by others, return to their settlements.

           Atop ‘mallisvaran peak’ a little away from the idol of mallisvaran is consecrated the idols of ‘vakara ayyappe’ and ‘kakkilinge’ the former being the elder and the latter being the younger of his sons.  It is believed that the idols of ‘vakara ayyappe’ was consecrated little below the idol of mallisvaran because of the innate crookedness of his character.  The legend is that the ‘vakara ayyappe’ punishes those pilgrims who proceeds  to the hill top without the necessary regimen.  He is offered the coconut and banana with hindside of it facing the idol.  This custom has its roots in the belief that these Gods consume only the shell of the coconut and the stem of the banana.  The duty of ‘mallisvaran’, it is held among the tribals, is to protect the community.

           Next to ‘mallisvaran’ thet most revered is the Goddess ‘mariyamma’.  The shrine of ‘mariyamma’ is at Thavalam in Attapady.  She is very rarely worshippped, the reason for a visit is the time of the outbreak of small pox epidemic.  It is believed that she is the harbinger of all diseases, especially the deadly small pox.  The onset of the small pox is accompanied by a visit mostly by women and appears the Goddess by sacrificing a chicken.  This, then is presented to the oracle of the village.

           Apart from these Gods and Goddesses each hut has its household deity known as ‘karudeyva’.  The metal idol of ‘karudeyva’ is considered to be the embodiment of souls of the dead people.  To abstain from worshipping them, they believe, would anger the dead souls thus inviting its ire.  The ‘karudeyva’ is considered to be the protector of their property and lives.  A lighted lamp is placed before the idol every day.


           Regarding the language of the Mudugas the anthropologists and sociologists who have conducted field work in the tribal areas of Kerala pointed out that the language of the Mudugas is unintelligible to Malayalam speakers and it is a dialect of Tamil with many Tulu words and pharases7.  From a descriptive analysis of their language it can be noted very clearly that, even though it has got some similarities with Tamil in the areas of grammatical structure it cannot be treated as a dialect of Tamil.  In the lexical level it has got more similarities with Malayalam.  The influence of Kannada and Tulu can also be observed in the vocabulary of Muduga.  Though it has got some similarities with the speech of Kurumba, there are many differences which make the Muduga language a seperate Dravidian language8

7 Luiz, A.A.D., op.cit.

Social customs

           For the purpose of marriage alliances that Mudugas are dividied into four exogamous groups.  They are:

  1. Karuttiga
  2. Vellega
  3. Kuppuniga and
  4. Arura

The ‘karuttiga’ can take brides or give brides only to the member of the ‘vellega’ group. They cannot have any marriage alliance with any other group.   Likewise the members of the ‘kuppuniga’group can have marriage relationship only with the ‘arura’ group.

           The Mudugas encourage cross cousin marriages i.e., marrying maternal uncle’s or paternal aunt’s daughter.  Polyandry is prohibited, but polygamy is practised in a restricted way i.e., when the first wife does not bear children or becomes unhealthy.  Divorce and widow marriages are allowed. 

Social functions and Ceremonies

Pregnancy and child birth

           Before completing three months of the first pregnancy of  a girl the news should be reported to the headman by her father-in-law, and later the headman informs this to her parents.  On an auspicious Monday of the third month the girl’s parents visit her and give sweets, and on the next morning they take her to their hut.  Her husband and his parents also accompany her.  The girl’s parents have to arrange a feast for these people and after the feast the girl with her husband and parents return to their hut.


          The birth of a child in a family especially the first delivery of a girl is usually an occasion for rejoicing.  It is said that a system of using an isolation shed (pollution hut) for delivery was prevalent among this tribe.  But at present no pollution hut is bing built, the delivery takes place in the living hut itself, i.e., on the ‘dinne’of the hut.  When the labour pain starts they arrange a labour room in the ‘dinne’ and the girl is  segregated there and made to live there until the pollution is dissipated.  The period of pollution is  6 days in the case of a female child and 7 days for a male child.  Usually the mother of any one of the spouses will be attending the delivery and nursing the girl.  On the first 7 days after delivery there is some restriction in the diet of the mother and she won’t be allowed to take any non-vegitarian food.  She has to drink turmeric juice and ragi gruel mixed with salt and pepper.  On the next day i.e., when the birth pollution ends the mother has to take bath in the river and wear new clothes.  A feast given to the relatives on that day and an amount of Rs. 15/- to Rs. 25/- and new clothes are given to the woman who nursed her.

          During the pollution period no male member is allowed to see the mother and the child and it is on the 7th or 8th day the father can see his child for the first time.  A waist chain of plantain fibres is being tied to the child by the grandmother and the father calls a name by beating a rod on the metal saucer, and the mother puts bangles to child.  The headman gives Rs. 10/- or Rs. 5/- to the child and later the members present there also give small amount to the child as gifts.

