Saturday, October 1, 2016

365. The Mugera Community

Our heritage is simply a summary of continuum of cultural, religious, linguistic and genetic contributions by various tribes inhabited in this land since the beginning of tangible forms of civilization. In spite of explicit evidences of stratification and discrimination, it can be inferred that every Tulu community has borrowed cultural, linguistic and genetic rudiments of heritage from its earlier generations. It is necessary that we should endeavor to appreciate and understand the contributions of various tribes, beyond the general limitations of bigotry that pesters our society in general.
In this post we shall look into the salient information currently available on the Mugera community of Tulunadu.
In terms of population, the Mugera is the largest dalit Tulu speaking community in Dakshina Kannada district.  Variants of the word Mugera are Mogera, Muggera and Mera. They are known as Mera in eastern parts of the district. Other dalits groups in the district refer to Mugers by alternate names such as Kalaler (by Koragas), Kaipuder (by Manser), or Poojari (by Nalike).  In parts of Kerala they are known as Mayya or Mayyamar or Māyila.
During the history, the Mugera were hunters, fishers, warriors or agricultural laborers.  Ancient forts known as Mayila kote at places like Madhuru, Kātukukke etc. suggest that they were rulers during the history in parts of Tulunadu and Kerala. They were generally dark in skin color and Tulu was their mother tongue. They were well versed in the use of bows and arrows (known as biru-pagari in Tulu).  They also lived as artisans skilled in basket weaving or   making rain shields (korambu). During the history they worked as security personnel for the Tulu landlords of Guttu and Māgane.
Two scholars from the community, Dr. Abhay Kumar Kaukradi (1997) and   Dr. Koira N Balepuni (2005) have brought out two independent sociological studies on the Mugera community. The essential field data in this post has been gathered from these two excellent research works.
The Mugerlu: Mudda and Kalala
The Mugeras worship Spirits of martyred twin heroes from the community known as Mudda and Kalala or simply as “Mugerlu”(=the mugeras) who were considered to have been killed in their youth by deceit..  They appear to have been the contemporaries of and served under the renowned Billava twin heroes Koti and Chennayya. In some areas, another pair of heroes Yenmura Deyyu and Kelata Perne take the place of  the “Mugerlu” twins.
 Tanni Māni
 Anecdotes describe the legend of Tanni Māni, brave sister of Mugera heroes Mudda and Kalala made use of her drape( sāri)  as a rope and helped in the release of Koḍdabbu (Koteda Babbu) an artisan from the Mundala community who was captive and trapped in an sealed open well .
According to legends Kelata Perne was the husband of Tanni Maani.
From the legends of Mudda-Kalala and Koti Chennayya we get the impression that Mugera and Billava youths were serving as soldiers and security personnel for Jain Kings and the legends of these probably date back to later part of 16th Century CE as inferred by Dr Vamana Nandavara (2001).
Mugera Etymology Word origin
In Tulu language the word muger means (1) floodplain or flank of a river and (2) rabbit. However, the term Mugera stands for a community of Muger tribes. Incidentally in Tulu ‘—eru’ is a plural indicator denoting a group of people. In most of the tribal languages, the group name usually means people in their language (For example Koraga, Bantu, Munda etc mean ‘people’ or ‘human beings’ in their respective original languages.) Therefore, if there was a distinctive Mugera language before the prevalence of Tulu then the word Mugera in that language would have meant people by analogy.
Totem of Rabbit
However, on other hand, the rabbit (‘Muger’ in Tulu)   was an ancient totem found in many parts of the ancient tribal world. Therefore it is possible that originally  the core of Mugera community is a representation of ancient totem of rabbit in Tulunadu. During trans-continental migration of early human tribes of into coastal India, the ancient tribes may have carried their totemic cultural traits to West Coast along with them. The totem theory is proven by existence of other ancient totem groups in Tulunadu like Sanil /Chanil (=squirrel) and Salian<.Talya  (=spider),  Bāge (=Tiger) etc.

