Friday, December 29, 2017

396. Melānta

In history, western world knows only two divisions as commoners and nobles, despite the professions they follow.  We, in India, have many artificial caste distinctions or divisions, based on hereditary occupations of individual professional sometimes -groupable under the traditional classes of Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. The Brahmans, who are in highest rung of Vaidika Chaturvarna, have also divisions, supposed to be 84 or so. These artificial divisions, known in Portuguese language as ‘Casta’ (probably taking cue from Kayastha of Bengali), are made known to Europe by Portuguese. Further, in Southern India, there are high (right-hand) and low (left hand) divisions within a caste itself. The English borrowed this word ‘casta’ and invented the word ‘caste’.  The description of castes makes an interesting reading in Hobson-Jobson Dictionary (Pages 170 t0 173).  Glossaries of Anglo-Indian words and phrases are gleaned (and edited by the Authors) from the writings of foreign explorers, Arabian and European marine traders, colonial officers and European missionaries. Some books record  skewed views, skirting a subject partially, but they give some insight into the history of Tulu Nadu.  There is no entry in this Dictionary for ‘Melanta or Melānta’, who were very much a vibrant social group in Tuluva history. 

With this introduction, we try to describe the less known story of Melāntas, who are spread in coastal areas upto Kasargod and interior places like Bantwal, Puttur, Sulya, etc.
 In global map, the Melanta as a surname is widely and thickly spread.  It is a matter of another study whether they relate  someway or not to the Tuluva  Melaantas.

'Melanta or Melānta’ etymologically means ‘Mel-banta’ (ಮೇಲ್ ಬಂಟ), i.e. a handy-servant or attendant or forefront servant or a warrior in any movement.  He worked as a serf to a grandee, a village sabha (societal gathering), a feudal chieftain or a  king.
Presumably, they might have come from Hassan and Kodagu with Gouda Chieftains of Hoysala  Kingdom when they conquered coastal areas  which were under Alupas.   They are mostly concentrated in coastal villages beyond Mangaluru, say Kasaragod Taluk of South Kanara and now Kasargod District of Kerala after the State reorganisation in 1956, based on concentration of language-speakers. The border areas are normally an area of bilingual speakers.  It is also likely they followed the legendary Bhargava Rama during his sojourn to Tulu Nadu from North.

Presently the Melānta   is a predominant sub-community within Mogaveeras  and Bunts, doing  menial jobs. They pursue ancestral  profession of fishing, palanquin carrying, body-guards and farming. What is ethnical link between Mogaveera  Melanta and Bunts Melanta?  It is a matter fit for future  genetic studies.

Mogaveera Melānta
Each Mogaveera Patna used to have a Melānta to do hair-cutting and shaving for the community people (Now the system is stopped after  absorbing them into main stream of Mogaveeras).
Further, he was supposed to perform all types of religious rituals from birth to death. This is an exercise of purification -   on child birth, first menstruation of a girl etc. He was to  act as messenger of the village Sabha to inform activities of the village to householders and the duties assigned to individual householders (in rotation in the case of large villages) in matters of mangala snana or kalasa snana, i.e. pouring of sacred water in new and small earthen pots (= mutti) on the head of a girl on attaining puberty or during ‘sese muhurta’ of bride or bridegroom in the case of marriage. He informs the households (who are on rotational list) to accompany marriage procession (dibbana) of a girl.  The custom is similar to what is practiced traditionally by other castes of Tulu Nadu.  He was paid by individual household for this priestly service. Community Gurikaras (Village traditional leader) and elected members of Village Committees must be present  to see through the customs.

In the case of death, he proclaims the death and turn of the households to be present for assisting in funeral work.  He also informs the members of the Bhajana Mandali, to sing devotional songs during funeral procession. He is the priest in all last rites of a departed soul.
This practice was in vogue mostly in southern part of Dakshina Kannada (Mangalore Hobali).  In Udupi side, Mogaveeras use Madivalas for such rituals.  Melānta families, other than the family anointed for the ceremonial duties, are engaged in fishing profession.

