Friday, January 29, 2010
226. Tēr, the idol car
The annual car festivals popularly known as ‘Rathotsva’ in the temples of Tulunadu are celebrated with pomp and gaiety. Taking the 'Utsava Moorthy' (=procession idol) of the temple, decked in a chariot, in a procession around temple and bye-lanes of the village provides devotees a better glimpse of the idol of deity, which is otherwise kept inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. This has psychological benefits to the devotees as it fills them up with certain positive energy and wards off any untoward fear and ill-omens. Besides, pulling the chariot on the festive occasion gives a psychological relief and satisfaction to devotees.
In Tulu, the temple idol car is known as ‘tēr’. Similar words exist in other sister southern Indian Dravidian languages ( ‘ter’ Tamil and Malayalam, ‘teru’ Kannada and Telugu). It would be interesting to explore the origin of this custom along with the origin of the word.
Structure of Tēr
The temple cars or the idol chariots of Tulunadu typically consist of four large and heavy wooden wheels that carry a superstructure of consisting of a large and massive, wooden circular pedestal that is wider at top and narrows down toward the wheel base. A decorated wooden enclosure (room like built structure) is mounted on the massive pedestal to accommodate the idol and the priests. Above the idol room, a large globular superstructure is built and systematically decorated with uniform sized colored flags. The whole decorated chariot structure readied to roll on the four wooden wheels makes an impressive sight that invokes pious emotions among the devotees, year after year.
The decoration of the ‘superstructure’ with flags etc., seems specific to regions. The famous sculpted rock chariot of Vijayanagar period (14 century CE) at Hampi, Bellary district, for example, does not sport this kind of superstructure. The famous chariots of Lord Jagannath temples of Puri , Orissa have a pyramidal superstructure rather than globular as in the Karavali.
The ‘tēr ‘ festivity associated with Hindu temples, probably evolved during 6th Century CE onwards.
Bhadriraju Krishnamurthy (2003) in his famous work “The Dravidian languages”( p.19)reports that “there was no word for cart and a wheel until much later time. In literary languages there was ancient word *tēr ‘chariot’ used on the battle field or as temple car… The word occurs in South Dravidian I and Telugu. The origin of this word is not clear.”
The unclear origin of the word is probably due to clubbing of the words ‘tēr’ and ‘dēr’ together in the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (DEDR) entry No 3459. The other two related words cited in DEDR  are:
1. Kota word: ‘dēr’= god, possession of a diviner by god. ‘Tēr kārn‘ =‘diviner’.
2. Toda’ tor od ‘(shaman) is dancing and divining.
The confusion apparently is because of unintentional clubbing together of analogous but semantically different words.
However, on analysis it appears that the Dravidian word ‘tēr’ could one of the ancient original words for the basic circular structure or the wheels! It could be directly related to one of the Proto-Dravidian (PD) root words, ‘tir’ constructed by Bhadriraju Krishnamurthy (2003).
The word ‘tir’ means to turn, move or change (direction etc).The word ‘tēr’ is a derivative or variant of ‘tir’. Or, the proto word ‘tēr’ may be considered as another PD, related to the PD ‘tir’. There are other derived words in Tulu that attest to the existence of independent word tēr, such as ‘teriya’, ‘teran țe’ etc. Therefore, PD. ‘tēr’=wheel, coil, circular form, revolve, speed off etc.
‘teriya’= a head pad of cloth; a long strip of cloth fashioned into circular ring (equal or smaller than the diameter size of head) to be used as a protective pad for carrying head loads in the past.
teranțe= a millipede, a worm that commonly coils into a circular form on fear.
Besides, the word ‘teraisu’ (=to run away) used in medieval Kannada texts may be cited here.
The word ‘dēr ‘ as a slang of ‘dever’(= the God), was probably introduced, along with the proliferation of the temple cult. Earlier to introduction of temple cult in Tulunadu, Spirits (known as ‘Satyolu’ or ‘deyyolu’) were the major form of worship. The word ‘deyya’ (Holy Spirit) later got corrupted and acquired the derisive meaning of devil as in Kannada.
The word form ‘dēr ‘cited in DEDR as a Kota word, also exists in Tulu. There are several place names in Tulunadu such as Derlakatte, Derebail etc. 'Dever Kattegu baripini', is the phrase associated with designated 'katte' (a platform of stone around a peepal tree), from where the temple deity idol or a new wooden statue of Maariamma for the annual festival is carried in procession.
In Spirit worship it was customary since ancient days for impersonator of the Spirit to invoke the Spirits on his body. During the transition of religious faiths from Spirit worship to temple cults, the priests had to imitate the shamans act especially during the ceremony of entering the idol car. The temple priest carrying the idol on his head, mildly shivering as if in a state of trance, saunters in dancing steps forward and backward several times in front of chariot and finally climbs the steps and places the idol inside the chariot. Even today this is one of the impressive rather mesmerizing scenarios associated with the festival of temple idol cars.
However, the word 'dēr' is not free from overall confusion,since 'dēr'(2, =drive off) can also mean drive away it may represent driving off 'Maari'(contagious disease, notionally) or driving cattle for grazing in a grass field.It seems the dēr2(=drive off) is derived from tēr(=revolve or speed away).
There are two more words related to wheels and carts: banďi and gāďi :
The word ‘Bandi ‘(=cart; Tulu, Kannada, Telugu) or ‘vanti’ (‘Tamil, Malayalam) is said to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘bhanda’(=goods) and Prakrit word ’ bhandi’. However, while word ‘banda ‘(= goods) is also available in Tulu (as in ‘banďasāle’), it appears that these could have been derived from or related to an older word ‘pāndi’ (=a large merchant boat, carrying goods). It seems pāndi> bandi. Similar p>b transitions are there, for example, pangala >bangala.
Another old native word for wheel/ cart is ‘gāďi ‘,gāņa’, ‘gāli’,(Tulu Kannada), ‘gāņu’, ‘gālu’(Telugu) or kāl (Tamil). Bhadriraju Krishnamurthy suggest that the word is related to kāl (leg).
It is here the concept of PD words require reassessment.
We have been suggesting in our earlier posts that many Dravidian words formed or evolved over an older substratum of pre-Dravidian words. We have designated this pre-Dravidian as older Munda substrata. We find several relicts of this older Munda words in many of the Tulunadu place names.
In these many proto-words characteristically had short words with simple CV notation. Some of such preserved short words are na, mi, mu, ku etc. Let us designate them as proto-Munda words.
In this case, the original proto word was ‘ga’(‘ka’ in Tamil) which represented motion , rotation or movement. From the ‘gā’ root, gāli, gāLi, gāna, gādi etc words evolved later on. The same ‘ga’ was also root for Sanskrit ‘gamana’(=attention, movement etc).
-with Hosabettu Vishwanath.
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