Mugera names

Some of the male proper names of Mugera people are Mangura, Pijina, Kukka, Kumbe, Kalanja etc.
The village level community leader gurikara, among the Mugera tribes is known as Kāpaḍa, Kāpa or Oorudāye. The community leadership of a Kāpaḍa is passed on to his son as a hereditary feature.
There was a custom of erecting banana plant in the middle of large agricultural paddy fields after ploughing the field in the West Coast. This was known as bare paaduni (= installing banana plant). This duty in the village was traditionally carried out by Kāpada of the Mugera community.
Similarly, the honor of installing the ceremonial flowery post (“Pookare”) in the Kambula (traditional buffalo race) wet field was also being allotted to the leader of the Mugera community, the Kāpada.

Pārtana, Sandhi and Kabita
They refer to traditional ballads and songs as Pārtana instead of Pāḍdana as in other Tulu communities. (Note that the Mugera word Pārtana is akin to Sanskrit Prārthana). The type of ballad known as Sandhi refers to recitation of traditional viewpoint of history of the specific Spirit. The song type known as kabita refers to popular ballads sung during traditional planting of saplings (neji) in paddy fields.

Spirit worship pattern
Mugera tribes are known for worshiping spirits of “Mugerlu” as Kola or Nema festival on a village level. The periodic spirit worship, celebrated on monthly basis, at family level on the day of Sankranti, is known as  Manja; and the offering is known as Aghel.   Generally, there are no specific idols  and the traditional symbols of worship consist of bow and arrows (biru-pagari), sword (suria) and  in some cases  the crown or headgear (chapparambu).

Dudi drum
The traditional drum used by Mugera tribes is known as duḍi.  The Duḍi is a kind of horizontally aligned, double conical or hour glass shaped drum, usually carved out of wood with constricted passage in the middle portion and the opposite circular open heads covered  with animal hide (see figure).  Usually animal skins of monkeys and lizards were used to cover the drum head. The drum head is beaten with a curved stick and simultaneously the rope tied round the constricted central part of the duḍi  is pulled to elicit required pattern of percussion sound.
Variants of Dui drums