They speak Tulu.  Those who are of erstwhile Kasaragod Taluk of South Kanara speak Tulu or a mixture of Tulu-Kannada-Malayalam at home and study in Kannada schools whereas after State-reorganisation, they study Malayalam in schools also.  Region up to Northern Part of Malabar was called as Tulu Nadu during the history.  So, people identify themselves with Tulu Nadu, i.e. extended Karnataka.

Earlier, it was a social taboo on a Mogaveera boy marrying a Melānta girl.  As a result, Melānta girls North of Mangaluru were married of to Melānta boys South of Mangaluru.

 I was a privy to a funny situation, which arose in 1956. Panambur and Tannirbhavi villages were liberal and there was less discrimination.  Melāntas were allowed 'saha bhojana or paNkti Bhojana (Eating together, sitting with each other in a row) there.  This was not liked by some villages.  In 1956, a girl from our village (precisely, of Heggade House) married off to a Tannirbhavi boy.  Fearing a clash in the 'saha-bhojana',  the village committee ordered that one male per house should accompany the 'dibbana' (marriage Procession, going on foot in those days). It would be a big Dibbana as Hosabettu is a big village. My eldest brother asked me to go as he was busy. I was forced to go.  He gave his vastee.  I felt uncomfortable with the slipping vastee as I was not used to wear mundu or vastee.  Luckily, no untoward things happened there.
During   annual celebration of Kola or Nema of the village deity, the Melānta  would trumpet or proclaim loudly the duties assigned to each household.  Each household must give ‘siri’ (tender coconut fronds to be used for preparing sacred dress of Divine Spirit Dancers), tender coconuts, pingara  (inflorescence  flower of arecanut tree).  He announces the Households appointed for bringing sacred leaves (mango leaves, kepula flower and leaves and other medicinal leaves and flowers for decoration and erection of pandals over and around the sacred seat of Daiva Bimbas, persons to be present during Bhandara Procession from Bhandara House to the Shrines of Daivas, and holders of Hilalu (Stand with a cup for holding lighted oiled-cloth).  (Read Post-250/20.08.21010 – From Olasari to Varasari on annual worship ceremony of Divine Spirits)

Melānta on village duty used to   get a part of fish catch, besides the wages fixed by the village sabha. He gets paid by householders in kind and money for the priestly work done at households.

Now, Melāntas are absorbed into Mogaveera Community (some time in 1980’s), thanks to the sagacity of leadership of Community Federation, the Mogaveera Mahajana Sangha.

Melānta of Bunts
They are engaged in farming as tenants.  We are not aware whether they used to do the duties as Mogaveera Melāntas.

Melanta Daivas
In Tulu Daivaradhane customs, there is always a 'Banta (=attendant) Daiva' to each  principal Daiva.  They are called as Banta, Melanta or Melantāya.   It is supposed that they are ‘Ganda Ganas’ (Valient warriors or fierce fighters) always in the vanguard of the army of Lord Shiva.

Melāntas among Brahmins
Melanta Sept is also noticed among the Brahmin community.  It is said that Brahmins arrived in Tulu Nadu right from the beginning of Alupa rule.   They were given gifts of land to increase the fertility of land by using it for cultivation. ‘Shodganga’ quotes, from an Epigraph, the names of Brahmin clans of Udupi.  They are: Varamballi, Ungrapalli, Adiga, Hebbara, Asranna, Ballala, Basura, Bayiri, Hande, Hathwara, Goli, Bhatta, Herale, Holla, Joisa, Kalkura, Karantha, Kedilaya, Manja, Mayya, Melanta, Navada, Puranika, Tantri, Somayaji, Urala, Madhyastha, Vaidya, Tunga, Upadhyaya, Nidambura, etc.

The subject ‘Melānta’ needs more study. This article is based on readily available information – verbal and on record.  Readers are welcome to add additional information available at their reach.

-Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune

Monday, December 25, 2017

395. A matter of cleansing

A couple of years ago, I noticed an informative leaflet on Savitas on the wall of a Hair-cutting shop in Udupi. In nut-shell, it contained ethics to be followed in the profession.  Savitas are known by many traditional names in Tulu Nadu and for that matter, all over India.  Here in Pune, I was wonder-struck when a Hindu barber from UP is having 'Sharma' as surname. In Tulu Nadu, madyelas or madivalas perform, as a convention, priestly rites – whether auspicious or inauspicious - but they are not having such a surname.  This induced me to know more about Savitas, who have a good social status.  

