Thursday, March 1, 2012

296. Ancient port of Basarur

The ancient port town of Basarur (or Basaruru, Basrur, Basroor), is one of the oldest known ports  in the Karavali (West Coast) Karnataka that played far reaching cultural, commercial and religious roles in the historical perspective. Portuguese merchants had preferred this port during 17th Century for importing initially rice and later pepper to Europe.
Basarur is a village presently located about 4 km east of the   coastal town of Kundapur in the district of Udupi. It is located on the southern bank of River Varahi. The present Basarur town about four square kilometers in extent boasts of heritage of of some 7 colonies (‘kEri’), 7 water ponds (‘kere’), 27 temples, 40 spirit shrines, 4 garodis, 2 agraharas,2 mutts, 2 mosques and 2 churches, besides ruins of ancient fort walls enclosing remnants of a former twin city structure.
Location map of Basarur, Kundapura Taluk, Udupi district,Karnataka.

The seven colonies are named as follows: Mandi keri (=market colony), Vilasa keri (=pleasure colony), Basadi keri (=Jain colony), Raut keri (= horse riders colony), Gudigar keri (=artists’ colony), Mel keri(=upper colony) or Saler keri(= weavers colony) and Mudu keri (=Eastern colony). The names of colonies are suggestive of evolved city with emphasis on commerce (Mandi), defence (Rauts), culture(Gudigar), fashion(Saler) and pleasure(Vilasa) in the ancient port town.
Basarur Magane traditionally consisted of adjacent villages of Anagalli, Hatti-kuduru, Balkur, Japti and Kandavara. Hattiangadi village is located on the northern bank of Varahi River and to the north of Basarur town.
Basarur: colorful history
The ancient port town of Basarur is generally considered to have been named after king ‘Vasu’ who is thought to have ruled the region in the remote antiquity. However available historical records do not throw light on the legendary king Vasu who is also considered to have constructed Kotilingeshwara temple at Koteshwara in the neighborhood of Basarur. Others consider that the town was named after ‘Basuri’ (Ficus virens), a kind of tree related to the family of banyan tree. The place name Basarur has been mentioned as ‘Vasupura’ in ‘Keladi Nripa Vijaya’ (compiled in Kannada during Nayak rule, 18th Century CE). Dr Gururaja Bhat considered that the name Vasupura has not been cited in older documents and it is a Sanskritized version of the name of the Basarur.
Village map of Basarur showing relics of old fort along with island of Hatti kuduru within River Varahi