           Though the birth pollution ends by  6 or 7 days the mother has to stay in the ‘dinne’ itself till she completes 30 days and she is allowed to enter into the hut on the 32nd day only after taking bath in the river.  But from the 7th or 8th day onwards she can take non-vegetarian food.  For the first six months the infant will be fed only with the mother’s milk and on an auspicious day of the 6th month the members of the settlement give a feast to the mother, and on this feast the infant is given boiled rice by the mother or grandmother.

 Puberty and menses

           When  a girl attains puberty her father has to report this news to the headman and the headman informs this to her relatives and other members of the settlement.  In the case of puberty, pollution lasts for 7 days and on those days the girl should stay in the ‘dinne’ of the hut.  During those days her pubescent friends will be attending or nursing her and it is their duty to enjoy her by singing songs or saying jokes.  No male member is allowed to see her or she won’t be allowed to see any male members on those days.  On the 8th day there will be certain ceremonies and a feast in the girl’s hut in which all members of the settlement except the ‘mannukkare’ attend. The expenses of the feast is met either by the girl’s parents or by the members of the settlements. 

          Before the feast, the girl is led to the river by two elder women (usually her sisters-in-law) for bathing.  A wooden mortar which contains turmeric and flowers, and pestle is placed in front of the hut and on the way to the river the girl should hold the centre of the pestle while the women accompanying her hold the upper and lower parts of the pestle.  They jointly rise the pestle and hit on the mortar for three times.  Then the accompanying women take the turmeric from the mortar and smear it on the body of the girl.  Then all of them take bath in the river and return to the hut.  On the way the process of hitting the pestle on the mortar for three times is repeated and they jointly push back the mortar.   Then they directly enter into the hut without looking backward.  Feast will be given to the members of the settlement only after the girl and the two accompanying women were feasted.  The girl has to return all the ornaments she received from other women of the settlements on the day she attained puberty.

           The period of pollution in the cases of menses is far six days and during those days the polluted women has to stay in the ‘dinne’ of the hut.


           The first step in the process of marriage among the Mudugas is  fixation of date.  Usually the bridegroom’s party take the initiative and try to get the consent of the bride’s party.  Marriages are conducted only after the girls attain puberty.  The bridegroom will be either her cousin (maternal uncle’s son on paternal aunt’s son) or any other suitable youngman of the community.

           As the first step the parent of the bridegroom will find out a girl and later they will inform this to their son.  If the son is willing they will report this to the headman and request for his consent.  On a Monday a group consisting of six people (headman, ‘kurutale’ and his wife, ‘vandari’ and his wife and the father of the bridegroom) will go to the girl’s hut.  While going to the girl’s hut the bridegroom’s father takes with him tobacco, arecanut, betelnut and an amount of Rs. 1.50.  After receiving the guests the girl’s father enquires the purpose of their visit.  The ‘kurutale’ will reply that they visit there for a girl, and then the girl will be brought before them and the ‘kurutale’ will ask her whether she likes the proposed marriage or not.  If she is willing the bridegroom’s father hand over the tobacco, aracanut, batelnut and the Rs. 1.50 to the ‘kurutale’.  After having a feast from the girl’s hut all of them return to their own huts.

     On the next day a group of ix people from the bride’s side (headman, ‘kurutale’ and his wife: ‘vandari, and his wife, bride’s father) visit the bridegroom’s hut to see the bridegroom and fix the marriage.  The day and time of the marriage will be fixed in the prsence of the headman.  After that they will be feasted by the bridegroom’s parents and after the feast they return to their huts. 

         Usually mariages are conducted at the bridegroom’s residence on Monday morning.  On the evening of the previous Sunday the bride’s party with the bride will come to the bridegroom’s hut.  In connection with the marriage there will be feast on Sunday and Monday at the expense of the bridegroom’s party.  Till Monday morning the bride will be kept in the hut of the headman of ‘kurutale’ or ‘vandari’ under the custody of their wives.

           The marriage ceremonies take place in a specially decorated ‘pandal’ built in front of the bridegroom’s hut .  The bridegroom’s mother adornes the bride with ornaments and new clothes and lead her to the ‘pandal’ where the bridegroom is being seated on a mat, and seat her on the left side of the bridegroom.  The important items of the marriage are to join the hands of the fiances and garlanding.  While ‘kurutale’ holds the right hand of the bridegroom, his wife places the right palm of the bride on the right palm of the bridegroom.  They have to sit in this pose for a few minutes while the friends and relatives assemble there place ornaments and money before them as marriage gifts.  Next step is garlanding which will be done by the wives of ‘kurutale’ and ‘vendari’ .  Firstly, the wife of ‘vandari’ receives a garland from the bride’s parents and puts on to the neck of the bridegroom.  Then the bridegroom’s parents give a garland to the wife of ‘kurutale’ and she puts on this to the neck of the bride.     Tying of marriage badge (talikettu) and exchanging of garlands by the bride and bridegroom are not practised among this tribe.