Tulu Ethos
Tulu Nadu is known by different names in history.  It is difficult to say with certainty who are the original inhabitants of Tulu Nadu. Existing sources, if any, are obscured by Time. Normally, it is a custom to trace a race from the migration route.  The root or original migration, as is understood today,took place in Africa and these migrated people spread out to different parts of the world. Immigrants who came to another region are known by the region they migrated or by their traditional occupation. It suggests a common umbilical cord as is manifest from place names and common words of identical meanings in many languages of the world.

Modes of living created traditional occupations that suited to a man’s environment and circumstances.  The occupations gradually acquired the shade of a caste or class.  These castes were considered as specialists in a specific profession. Each traditional profession devised tools suited to it.  It is generally assumed that there was no competition to such class-based skills. But the analysis of available data shows that different tribes adapted to similar set of professions in the evolving timeline.

The aboriginals, pushed to a remote area on social, professional, economic and political considerations, were compelled to subsist on the natural resources confined to its ‘natural ecological niche’. Compartmentalized professionals, with social and political justification of high and low status, enjoyed, nevertheless, an equally important place in the religio-cultural evolution of the Tulu Nadu. These professions - then and now – are shaped by needs of the Time.

Class of Beauticians

Nai-Barber community, nick-named as ‘hair-stylists, are known regionally by different names in India.  There is a light-hearted comment (masked in teasing tone) in Tulu on seeing a newly hair-cut person: ‘ನಿನ್ನ ಕೊರಪೊಳು ಪೊರ್ಲು ಉಲ್ಲೋಳ್(Ninna korapolu porlu ullol). It means: Your ‘crop’ is very beautiful.   Here, Korapolu stands for woman of Koraga Community.  They are naturally beautiful with photo-genic face and by braiding their hair in their own rustic ways.  May be, this is the reason for such a blithe comparison.

They are known as ‘Nayindas’ in Karnataka though there are various nomenclatures regionally.  In Tulu Tongue, they are known as Kelasi, Bhandari, Maddela or Madyela and Melanta. Maddela or Madyela is ‘Madivala’, both in Tulu and Kannada. Melantas were working for Mogaveeras; now the practice is discontinued on absorbing them into Mogaveera community. There is also a sub-sect among Bunts, known as Melantas. Now in Tulu Nadu, all in hair-styling or dressing profession are called as ‘Savita Semaj’.Their jobs include hair-dressing, shaving, removing hairs under arm-pits, trimming eye-brows, nail-cutting, colouring of head-hairs and medicinal treatment to face and hair. Some of them do the traditional purification rituals in village households and temples.

They are called as Ambattan In Tamil Nadu, Kavutian in Kerala, Nhavi or Nabhik in Maharashtra, Mangali in Andhra Pradesh, Ghajios/Matkos in Gujarat, Napit/Mahu Napit in West Bengal, Bhondari in Odisha, Sanmukh in Satara, Variks (Time-keeper) in Sholapur, Hadapada (Lingayat) in Bijapur, Bidar, etc. of erstwhile Nizam Karnataka.

Bhandaris are mostly found in Ankola, Honnavara, Karwar, South Kanara.  They are doing hair-cutting services to higher castes, such as Brahman, Bunt and Jain.
Mhalle, Mahale or Malye is a sect among the barbers who migrated from Goa to Tulu Nadu.

In the North, each region has distinct name for the Nai, more correctly Nayinda, such as Sen/Sain or Napit (Haryana), Raja (Punjab), Kuleen (Himachal Pradesh), Khawas (Rajasthan – They work as attendants to grandees as Melantas in Tulu Nadu), Raja or Ustad, Nai-Thakur or Savita Samaj (Delhi), Shrivas, Sarathe (Sanskrit: Stotri?), Savita, Napit, Omre, etc.  Muslim Nais are called as Haj(j)ams.   By Notification, it was ordered that the spelling for ‘Nai’ should be ‘Nayi’ (Thanks to the efforts of Pandit Revati Pradeep Sharma of Varanasi in Thirties of last Century). They lead wedding parties, carry messages between villages and communities.  They are followers of Lord Krishna.  They adopted many clan names: Sains, Mangali, Vostad, Manthri, Nayee, Valand (Gujarat).  They might have also adopted the Brahmi Surname ‘Sharma’, for doing hair-cutting job only for Brahmins.     (Note: ‘Senvivah’ is a popular Matrimonial Portal).
Each small traditional group is now demanding more benefits under BC/OBC category.

