Monday, November 14, 2011

289. In search of Punnata

Many of us may not have heard about the existence of a Kingdom called Punnata in ancient Karnataka during the early part of Common Era. Punnata or Punanadu (pron: puNanāDu) was a minor kingdom in southern India dating back to 1st Century CE (or earlier) and persisted until 14th Century CE. The existence of Punnata has been documented in some of the ancient Tamil Sangam texts like Periyapurana, wherein it is described as a land perennially washed by rivers.
Based on Mamballi inscription (ca 5-6 Century CE) scholars consider the area between Rivers Kaveri and Kabini was the ancient Punnata kingdom, with Kittur (formerly Kirthipura) in Heggadadevanakote Taluk (Mysore district) as its capital. It is said that the boundaries of Punnata in its heydays covered parts of Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Hassan, Mysore and Bangalore  districts (in present Karnataka) parts of Kerala and Coimbatore (in present Tamilnadu). It is said that regal families of  Punnata  had matrimonial relations with members of Ganga dynasty. References in Sangam literature describe skirmishes between Nannan (Nanda King) and tribal kings of Punnata.
According to Chandravalli inscriptions Kadamba Mayura Sharma defeated king of Punnata during 4th Century CE. Punnata is recorded in the Shivapura inscription (ca.1320) of Doddaballapura taluk, suggesting the time range of Punnata Kings in Karnataka.
Beryls of Punnata
Greek geographers Pliny (ca 23-78 CE) and Ptolemy (ca 127 CE) have described emerald gem stones that originated from the land of ‘Pounnata’. Egyptian accounts described ‘Punt’ which is supposed to be a corruption of the word Punnata.
Emerald is a green colored precious stone, known as beryl in mineralogy. Beryl is known to be occurring in small quantities in pegmatite rocks randomly distributed around Krishnaraja sagara, in Mysore district. This mineralized area was a part of Punnata kingdom in the past and the cut and polished green colored emerald gems derived from beryl crystals were apparently exported to Mediterranean markets in the past.
Emerald or beryl is known as ‘pachche’ in Tulu as well as in Old Kannada. The term ‘pachche’ means green. The ‘che’ or ‘cha’ at the end of this word ‘pachche’ is reminiscent of the ‘-cha’ suffix in some of the Paisachi words.
Punnata Sangha
Punnata region was also known as an ancient centre of Jainism in the southern India. It is said that during 4th Century BC Jain monk Bhadrabahu accompanied Chandragupta Maurya and travelled to southern India. Chandragupta is said to have settled in Sravanabelagola at the end of his lifetime. A Jain religious association was established known as ‘Punnata Sangha’. Later these Jain monks migrated to northwestern India and branches of Punnata Sangha were subsequently found in Gujarat.
According to some authors the term ‘punnaTa’ derived its name from punal which means a stream or river. The word ‘punal’ became ‘honal’ (flow, flood or river) in modern Kannada. This interpretation is based on the fact that an ancient Tamil text Periyapurana described Punnata as a region located on the bank of a river.
However simpler analysis suggests that ‘punnaTa’ should be pun+nata wherein ‘PuNa’ represents the name of an ancient tribe and ‘nāTa’ represents a ‘nāDu, a cultivated region or a country. Therefore it can be described as a country built by PuNa or Punar tribes. Evolution of the term ‘nāDu’ from ‘naDu’ (=to plant) has been explained in earlier posts.
 In other words ‘PunnaTa’ was also known as PunnāDu or PuNa-nāDu.  Thus the term ‘Puna’ or ‘punar’ refers to the people or the tribes inhabited in Punnadu.
 In fact, we find several strings of evidence for the existence of an ancient tribe called ‘Puna’ (singular) or ‘Punar’(plural)  in names of sour fruits and in place names in various parts of Indian subcontinent. In this post let us explore traces of ‘Punnata’ and ‘Punar’ tribal people in  southern India and especially in ancient Tulunadu.
Pune, punaka
Pune, one of the major cities of India is also referred to as ‘Purna nagari’ or ‘Punya nagari’ (Purna=complete; punya=divine blessing) in some medieval Sanskrit texts. Before that it was known as “Punaka Vishaya” (Vishaya=territory). Thus it is clear that refined form of nomenclature ‘Purna’ was derived from the older name of ‘Punaka’. The term ‘punaka’ can be analysed as puna+ka wherein suffix ‘ka’ represents a village or habitation.
Now the place name ‘Punaka’ is a not unique word restricted to southern India. There is a ‘Punakha’ town Bhutan.
Origin of names of some of our popular sour fruits can be traced to ancient Punar tribes.