A few varied forms of duḍi are also popular among other tribes such as Kodava, Irava (Yerava), Mansa, Mayila and others. Some of the Kodava  duḍis’ are made out of metal bronze unlike other wooden models popular with other tribes.
The tribes perform a number of types of traditional dances in tune with the beats of the duḍi drums.
Damaruga and Shiva
We can see that the dudi drum is similar in shape to the damaruga drum held by Lord Shiva in our legends, even though the duḍi is larger in size compared to the ḍamaruga.
Apart from the common shape of duḍi and ḍamaruga, the connection of Mugeras (and other tribes) with Shiva and linga are also evident in folk-lores connected with many of the ancient Shiva/Linga temples of Tulunadu. Anecdotes suggest that a tribal woman while gathering fodder or forage stumbles upon a piece of stone which exudes blood; and further the local people build a temple and worship that stone as Shiva- linga.
Types of  Mugera dances
The Mugera tribes traditionally perform a number of dance types as a part of specific seasonal celebrations or for the purpose of entertainment in the community. Salient seasonal celebratory dance forms include: (a) Karamgolu (b) Chennu (c) Aati Kalanja and (d) Pili panji. Besides, there are a number of types of dances performed for entertainment or during marriage (Darilo; Oddunalike) or public festivities at temples(like at Ubara makhe) or at buffaloe race( or Kambula).
A few of the significant seasonal dance celebrations are discussed here under:
(a) Karamgolu
The Karamgolu is seasonal a group dance performed by male dancers along with recitation of pertinent folk ballads accompanied to the beat of duḍi drums specifically in the Tulu month of Māyi (roughly February to March) especially on the full moon day.  The term “Karamgolu”, as implied in folklores, represents a special type of seed used for sowing crops, according to Dr Amrita Someshwara. In other words, the “Karamgolu” signifies the sanctity of “karam” (karma= physical   labor; agricultural activity) and sowing  of seed (golu). In some legends, a specific type of paddy seed known as Atikāri (a rice variety) is referred to as Karamgolu.
The seasonal dance of Karamgolu appears to be not exclusive to the Mugeras, as it is also played by other tribal communities of the region. However, Karamgolu is commonly played by Mugeras in parts  of Bantwal Taluk in Dakshina Kannada.
Ancient tribes gave sanctity and importance to essential agricultural practices which included selection of proper seeds. The Karamgolu dance is headed by a senior man referred to as “Angara Bakuda”, who represents the leader of the community in the dance.
(b) Chennu
The Chennu (means a beautiful woman) represents the folk ballad of a woman with child and is relevant to aspects of maternity. It is performed for a month from the full moon of Māyi (February/March) to the full moon of Suggi (March/April). The role of Chennu is portrayed by men dressed like woman and the child is symbolic in the form of a doll. She presents pictures of maternal care and love along with aspirations for welfare of the humanity in spite of the abject poverty experienced by the her family and community.
The celebration of   the seasonal dance of Chennu is said to be exclusive feature of the Mugera community.
(c) Aati Kalanja
The word Aați (= Ashaḍa in Kannada areas) refers to a Tulu month, characterized by intense rainfall, falling between July and August. And Kalanja is name of the young man, who is supposed to be a representative of the ancient Spirit divinity known as Bermer. He is also known as Kodanje in some areas.The Birmer (or Bermer) is the ancient Spirit deity of Tulunadu worshiped by various tribes. He visits the rural households chanting ballads for blessing them  for getting rid of ailments and (food) scarcity that usually pester the rural people during the peak rainy season. Thus, the Aati Kalanja is also known alternately, as Birmere Māni, Kalenja Bermer, Birmer etc. The performance is celebrated on the Full moon day and its eve during the month of Aati. The yellow powder of turmeric (Curcuma longa), which has known insecticidal and antibiotic properties, is usually sprinkled around the houses visited by Kalanja.
The Aati Kalanja is an ancient representative of divinity in vogue since early historical days. He carries a “tatra” or palm leaf umbrella symbolic of power, authority and divinity. He sings the ballad accompanied by the beating of dudi drum. The peak month of rainy season since antiquity is also a period of diseases and shortage of food grains. The aim and intention of the Aati Kalanja celebration is to wipe out the diseases and restoration of health.
(d). Pili panji
Pili panji means a tiger and a hog (pig). It is a hunters dance pattern symbolizing hunting wild animals like tigers(=‘pili’) and hog,  or wild pig (=‘ panji’) and the like. It commonly performed by the Mugeras of Beltangadi and Puttur Taluks which are closer to dense forest areas.
Kasaraka tree
The Mugera tribes traditionally held Kasaraka tree (Kayer or Kaveri tree) in high esteem. Whenever there is a child birth in the house it was customary to place four twigs of Kasaraka tree in the four corners of the roof of the house apparently  for the protection of the newborn baby from evil eyes.
Vāstu rudiments
The Mugera have a specific pattern of Vāstu for construction of dwelling houses, according to Dr. Abhaya Kumar (1997). Generally, the houses are simple in design with entrance of their houses face Eastern direction.  North facing entrances are taboo among them.
The dead bodies are normally buried, without aligning the body to any of the specific directions.
Stratification in Tribal Society
The members of the Mugera community generally consider themselves superior to other dalit groups such as  Mundala, Bākuda, Godda, Mansa and Māyila. These are generally considered as the first ranking dalits in Tulunadu (Abhaya Kumar, 1997).  Spirit dancers such as Nalike, Panara, Pambada and Kopala are considered as second ranking tribes.   The  spirit dancers  came from outside, probably from Tamilnadu, according to Abhaya Kumar. The Koraga tribes appear to belong to older/earlier generation of tribes that inhabited coastal Karnataka.
Bari lineages
In the Mugera community there are 18 bari lineage sects according to Dr. Abhaya Kumar (1997) but he gives a list of total 22 baris’, the additional ones being added in later years. Among these the Koormer is said to be the most respected or preferred bari during forging matrimonial alliances.

