Friday, October 14, 2016

366. Mystery of Gokarna and Havyaka

Many of the place names that appear simple on the face may in fact be more complex in reality because of the obscurity in the historical evolution of our land.   It is necessary that care should be taken, while deciphering the original meaning intended and attributed to the place name, by our ancestors who gave the particular name at a remote point in the past history.     Similarly it would be wise to discard the apparent  but untrue meanings that may be attached to  the  name because  of      limitations  in  our  understanding the history and meaning of  the original word. Let us analyze the place name Gokarna and its relation to ethnic words Ha(v)iga and Havyaka.
Legends of Gokarna
Gokarna is a well known place in West Coast of Karnataka, located on the flank of Aghanāshini River in Kumta Taluk, Uttara Kannada district.  The Gokarna is a renowned tourist spot famous for Hindu religious ceremonies especially in the celebration of traditional posthumous rites apart from attractive beaches like Om beach, Kudle beach and main Gokarna beach.
Legends related to the epic Ramayana describe the Gokarna as the place where Asura King Rāvana, while carrying Ātma-linga requested Lord Ganapati (Ganesha) to hold the Ātma-linga for a short while as he wanted a brief respite from the burden. But legends envisage that   the Lord Ganapati tactfully or rather playfully placed the Linga on the coastal sand which was installed permanently. The Rāvana who returned to the site was perplexed to find that the Linga could not be moved from the place in spite his best physical efforts. Ultimately, Rāvana had to leave the Ātma-linga entrenched in that place which later became famous shrine of the Lord Shiva in the name of Mahābaleshwara.
Toponym : Gokarna
The analysis of the toponym (place-name) Gokarna appears quite simple at the outset as it apparently contains two rudimentary Sanskrit words:  Go (=cow) and karna (=ear).  Therefore Gokarna=Cow’s ear. There are legends supporting the hypothesis of Cows ear stating that the Ātma-linga came out a cow’s ear.
However, if you are a serious   student of Indian place names, you may feel that it is unusual that a place should be named after the ear of a cow (in spite of our respect for the holy cow).
The basic reasons for dissent are:
(1) The place names coined by our ancestors reflect the words selected from the language existing at that time in that region.
(2)  Most of our place names are desi words which may have been modified in the due course of time. (The term desi usually reflects the words derived from Prakrit, Munda or Dravida languages.)
(3)  Most of our ancient place names end with characteristic spatial indicator suffixes or morphemes like –na, -ka, -ga, -sa, -ba, -va,-ma, -la,-ala, etc (or their variants and modifications.).  (You may peruse previous/older posts in this blog dealing with toponymic analyses).
(4)  If you apply such a kind of logical place name analysis, then, the origin of the word would be: Gokarna = gokar + Na.
Many Gokarnas' !
It may surprise you to know that there are many places in India,  known by the name of Gokarna. The census of India 2011 database reveals that that are several villages distributed in different states of India, carrying the name “Gokarna” with or without additional modifier suffixes. A few places named exactly as "Gokarna" also exist in Gujarat and West Bengal besides Karnataka.
This may lead to controversy  as to which was the actual Gokarna referred to in the epic Ramayana.  Note that there is a village by the name of “Gokarni” in West Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh, there are "Gokhar" as well as "Gokhari" villages. In Uttara-khand, "Gokhuri"  and in Rajastan, "Gokhri" named villages are found.  Besides, there are many villages bearing  varying names such as: "Gokhara", "Gokharpada", "Gokarnapur", "Gokarnabinda", "Gokarneshwar", "Gokarnakhal", "Gokarnameri" and "Gokharkuda" especially in the State of Odissa. There is village known as "Gokhar Bedi" in Madhya Pradesh.  In Gujarat, "Gokharva" and "Gokharwala", villages are found. In Andhra Pradesh, apart from villages named as “Gokarnapuram” you will also find “Gokarnapalle” and “Gokaram”. In Bangalore District near Devanahalli there is a “Gokare” village. You can also find villages named “Gokhar” in Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.

Gokhar: the Nāga cult
Gokhar (or Gokar) means Nāga, cobra or serpent in Prakrit and its derived languages like Odissi.  Therefore, places known as Gok(h)arna  were ancient villages, originally were named after the  cult of Nāga, which was a holy deity for the native tribes.   The prevalence of ancient cult of Nāga worship  has been well known in different parts of ancient India.
Thus, the Gokarna and its derivative toponyms are suggestive of ancient areas dedicated to the cult of Nāga worship in the antiquity. These place names also indicate that in these regions Austro-Asiatic Munda and/or Prakrit languages prevailed during a specific period in the past history.
That the toponym Gokarna originally meant place of serpent cult can also be proven by the existing alternate historical name for the Uttara Kannada (region around Gokarna) by the name of  “Haiga” ( or Haviga).

