The Badagas(Kannada:ಬಡಗ ಜನರು) are an indigenous people inhabiting the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, southern India.The term 'Badagu' in old Kannada means 'North',so 'Badaga' should mean 'Northener'.
They form the largest indigenous community in the Nilgiri region, with a population of approximately 150,000 encompassing some 370-odd villages and smaller settlements. They are registered as a Backward Caste, (now referred to as other backward caste(OBC) caste). Their aspirations to be recognized as a tribe, rather than a caste, is complicated by their historical and contemporary social relations with other Nilgiri peoples, from whom they have asserted some differences and even a social precedence.
For example, the Badagas have traditionally hired musicians from other Nilgiri groups (such as the Kota and Irula) to play at their social functions, which is symbolic of submission and control in that region. However, they are also known to have paid tribute in grain to other groups, such as the Todas. In general, neither stereotype of caste or tribe can be readily applied. They are most likely Dravidian by descent and they are by religion Hindus of the Saiva sect. Research has indicated they migrated to the Nilgiris from the Mysore region, sometime around 1600 after the break-up of the kingdom of Vijayanagara. They are an agricultural people and far the most numerous and wealthy of the hill tribes. Many have relocated to towns and cities of the region, and earn income from urban-style employment. Their language is Badaga, a dialect of Kannada. This is the correct representation of Badaga people ,let us see why there is confusion.
Natives of the Nilgiris
Philology states that in the beginning languages existed without scripts and only later scripts were developed. Hence this seems to be a justification that the badagas were completely an indegenous people to due to the absence in their script, but an ancient indegenous group would have a higher population or would have been completely extinct which questions the validity of this theory.
The European Connection
Badaga ethnic group from Central/East Europe for survival had to accept the local language after migration to southern India and then to the Nilgiri Hills (the nilgiris then belonged to the Vijayanagara Empire), hence the dialect of Kannada. The badagas hence adopted the language for verbal communication and did not accept the Script as it was Foreign to them. The date of the second migration from present Karnataka is probably said to be around 1500 AD - 1600 AD. But this theory is put up to convert badagas to Christianity. The same theory has been put forward in neibhouring kodagu to successful effect in conversion. To somehow show they are closer to European to spread Christianity.
Genomic Studies i.e. a Y-chromosome DNA marker test on the badagas have resulted in the badagas belonging to the broader R1a and specifically R1a1 Haplogroup. A good percentage of people in Central Europe,East Europe,Scandinavia and the people of Punjab also belong to this R1a1 Haplogroup. Hence this has been suggestive of the fact that the badagas are of an Eurasian origin.
The above statement of "origin" is further diluted based on the examination of R1a1 in South Indian tribals and Dravidian population groups Saha et al. (2005) questioned the concept of its Indo-Iranian origin. Sengupta et al. (2005) claim R1a's diverse presence including even Indian tribal and lower castes (the so-called untouchables) and populations not part of the caste system. From the diversity and distinctiveness of microsatellite Y-STR variation they conclude that there must have been an independent R1a1 population in India dating back to a much earlier expansion than the Indo-Aryan migration. The other Ethnic group from southern India which belongs to the R1a1 haplogroup are the Kodava whose customs and cultural aspects for centuries have been said to be related to the Badagas.
Proto Kannada-Tamil origin
Some tamil scholars say they split from Proto-Kannada-Tamil. But this is without any basis and is linguistic chuvanism of the Tamils. This theory is mainly put forward to keep the beautiful and Nilgiris and ooty within Tamil nadu. With this theory they also forced Badagas to use Incompatible Tamil Script. The widespread use of ha indicates that Badagas migrated to Nilgiris after the Pa-Ha shift happened in Kannada, that is post Hoysala.
The Badagas are very much a part of the Gowdas (Land Lords in Karnataka). Many also follow Lingayat tradition. It remained as a dialect because of the isolation in the hills. The language is also believed to be the older form of Kannada (Hale Kannada). Though the practices may be unique, the culture is very much the same as the Kannadigas. This uniqueness is by shedding out old practices and adopting new ones to keep the bond among members of the community and the other tribes like Todas, Kurumbas etc.
Any Lay kannada person can understand Badaga speaking, It has retained the old charms and also some of the cultural practices. All the words in Badaga has kannada origin, they have borrowed some from neibhouring Toda, Korta , Kuruba(all Kannada tribes) and Irula (Malayalam tribe). Recently they have been using more of Tamil, because of the use of tamil script and tamil administration.
To know the origin of Badagas we dont need such elaborate analysis , the reason for migration , time of migration , placed stopped on the way are all in the Badaga folk songs.