As THE founder of Zola, a jewellery brand that works with folk artisans, Gina Joseph often travels around the country, seeking new inspiration. “Heading for the hills is an idiom I’ve often heard, but I put it to the test recently when I headed to the Nilgiris for some peace, quiet and creative thinking. Among the seven tribes there, the Badagas, Todas, Kotas and Paniyas live in and around Kotagiri. What started off as a field project on Badaga jewellery opened up so much for me—besides a Toda-inspired line for Zola,” says Joseph. The ‘urban cynic’ says she was amazed by the hospitality of the people, and shares, “I stayed in Jaknarai, a Badaga village, and forayed out into the neighbouring settlements in the seven days I was there. I discovered that their jewellery is influenced by nature—the shapes of the earrings, the inscriptions on the bangles, even the black-and-red Toda embroidery.” Here is our pick of photographs from the designer’s trip that showcase the tribe’s aesthetic offerings.
At Tamizhan mandu, a Toda settlement in Ooty, 75-year-old Narasamma—draped in a traditional Toda shawl with poothkuli embroidery (similar to the tattoos men and women sported in earlier days)—poses with her granddaughter.
A rare peek at the traditional Badaga jewellery—kadagas (bangles), malaimani (necklace) and arnakair (waist belt)—that is worn only during mande dandhu (the head shaving ceremony for baby boys).
The day before I bid goodbye to the Nilgiris, my host, Lakshmi, arranged a dance
performance—with young girls from the village, dressed up in their traditional Badaga thundu mundu. Rustic and endearing.
At Kil Anaiyatty village, I met 70-year-old Lakshmi, who proudly showed off her traditional Badaga gold mookuthi (nose pin) and chinna (earrings), designed like a wheel.
I was fascinated by the jewellery of a 72-year-old Kota woman. Made of silver—with motifs of seeds and flowers—her father had made it for her when she was a teenage bride.
This antique silver ankle collar, worn by the women of the Irula tribe as an everyday piece of jewellery, dates back to the 1950s.
The mandatory click at a Toda temple. Constructed in a circular pit lined with stones—with the buffalo head as a recurring motif—it is similar in appearance to Toda huts.