Haiga, Haviga = Gokarna
The analysis of the place name "Gokarna" (= village of Nāga ) throws light further on another disputed term in the Indian history : Haiga or Havika. The Kannada dialect in Uttara Kannada district is generally pronounced little bit faster ,such that some of the words unintentionally get mutilated or distorted in the spoken language. Thus the term "Haviga" is generally pronounced as "Haiga" in the local dialect of Gokarna and surrounding areas. We can see that 
the word “Haviga” [Hāv+(i)+ga] in Kannada is equivalent of  Prakrit word "Gokarna," as hāvu means Nāga or serpent in Kannada and –ga is an ancient suffix indicative of a settlement, habitation or village. Thus Haviga (also Havika or Haiga) is the Kannada eqivalent of the Prakrit place name Gokarna.

Lingual transition: Prakrit to Kannada
Thus, the place name Gok(h)arna on translation to Kannada has become Havika or Haviga, where in suffix -ka or -ga is indicative of habitation, similar to the prefix -na in Gokharna. This is suggestive of an important historical fact which documents the change of administrative language in the region from Prakrit to Kannada. The date of lingual transition probably can be assigned as ca.300 CE.

Thus it can be realized that the Brahmins originating from Havika or Haviga (Uttara Kannada district) area of Karnataka are traditionally designated as Havika or Havyaka Brahmins.  The word Gokhar is known as Haavu in Kannada. 

However, the origin of the word “Havyaka” has also been disputed in learned circles. Basically,
 so far there are two schools of explanations in vogue with regard to the origin of the word "Havyaka".
(1) It has been suggested that the category of Brahmins traditionally engaged in the rituals of offering Havana (Havya) and Homa were considered as Havyaka.
(2) Alternately, the category of Brahmins,  hailing from the region of "Haiga" were known as "Havyaka".

(3) It can be seen that the origin of the word "Haiga" ( or Haviga) is itself has been somewhat controversial, as there is  a school of thought suggesting that the word "Haiga" might have been derived from the term "
Pashuka". There has been a suggestion that Haviga came from "aavu" which means cow in Old Kannada.

Of all the hypotheses discussed above, it appears that the word "Haviga" (shortened to Haiga as it is customary in the dialectical version of Kannada of Uttara Kannada) gave rise to the word Havyaka - one related to the region of Havika/Haviga.  Clearly, the term "Havika/Haviga" is the Kannada translation of the Prakrit place name word "Gokarna". 
Thus, the Gokarna region of Uttara Kannada,   has been known as “Haiga” (or “Haviga”) in historical documents probably after 3rd Century  CE. The native (Kannada) word ”Haiga” was the deformed version of the Kannada word Hāviga.  

Ucchila(=Gokarna, Haviga)
In this context, we can study a similar meaning, analogous place name from Tulunadu. The place name "Ucchila" is equivalent of Gokarna or Haviga as Ucchu+ila means habitation (-ila) of the Serpent (Ucchu). There are at least two coastal villages in Tulunadu (1.Near Kapu, Udupi district and 2.Near Manjeshwar, Kasargodu District, Kerala) bearing the name of Ucchila.

Historical implications
Thus it is concluded that term “Hāviga” or “Haiga “ as employed  in historical inscriptions refer specifically to the region of Gokarna in Uttara Kannada. Corroborative historical data (discussed elsewhere and also in our older posts,) suggests that Prakrit language prevailed as administrative language in Karnataka probably up to ca. 200 or 300 CE.  Further, Kannada language dominated and took the place of regional administrative language, which is also evident by the natural translation of the Prakrit term Gokarna into Hāviga. 
Thus, it can be concluded that "Haiga" was the Kannada term for the "Gokarna" (in Karnataka) and the term Havyaka as applied to the group of people meant the Brahmins of Gokarana (or Haiga) region.  
It is interesting to note that out of the two analogous terms, Gokarna and Haiga (Haviga), the latter has gone out of usage in the long run, whereas the former has remained in active usage. The term Gokarna stayed with the people as favorite, possibly because of its  appeal as a word apparently akin to Sanskrit, the widely respected language, . 

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Books for Reference

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  • 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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