The word ‘Nayee’ stems from the Sanskrit root ‘Nay’.  ‘Nay’ means ‘Nayak’, i.e. one who leads.  Nayees acted as ambassadors between different States, being Khatrias (i.e. kshatrias), who changed their profession.  In Karnataka, including Tulu Nadu, Nayees played pivotal role in state matters (under Vijaya Nagara Empire and feudal chieftains and kings).  Story of Nandu Raya of Tulu Nadu is proverbial (See a Post on Panambur or so in our Blog).
Nomenclature ‘Kelasi’ in Tulu Nadu is derived from Kelasa, meaning work, as per a Note on Barbers of Tuluva by Mr. M. Bapu Rao.  Readers may do well if they read (e-Book) Castes & Tribes of south India, Vol. III, by Edgar Thurston & Rangachari for an insight into this class of Kelasi of South Kanara.
Bhandari and Hadapa names are derived becauseof box they carry with implements necessary to their profession.
Napita means one who deals in hair-cutting.  It is considered as corruption of Sanskrit word ‘Snapitri’, meaning one who bathes.  It may be more so when he makes others to bathe.

 There are many legends:
·         Lord Brahma created the Sage Savita (meaning: One who shines and makes others shining) to do services of hair-cutting to Gods.  He is supposed to have written the Samaveda andhis daughter is Gayatri, author of Gayantri Mantra.  Somabrahma, a master in Ayurveda, is supposed to be the son-in-law of Gayatri.  Barbers were used to practice Ayurveda.  Barbers take pride as progeny of their Progenitor Savita Brahma Rishi.
·         Nayindas also profess that they are born from the left eye of Lord Shiva. Legend is that Goddess Parvati made fun of God Shiva’s unkempt mien.  Taking a cue, Lord Shiva created a man from his left eye, who came out with a box of cutting and shaving instruments and musical instruments. Some play musical instruments in temples and are aptly known as ‘Bhajantris’ in North Karnataka.  So, they are called as ‘Nayanajas’ (those who are born from eye or Nayana Kshatriyas. Nayana = eye, ja = to come forth/born).

·         According to Mythology, Nayee is born to a Khatria father and Shudra mother.
·         Another story tells that Lord Shiva created them from his navel to cut and clean the nails of his consort Parvati.
·         In another legend, it is Vasuki, who created the first barber from the  Nabhi (=navel) of Lord Shiv.  So, the progeny is called as ‘Navi or Napik or Napit. 
·         According to L.K. Anantha Krishna Iyer’s writings, Ambattans (of Tamil) are descendants of a Vaisya woman by a Brahmin.
·         In Dravidian Encyclopedia (1993:467: Vol.2), Nayindas are descendants from one of Brahma’s sons (i.e. Mangal Maha Muni) through a Sudra Woman.
·         In South Kanara (meaning erstwhile Kanara District), legend says that Lord Shiva created ‘Kelasi’ (=doer of a job) community to perform Kshourika Vritti (hair-cutting profession).
·         A Gandharva woman was accursed to be a rock.  Lord Parashuram redeemed her from the curse and blessed her with sons, equal to Brahmins, who would perform rituals as performed by brahmins, besides their destined profession of hair-cutting or hair-dressing.
·         In recent history, Pandit Revati Prasad Sharma, born in Varanasi to a Nayinda family, strived for the uplift of Nayinda Community.  He digged into the Scriptures and Puranas and wrote many books, which traced the lineage of Nayindas. Two important books are: Nahvi Brahman Pradeep and Nahvi Brahmana Vansh Katha.  He founded an Organisation, named ‘Akhila Bharatiya Nayi Mahasabha, Banarese.  Owing to his efforts, the then British Government of Indiacertified the Nayindas as “Nayi Brahman” in 1930, and declared that they be returned in Census records as such.Other Provinces also followed suit to bring out similar Declarations.

