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374. Banga and Bangera Bari

The Bangera ‘bari ‘( ‘gotra’) is one of the common lineage systems prevalent in Tulunadu  and found in most of the Tulu communities. We sh...

Monday, June 4, 2007

27. The Sweet Potato

The sweet potato (botanical name: Ipomea batatas) was a humble food of the masses since early historical days. Rama, the dark skinned prince of Ayodhya, during the early part of Indian history, went to live in the forest for fourteen years along with his wife Sita and brother Laxmana, only to honour the promise made by his father Dasharatha to his wife (Rama’s step mother Kaikei). Rama and others had to consume roots and tubers like sweet potatoes and wild fruits in the forest. Sweet potato is a common root that can be consumed in raw as well as cooked form.
Reports said that sweet potato (see, Manjunath) was also brought to India by the Portuguese some five centuries ago along with chilies, beans, potato, cassava, breadfruit, sunflower, groundnut, pineapple, guava, sapota, passion fruit, cashew, tobacco, onion, garlic and so on. Sweet potato is reported to be native to the American continents since 5000 years. Archeological evidences suggest that it was cultivated ca.2400 BC in South America; and Columbus is said to have discovered it in the Caribbean region during AD1502.
Balasubramanian, a reader commenting on Manjunath’s cited posting on imported vegetables, elucidated an interesting custom of using native vegetables and materials in shraddha ceremonies of Tamil Brahmins. Sweet potatoes are one of the acceptable tubers used in the preparation of ceremonial food, indicating that sweet potato has attained nativity to our land since long time. They use bitter gourd, raw bananas, banana stem, colocasia, snake gourd, cluster beans, local cucumber, sweet potato, ginger, raw mango and black pepper. Similar ceremonies in Tulu households make use of specified vegetables and allied materials for the preparation of meal on the uttarakriya day. Raw bananas, ash gourds and inner part of plantain (banana) stem constitute the essential vegetables for obituary ceremonies in Tulu families, though modernization has tacitly replaced some of the traditionally accepted items with currently prevalent ‘desi’ items (like chillies for black pepper) in the menu. These obituary traditions appears to be quite ancient and some research is desirable on the nature and evolution of our traditional ceremonies.
Balasubramanian distinguishes between ‘valli kizhangu’(=sweet potato) and ‘mara kizhangu’(=cassava). Even in Tulu, cassava (tapioca) is called ‘mara kireng’, wherein ‘mara’(= tree )refers to the shrub of cassava. However the Tamil word sarkarai valli kizhangu is a clear translation of sweet ‘vine tuber’ inspired by the imported name of sweet potato.
Apart from its emphasized nativity to American continents, the sweet potato is being grown in diverse lands such as Polynesia, New Zealand and China. In Polynesia, New Zealand and Peru, it is called ‘Kumara’. The similarity of the word Kumara to the Sanskrit word may be coincidence. However, according to linguistics like Michael Witzel, the word ‘Kumara’ in Rigveda, composed in Indo-Aryan language (early Sanskrit) has been considered an extraneous word borrowed from uncertain language. How the sweet potato traveled into different continents is still an unsolved mystery.
The Tulu and Tamil words for the sweet potato are interesting. In Tulu it is ‘kireng’ (also, ‘kileng’ and other variants) and in Tamil it is ‘kilang’ (or with slightly different but allied pronunciation like kizhangu). Both the words mean the same: keeL or keer =the lower or underground; ang=part. The nomenclature is quite original and not an adopted word from the imported name of sweet potato. Most of the imported vegetables and fruits have names similar to or derived from their foreign names. The Malayalam word ‘kiraNNu’ is related to Tulu and Tamil words. However, Kannada and Telugu have the word ‘genasu’ for the sweet potato. In Tulu there are several related species of sweet potatoes cited in Tulu Nighantu (=dictionary) such as: Tuppe kireng, koLLi kireng, guddoli kireng, toonNa kireng, pottel kireng, muLLu kireng, apart from the kempu kireng (=red sweet potato), boldu kireng (=white sweet potato) and mara kireng(=cassava). I have seen tuppe kireng, a short variety of tuber named after tuppa, the butter. MuLLu(=spines) kireng refers to one with spines. Other species may still be surviving in our rural areas and our botanists should look into these research aspects. All these tubers, some of them rare and vanishing species, could not have been brought by the Portuguese. Tribals in India still consume several variety of tubers. Many of these tubers are possibly native to our land since ages.
Similarity of Tulu and Tamil words for sweet potato (or allied tuber) suggest certain antiquity to the said tuber. Available evidences indicate that proto-Tulu and proto-Tamil tribes coexisted in early Vedic times (ca. 1500 to 500BC) as suggested by borrowing of Tulu/Tamil words in Rigveda. (See, previous postings, No.26).The reference to edible tubers in the Ramayana (ca. 500-200 BC) only confirms this postulation.
Similar problems exist for other agricultural crops also. For example, peanut (groundnut) is also considered a native of Americas, but it is reported to be cultivated in China since 1500 BC. The antiquity of agricultural crops suggests that many of these are as old as our civilization, if not more. For example, how to fix the nativity of a now ubiquitous plant like coconut? Coconut (Cocos nucifera) is found on the earth since Miocene age ca. 20 million years ago, i.e. long before man appeared on this planet.