It is possible that the name Basurur came from the name of immigrant Basu tribes. The Basu (Bashu or Bose) people were a Kayastha clan of Kshatriyas (warrior class) from Kannauj area of Uttar Pradesh who migrated to various regions. The surname Basu is widespread now in Bengal region. It is possible that the place name Basarur was derived after the ‘Basar(u)’ (the Basa or Basu people; suffix’ –ar(u)’ is a  Kannada/Tulu honorific signifying people) migrant tribes settled in the area under study.In Tulu Siri folklore(paDdana), Basarur has been recorded as 'Basalur', suggesting that it was  based on Basa-lu tribes,as in Tulu 'lu' suffix is indicative of plurals.
 In fact, the common male proper name ‘Basava’ could have originated from the ancient ‘Basa’ or ‘Basava’ people. The proper name Basu can also be found in Africa where it means brilliant. A renowned poet ‘Bhasa’ was living in medieval period in northern India.
Historical data suggests that Konkan coast was ruled by Bhargavas during early centuries of the Common Era. The Bhargavas with iron axes were generally credited with the conversion of forest lands into organized villages by cutting the densely grown trees. The legendary Parasurama (also known as Bhargava) could have been one those early heroes who actively propagated the process of converting forests into open fields suitable for inhabitation and cultivation.
The port town was under the rule of Kadambas based at Banavasi, after 4th century CE. The Kadambas were also merchants to begin with and were considered as sea pirates in some reports. It appears that the river flowing by the town of Basarur was named  Varahi, after the female form of Panjurli Spirit, now also known as ’Varte’(derived from <.’Varahiti’) during the Kadamba rule. Ancient Legends concerning the power of Panjurli are dominant in this region. Legends of Parasurama were also codified into Puranas under the Kadambas who were instrumental in reactivation of Hinduism.
Apart from the Basu settlers from the North suggested in the place name, there are evidences of visits of people to Basarur from northern India like monks of Natha cult (also known as Jogis) from Nepal and Bengal.  Signature of Kol tribes in a pond (‘kere’) named after them as ‘Kolkere’ in Basarur. Similarly, Uppara , BattaDa and other tribes resided in Basarur.
The administration and affairs of the port of Basarur was apparently controlled by Nakhara and Hanjuman merchant guilds. The Halas and Settis domicile in the town were also influential in the administration. Disputes and legal matters were resolved in the presence of these power groups as suggested in some inscriptions.
The Alupas originally from Mangalore ruled this area at Hattiangadi with capital at Barkur between 8th and 11th century CE. The Alupa Kings were also sea-faring merchants by tradition. It was followed by representatives of Vijayanagara rulers who encouraged revival of Hinduism under Natha monks. Telugara hitlu (colony) in Basarur for example documents the existence of Telugu speaking settlers possibly during Vijayanagara realm. Further, after the fall of Vijayanagara, Keladi Nayak Kings [1554-1641CE] controlled the administration of Basarur. Characteristically, the Shiva/ Mahadeva/Ishwara temples were renamed as ‘Mahalingeshwara’ Temples under the Veerashaiva Kings of Keladi.
Portuguese [1510-1646] and Dutch [1662-1748] merchants had sway over the commerce of this port. Maratha King Shivaji attacked Basarur in the year 1665 (February 8th] to strangle the foods supply chain to the Portuguese who had occupied Goa. By the time of Hyder Ali the port of Basarur lost its eminence as it turned to be an interior port, silted up with poor navigation facilities.  It is said that Hyder Ali unsuccessfully tried to repair and update the port with the help of Dutch technicians. Influence of Tippu Sultan [1784-1799] over Basarur has also been recorded.
The ‘Gudigars’, artisan experts in Temple arts (‘guDi’) and art of icon making, were considered to have been migrated here from northern parts of India. The presence of Icons of five Chinese women as spirits in an ancient Garadi of Basarur suggests cultural connections between Basarur and China in the antiquity.
Ancient Temples
The Basarur area shows evidences of several religious cults during the evolutionary course of history. It is inferred that Alupa kings initially followed ‘Pashupata’ cult, as suggested in Halmidi inscription. However during their initial reign, Jainism and Buddhism were dominant. Subsequently Bhagavati and Natha cults dominated. The Bhagavati cult culminated into Mother Goddess, Shakti (or Durga) cult, whereas the Natha cult revived Shaivism. Stamps of Janardhana as well as ’Shankara-Narayana’ (‘Harihara’ or fusion of Shiva and Vishnu concepts) cults can be seen in parts of Kundapur Taluk, where one of the villages is named after Shankaranarayana.
One of the temples in ruins at Basarur is known as Tuluveshwara Temple, which is considered to be ( PS Narasimha Murthy,1997) is older than 1400 CE. However, the original Tuluveshwara temple could be as old as 5th to 6 Century CE. The Tuluveshwara tag is quite interesting and suggestive of prevalence of Tuluva tribes in this region in the antiquity. It is possible that this region ruled also by Alupa Kings from Mangalore was earlier inhabited by Tulu speaking people, till the advent of Vijayanagara rulers who apparently encouraged Kannada in Barkur State.
Adinatheshwara Temple in Murukeri colony has been dated to 11th Century CE. Basarur region inclusive of Hattiangadi was under the sovereignty of Barkur State, ruled at that time period by Alupas (up to the end of 12th Century CE). Adinatha being the earliest Guru of Natha cult popularized by Macchendra Nath and Gorakanath represents transition from Buddhism to Natha cult in the region. Macchendra Nath and Goarkanath duo from Bengal and Nepal are also credited with the establishment of the Kadri Manjunatha Temple at Kadri, Mangalore.
Legends suggest that sometime during 13th or 14th Century CE, a Linga icon from the pond of Kadri Manjunatha temple was carried to Kuduma in Belthangadi Taluk by Annappa (who is since then revered as Spirit Annappa Panjurli) and the new temple there was renamed as ‘Dharmastala’. Similarly, during the period a new temple was consecrated at Basarur and the locality was named ‘Dharmapatna’. Somehow the latter temple did not achieve fame comparable to that of Dharmastala, but the local legends consider that it was due to skipping the exact auspicious ‘muhurta’ (initiation) time, the temple failed to reach the pinnacle of glory. Thus  in records Basarur is also known as ‘Dharmapatna’.
