Identification. The name "Badaga" (northerner) was given to this group because they migrated from the plains of Mysore District, just to the north of the Nilgiri Hills, in the decades following the Muslim invasion that destroyed the great Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in A . D . 1565. Badaga is also a common name for the Gaudas, who are by far the largest phratry in this community. In the nineteenth century the name was spelled in various ways. The Badagas are the largest community in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu State (formerly Madras) in southern India, between latitude 11° and ll°30′ N.
Location. The Badagas occupy only the small Nilgiris District at the junction of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu states, but they share their territory with many other tribal groups and an even larger number of fairly recent immigrants from the plains of south India. The district area is 2,549 square kilometers, about the same as the state of Rhode Island. Although the majority of Badagas are still small-scale farmers, there is now a sizable middle class living in the four main British-built towns on the plateau, and the community can boast several thousand college graduates. Badaga doctors, lawyers, teachers, and government officials are very plentiful, and there are also a few professors, agronomists, and politicians. Although still largely a rural population, they have as high a rate of literacy (in Tamil and English) as the inhabitants of Madras City. A few households can boast cars and imported videotape players. Several dozen doctors, engineers, and architects have recently settled with their families in America.
Demography. The Badagas number an estimated 145,000 (1991), about 19 percent of the district population of 630,169 (as of 1981). Progressive attitudes have made the Badagas an unusually successful farming community. Population figures from the official censuses bear out this success: in 1812 there were reportedly only 2,207 Badagas; by 1901 there were 34,178; today, about 145,000. By developing intensive cash-crop cultivation they have managed to accommodate this greatly increased labor force and improve their standard of living. With birth control in practice now for some twenty years, the annual population growth rate is down to about 1.5 percent (our estimate).
Linguistic Affiliation. All Badagas—and only Badagas—speak Badaga, or more correctly Badugu, a Dravidian Language. It is now a distinct language, but it was originally derived from sixteenth-century Kannada (or Canarese), which belongs to the South Dravidian Subfamily. Today it contains many words of English and Tamil origin, as well as many from Sanskrit. In premodern times the language served as a lingua franca among the various Nilgiri tribes.