South American nativity of sweet potatoes and several other agricultural crops has been asserted based on the extensive archeological and paleo-botanical studies carried out in the Americas. Similar studies in Indian context are highly desirable for better understanding of our past.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

26 Origin of the concept of Brahma

The story of Brahma, the deified hero who is considered as the creator and one of the Trinity (Trimurthy) and ultimately the generally forgotten God, is a very interesting episode in the origin and evolution of culture and religious beliefs in the Indian subcontinent as well as Asia Minor and Africa.

Brahma is also one of the earliest Gods in India. Early Vedics who initially worshipped natural forms like mitra (sun), agni (fire), varuna (sea) and indra (atmosphere) switched over to the brahman, the invisible and absolute force. The Brahma worship is an initial step in the evolution of religious concepts and transition from the primitive spirit/hero worship to the concept of divine worship.

The Brahma worship initiated in the present northwestern India and the concept migrated and spread wide in southern India, possibly along with the migration of tribes in the early historical period. In north India, the only Brahma temple remaining is at Pushkar in Rajasthan. However, in Tulunad (southwestern coastal Karnataka) and in Konkan coast (northwestern coastal Karnataka), the remnants of ancient Brahma worship remain even today as Bermer and Bommaya devaru respectively. Coastal townships by names like Brahmavara, Brahmagiri etc remain fossils of Brahmas erstwhile popularity. Brahmasthanas (=Brahma temple) and garodis (=ancient style gymnasia) of Tulunad still worship Bermer, the Tulu form of Brahma. In the Kannada mainland, some of the ancient names like Brahmasandra, Bommasandra, Bommadevarahalli etc carry the long forgotten relics of Brahma worship. There is a Brahma temple at Uttamar Koyil, Tamilnadu, indicating the span and spread of the Brahma concept in southern India.

The Tulu Bermer (e in bermer is pronounced as initial e in ‘eligible’) [‘berme’(< brahma) is the singular form andbermer’ is the plural or respective form of address] is a dialectical corruption of the Vedic word Brahma. This leads to the suggestion that Tulu tribes then living with Vedic scholars were mostly ‘illiterate’ folks, who modified the high sounding Vedic words to suit their preferred pronunciation styles. The possible coexistence of Tulu tribes with Vedic scholars at Pirak during Rigvedic times is suggested in the previous posting (No. 25) on Pala and antiquity of Tulu words.

We go back in the timeline to about 1900 BC in search of the origin of Brahma. Then Indus valley civilization at Mohenjodaro and Harappa came to an end almost abruptly because sudden changes in the course of Rivers Indus, Saraswati and its tributaries. River Saraswati dried up or changed its morphology and was partly captured by River Yamuna due to tectonic earth movements. The rivers migrated and changed their courses abruptly in tune with earth movements and the appalled inhabitants were forced to abandon their carefully built townships in favour of safer habitation. They migrated to Pirak and surrounding areas, which form parts of the present day Baloochistan State in Pakistan. At Pirak, the human society at that time was a mixed one consisted of proto-Dravidian, Proto-Tulu and proto-Kannada and Vedic tribes who were all migrants from different surrounding areas or States. They spoke all proto-Dravidian languages, Prakrit, (possibly the official language of Pirak area) and Indo-Aryan language. The proto Dravidian languages, Tulu, Kannada and Tamil borrowed heavily from Prakrit and also lent many words and enriched the Prakrit language. The general population was not educated and the few educated ones, may be about a dozen rishis, orally composed Vedic hymns, estimated around 1700-1500 BC, that became parts of the Rigveda. Writing was not properly developed at that time. The Tulu tribes probably composed their own paD-dana, (oral folk songs). Similarity of many Tulu and Tamil words and their presence in Vedas suggest coexistence of Tulu-Tamil tribes in the area. Iruvattam Mahadevan suggested that Indus valley civilization was proto-Dravidian in nature.

