Wednesday, November 15, 2017

393. Pages from the forgotten history: Kolalagiri

Kolalagiri (Kolalgiri) is a rural hamlet, located to the north of Udupi city. Presently it is generally known for quality laterite stone bricks, though the resources are fast dwindling, due to pronounced quarrying operations during the last century.
 The Kolalagiri hamlet is currently is a part of Uppoor village in Udupi Taluk. However, only few people may be aware of the fact that once upon a time it was an important commercial town in the bygone history of coastal Karnataka. 
During the period between 8th century CE and early part of 12th Century the Kolalagiri was a active commercial town ruled by Alupa kings.

Geography & Geology
Kolalagiri is located on the northern bank of River Suvarna (Swarna). The region forms an elevated plateau consisting of well formed red laterite stones. The belt of laterite stones runs from Manipal to Kolalagiri in an NW-SE direction. Like most rivers of coastal Karnataka the Suvarna River appears to have migrated laterally and changed its position during the last three millennia.
Similarly geological data supplemented by historical facts as well as legends (of Parashurama) suggest that   a stretch of the present West Coast was under sea before two millennia which receded gradually. Thus it can be visualized that once upon a time (about 2000 years ago), the Kolalagiri was a port town located on the northern bank of River Suvarna.

“Kolalu” means a flute in Kannada. Thus Kolala-giri  literally   stands for the metaphor of  hill of flute. The Kolalagiri  settlement forms the northern geographic extension of the  Udupi   town. The Udupi became a major center of Krishna worship after installation of idol of Krishna by sage Madhvacharya who is also well known for propagation of the dualism (“ Dwaita”) concept of metaphysical    relationship between the soul and the God.  

Local legends suggest that there was a shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna in Kolalagiri in the olden days. However, remains of such a ancient Krishna temple or the township around the temple have not be traced so far.

It appears that the Sanskrit styled nomenclature "Kolala - giri"  was  created during the hay period of Krishna cult  in the Udupi region, as the flute (“kolalu”) forms the signature musical instrument of playful Krishna in the legends.

However, on retrospection,  it appears that the deducible original word "kol-ala" in the toponym  was derived from the ethnic kol tribes, as ala is a common suffix in ancient India denoting  human settlements located beside a river.  In support of this argument, there are villages named "Kolala"  in other parts of Karnataka also.
A map of  coastal region around Kolalgiri (click to enlarge).

Kolala nakara
The inscriptions dating back to some 8th century CE suggest that earlier in the history the place was known as “Kolala-nakara”.  A “nakara” was a merchants guild during ancient historical times. The merchants were influential and economically powerful during regal periods and the rulers had close relations with the merchants who would not only pay taxes but also loans to the rulers during exigencies.  The association of merchants (“nakara”) periodically assembled in temple premises and discussed their strategies and affairs.  Because of the involvement of economics, places with ‘nakara’ associations grew up as “nagara” or cities.
Merchants of such 'nakhara' trade guilds were usually dealing with export of natural products, like rice, spices, cashew, coconuts, cotton, silk, fibers, precious stones, pearls, shanks and cowries, fish and other manufactured artefacts.   Guilds  especially for cotton and silk textiles were flourishing in many of the South Indian Coasts – both East and West.  Such guilds thrived with the patronage of kings, chieftains and powerful professional groups.
Gururaja Bhat (2010) explains the content of the inscription as follows:
“One of the inscriptions from Udyavara perhaps, of 8th C refers to the Alupa ruler- Maramma Alvarasa. He seemed to have according to the inscriptions, summoned the Nayga(Nayaka) of Odevura (Udayapura) to the Kolala-nakara and entrusted him with the administration of Udayapura. It becomes almost clear from the epigraphs that Maramma alvarasa had his capital at Kolala-nakara. It may be surmised that this Kolala-nakara could be identified with the place Kolalgiri, just 10 km to the north-east of Udupi (there are no traces of city at Kolalgiri). Tradition has it that there was a Krishna temple at Kolalgiri and because of this shrine that place name came into vogue.”
Similar opinions have been expressed in their works by renowned   historians such as K.V. Ramesh and Saletore.

The place name Kolala-nakara   reveals that the original name of the  historical village was Kolala. There are several ancient villages in different parts of Karnataka bearing the name of “Kolala” or “Kolalu” .  Incidentally, the place name Kolala is an ethnonym   as the word analysis  Kol+ala shows.

‘Ala’ (as a suffix in the toponym “Kol-ala”) is an ancient Indian word denoting a habitation located on the bank of a river; incidentally the suffix ~ala means water or water body, as also suggested by the word” jala” (=water) derived from ~ala.

Kols were an ancient tribe of India. They are considered to be a part of Austro-Asiatic Munda tribes, once found all over India, but now restricted mainly to parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgadh, Orissa and Bengal. There are about 1420 villages in different parts of India carrying the prefix of Kol tribes. Even in coastal Tulunadu we can find Kolnad, Kollur Kollamuger etc villages still carrying their ancient signatures.

Historical significance
Alupa rulers ruled from Alupe port in the eastern part of present Mangaluru, which formed the coast of ancient Mangaluru until   about 100 CE.  The region west of Alupe (in Mangaluru) which was under Sea earlier, was exposed due to regression of the Arabian sea after 100 CE. (The natural event of regression of the sea has been described in the legends as creation of land by Lord Parashurama .

Further natural disasters like southern drifting of Netravati River around Mangaluru, appear to have forced the Alupa rulers to shift their capital from Alupe, Mangaluru to Udyavara.
The inscription involving Kolala-nakara implies that Alupa rulers were not content at their new base at Udyavara.  Alupa ruler Maramma Aluvarasa planned to shift his base north to Kolala nakara which appears to have been a thriving “nakara” (commercial town) at that time.  Kolal nakara was located in the northern part of Shivalli (Odipu/Udupi). The decision of Maramma Aluvarasa to shift from Udyavara to Kolala nakara suggests that Kolala nakara then was a potential commercial town, superior in importance to Odipu and Udyavara. Thus it seems Kolala nakara was a commercially important coastal town from later part of 8th century and up to the  first part of 12th century.

However, another town was gaining importance during the period. It was Barkur. Alupa ruler Kavi   Alupendra shifted the base from Udyavara/Kolalgiri to Barkur   around 1139 CE ( date identified by Vasantha Shetty, 2016) .


  Thanks to reader  Shri Melwin Kolalgiri for suggesting the topic and providing essential data.

Gururaja Bhat, P (2010) History and culture of south India (Discoveries in Coastal Karnataka: Vol 1 Edited by A. Sundara. Dr Padur Gururaja Bhat Memorial trust,  Udupi. p. xviii+ 364+40.

Vasantha Shetty ,B (2016) Barakuru. A Metropolitan city of antiquity its history and culture. Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy.Mangaluru, p.xvi+296.

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Books for Reference

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A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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