Punarpuli (pron: puNar-puLi) is the common name in Tulu for that well known maroon coloured ethnic, wild plum or berry fruit, also alternately known as baDupuli, birinda, binda, murla hannu, kokumm, etc. Botanically it is known as Garcinia indica and is similar and related to mangosteen Garcinia mangostana L. popular in other tropical countries. It commonly used as base for sherbats and juices in Karavali and Malnad regions and is considered to be of medicinal value especially in the treatment of bile disorders, especially in controlling excessive ‘pitta’.
Now what is the origin of the conventional Tulu word Punarpuli?
The term ‘puNar’ in puNar+puli does not have a well defined genetic meaning in Tulu or in Kannada since the word ‘punar’ is non-speciifc, even though ‘puli’ clearly means sour tasting berry or plum. It is suggested here that it was a sour berry named after or discovered by the ancient Punar tribes.
Punake da puli
The conventional and widely popular source of sour ingredient in Indian cooking, the tamarind (botanical name: Tamarindus indica) is called ‘Punake da puli’ in Tulu. The term ‘Punake’ refers to the tamarind tree in general. It was ‘punase’ in Old Kannada which became ‘Hunase’ in modern Kannada. Puna-se, apparently is an old Prakrit word that means the one brought  from Puna!
Similarly,the phrase ‘Punake da puli’ in Tulu also means the sour berry from Punake, where the latter represents name of a place or region (Puna or Punak) in ancient Deccan. The English word Tamarind is derived from the Arabian word ‘Tamar Hind’ (or Indian date) that suggests that Arabs learnt about the usage of this sour berry from India. However, the Tamarind tree is said to be native of Sudan and other African countries originally where it grows wilderness. It is believed that the Tamarind was carried to India and other Asian countries along with human migrations before the Common Era.
The existing terms for some of the Indian sour berries -Punar, Punake or Punase- have analogous root affinities that may be attributed to the extinct (or assimilated) Punar tribes. One of the logical possibilities is that the ancient Punar tribes were pioneers in introducing sour berries in Indian cooking.
Location map of Punacha and Punachapadi villages, Dakshina Kannada District.

There are several analogous place names in Tulunadu relevant to Puna tribes. One is Punacha, a large village in Bantwal Taluk, Dakshina Kannada district, near the Kerala border. This village could have been an older colony or domain of Punar tribes. Researchers may look for strings of historical data on Punar tribes in this village.
There is also one Punchame or ‘Punachame’ near Polali Kariangala, Bantwal Taluk and another Punchapādi  or Punachapādi  near Sarve village, Puttur Taluk.Besides, there is also a Punachatār near Kaniyur, Puttur Taluk.
In these place names the term ‘Punacha’ is generally being confused with similar sounding term ‘puncha’ (= anthill) the common residing place of snakes. There is another clue to conclude that the word is Punacha and not puncha. In Tulu Brahmins, there is a surname known as Punamchattaya or Punimchattaya. (This particular surname is popular since Dr Venkataraja Punimchattaya discovered several ancient texts written in Tulu script.) The surname ‘Punanachattaya’ can be analysed as Punancha+ttaya which means a person from Punancha, wherein ‘Punancha’ is an alternate old Tulu/Kannada word form of ‘Punacha’.
It is also pertinent here to note that proper name ‘PooNachcha’ is popular among the natives of Kodagu. It apparently is a remnant from the ancient tribe of Punars that pervaded Kodagu and surrounding regions in the past.
 There is also a Punarur (punar+ur) near Kinnigoli, Mangalore Taluk, which has been made popular by celebrity, Kannada activist, Harikrishna Punarur.
Similarly, Tulu paDdanas refer to a legendary place in Tulunadu known as ’PuNakedoTTu’.