The educated few (Vedic tribes) initially composed hymns of Veda in their native Indo-Aryan language. Similarity of Indo-Aryan Vedic hymns and hymns of Iranian Avesta have lead experts like Michael Witzel to suggest that Indo Aryans might have migrated from Iran area ca.1700 BC. Subsequently they borrowed words from proximal languages and also refined the native Prakrit and introduced the Sanskrit language for composing the Vedic hymns.

The character of Abraham has been described in the Bible (Genesis) and later retold in the Anacalypsis. Abraham (or the Brahma) was actually a mass hero, an uncommon leader of early tribes, born ca. 1900 BC, more or less during the chaotic time of earth movements, migration of major rivers and mass exodus of tribes from the Indus Valley civilization.

Abraham is said to have been lived for a period of 175 years. (The cited lifespan appears to be an exaggerated figure, characteristic of hero worship societies, nevertheless may imply that Abraham was a strong, dynamic character and had considerably long healthy lifespan.) Different tribes called him slightly differently depending upon the style of pronunciation native to them. He was called Abraham by Jews and subsequently by Christians. Arabs called him ‘Ibrahim’ whereas IndoAryans referred to him as Brahma. His father, ‘Terah’ originally came from a place known as Ur of Chaldees or Culdees, a part of Asia Minor.

Terah had a beautiful daughter called ‘Sara’ (or ‘Saraswati’ for Indo- Aryans and cohabitants of Pirak and northwest India) born to another wife who was not Abraham’s mother. Abraham or the Brahma fell in love with Sara and married her. For this or other reasons the Abraham and Sara left Ur and settled in Mesopotamia. There he organized Jews and became a venerated hero figure. Abraham has been considered as the founder of Jews. Similarly, Muslims believe ‘Ibrahim’ to be one of their early leader or founder. The original Kaba temple (later a mosque) at Mecca is said to have been built in honour of Abraham or the Ibrahim.

At that time, the present day Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region consisting of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (though had different individual provincial names at that time) were all contiguous states where communications and concepts freely exchanged among diverse townships. The Abraham (or the Brahma) was a dynamic leader of the masses and the ordinary people believed that he was the creator of the tribes. The legend of Abraham continued after his death and continued to inspire or haunt memories of the tribes living in the Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region. The legend of Abraham inspired Vedic tribes and others alike. This is the initiation the concept of Lord Brahma the creator of universe in Hindu mythology. Abraham became the Brahma the supreme God after couple of centuries following his demise. In the primitive cultures accustomed to spirit worship, the legendary Brahma, who organized tribes, represented a supreme hero capable of creation of tribes and later the universe itself. Legends turned into myths and Brahma was deified and considered supreme God.

The people of Pirak worshipped him as a hero, the creator of the tribes. Thus original Brahma as worshipped by Tulu tribes was a hero straddling on a horse. This leads me to suggest that Abraham was a horse rider. The original concept of horse seated Brahma was transported by migrant proto-Tulu tribes from Pirak to Tulunad. (see postings 4 and 5).The Bermer idol in garodis of Tulunad even today consist of idol of brahma (abraham>berme) in the form of soldier seated on a horse. The garodis, the ancient institutions of Tulunad, established to propagate the art of body building, physical development and techniques of warfare, continue to have brahma as worshipping idols. The legendary Tulu heroes Koti and Channayya worshipped the Bermer according to the paD-dana folklore. There were many brahmasthans in Tulunad in olden days that have been dilapidated or destroyed on the wake of people changing over to Shiva, Shakti or Krishna worships in later times. The primitive form of brahma worship among Tulu people suggest that these tribes migrated southward into Tulunad, before the Brahma the God was transformed into a ten-headed or four-headed concept in the post Vedic Ramayan period.

