Decoding Ooty’s name

Ever wondered what the story behind the name ‘Ooty’, the headquarters of Nilgiris, could be? Or why it is also called ‘Udhagamandalam’? Or ‘Ootacamund’?

Sacred Hearts church, Ooty

Now… if you are the inquisitive type who would not sleep before solving a puzzle… don’t blame me for your insomnia!

The earliest Brits who arrived in Nilgiris in the early 1800’s tried all they could… but could simply not pronounce Udhagamandalam (or the versions mentioned further below)! The best they could do was Whatacaimund or Wotokymund or Wuttakamand and that is what even the early records of the periods state! The same got distorted slowly to what then officially (under British) became Ootacamund! Easy on the Brit tongue, still lengthy! So.. they shortened it to Ooty! Voila!

Wait.. that is not all! The real confusion is behind the history of the name Udhagamandalam. Versions, there are many. Written records to prove the same… few! Till date, there is no uniformity of opinion on this matter!

1. The Toda origin (probably the right one as per Fredrick Price’s research)

The earliest settlers of the region were Todas and hence.. they could very well have named the region first. There is some confirmation that the Toda name for the place was/is: Patkhmund! Mund meaning a Toda village, Patkh could have been a meaningless name just like any Toda village is named.

The Badagas who came later just couldn’t make out the distinctively sounding word (the Toda way of speaking doesnt help either)  and distorted it to.. Whotkh mund. And in typical Badaga style added a ‘ge’ to link the 2 words thus forming Whotkh ge mund!  The Brits did their part to turn it to Ootacamund and then Ooty.

2. Tamil origin – ‘the village of single stone’

The story goes like this. When Sullivan, the founder of Nilgiris landed in Ooty, he was received by Toda’s at a mund that had a large single stone used by them for their offerings/worship. After the stone, the place was named Othai kall mandalam or the village of single stone!

Though most locals today believe this to be the reason behind the name, it is often the most disagreed by researchers as Tamil should definitely have come in much later than the Todas and Badagas to the region and hence the Todas should have actually named it first in their own tongue.

3. Tamil origin 2

Udhagam in Tamil means water, mandalam – place! Hence translating simply to land of water! Again.. not many believe in this theory.

4. Badaga origin

The Badagas have been known to have called the place Hottege manda since very long! Could have been the distorted form of the Toda version.. but few say Hottege could well have been a Badaga word, meaning of which could have been lost to us in the 2 centuries gone by. The closest existing Badaga root to the word is Hotte (like in Kannada)… meaning stomach.

Source: Mostly the excellent 1905 book, Ootacamund: A history by Frederick Price plus a few other resources. Interested in buying the book, click below.

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5 thoughts on “Decoding Ooty’s name

  1. A bit of distortion here and there. Though it is claimed that Todas have come to the Nilgiris before Badagas, I strongly believe that their ORIGIN is yet to be established without doubt.

    Fact remains that both Thoda [Toda] and Badagas co existed along with the other two prominent hill tribes – Kothas and Kurumas for a long long time running into thousand of years and not a couple of centuries.I,being a Badaga, have written a lot about Badaga Origin in my websites/blogs including the hitherto unkwown mention of Badagas in Thamizh Illakkia Puranams. See my websites http://badaga.co, http://badaga.info

    Ooty in Badaga was/is known as Hothage – not Hotte{stomach] as you mention. Exact meaning of Hothage [Hotha- gay]is not known.

    Since there is no doubt that a Thoda MUND existed before Sullivan built the first building in Stone House Hill [now Govt.Arts College], it is possible that the mund was known as Othagemandu – Othay+Kallu+Mandu -> Single + Stone + Mund[Thoda Village] and got distorted to Ottacamund during British time.

  2. Awesome Wg Cdr JP!!!

    Nice to see a comment by an insider! Well, your comment about doubts on Todas being the earliest is a valid one given that there is no confirmation on their arrival in the hills. But afaik, the widespread belief is that they arrived earlier than most others.

    As for your comment on Hottege…. I guess you missed my line “The Badagas have been known to have called the place Hottege manda since very long! Could have been the distorted form of the Toda version.. but few say Hottege could well have been a Badaga word, meaning of which could have been lost to us in the 2 centuries gone by”

    I clearly have mentioned that “Hottege” could as well be a Badaga word whose meaning is now not known.. And the closest word root is “hotte”.

    Nice to know about your site! Would like to collaborate with you to come out with less known facts of the Badagas!

    Keep up the excellent work you are doing!

  3. All place names, except that given in honour of a person, king, god or event, definitely have a relation ship with the place. The problem is over a period of time many names have shortened or deformed making it difficult to trace the original name. Many people try to match the present name to similarly sounding Sanskrit names.

    In the case of Ooty, the most plausible name could be Ottakal Mundu, meaning single stone village. It could be Tamil, Badaga or Toda origin. Since ancient Tamil or Dravida is the mother of all present South Indian languages the word could have been present in Badaga and Toda also. But, till some one presents a more plausible etymology for the word, I feel Ottakal Mundu or the Village of a Single stone shall remain the original name of Ooty. Further, there is no chance that the name of the place once was Udhagamandalam. It is just an invention by Sanskritisers.

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