The emotive chant of “Poli Poli Baliyendra” has been reverberating in Tulunadu during annual Deepavali, festival of lights, since centuries. The word ‘poli’ has been accepted in this environs as representative of the prosperity. Let us explore the origin and evolution of this word.
The word ‘pola’(=agricultural field) is not familiar at present to Tuluvas as it is not employed in current usuage in general. However there are indications that the word (pola) was in frequent usuage in Tulu also in olden days. Pola is the ancient equivalent of ‘hola’ or the agricultural field as used in current Kannada. In Kannada language during evolutionary transition from old to middle Kannada p>h consonant replacement has taken place. Therefore, the word 'pola' existed in Kannada language also during the early centuries of CE.But the widespread occurrence of the word 'pola' suggests that it could be ancient Dravida or Munda word existing in India since early farming days.
Thus it seems the original meaning of poli is the produce from the pola. During early days of civilization the agricultural produce was the measure of wealth and prosperity. Good crops meant prosperity. Thus the word ‘poli’ (agricultural produce from the pola) came to be accepted as prosperity and wealth.
The word pola however is not unique to Tulu and Kannada areas.It was spread widely all over India during ancient days. During Shravan Amavyasa (New-moon) day mostly in the month of August, rural folks celeberate pola festival annually in Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttara Pradesh , Bihar and other surrounding regions. Possibly the original meaning of the word ‘pola’(=agricultural field) has unfortunately been lost even in all these areas, even though the celebration has persisted over the centuries.
During the Pola festival rural folks decorate and worship their cattles. In other words, the Pola festival has remained in these rural societies as token of thanksgiving to the animals that work in the agricultural field and contribute directly to the prosperity of the farmers. Dairy and farming were the major source of revenue during early periods of civilization . Thus cows,oxens and bullocks that are traditionally employed for agricultural field works are worshiped and sweetmeats like poli, kichidi etc are distributed. In other words, the Pola festival of Maharastra and northern India in its present state is equivalent of ‘Gow-puja’ (cattle worship) celebrated in Tulunadu during Deepavali.
Note the name of the important sweetmeat distributed during the festival: Poli.
The sweetmeat name ‘poli’ (or poLi) may also appear unfamiliar to most Tulu and Kannada people, even though it is familiar in most of the other parts of India.However Tulu and Kannada people are aware of the sweet-dish ‘holige’ very well! Infact the ‘poli’ is presently known as ‘holige’ in Tulu and Kannada areas. It is also called as Obbattu or Bobbattu in other areas.
If you again realize that p>h transitions that have taken place in kannada, it becomes clear that present ‘holige’ was known as ‘polige’ in olden days in Kannada areas.
Idli : The addition of suffix ‘–ige’ to edible dishes seems speciality of old Kannada. Even the popular steam-baked rice-black gram dish ‘iDli’ was known as ‘iDDalige’ during the writing period of the first recorded Kannada text “Vaddaradane”( pron. vaDDārādane) of 10th century CE.The addition of suffix -ige could be considered as a feature of regional variance of those times.
It has been suggested in an earlier post herein that Idli in the beginning was possibly invented or designed by or named after the Iddya (= Ediya, Yedia or Yadava) communities. In any case the name Idli has been named after them. Also note that both Iddli and Poli have suffix –li suggesting that the suffix (–li ) was applied to the name of the dishes in those days.
Thus these discussions clarify that the dish holige was known as poLi even in Tulu and parts of Kannada areas during early centuries of CE.
Poli = polige,holige, obbattu, bobbattu etc.
The basic ingredients used for the preparation of poli (holige) are bengal gram, wheat flour and jaggery.These are all products of agriculture or derived from the pola!
A 'poli' is a thin circular roasted pancake of wheat flour (nowadays replaced by maida) that contains within it a soft sweetish mixture (purana) of cooked gram and jaggery.
Northern Indians designate this sweet-dish as ‘purana poli’. The word ‘pūrana’ means the filler and refers to contents present inside the poli or the holige. (The word ‘pūrana’ is not to be confused with ‘purāNa’ =the ancient).
The word ‘pūraNa’(=filler) still exists in Tulu language. It may be vestigial word brought by the immigrant tribes.
Deepavali festival has evolved to encompass several themes such as the return of exiled King Bali, execution of Narakasura,Cattle worship originally from the Pola festival, Worship of the place of business (shop, factory etc) etc apart from the festival of lights.
During the coming Deepavali, if you happen to be in your rural environs where your folks chant ‘Poli poli Baliyendra’ try to recollect the related strings of evolution behind these words.
The difference and the timing of these seasonal festivals 'Poli' (part of Deepavali in Dravidian languages speaking areas) and 'pola' (in Maharashtra and other Northern regions) is apparently governed by regional variations in weather conditions. These are festivals of Nature worship and Thanksgiving for Natures beauty and bounty.In other words Nature and the components of the Nature(like cattle) were considered as the primary divine force.
Bringing harvested crop to home with devotion and joy is the essence of 'poli' festival. This is modified as 'Puddar'(=new rice) in Tulunadu, 'Huttari'(<. putt+ari =new rice) in Kodagu, 'Onam'(<.soNa or Shravana) in Kerala and celebrated during July-August months. These are the occasion of bringing home first spikes of paddy and having ceremonial special meal of new rice. Kural/Koral paduna/ kattuna parba) and Bali Padya during Deepavali (Oct.-Nov ). These are the occasions of remembering Bali Chakravarti and cattle-worship by farmers (See Post 'Bridge on mud crack').
The 'Pola' festival in Maharashtra and other parts of northern India represents the beginning of ploughing and sowing season whereas,during the Dussera /Deepavali time cattle are worshiped in the Karavali.
The other related harvest festivals are Pongal (in Tamilnadu and Srilanka, when the Sun and cattle are worshipped), Vasantotsava and Baisaki or Vaishakhi.
Rituals and language:
Customs and rituals enrich a language. Poli vindicates this statement of truth. Expressions 'Pola' (=agricultural field) to 'Poli' (=crop) are tangible, but extention of the meaning of 'Poli' into auspiciousness and abundant wealth, is a perception of positive mind. Quoting some usages in Tulu Lexicon (p.2148) may not be irrelevant. Mark the following words and phrases:
Poli = Granary
Poli ODDaavuni = To bring first harvested crop into house.
Poli paaDuni = To pile up paddy crop and sprinkle ashes in the form of lines on it. This gave rise to an idiom: 'Poli paaDandye baar aleppaDa' (Don't measure paddy prior to piling and sprinkling ashes around the pile in a linear form). This is an advice to farmers. This ensures protection of paddy - both from insects and pilferage.
Poli = Interest, i.e. interest paid in the form of grains while returning borrowed grains (in a barter economy).
Poli kanapuni = to borrow grains, promising to give more grains as interest while repaying.
While the word 'poli' stood for auspiciousness and positivity in Tulu culture, the word 'pola' also gave rise to derived words like 'polus' (= soil,mud or dirt) which acquired different shades of meanings in different Dravidian languages in the due course.
The interrelated words 'pola' and 'poli' and their regional distribution remind us the wider spread of the under currents of Dravidian language, culture and heritage in various parts of India in the antiquity.
-with Hosabettu Vishwanath
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