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Speakers

Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru
Dentist, Environmental Activist & Toda Community Activist
Kurumba Community Leader & Honey Gatherer
Kurumba Traditional Healer
Researcher & Archivist
Researcher & Archivist

Date & Time

Friday Fri, 23 Feb 2024

Location

Bangalore International Centre
7, 4th Main Road, Domlur II Stage
Bangalore, Karnataka 560071 India

The Nilgiri Hills, or the Blue Mountains as they were also known, are a biodiversity hotspot which also represents a fascinating natural and cultural landscape. The year 2019 marked the bicentenary of British contact initiated by John Sullivan with the indigenous people of the Nilgiri Hills in southern India, followed by the founding of the hill station of Ootacumund (Udhagamandalam) in 1821. Despite the Nilgiri district being one of the regions that attracted the most scrutiny in terms of colonial era writings and explorations, there is much that has eluded a wider understanding with respect to distinct cultural dimensions and historical trajectories of its remote communities.

This event will explore such lesser known facets, drawing from the volume The Nilgiri Hills: A Kaleidoscope of People, Culture and Nature edited by Paul Hockings and published by Orient Blackswan in 2023, which delved into the relationship between nature and culture amongst the people of the Nilgiris, against the backdrop of the transitions and transformations associated with the colonial encounter and modernisation.

Sharada Srinivasan, as a contributor to the volume, will explore the enigmatic material culture of the Nilgiri cairns from antiquity with finds of ceramics, gold jewellery, vessels (which she noted from archaeometallurgical study to be of skilled high-tin bronze), floral and faunal motifs on artefacts, and ethnoarchaeological connections to the communities of the Kotas, Kurumbas, Todas and Badagas. Tarun Chhabra, also a contributor, will highlight the symbiotic nature of the engagement of the pastoral Todas with the landscape and their perceptions of the British. These presentations will be followed by an interactive session involving the Kurumba community on their indigenous healing practices and arduous honey gathering activities and related songs, featuring Janakiamma and P Chandran from the Kurumba community with Ranjani Prasad and Faisal Rehman. Their work has also been written about in the Nilgiris Hills volume in a chapter by Pratim Roy and Anita Verghese.

The speakers and panelists have also contributed to the coinciding exhibitions at the BIC, ‘Remembering and Reimagining: A Photographic Journey through the History of the Nilgiris’ and ‘Honey Bees of the Nilgiris‘.

Image Credits
Thumbnail and posters: ‘Ottacamund, View of the Great Dodabetta, Neelgherry Mountains’, plate 4 from View of the Neilgherries, or Blue Mountains of Coimbetoor, Southern India by Captain McCurdy, published 1830.
Header: Photo of Taranadumandu by Sharada Srinivasan.

In collaboration with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS-TCS Heritage Initiative)

Speakers

Sharada Srinivasan

Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru

Sharada Srinivasan is Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru (NIAS) specialising in Archaeological Sciences, Archaeometallurgy and Technical Art History. Also a contributor to The Nilgiri Hills volume, she has published articles over the years on  material culture in the Nilgiris in international journals such as Materials and Manufacturing Processes and Journal of Historical Metallurgy. She is a recipient of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE) Woman Engineer of the Year (Academia) 2021 for her researches  uncovering early high-tin bronzes including from the Nilgiris and was elected as International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021. She is Co-Investigator in the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, a recent collaboration between Ghent University and NIAS. She received the Padmashri in Archaeology in 2019. The books and volumes she has contributed to include Digital Hampi, Ecstasy of Classical Art, Performance at the Urban Periphery, India’s Legendary Wootz Steel, Re-envisioning Siva Nataraja and others.

Tarun Chhabra

Dentist, Environmental Activist & Toda Community Activist

Tarun Chhabra, dentist by profession in Ootacumund, is an environmental activist and also an activist for the Toda community and Founding Trustee of Toda Nalavaazhvu Sangam. He is perhaps at present one of the rare outsiders to speak the Toda language fluently and has written articles and given talks on unique aspects of Toda culture and ethnobotany.  In 2003, he established an environmental NGO called Edhkwehlynawd Botanical Refuge Trust which works on ecological restoration in the Nilgiris and the Toda heartland.  He is author of The Toda Landscape: Explorations in Cultural Ecology (2015, Harvard University Press) and contributor to The Nilgiri Hills edited by Paul Hockings published by Orient Blackswan in 2023.

P Chandran

Kurumba Community Leader & Honey Gatherer

P Chandran is from the Alu Kurumba indigenous community in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. He comes from a family of traditional leadership and has practised forest honey-hunting, especially of Apis dorsata (giant rock-bee) honey combs found on high cliffs in the Nilgiri Plateau. His expertise and experience in community mobilisation, community-based research and action at Keystone Foundation ranges from agricultural practices, traditional livelihoods, forest governance and rights, community wellbeing, cultural revitalisation and identity building. He is also a member of the PVTG Forum as well as the SDLC (Sub-Divisional Level Committee) for implementing the FRA (Forest Rights Act).

Janakiamma

Kurumba Traditional Healer

Janakiamma is from the Alu Kurumba indigenous community in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. She has been a traditional healer and indigenous medicine practitioner for most of her life, imbibed through her father and his knowledge of the native forests’ flora. She is considered to be one of the local experts of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from her community. For the last 15 years, she has been in the editorial committee of the quarterly newsletter Nilgiri Seemai Suddhi. She has also been one of the Directors of the APPCL (Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar Producer Company Limited), which is a community owned company of 1800 indigenous shareholders. Her expertise in Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) has led her to be at the helm of many initiatives through Keystone Foundation and other institutions and initiatives across the world.

Faisal Rehman

Researcher & Archivist

Faisal Rehman has been involved with setting up the People and Nature Collectives at Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri, Nilgiris; with interests in archives, ethics and law, community representation, and the politics of knowledge flows and ownership. Faisal supports Indigenous Community-led foundations/organisations, coordinates projects building community archives, mentors local and indigenous researchers, creates archiving tools and facilitates community media platforms.

Ranjani Prasad

Researcher & Archivist

Ranjani Prasad has been involved with archival practice, research and curation over the last decade. Her interests are at the intersections of histories, communities, and technologies. She is presently part of the People and Nature Collectives at Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri, Nilgiris. She has also been engaged with projects in public history, community based research and digital humanities in the past.