Saturday, June 12, 2010

244. Eliya tribe

You might have encountered a village called Eliya Nadugodu (in Bantval Taluk) or a hill known as Elimale (in Sullia Taluk). If you are new to the field of analysis of place names you are likely to translate Eliya Nadugodu as ‘Small Mid ridge’ [because Eliya means small in Tulu] or Elimale as ‘Hill of Rats’ { because eli means rat in Tulu] !
Similarly, the place name ‘Elinje’ near Kinnigoli, Mangalore Taluk may have confusing interpretations as the prefix here might be representing either ‘El’(=seven) or ‘Eli’(=rat).
However, the words ‘Eliya’ or ‘Eli’ in the above place names represent name of a tribe which may or may not necessarily represent rats! The nature of these ethnic names are distinct when you take up a place name like ‘Eliyara padavu’ (= the plateau of Eliya people).
Eli, Eliya (or Hiliya), or Eliyar castes have been recorded in the census of southern states of India. The village name ‘Hiliyana’ near Goliangadi, Hebri in Udupi district has preserved another variant of this tribal name.
Similarly there is Hillur near Kumta in Uttar Kannada.
Apart from these, the prefix ‘Ela’ or ‘Ila’ could be another ancient variant name of these tribe. There are place names like ‘Ilantila’ (Ila+anta+ila=habitation of Ila people) in Belthangadi Taluk or ‘Ilavala’ (Ila+va+ala= habitation of Ila people), near Mysore city. There are other places elsewhere in like Elattur,Yelandur, Yellapura,... etc.
Ella’ tribe could be another variant of the Eliya group. Place names like ‘Ellur’ (Udupi Taluk), Yellapura (Uttara Kannada),‘Ellammana gudda’ (Savadatti, Belgaum) have preserved this vestiges of 'Ella' people. Proper names like Yellamma, Yellappa appear to have derived from the root ‘ella’. Ellamma or Yellamma (of Savadatti) could have been originally a tribal goddess that was absorbed into the fold of Hinduism subsequently.Ellamma also refers to Runuka Devi, a Princess married to Sage Jamadagni, and she is the mother of Parashurama.
Hela’ tribal caste has been recorded in Census from Rajastan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.Helva, Helve or Hilava have been recorded in Pondicherry and Maharastra. In Maharastra surnames like Yelkar, Yelamar, Yewale, etc are found.
Similarly,’Iliga’ and ‘Eliga’ variants considered equivalent to ‘Ediga’ or ‘Idiga’ have been documented in the census records from Karnataka. Ezhava or Ezhyva of Kerala and Tamilandu 'Hilka' of Kashmir region and Hill Reddis of Maharastra, Karnatka, Hill Pulaya of Tamilnadu may be equivalents or variants of Eliya tribe.
Kowdoor Narayana Shetty reminds the presence of "Eliyaal" in Kowdoor village of Karkala taluk. Bunts with surname "maaDa" are originally either from "Eliyaal" or from BelaDi.
Similarly, there is one 'Haliyal' near Sirsi, Uttara Kannada district. Could Haliyal be a modified variant of possible original Elihal or Helihal?

These varying names could be the variants of the same ancient tribe that lived in different parts of southern India and Srilanka. The ‘Eliya’ word can also be seen frequently in Srilankan place names.

Mushaka: Rat people?
The word ‘Eli’ means rat (or mouse) in Tulu. The place name Elinje, near Kinnigoli in Mangalore Taluk. Apart from ‘Elimale’ in Sullia, Dakshina Kannada, there is a similar ‘Ezhimalai’ in Kerala. Also there is an equivalent meaning place called Cherakkal in Kerala which means 'Rat hill' in Malayalam and Tamil!
Added to this, the great Epic Mahabharat mentions the existence of ‘Mushaka’ kingdom in southern India which has been interpreted as apart of present Kerala State. The Sanskrit word ‘Mushaka’ means the rat. The ‘Mushaka’ apparently was the translation or Sanskritization of the word local Eli. Yet the Sanskrit word Mushaka in Mahabharat identifies the existence of a ruling class of people that can be considered as ‘rat people’.
The royal tag to this tribe also hints at civilized features of the Eliya community and it is possible that the ‘eli’, the rat, could have been the totem of these tribes. Note that the tiny animal rat has been adopted as official vehicle for Lord Ganesha in our legends.Further researchers may look for totem insignia of these people. Implication of civilization is also hinted, in Srilankan place names where the word Eliya is applied to towns and cities.
Possible evolutionary trends
Some of the possibilities that have taken shape during the course of evolutionary trends can be outlined for the benefit of those who pursue further research on these lines:
Yadava community is a well known and dominant community in northern India since or even prior to Vedic times (ca.2000 BC and earlier). They were basically cowherds and shepards. Later they also have been soldiers and rulers in different parts of India. Legendary hero Lord Krishna has been considered to be the famous icon from Yadava (Jadhav) community.Variants or several earlier forms of the word ‘Yadava’ can be found in southern India.
Yadava: Yedea, Ediya, Yada, Eda, Yedi, Edi, Ida, Ideya, Yeya, Yagava,. . etc are found as variants in ethno-toponyms of Tulunadu and other parts of southern India.(Check for example, the place names like Yadapadavu,Yadamangala, Yedatore, Yediyur, Iddya, Idakki, Yeyyadi Yagavakote etc. discussed in older posts.)
Apparently ‘Ida’ (pron: ‘iDa’) word was taken into Sanskrit from pre-existing native word ‘Ida’ or ‘Eda’ to signify the left or the sinistral part.
One of the possibilities is that word ‘Eliya’ was another variant of the word ‘Ediya’. And the word Eliya could have been later modified to Eli or Ela. If rats were not the totem of these tribes then the ‘rat ‘ Eli tag might have been the nick name given by other tribes.
In Kerala and other parts of south India tribe ‘Ezhava’, ‘Erava’, ‘Eravlliar’, ‘Illava’, etc have been noted in the census records. Erva and Irava tribal signatures are found in the place names of Tulunadu also. Whether these are all spatio-temporal variants of Eliya is to be studied further.

Many writers have speculated on existence of ‘Mooshika kingdom’ based on the reference given in the mighty Mahabharat. While the reference documents the existence of a dominant tribes who had a nick-name of ‘rats’ during the period of compilation of Mahabharat (ca 500 BC), the actual size of the qualifier ‘kingdom’ has to be taken with a pinch of salt, in the absence of verifiable historical data, since the great epic is well known for poetic licenses and exaggerations.

Confusion regarding the meaning of the word 'Eli' (or Ezhi in Malayalam)can be understood by the lack of unanimity and different meanings attributed to the name of this hill in Kerala. Ezhimalai has been translated by various authors as :1. Rat mountain, 2.Seven hills and 3. High hills.

Mountain Rat
Guerrilla fighters were commonly known as rats. Shivaji Maharaja, who founded the Maratha Kingdom, was nick-named as 'Mountain Rat' by Western Historians. He was skillful in ambushing and attacking Forts in Hill tops, under Mogul's sway.
Thus, it seems the original meaning of the word Eliya or Hiliya may not have been rat! The word Eliya/Hiliya could have been a non-Dravidian word probably from Apabramsha or similar pre-Dravidian tribal language.

Further detailed studies on these aspects and the genome studies on the tribes would be desirable. In the meanwhile readers may send in tidbits of connected data available at their disposal.

-Ravi and Vish.

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 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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