Another famous temple in this town is Nakareshwara Temple dedicated to Mahadeva (Shiva) which contains inscriptions of the period of Alupa King Kavi Alupendra dating back to 1154 and 1176 CE. There is a Mahisha Mardini icon in the temple, considered to be of 9th to 10th Century CE by PS Narasimha Murthy. The name Nakareshwara suggests that it was built by the Nakara (=merchant) community of Basarur.
Hanjuman referred to the association of Moslem traders of Arabic origin who entered West Coast from Kerala during 6th Century CE and were present in many of the Karavali Ports in the successive period. Thus, some of the oldest Mosques could be dated back to 8th and 9th Century CE in the Karavali Port towns.
The Keladi Nayak Kings were followers of Veera Shaiva cult who patronized the temples during 16th and 17th Centuries, changed the name of Nakareshwara temple to Mahalingeshwara Temple.
Under the Portuguese rule of Goa, Gowda Saraswats fled Goa, migrated south and settled in Karavali places like Basarur. They built Tirumala Venkateshwara, Santeri Kamakshi, Mahalsa Narayani etc Temples in Basarur. Similarly immigrant Chitpavan Brahmins established temples dedicated to Ramachandra.
With Goa falling under the rule of Portuguese ca 1571, Christianity was propagated and Roman Catholic Churches were built in Basarur as early as 1574. It is said that in the year 1783, Tippu Sultan who was under the impression that Christians would support the British destroyed several churches in Basarur.
The Hattiangadi (Pron: haTTianagdi) village is located to the north of Basarur on the opposite bank of Varahi. The Hatti (pron: haTTI; =cottage, shed)  is ancient place name suggesting antiquity of the settlement. An ‘angaDi’ refer to an open field, mostly bazaar or ‘sante’ type rural market, where commodities were sold on daily or weekly basis. The word ‘angaDi’(=open field,> bazaar,> shop) has evolved with time and presently it means a shop. Therefore it can be presumed that the original ‘Hatti’ village was renamed as ‘Hattiangadi’ after the rural bazaars were used to be held there. The ‘Hatti’ name has also been given to an island (‘kuduru’) on River Varahi, located close to Hatti-angadi. It appears that the ‘kuduru’ was part of main land, attached to Hatti village till about 1450 and subsequently separated from the Hatti mainland due to drastic changes in river channel morphology, as interpreted from geological data and from Alupa inscriptions.
Hattianagdi village, formerly ruled by Alupa Kings, has an ancient temple dedicated to Lokanatha. The Natha suffix indicates that the temple dates back to the period of dominance of Natha cult that flourished under Alupa and Vijayanagar regimes. The ‘Lokanadu’ referred to in Siri paDdana appears to a place around Lokanatha Temple in Hattiangadi. The attributed place name ‘Lokanadu’ also signifies the traces of cult of Buddhism (Lokeshwara, Avalokiteshwara forms of Buddha). (cf: Kadire).
Basarur and Barkur
It has been pointed out that the town plans of Basarur and Barkur are similar in style suggesting their inter-relationship during the evolutionary history. Basarur was called Hosa-pattana (=New town) because it was rebuilt during 12th Century CE. The position of the Port suggests that it was originally developed much earlier (probably 1000 BC or so) when the   original Basarur was located on the coastline.
 However, it seems based on geomorphic analysis that Barkur was a later developed port town than Basarur.   The old port of Barkur could have been converted into a capital (ca 10 Century CE?) after receding of the Western Sea coast and Kalianpur was the Port.
Siri paddana
Oral Songs of Siri (Siri paDdana) composed in Tulu language describe the ordeals of a brave legendary woman called ’ Siri’ and her fight for justice. The Siri paDdana has been considered as the Tulu Sangam orature (oral literature) contemporary to the traditions of Tamil Sangam. It is interesting that Basarur forms a major landmark in the story of Siri.
 The Siri was a charming, golden colored daughter of Berma Alva of ‘Satyanapura’ or ‘Satyandara’ mansion, in Majalottu, Bola village (Karkal Taluk). Berma Alva married Sommakka Devi of Basarur. After her death during child birth, as suggested by Berma Alva along with servants goes to Lokanadu, near Basarur and repairs and updated ancient shrines dedicated to various spirits worshipped by their families. After  this Birma returns to Majalottu and magically finds a charming female child in his house, who is named as  Siri and brought up by love and affection.
The Siri was married to one Kanthu Poonja, son of Shankaru Poonjedi from the mansion (‘guttu’) of Basarur. However Kanthu had ongoing illicit affair with a prostitute called Siddu (or Kinnega) in Basarur. Frustrated with deviant Kanthu, Siri divorces him and leaves Basarur with her child Kumara and servant Dāru.
In the west Coast of India people believe that legendary heroic sage Parasurama, endowed with divine powers, wielded his axe towards the Sea demanding that the Sea withdraw itself till the point marked by his axe. And it is believed that the Sea actually withdrew itself accordingly leaving a wide stretch of uncovered land. The legend traceable to Skanda Purana, appears to have been composed under the patronship of Kadamba Kings who were ruling the Malnad and Karavali regions [ 4th to 7th century CE]. Apart from the legendary record, there are geological evidences to suggest that a natural event of regression of Sea occurred sometime between ca 400 to 100 BC in the West Coast.
Old Port town of Basarur
It is interpreted that the port of Barace or Barcelore mentioned in Greek historical documents compiled by Ptolemy during 2nd century CE refer to Basarur. In that case it would be the old town of Basarur that was later destroyed (ca 750 CE) due drastic northward shifting of the flow channel of River Varahi.
The Basarur town was reconstructed in 12th century CE as it has been recorded as new town [‘Hosapattana’] in inscriptions dated 1154 CE [kg Vasantha Madhava1997]. This information combined with geological data suggests that that the old port town of Basarur was destroyed by natural factors between the period 8th and 11th Century CE necessitating relocation and reconstruction of the town.
Geological features of the area and the interpreted data reveals that two major events affected the region during and after the Megalithic period (ca.1000 - 400 BC).
Parasurama legend of land creation (retrieval of land from Sea) and Changes in shoreline near Basarur .0 submerged area under sea (ca 1000-200BC).1.Shoreline ca.1000 BC.2. Shoreline at present. 3.Old estuary of River Varahi ca.200 BC. 4. Present estuary of River Varahi. 5.Old estuary of Varahi  and Old Port of Basarur,ca.1000 BC. 6.Rebuilt new port of Basarur  (1150 CE).7. Old course of River Varahi  ca.700 CE.