Bari lineage groups among the Mugera
The list of Bari lineages provided by Dr. Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi (1997) is provided below:
A1. Koormer,
A2. Bangera,
A3. Salian,
A4. Kundadanna,
A5. Manjadanna,
A6. Yeradanna,
A7. Beemardanna,
A8. Kumerdanna,
A9. Mattedanna,
A10. Poovadanna,
A11. Arpudanna,
A12. Uppenna,
A13. Māradanna,
A14. Bhadradanna,
A15. Kanappanna,
A16. Pulletanna,
A17. Marder etc.
A18. Wagetanna
A19. Karamber
However, according to Dr Koira (2010) there are 16 baris’ plus a few additional baris’ which he considers as regional variants or koodu baris’.  He states that it is difficult to separate original 16 baris’ from koodu baris’. His list is as follows, .
The Bari lineage list provided by Dr. Koira N. Balepuni (2010):
K1. Chalianna (=K17);
K2. Kundachanna (=K18, K19),
K3 . Bangaradanna.
K4. Kumerdanna (=K20), *
K5. Kinnyadanna, (=K21, K22),
K6. Ponnedanna,
K7. Mardaranna (=K23, K24, K25 , K26),
 K8. Pernedanna.
K9. Bolle Aitanna.
K10. Parikadanna.
K11. Uppianna.
K12. Poovedanna.
K 13.  Sonadanna.
K14. Mottedanna,
K15. Karkadanna,
K16.  Nadaranna.
Additional bari s’ regional variants or koodu bari s’ (Dr Koira)
(K17. Sāmedanna / Sāmanidanna)
 (K22. Kinnigere),
(K25. Yerderanna ),
(K26 Oderanna),
K27. Kesardanna
K28. Bojjaranna
K29. Gunderanna
K30. Kaalikoranna
K31. Perbanna ……etc.
 (* Asterisks show numbers of equivalent baris enlisted suggested by Dr Koira. Bari names of serial numbers beginning with A are from Dr Abhaya Kumar (1997) and those   beginning with K are from Dr Koira (2010). Common Baris falling in both the lists are shown in bold letters. The suffix –anna   implies a man or person. Kundacha means Sanil or squirrel).
The Koteda Babbu was from the Parikedanna bari  and Tanni Māni, sister of Mugera heroes Mudda and Kalala was said to be from the lineage of Muncheridanna. This particular bari does not exist at present according to Dr. Koira.