Vedic tribes venerated his legends as Brahma, the almighty, the creator of universe and incorporated the concept into Vedas. The word ‘Brahma’ gave rise to ‘braahman’(=educated person), ‘brahmaanDa’ (=universe), ‘brahma kalasha (=the holy pot used in the installation of temples and also the connected ceremony)’, brahma-ratha (=large temple chariot), brahma-rakshsa (= a huge demon), brahma-sthana (=temple of brahma) etc. The words root ‘brih’ to mean big or great was developed as a consequence of Brahma worship.

Brahma worship was at its peak during the composition and writing of Ramayana (ca.300 BC to 200AD). Then Brahma became a fusion of a creator deity with the impersonal absolute Brahman in a more popular and personalized form according to indology experts. S.S.N.Murthy (2003) of J.N. University of New Delhi, analyses that Ramayana is composed in praise of Brahma the God. Brahma is eulogized as a ten headed or four headed deity. Then onwards Brahma was worshipped as four headed God.

However, the subsequent ascent of Shiva and later Vishnu worships sent the initial God Brahma into the background.

Thus the Tulu concept of horse riding Brahma may be older than the ten or four headed Brahma depicted in Ramayana and the Tulu tribes were not aware of the transformation of initial horse riding Brahma into four headed God. In that case, it appears that Tulu tribes migrated from Pirak and northern India into coastal Tulunad before composition of the Ramayana.

25. Pala and Antiquity of Tulu words

Strange it may seem,that the Jack fruit was the first edible fruit in use in antiquity in the Indian subcontinent. The nature of the word Pala, Phala or Pela to represent the Jack fruit even today suggests that the word (Pala / Pela/ Phala) was originally or since beginning was used to denote the common Jack fruit, arguably a native fruit of Indian subcontinent.
The basic word ‘phala’ stands for ‘fruit’ in Sanskrit. The presently commonplace word has been absorbed by most of the Indian languages, like phala (Kannada), phalam (Malayalam), etc. 
Michael Witzel (1999) while analyzing words found in the Vedas concluded that some words in Rigveda (early part of Rigveda were estimated be ca.1700-1500 BC old) are not original Indo-Aryan (or early Sanskrit) words. He has given a list of words borrowed into middle compositions of Rigveda (ca.1500 BC or younger) which includes phala, mayur etc. These extraneous words must have been borrowed from contemporaneous languages that existed in the proximity of Vedic scholars and their settlements. He has stated that phalam is derived from the Tamil word ‘palam’ meaning ripe fruit.
Incidentally, apart from the word ‘palam’(=ripe fruit), the word ‘pala’ also means jackfruit in Tamil according to Dravidian Etymological Dictionary by T. Burrow, M. B. Emeneau. Similarly, in Tulu language word ‘pela’(>pelakai) or ‘pila’ (>pilakai) represents the jack tree/fruit. Earlier, in Tulu also the ‘pala’ version might have existed; since the wooden planks derived from the jack tree are called ‘palai’. However, presently the word palai in Tulu represents any wooden plank.
It seems that during the early historical period of composition of Rigveda, the proto-Tulu/Tamil word pala represented the jack fruit. Possibly, it was the most popular or common fruit at that time. It can be visualized that the Vedic scholars considered the pala (or pela or pila), the jack fruit, at that time of history as an important and popular edible fruit and adopted it in the form of ‘phala’. The word ‘phala’ incorporated into Sanskrit subsequently stood to represent the fruits. Maybe the mango, the king of Indian fruits, was not properly recognized at that time.
Thus, subsequently the word pala (>phala) represented any ripe fruit.
The jack fruit/trees may not have been common trees in Pirak region or Vedic scholars were initially not familiar with the Pala /Pela tree. Therefore it appears that the Vedic scholars picked up the word from proto-Tulu/Tamil tribes.
Similar words exist in Malayalam. The equivalent word for jack fruit in early Kannada was ‘palas’. Telugu equivalent word for jack is ‘panasa’.
The existence of similar words in Tulu and Tamil suggest (a) either their derivation from a common proto language or (b) coexistence of proto-Tulu and proto-Tamil tribes at a certain point of history dating back to the period of compilation of the Vedas. In other words, this coexistence or common heritage of Tulu-Tamil languages and exchange of words among these communities imply that some members of these tribes were living in the vicinity of Vedic tribes at the period of compilation of Vedas.
However, the Tulu tribes do not commonly use the word ‘pala’ or ‘phala’ to represent fruits in general. They employ the term “parn′d” to mean fruit. [The symbol ′ here represents the time delay in pronunciation; d as unaspirated th in English ‘the’]. The Tulu word “parn′d” also means ripe banana; alternately, it also means any ripe fruit. It is interesting to note that when Vedics adopted the ‘pala’, the jack, to represent edible fruits, Tulu tribes preferred the word ‘parn′d’, the banana, to signify fruits!
Apart from the intriguing pala/ pela in Vedas, Michael Witzel lists three extraneous words which he considers as words of uncertain origin in the early part of Rigveda. These are ukha(=hip), phalgu (=minute weak) and aaNi (=lynch pin). These words exist in Tulu and may be that Vedics borrowed them from proto-Tulu neighbours.
Ukha means hip in Tulu. Okka noolu in Tulu refers to ‘loin string’ or the thread tied around the hip in olden days. Phalgu has similarity to ‘palku’ in Tulu; palkuni (verb) in Tulu means becoming soft, like a ripe fruit. And aaNi in Tulu means nail. Another word of interest is mayUra (=peacock), which is also considered as an extraneous word in Rigveda. In Tulu ‘maira’ exists since olden days; the ‘Maire’(=peahen, the female pea fowl) was a favourite name kept for women among Tulu tribes in earlier days.
The existence of Tulu words in Rigveda, indicates the antiquity of Tulu language. It may also mean that proto-Tulu speaking people were living in the area where Vedas were composed.

