The Kota – Primitive tribe of Nilgiri District, Tamilnadu, India

The Kota – Primitive tribe of Nilgiri District, Tamilnadu, India. K.R.Meenakshi, Research Scholar, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai.

Kotas are found only in the Nilgiri District. Kotas in the olden days were the only one of all the hill tribes who practiced the industrial arts and they were therefore essential almost to the very existence of the other tribes and castes of the Nilgiris. This paper is an attempt to understand their social, economic and political culture of Kota tribal community in the Nilgiri District of Tamilnadu.

Key worlds: Kota tribes, Ethnographic features. .


Kotas are found only in the Nilgiri district, that too, they are found living only in seven settlements, referred to by them as Kokkals. Most of these Kotas settlements are located on the Nilgiri upper plateau. Kotas are referred to by different synonyms like Kotas, Kohatur and Koter. There are a few stories regarding the origin of the Kotas in the Nilgiri district. One story was recorded by James Wilkinson Breeks. He stated according to a Kota legend that, the Kota, the Toda and the Kurumba were real brothers and that they were the earliest inhabitants of the Nilgiri hills. These three, as the legend goes, were created from three –. of the God’s (Kambatrayan) perspiration. That separation took place when God asked each of them what they wanted one of them said. -Give me the talents of art- and he become a Kota, who later proved to be an able blacksmith, musician, hunter, potter and rope and umbrella maker, another said, -Give me buffalos who can be my friend, relative and saviour and he became a Toda dairy man. Give me the power to destroy those whom I do not like-, said the third brother and be became a Kurumba possessing powers of sorcery and black magic which the other two dreaded. According to a belief of the Kota, some centuries ago when the Badagas were taking refuge in the Nilgiri hills from the oppression of Tippu Sultan in Mysore, the Kota, in order to protect them, distributed themselves in different geographic regions of the Nilgiris and subsequently smaller units in each region merged together and thus the seven present villages were established. They, however, rearranged themselves to maintain their socio-cultural exclusiveness with regard to the others, which even today is apparently seen.

Social Organisation

The social organisation is the network of relations existing among individuals and groups in a society. The Kota society is a patrilineage i.e. a descent group whose membership is based upon a rule of patrilineal descent. Patrilineal descent is a cultural principle which automatically affiliates a child at birth through his father to a descent group that consists of all Kinsmen who are related to him through his male ancestors. As with other tribal societies, Kotas do not have separate social divisions based on territorial or occupational levels. But Kotas have a unique social feature of Keri (street) system that regulate their marriage alliances. The social organisation has developed among the Kotas in such a way that, a Keri corresponds to a clan, and the members of a Keri itself has become a social grouping of kinsmen. Each Kota settlement has three or four Keris and they are named differently and they enable easy identification from one another on the basis of the layout of the Keris. Marriage ceremony called Peddege-Chiko is a simple function among the Kota. Among the Kota a man may not marry a girl of his own Keri. Previously child marriage was common among them, but now a days they prefer adult marriages, but pre puberty alliance fixation is still prevalent. The modes of acquiring mates are marriage by elopement and marriage by courtship cum negotiation. According to the courtship type of marriage, a Kota boy selects his mate and when they approve of each other, he informs his parents of his desire to carry her. The courtship may last for any period but neither the parents nor the Kota adults condemn or gossip about it. The forms of marriage among the Kotas are monogamy i.e. the marriage of one man to one women, and also polygamy i.e. the marriage of one man to two or more women at one time are prevalent. Most of the Kotas prefer monogamy. The Kota practice polygamy, but a man may marry a second wife only with the expressed consent of the first wife. This is done normally when the first wife has not been able to give birth to children or produce a male child divorce is allowed in the community compensation for divorce is to be given to the wife. The children are the liability of the father in a case of divorce. Widows are permitted to remarry a Kota family acquires membership through marriage, birth and adoption.

Economic Organisation

The Kotas are the only artisan community on the hills of the Nilgiris. Thus Kotas have been smith in gold and silver, they are carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and musicians. Every Kota settlement had one forge and a work shed, where all the Kota blacksmiths used their native bellows, pincers and hammers. They used to bring metal from Coimbatore city in semi finished form, full of impurities and make a variety of tools and implements for agricultural as well as ritual purposes. The Kota women were traditionally able potters. Pots were made out of the locally available sticky clay, without anything mixed in it except water to the extent absolutely needed. For the pots of Kotas, Tiruchigadi and Sholur Kokkal were popular. A few Kota women make ornamental clay models of different animals, dolls, and vessels fro which there is some demand from foreign tourists and other visitors to their settlements. Kota carpenters are experts in preparing ornamental wooden doors, cots and window panes with ethnic designs and are in demand outside their settlements. Nowadays due to changes in the landscape of the Nilgiris hills, development of market centres and due to economic advancement Kotas got involved in agriculture and horticulture by tilling their own lands and growing vegetables and tea. The Kotas also grows vegetables like garlic, cabbage, onion, carrot, green peas, etc. The Kotas have now started selling milk to the Nilgiri Milk Cooperative society and also to private tea shop and to neighbouring non tribals. They also sell ghee and other milk products. Every Kota settlement has one or two teams of traditional musicians with their traditional musical instruments. If male musicians play musical instruments, other Kotas, males or females or both start dancing to the tunes of the Kota music. In Nilgiri district the non tribal rich people, official and even new Hindu temples founders feel that Kota music and dance is very auspicious. The Kotas provide their music and exhibit their dance skills by taking money as honorarium.

Political Organisation

Political organisation in a community concerns the allocation of power and authority to make decisions beyond the personal level that is decisions which effect the community as a whole so the political organisation, refers, usually to the means of maintaining order and conformity in a society. The headman or chieftain of a tribal society maintains social control in his community. The tribal chief’s position is also governed by the community’s political institution through some rules of succession. Kotas live only in seven villages in the Nilgiri district. In all these villages, Kotas have their own tribal council called -Koot’ or -Koottu’ which maintains the social control among the Kotas in their respective villages. A Koot has no formal leadership. In spite of the absence of the leaders, there are a few important persons of the Kota society such as Kota Poojaris, Munthakannan, Terkaran and Sastragars (ritual elders) besides elected Kota village headman, referred by them as Pittakar, who have a greater say than others in the affairs of the Kota village. The Koot meetings take place as and when aggrieved individuals or parties summon it to discuss problematic issue. A Koot of the Kota can be summoned by anybody over any issue on any day. A Koot is normally held at the Kolaval ground. The meeting takes place mostly after dusk. Any issue is first heard from both the parties concerned and discussed and then the elder men voice their individual opinions regarding the merit of the issue.

Religious Beliefs And Practices

In every Kota settlement, they have a wide area and a sacred temple complex in which temples are theme for God Kambatrayan, Goddess Kambateeswari and in some place a temple for God Kannatrayan. They do not have deities inside the temple. The emblems of a bow and arrow can be seen at the top of all these temples. Kotas consider Mondays as the most auspicious days and consider new moon days as the day of spirits of the dead and therefore it is not sacred for observing any ritual offering puja to the temple in the form of milk in the main sacred activity of the Kotas through their priests. Kotas celebrate festivals like Nambi festival to pacify the souls of the dead person sowing and harvest festival and Sivarathri festival. They believe that a few events like sound of the crow, crossing of the cat and snake and presence of widows can prognosticate the success or failure of day to day activities of life. Kotas usually dance to the tunes of their music during their festivals and also celebrating their life cycle rituals.

Conclusion Most of the Kotas have reached main stream development and they are aspiring to live as a national citizens outside their traditional habitat of the Nilgiri hills.


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