Antiquity of Mugeras: Origin and antiquity of the tribal community bearing the totem name of “muggear” (rabbit) may go back to early days of civilization.  In ancient tribal communities that lived together in the form of a collective habitation, each habitation had its own insignia that was symbolically represented on a pole at the entrance to the habitation. Totems of rabbit, squirrel, spider, serpent and other animals were the insignia of specific tribal communities in the antiquity. The totem of rabbit was commonly found in ancient tribes of Africa and other parts of ancient world.
Totem and Bari evidences: Of the totems and bari lineages, it is difficult to decide which was older. However, since the term “bari” means a 'house' in ancient Indian languages like Munda/Prakrit, we can deduce that the bari system chronologically followed the system of totems (tribal insignia) during the early days of civilization as recognition and registration of the genetic identity of  individuals in the ancient society .
A large number of bari lineage groups existing among the Mugera community suggests the amalgamation of several “ bari” groups during different historical stages into the fold of community, presently designated as Mugeras. It can be noted that some of the bari types existing among the Mugeras are also common in other communities in Tulunadu, suggesting clearly that the common evolution of the communities took place, before segregating into “castes” in the due course of time
Mogaveera: For example, a part of the Tulu fisher community was known as “Mogera” in parts of Tulunadu before adoption of the name of “Mogaveera” during beginning of the 20th century.  There is an argument that ‘Mugera’ and “Mogera” are different, the latter being suggestive of  ‘mugear ’ which is the floodplain of a river. However, it seems on alternate view that the fishers Mogera actually could have been an ancient offshoot of the totemic Mugera tribes under discussion.
Stratification: The Mugera were considered to be inferior to Billavas at  a point in the history may be around 16th century, as we can understand from the legends of Billava twin heroes Koti and Chennayya and their contemporary Mugera twins Mudda and Kalala. However, it is explained in the references cited that the Mugeras also considered other tribal communities such as Koraga, Mansa, Mundala etc as inferior to them in social status. This point reveals that social stratification was prevailing among the ancient Tulu communities probably as a result of sheer rivalry or as per the theory of survival of the fittest.
It is evident that migrations and settling of tribes took place in episodes. And  every batch of new settlers tried to impose the superiority of  their  acquired cultural progress over the older batch of settled 'backward' tribes. (Thus the social stratification in the land is not exclusively due to the division of castes or ‘ Varnashrama’ theory as commonly assumed)
Evolution of Tulu Language: The presence of numerous antique words exclusive to Tulu and absent in other Dravidian sister languages, suggests existence of words derived from the ancient tribal communities that settled in this land.
There are clear indications that early tribes had their own distinct language(s) which was/were different from Tulu and other Dravidian languages. During the course of evolution, probably after 2nd century CE,  Tulu language occupied a dominant position in the coastal region and the descendants of the ancient tribes were forced to forget their original language and gradually switch over to the dominant language of Tulu. In the process of cultural amalgamation and assimilation, the Tulu has liberally has acquired and adopted words from earlier languages. This explains the conclusion of the linguists who have inferred that Tulu language shows combination of South central and Southern Dravidian linguistic features.
Bari: One small and fine example is the adoption of the word “bari” in Tulu. The word ‘bari’ in ancient Indian languages meant ‘house’. In ancient days it was used to identify the person from the address of the house he originated. Thus ‘bari’ system of tagging the name of an individual’s house as a mark of his identity came into being. (Compare with Aadhar system of present day).
The pre-Tulu system of Bari lineage identities was adopted by the speakers of Tulu language as a matter of convenience. However, Tulu language had another word ‘bari’ which meant a side.  Thus nowadays Tulu people believe that the word ‘bari’ means a side. In Kannada, they have modified “bari” into “bali”. Some Kannada people have changed the word “bali” (= a side) to “balli” which means a creeper! This should serve as an example of the unintended changes to the meaning conveyed by the same words during the protracted course of evolution.
Ancient words: There are several ancient words which appear unique to dalit communities of Tulunadu, such as, for example: tullel (=marriage), chapparambu (=seven hooded crown; (worn as headgear by Mugerlu Spirit impersonators),  partana (= ballad, song; pari+tana; compare with pad+tana.), Kāpaḍa (=community leader) etc.

Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi Dr. (1997) Mugeraru: Jananga Janapada Adhyayana (Kannada). Kannada and Culture Directorate, Bengaluru and Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academi, Mangaluru.  320 p.
Koira N. Balepuni Dr.(2010) Mugerara Dudi kunitagalu: Svaroopa mattu Sanskriti. (Kannada) Dudi Prakashana. Balepuni,Bantwala Taluk, Dakshina Kannada. Xii+8+246 p.
Vamana Nandavara, Dr. (2001) Koti Chennaya. Janapadiya Adhyayana (Folkloristic study) (Kannada). Hemanshu  Prakashana.  Mangaluru. 420 p.

*  *


 The proper name or surname of "Mugera" is commonly found in some African countries. Incidentally, “Mugera” in Lulogooli Bantu language (Kenya, Africa) means  a river. Compare the cited African word and its meaning with that in Tulu, where the “muger” means a floodplain or flank of a river.


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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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