Identification. The Toda, a small, traditionally pastoral community of the Nilgiri Mountains in south India, call themselves O.l (long rounded vowel, plus voiceless retroflex l ), meaning simply "the men." Their Badaga neighbors call them Todava, while Tamil speakers call them Tutavar. To other Nilgiri neighbors, the Kota, they are Ton. "Toda" is an anglicization of the Badaga form. Today the Toda include traditionalists (the majority) and a small breakaway Community of Christians.
Location. The Nilgiri Mountains of India's Tamil Nadu State rise spectacularly to an elevation of 2,400 meters. The highlands, where the Toda live, enjoy a temperate monsoonal climate, very different from the tropical plains below. The natural vegetation of the highlands is rolling grassland, with patches of temperate forest known as shola. As the Nilgiri slopes are precipitous and the thickly forested foothills were once highly malarial, the Toda and their highland neighbors lived for centuries in considerable isolation from the South Indian mainstream cultures.
Demography. Throughout recorded history the Toda community has been small. In 1603, a Jesuit priest who visited them wrote that the Toda numbered "about a thousand." The first government of India census in 1871 counted 693. In 1952 the parent, non-Christian community reached probably its all-time low of 475, and then it began slowly to increase. In August 1988 the author counted 1,042 Toda traditionalists (all but 35 living in Toda hamlets) and another 4 persons, born traditionalists but made outcaste for marrying non-Toda. The three Toda Christian settlements accounted for a further 133 people, but only 38 could claim pure Toda Descent; kin and affines of these Toda Christians, living elsewhere in India and abroad, numbered at least 150, but only 35 were of pure Toda descent. Traditionalists, together with Christians and Outcastes of pure Toda descent, therefore totaled 1,119. Female infanticide (officially prohibited in 1819, but continuing sporadically for several decades) probably accounted for ancient population limits. More recently, venereal infections kept numbers low until a drive to eradicate these diseases, begun in the 1950s, succeeded in raising the birthrate.
Linguistic Affiliation. A Dravidian language affiliated with Tamil-Malayalam, Toda may have emerged as a separate language in the third century B . C . It has no written form. Most Toda speak Tamil and Badagu in addition to their mother tongue. Literate Toda mostly write in Tamil; a few use English.