Vanishing Badaga Bards

(If all Badagas could dance, most Badagas can sing. But there have been only a few Balladeers. These Bards composed, improvised and entertained and educated the community about the epic songs and stories handed down over generations orally. The Bards could easily carry on their narration for hours, even through the night,  on happy and sad occasions.

The last few years have seen the passing away of a number of legendary Badaga Bards like ‘Kerban’ Bellan, ‘Kallatti’ Basavan, ‘Kada Kambatti’ Bheeman and now recently ‘Thangadu’ L. Krishnan)

What is so unique about these songs? Charles Gover, a member of the Royal Asiatic Society says in his book ‘The Folk Songs of Southern India’ written in 1817:

“The Badagas are a musical race. They are always ready to sing; at birth, marriage, or death. But it is not only on such occasions that they sing.

Traveler along hillside tracks will often hear the distant chant, the loud and sudden chorus, and then again the floating strain of the single singer, borne gently and like the reflex of some distant wave on the wings of the cool night breeze. Such echoes tell of Badaga merriment, and that at that moment a whole village-full of folk are gathered round some mossy stone, listening to and then joining in the song of a rustic Homer or Badaga bard who leads the resounding melody. Men, women, and children are there.

Even as they sing some man or maiden springs to the front and dances to the song, light and agile as a deer or, better still, a mountaineer, such as they are. Thus with song and dance the evening glides away.

It is not certain that civilization has furnished greater nations with better modes of enjoying the silvery moonlight tide. It is quite certain that few

nations can boast of better songs as far as words may go. They are rather songs such as the minnesingers trolled out—stories in poetry. More than ballads, less than books, they remind one, in everything but their morality and lack of appreciation of the beauties of nature, of Chaucer’s stories.

(For the literary savvy) Imagine, if it be possible, a Wife of Bath or a Merchants Tale that should be devoted to the wickedness of sin rather than to the pleasures of the flesh ; and then in dramatic character, poetic force, vividness of colouring and completeness of story, we shall get a Badaga song”.

Image : Late Thangadu L Krishnan at the ‘Mountain Rhythms’ organized by me in 2009 at Sullivan Memorial as part of a Trilogy, the others being ‘Music of the Mountains (at Music Academy) and   ‘Mountain Melodies’ (at British Council).

Nilgiri Documentation Centre

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