MuruDeshwara is a well known temple town near Honnavar in the Karavali Coast of Karnataka. RN Shetty group has invested special interest to develop Murudeshwara temple town into an interesting tourist attraction.
The original geomorphic feature of the Murudeshwara is a tombolo structure. A tombolo is a littoral rocky island connected to the coastal mainland through a strip of sand bar. Due to civil modifications in the area it is difficult to distinguish the original tombolo structure.However the tombolo features can be recognised if we watch the profile of the area at a distance from the beach north of Murudeshwara ( as can seen in the photo below)
The place name Murudeshwara has special historical significance as it unravels a hidden layer of theological history of the region. It reveals that the place renowned for the worship of Lord Shiva in the form of Murudeshwara, probably since 5th Century CE (or the Kadamba period) was earlier a site of Muruda (or Muruga) worship. Apart from documenting the cult of Kanda in the Karavali during the early centuries of CE, the toponym has also preserved the lesser known word ‘Muruda’.
Now the place name Murudeshwara is popular as a center of Shiva worship. However it can be deduced that the place was originally known as ‘Muruda’ during early history before the onset of Shaiva cult in the area.There are similar places known as Muruda in other parts of India. One such Muruda village still exists in Orissa in the east Coast of India.Another Murud is in coastal Raighad District of Maharashtra known for its famous beach.There is one more Murude village in Maharastra.
This specific place name ‘Muruda’ apparently was transformed into ‘Murudeshwara’ possibly ca. 5th to 6th Century CE. We have discussed earlier the significance of place names that end with the suffix of ‘eshwara’ as ‘eesh+vara’ or divine habitations ( see Post on suffix -va).
Muruda literally means the God of the village or the vice versa. (muru=God,spirit. da=area,village). The component word Muru, discussed below, is of ancient African origin. Da is an ancient word from Munda languages.
Apart from the above we can also discuss some of the related words for comparison:
Mu = Three (as in Munneer = ocean)
Mu = Muddy soil, left by receding flood water.
Muru= A 'U' shaped ear ornament with a big precious stone - white or red), worn by men of older generation. A big 'OnTi' opposed to 'Tikki'.( OnTi and Tikki are two popular ear ornaments among Tuluvas of older generation.
Morod (Konkani)= a rough, coarse dry elevated land.
Murul= Punarpuli (Kokam or birinda) a medicinal sour fruit bearing plant.
Muru Meen = a fleshy and tasty fish. It is slightly curved below belly and deeply curved on upper side.
Muruda, the forgotten word preserved only in place names appears to be the equivalent (or regional variant) of the other familiar word Muruga. Muruga represents the ancient south Indian God also known by alternate names such as Kumara, Kanda,Skanda, Subramanya, Shanmuga etc. The suffix –ga, in Muruga, also represents a village or an habitation (as in place- names Herga, Binaga etc, for example). Therefore Muruda= Muruga.Thus both the ancient words Muruda as well as essentially originally meant: the God of the village.
The name Muruga ( Murugan) for Kumara or Kanda has been in usage mainly in Tamilandu. However, there are indications that the word was earlier in vogue in Eastern Karnataka also as evident by the name ‘Murugha Rajendra’ used by religious institutions based in places ranging from Gulbarga to Chitradurga.
The available data on Muruda=Muruga suggests that the equivalent cult was known as ‘Muruda’ in northern Karavali and Orissa Coasts dominated by Munda tribes in the historical past.In the southern Karavali place names like Kandavara provide evidence for the existence of Kanda (.> Skanda) cult.
It has been suggested that several early tribes in southern India had adopted worship of trees. Place names like Maravoor, Maroli, Maroor,Marodi etc in the Tulunadu remind us the heritage and footprints of Marava tribes in the region.In south Indian languges the word mara represents a tree.Early Tamil Sangam literature also documents anecdotes of spirits in trees. The soul of King was considered to have been lodged in a specific tree.The Kadamba tree was held sacred by early Munda tribes. Successive tribes adopted worship of other trees like Banyan, Peepal (Ashwatha or Bodhi), Banni, etc.The cult of Spirit in the tree (‘mara’),possibly evolved into the cult of Māra.The cult of Māra was evident during early centuries of CE, when Buddhism held sway in southern India also as evident from early Buddhist texts.
The cult of Māra subsequently evolved into the cult of Ku-Māra, the youthful God. Kumāra means an unmarried young man. It appears that the cults of youthful God prevalent among different tribes like Kumara, Kanda, Muruga and Muruda were unified and later considered synonymously.The regional cult of Kanda (=child) cult was later sanskritised as Skanda. And apparently the Kumara cult was Sanskritized as Subramanya (Su+brahman+ia).
The cult of Māra as tempter in certain regions later evolved independently into or equated to the cult of Kāma or the cupid.
There are overwhelming evidences for the suggestion that the word Muru originated in Africa and was distributed to other region probably along with the human migrants. For example, the name of the country ‘Morocco’ is said to have been originated from the Persian word ‘Marrakech’which in turn was derived from the Berber word ‘Mur-Akush’ that means the Land of God.
The word Muru also occurs as a surname in Arab names such as : Abd al-Fattah Muru.
It has been suggested by earlier researchers that the cult of Muruga (Murugan) is derived from the ancient East African concept of spirit God ‘Murungu’. In several African cults, Murungu is a Spirit God, the supreme being, the almighty, all-seer, all-giver, master of life and death, creator of all things and of man.The evolution and transition of spirit worship into Deity worship apparently has origins in Africa. In Meruimenti and Merutig languages, Murungu means God. In Nyaturucha languge it means evil spirit,spirit,ghost or apparition.In Nyaturwil languge it is Spirit or God.In Shona language it means employer.
In Uganda, the God Murungu is also known as Mulungu. Murungu is also a surname among Akamba tribes of Uganda and among speakers of Shona langauge, for example, Solomon Murungu. In Zambabwe,the word Murungu (=God) is also applied to white –skinned persons, mostly in an invective sense. Murungu is also the name of a place in Tanzania,United Republic of Kigoma.
Early tribal people have freely borrowed cults, concepts and above all words, from other civilizations. In other words migration of tribes during different periods in the history have carried cults originated in one region to the other.
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-with Hosabettu Vishwanath