It is interpreted that the original Basarur port was established on the estuary of river Varahi (also known as Haladi River) around 1000 BC or before when Basarur was on the   Western Sea coast and it was about 4 to 6 km inland as compared to present situation of coastline. The sea coast appears to have been receded westwards due to natural reasons during the period ca. 400-200 BC. In the legends this natural event of regression of sea has been attributed to the divine powers of legendary sage-hero Parasurama. After the regression of the Sea from the point of Basarur estuary, the port of Basarur was rendered geographically into an inland port.
Further it is interpreted (here) that the original Basarur port was destroyed around 750 CE due to migration and shifting of river Varahi and a new town was built on the southern bank of Varahi in the new place around 1150 CE. It is possible that River Varahi was unstable and shifting gradually northwards between the period 750 to 1100 CE.
Similarly due to further changes in river morphology, river bed silting and formation of river islands Basarur lost its significance after 1700 CE. According to Portuguese records, around the year 1740, major floods in the River Varahi destroyed the Basarur port and parts of the town including the fort and adjoin areas of Anagalli and Baragundi.
At present it has been reduced into a minor village due to drastic changes in historical coastal geomorphology and attendant   geopolitical circumstances.
(1) Regression of the Sea, attributed in legends to the myths of Parasurama. People were made to believe that Varuna (the Arabian Sea) receded back obediently in response to the wielding of Parasurama’s axe. The Position of Ancient Port of Basarur implies that originally it was established before the regression of the Sea attributed to Parasurama. The regression event probably occurred between  400 BC to 200 BC.
(2) The coastal rivers like Varahi (Haladi) shifted laterally towards North, possibly between the period Eighth to Eleventh Century CE due to Neo-tectonic activities in the west Coast. As a consequence of migration of Rivers, the Old Basarur was destroyed. Since the new Port town was built during 12th Century CE as per inscriptions of Alupa Kings, it can be surmised that the migration of Rivers and destruction of the old Port occurred somewhere between 8th and 11th Century CE.
It can be recalled that between 7th and 8th Century River Netravati  also suffered drastic natural disasters in terms of shifting and migration of rivers in the Mangalore region also. And it forced Alupa Kings to abandon their Mangalore port base at Pandeshwara and shift to Udyavara.

“Hesarāda pattana Basarūr; Ondu adhyayana” ( Renowned town Basarur: A study) - [in Kannada], Compiled and Published by Sharada College Trust, Basarur-576211,Udupi District, 1997, p.255+14.
Ashoka Alva, K, Dr. (Ed) ( 2009) 'Siri Kavya Loka': ( A text of Tulu epic sung by Smt Kargi Shedthi of Nalkur, Belthangadi Taluk, Dakshina Kannada district, Karnataka. Karnataka) Janapada Ranga Kalegala Adhyayana Kendra, MGM College Udupi. p.608+90.

Note: The interpreted dates in this post for transgression (ca 1000 BC) and regression events of the Arabian Sea (ca 400-200 BC) attributed to ‘Parasurama’ may be refined further with availability of new data in future.


  1. Nice article.

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  2. Gowda Saraswats fled Goa, migrated south and settled in Karavali places like Basarur. They are not built Tirumala Venkateshwara temple which is at junction of Kelapet & Melupet, Infact they built Gokarna Mutt


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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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