Prakrit vs. Paisachi
Puna+cha and its analogous place names area related to Punaka places, wherein spatial suffix ‘cha’ replaces suffix ‘ka’ or ‘ga’. There is also a ‘Punekodi’ (kodi=corner) hamlet near Addur. The suffix –cha is widely used in ancient place names of Tulunadu such as Kodachadri (Koda+cha+adri), Paichar (Pai+cha+ar), Chara (Cha+ara), Konchadi (Kom+cha+adi), etc. The suffix -cha, now obsolete, apparently was part of Paisachi language that prevailed in these areas in the early centuries of Common Era, whereas the suffix –ka (or -‘ga’) as in Punaka, Madaka, Pun(a)ga(nur), Binaga, Gadaga etc can be traced to Prakrit language.

Punattur, Punalur, Punganur
There are more such places in several other parts of southern India. Ponnani. Punattur, Punalur, Punnala, Punnaveli, Punnamada etc in Kerala; Punganur in Andhra Pradesh; Punnakayal, Pungavrnattam, Punnamallee, Ponnai, Ponmeni, Ponnarkulam (Punnayurkulam) in Tamilnadu. In Indonesia there is a Punaga beach.

Punar tribes
Overall analysis of the available strings of data suggest that enterprising Punar tribes established their own territory in parts of southern India. However their signatures can be traced as far as Bhutan in Himalayan region. They were cultivators settled on river banks, had knowledge of edible wild sour berries like Punarpuli and Punake puli, possibly also discovered ‘Punangu’ (‘punagu’) or glandular excretion (musk)  from civet cat. They had discovered green colored beryl mineral resources that could be fashioned into emerald gemstones.
It appears that Punar (Punnar)  tribes used Paisachi and Prakrit languages before the early years of Common Era as indicated by the surviving words of that period, like the term ‘pachche’ which was then absorbed into Old Tulu and Old Kannada. It is documented in inscriptions that later the Punar tribes adopted Kannada as administrative language. Punnar tribes were also spread in parts of Gujarat and Rajastan. East Indian Gazetteer by Walter Hamilton mentions that Jahrejahs of Gujarat selected their brides from Rajaput families of Punnar, Surweyo, Goel, Walla etc tribes.
It appears that the Punar tribes migrated to southern India from the north from the Himalayan region as suggested by the existence of a Punakha town in Bhutan. It is possible that Pun(n)a(r) tribe was an older variant of the Central Asian Huna tribe that later invaded northern India. It would worthwhile to delve further into the mysteries of this lost or assimilated tribe that had cast distinct footprints in the early history of southern India.



S Shettar (2007). “Shangam Tamilagam mattu Kannada naadu nudi,” (in Kannada) Abhinava, Bangalore. p.266.  6th Edition,2010

The East Indian gazetteer: Volume 1.  Walter Hamilton M. (also in Google Books).


  1. Punarpuli and puli (l- stressed) similar in shape or the seeds are arranged in a similar way. Tastewise they are different. Punarpuli tree is full of thorns (mul). 'Pun' is wound. 'punar' is new (e.g)punar genma. 'punar' also means sex. In Punalur, punal denotes flash water-flood. In Punganur, punga denotes punga tree or the name pungan. Punarur as per me 'new' settlement. Hosa-Oor. Poonacha is a name given to old wise man. 'poon' is a metal part of 'danda' old man is holding. Acha/achan/Appan/Attha/Thanthai- all are same.

  2. Punalur derive its name from 'punal' river,stream, flash flood... Punarur - an old village which is reoccupied- resettlement. Punattur_ attur is river side Oor. Punattur new river side village. Punganur derive its bane from Punga tree or a man by name Pungan.


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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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