           After these ceremonies the bride and the bridegroom will be seated face to face on a mat and plantain leaf is placed in front of them.  Then boiled rice and curries are served on the leaf for eating.  Both of them take a handful of rice and at first the bridegroom tries to feed the bride.  But she avoids his hand which is full of rice and tries to feed him the rice which is in her hand.  This is repeated for some time.  Then they start eating.  After eating the food the bridegroom takes water in a goblet and pour it in the hands of the bride.  While she washes her hand he throws the goblet away.  Then she takes another goblet of water and pours it in his hand.  When he starts washing she also throws the goblet away.  Later they take water in separate goblets and wash their hands.  After ceremonies food will be served to all the people present there.

           When the feast is over the bride and the bridegroom are seated on a mat before their parents, headman and his assistants.  The wife of the ‘kurutale’ sits on the right side of the bridegroom and the headman’s wife on the left side of the bride.  Other members are seated around them in a circle.  It is in this function the bride money is given to the bride’s parents which varies from Rs. 100 to Rs. 150.  The bridegroom’s father gives the amount to the headman who gives it to the ‘kurutale’ and then the ‘kurutale’ gives it to the ‘vandari’.  Again vandari gives this amount to the headman.  By holding the amount in his hand the headman tells the bride’s parents that they have taken the girl and if the marriage is divorced due to her misconduct, the amount will have to be refunded to them.  Then he gives the amount to the bride and she hands over it to her father.  From this amount Rs. 2.50 is given to the ‘kurutale’ and Rs. 1.25 to ‘vandari’.  A mat is spread before the headman and the members present there put small amounts on the mat as gifts.  From that collection the head man takes Rs. 20 and the rest is divided among the members.  After this all the people return to their huts except the bride who has stay in the bridegroom’s hut.  There will be dancing and singing before the couple throughout the night and they are allowed to sleep together only on the 4th day of the marriage.  In the evening of the next Sunday the bride and the bridegroom with his relatives (other than his father and mother) visit the bride’s hut and return on Monday evening.  They have to carry rice, milk and curd along with them while they visit the bride’s hut.

           Marriages by exchange, by service and by elopment are also rarely seen among this tribe.


           Any death is considered to be the concern of the entire settlement and full honours are given to the departed soul by beating drum and playing pipes.  All members of the settlement including the headman should have to attend the death ceremonies.  The corpse will be buried only on the 3rd day of the death and till that time the members present there will sing and dance around the corpse, and only close relatives will mourn.  Before burying the corpse they won’t cook anything in the hut.

           All the ceremonial functions connected with the death are done on the overall supervision of the headman.  The corpse is washed, dressed with new clothes and placed on a bed made of bamboo poles.  Then coins are placed on the mouth and forehead of the corpse.  The sons-in-law and the brothers-in-law carry the corpse to the burial ground, and a rectangular pit to a depth of about five feet is dug.  The eldest son throws three handful of grains into the pit and then only the corpse is placed in the pit.  The corpse is never placed flat in the pit, it is placed in a sitting pose by stretching the legs to the front.  The head faces upwards and it is towards the south.  From the clothe of the corpse three pieces are cut out by the son and placed one on the middle and the other two on both ends of the body.  He throws three handful of grains and three handful of soil on the corpse.  Weapons and utensils used by the deceased person are also put in the pit and the pit is covered with soil by the members present there.  All the things brought along with the corpse are abandoned there.  Before returning from the spot the son of the deceased person cut out a piece of ‘Darbha grass’ (poa cynosuroides) and by hitting this on the tomb he spells the name of the dead person.  After taking bath in the river he returns to the hut accompanied by other members, and he brings the piece of Darbha grass to the hut.  Then two vessels, one containing water and the other containing coconut oil, is placed before the son.  He dips the piece of Darbha grass in the oil and holds it over the water by enchanting the name of the deceased.  This is repeated twice.  When the two drops of oil in the water join together, they believe that the ancestors in the heaven accept the soul of the deceased person.  If the first two drops do not join, they will repeat the process till it joins.

          The members in the hut observe pollution for 40 days.  The pollution is dissipated by giving a feast to the members who took part in the death ceremonies.  Generally Mudugas do not have any other ceremonies by which the dead are remembered.       


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