Social Functions of Tuluva Savitas
In Tulu Nadu, Madivala’s place in physical cleanings and religious cleansing is proverbial. At the same time, we have observed some attitude of contempt.  Now they may be entertaining low and high ideas, based on difference in cleaning - laundry cleaning and hair-cutting and on their participation in religious rituals. There are divisions among them as (1) Parel Maddele, (2) maddele and (3) bhandari or kelasi. 

The sect called as ‘Parel Madyele’ under Madyela,  works traditionally as barbers to certain class of Tuluva people. Even today,  madyelas or madivalas perform as priests to Tulu people in all matters from birth, naming ceremony, first menstruation of girls, marriage (Subha-shobhana, i.e. auspicious rituals) to death rituals (considered ashuba, i.e. inauspicious)from funeral to last rites) despite incursion of Vaidika customs. These are all activities of purification.

They get salary for the services and keep the sacred offerings (purified rice with kumkum, coconuts, betel leaves and nuts, etc).  There is   a saying in vogue in Tulu:  ಓಡಾರಿ ಅರೆ ಬುಡಾಯೆ, ಅರಿ ತಾರಾಯಿ ಮಡ್ಯೆಳೆ ಬುಡಾಯೆ(Odaari ‘are’ budaaye, ‘aritaraayi’ madyele budaaye). Odaari = potter, are = softened soil prepared by leg-thumping over special soil with water, ari = rice, taraayi = coconuts, madyele = washerman, Budu = to leave, Budaaye = one who does not leave or forget to take things.  It means that pot-maker uses all softened soil without wasting while making pots.  Similarly, a washerman makes it a point to take away all the offerings made in a purification ceremony.

Ujeneer (ಊಜೆನೀರ್)
The water drips in the pot when the soaked clothes are steam-boiled by washerman.  This collected steam water is considered holy and hence is used in ritual purification by priestly washerman.  Similarly, ashes of coconut fronds, obtained from the oven of washerman, are used in ritual purification of clothes.

Bolgude Paarravuni
In Annual ceremonies of kola or nema for divine spirits their presence is necessary.They are working as bearers of decorated post, known as Bolgode (= bol+kode = white umbrella) in ceremonies of Divine Spirits.  It is known as ‘ಬೊಳ್ಗೊಡೆ ಪಾರಾವುನಿ (Bolgode Paaraavuni).  It is a ritual of wielding a supple and decorated post, supporting it on waist cloth near navel, while going around the Bhuta/Daiva Shrine in procession in front of impersonators of Divine Spirits.


Nayinda, a Dravidian Class, is a generic   term for all traditional barber communities.  They have ethnic links to other parts of India.  But in the course of time, the difference in language, environment   and culture make them distinct, forbidding them to have dining together or marrying in between two castes of the same profession.  Winds of change   are breezing silently now despite resistance.

The hair-cutting business has climbed to a high status with the modern class of beauticians and beauty parlours with sophistication. Similarly, washing and dry-cleaning business is an industry instead of a household business.
When I came to Mumbai in late fifties of last century, chain of laundries branded as ‘Band Box’ was well-known. It was a grand sight to see white collared people surging out in mornings from railway stations and marching on to offices and surging back into railway stations in evenings (Note: ‘White Collar’ is a sobriquet for (office) working class.  White Drill and long/poplin cotton cloths were the order of the day for pants and shirts.  Jeans and chequered shirts have taken its place these days.

The communities in Tulu Nadu have been (as we observed) a cohesive society despite the high and low distinctions, based on economic considerations.  This is a fundamental spirit of Tuluva ethos.  On religious matters, each community has a part to play, as we see in temples and shrines of divine spirits (Daivasthana) even today.  There is a moral element, determining a character’s action, devoid of his/her individual thoughts or emotion.  There has been an economic co-operation.  Alas!  It is now under threat due to parochial sentiments.

Feelings make one what one is.  It is our thoughtful attempt to bring out the details of Nayindas.  There is no carefree indifference to offend anyone’s feelings. 
Readers comments would enthuse us to bring out more Posts on the inhabitants of Tulu Nadu.

-Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune

Blog Archive

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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