Footnote on Pela and Peja
The English word ‘jack fruit’ was derived from the Malayalam word ‘chakku palam’. In an earlier note (24) I erroneously suggested that word came from ‘jakku palam’, based on a random reading. I must have misread it. Manjunath pointed out to me that he has not heard any ‘jakku palam’ in Malayalam. So I googled on this howler and found some interesting information provided by Julia F Morton (1987).
Jack fruit or Jakfruit or Jak or Jaca (botanical name: Artocarpus heterophyllum) is considered native to Western Ghats of India. The trees thrive well in rainy, tropical-subtropical regions and are commonly found distributed in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia, Philipines, Mauritius, Uganda, Kenya, Zanjibar, and parts of Himalaya and southern China, apart from being distributed in most parts of India.
Morton classified Kerala jack fruits into (1) Kooja chakku and (2) Kooja phazam (barke or Varika). The ‘kooja chakku’ is the jack fruit with soft, puply carpels, called ‘tuluve’ in Tulu. So we find the word ‘chakku’ here that became ‘jack’.
The Malayalam word ‘kooja’ is related to the Tulu word ‘gujje’, the jack fruit. The Tulu word ‘barke’ denoting soft jackfruit that can be opened with hand is found also in Malayalam. ‘Varika’(Malayalam), varukkai(Tamil) and ‘varaka’ (Srilanka) appear to be related to the ‘barke’.
The Sahyadri, Western Ghats and coastal hinterland has another species of Artocarpus genus (A.pubescens?-wild jack ) known as peja or pejakai. The fruit, is of the smaller size of orange with soft spiny exterior and contains smaller carpels of grape size that taste distictly different from jackfruit. Otherwise it is similar in features to jackfruit. This tree is not described elsewhere and hence may not be a common tree in other tropical forests. The village name Pejavara (=peja+avara) means an open ground containing peja trees. Note the similar sounding tree names: pela and peja in Tulu.
Early Kannada (or Old Kannada, ca.400 AD)) bloomed around Banavasi town (presently southeastern Uttara Kannada region), with establishment of the Kadamba dynasty by Mayur Sharma at Banavasi. The similarity of Tulu ‘pela/pala’ and Kannada ‘palas’ words, in the two languages that grew up in close proximity is significant.

Blog Archive

Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Culture.by Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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