Manipal which was a sleeping suburb in the outskirts of the temple town of Udupi, some five to six decades ago has grown into an internationally famous township, known for educational and medical facilities, thanks to entrepreneurial skills of the Pai family. The Manipal is an elevated plateau with thick laterite capping and ample ground water resources relative to Udupi.
However, our interest in this note pertains especially to the origin of the place name Manipal and a group of other analogous place names that bear the name Mani, such as Manipura, Mani, Manila, Manihalla, etc.
People say the place name of Manipal is derived from the name of a lake on the Manipal plateau known as Mannu-palla. The name Mannu palla for a natural water body appears a bit odd as ‘mannu’ means soil and ‘palla’ a lake. It could be that the earlier it was Manni Palla or Mani palla before being Mannu palla in native vocabulary.
Now the name Mani palla is not an unique place name in the Karavali, There are many more places that carry the word or prefix of ’Mani’. When I cite Manipur at first you are likely to remember the Northeastern Indian State of Manipur. However, besides the Northeastern State there is also a place known as Manipur again in the outskirts of Udupi.
A stream that flowing in the outskirts of Bantwal and joining river Netravati is known as Manihalla. You can across the stream Manihalla, on a narrow bridge while you travel from Bantwal to Guruvayakere, Belthangadi or Dharmastala.
A place Bantwal Taluk on NH 48 Mangalore to Bangalore Highway is known as Māni. Association with other place names suggests that it could have originally been Mani and later modified to Māni in peoples vocabulary. However, the usage Māni could have been a later variant that is found in a number usages outlined below.
Manila is the capital of island State of Phillipines. However, there is similar sounding place name Mānila in Bantwal Taluk bordering Kerala.
There could be more such place names in different parts of southern and northeastern India. You can add similar other Mani place names known to you. Apart from these place names there are many words that contain the word Mani such as Manikya (a gem ; ruby), Manikarnika (An earring containing a gem; earlier name of Jhansi Laxmibhai; Name of a cremation Ghat at Varanasi), Manikanta ( a person with gem stone around the neck; Lord Ayyappa), Manimekhala(a legendary Goddess of the Sea), Manikyadhara (Name of a Waterfall located at Babbudangiri, Chikmagalur district), etc.
Besides, Mani in Tamilandu and Māni, Maneshwara etc in Uttara Kannada are common proper names. Maniratnam is a well known of a veteran film director. In Tulu a Brahmin young man is called Māni. The term Māni is also common in Spirit worship circles of Tulunadu. Tulu phrase Maani ecchiD barpini denotes impersonation of a Spirit.
In the light of above discussion let us analyse the various meanings generally attributed to the word Mani in our culture. MaNi= (1) jewel, gem; (2) boy (3) Man. Besides, there is another relevant word known as MaNN, or MaNNu. Though the term mannu generally means soil in Tulu and Kannada we can see that this word was historically employed to denote a territory or an area or a village as in the place names like Belmannu, Kemmannu, KoDmaNNu, etc (discussed in older posts).
In case, you are content with the understanding that the term Mani exclusively means a gem stone you are in a small surprise: In fact, the wide geographic distribution of place names such as (1) Manila in Karavali as well as in Phillipines and (2) Manipura in West Coast apart from a Northeastern State reveals some clues.
Mani is the name of an ancient primitive (hunter-gatherer cultural style) tribe of African origin now largely domicile in southern Thailand and Malay Peninsula. The word Mani is of Mon-Khmer origin and means "human being". They are dark skinned and have been classified as Negrito people even though they speak Mon Khmer languages at present. In Malay language, they are known as ‘Orang asli’ or the original people, that suggests that Mani people had settled in Malay Peninsula much before the advent of Mongoloid and Australoid people.
Mani people speak a language known as Maniq, a kind of Mon-Khmer language. The Maniq is alternately known as Tonga, Kensilu or Mos. It is considered that Mani people once spoke a language akin to Andamanese language but later adopted the language of the Mon–Khmer people living around them.
The Maniq language is also known as Tonga or Tunga. Like Mani, Tunga is a common word in south India. People are called by names such as Tungappa or Tungamma. Similarly a well known river in Karnataka that flows in the district of Shivamoga is known by the name Tunga.
Goy, Kui, Koye, Senoi, Sakai
The Mani tribes in Thailand were known by various alternate names that probably designated variants of the tribes. They have been referred to as Goy, Kui, Koye, Senoi or Sakai. The surname Shenoy now prevalent among Konkanis appear to have origin in the ancient term of Senoi.
The distribution of ancient Mani and Tunga place names in Karavali Karnataka, Southern and Northeastern India , reminds us to consider undocumented obscure pages like that of Mani or Tunga tribes and their languages and the footprints of impression they made in the evolution of languages and culture in the early history of our terrane.
Feed back: Feel free to shoot your impressions in the comment section after reading this note on Mani place names and the forgotten ancient tribes.