Tulu Nadu is cosmopolitan, in that all profession-based classes or castes live in harmony, dependent on each other without prejudice. It embraced all people coming to this land of Nature Worship and Spirit Worship. To be precise, people of this land worship trees, animals, birds, snakes and manes and spirits. This Tuluva Cosmos is a world of highly structured and ordered system of a whole. Their way of living, beliefs and customs and ideas are identical. Low and High feelings come as an attitude in all societies of the world. Such feelings can be contained by a spirit of universal brotherhood. In the present-day world, we live in at many places, playing a significant role in development of economic, cultural and social conditions.
Many tribes have trodden this land in the past, as we can deduce from a variety of surviving ethnonyms encountered, of whom we know a little. Their signatures are also found in odd words, customs, personal names, apart from place-names.
We try to trace the importance of distinct groups who made this land their home land and contributed to the overall culture of Tulu Nadu. In that direction, this article is an attempt to know about Devadigas and others. Traditionally, they are the Spirit players and drummers in the ancient Hindu temples. Besides, they have also pursued cultivation of land. Edgar Thurston has included them in his book: Castes & Tribes of Southern India.
‘Devadiga’ is an ethnic name for a group of people of Tulu Nadu (Districts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Northern Malabar (i.e. Kasaragod, which was a part of South Kanara up to recent history – State reorganization of 1956). Regionally, Devadigas are known by different names. We have come across the following names:
Muyile, Moyili or Moyli, S(h)erigar, Sani, Sevagara, Servegara, Shereyar, Ambalavasi, Bogunvale (?), Devadasi, Devadigar, Dewale, Devadig, Ganikula, Kavalnath, Konkan Valegar,etc. They are all Hindus, speaking Tulu, Kannada and Malayalam.
In some government classifications, the Sappaliga or Sapaliga are included in this list of Devadigas, though the Sapaligas profess separate identity and lineage.
Devadiga is split as Deva+Adiga or Aadiga. Deva means Deity and Divine Spirits of a temple. Adiga or Aadiga means: a player or servant (in temple). One of the important work assigned to Devadiga (Moilees) in the temples is playing the role of official temple Spirit (holding a sword accompanied by shivering and dancing) dancing in front of the chief deity of the temple, while the deity is in the process of making divine rounds (known as bali or bali barpini) around the temple precincts. They are also doing variety of additional jobs, such as cleaning, lighting arrays of earthen oil-lamps, and beating the kettle-drum (Nagāri), Barrel Drum (Chende) or double drums (Mourri ?) and sometimes also playing musical instruments in the temple.
Devadigas of Kasargod region consider that they were originally Tamilians. When a Tamil Pandya Raja invaded Tulu Nadu, they were one among the retinue who came with him. The Pandya Raja conquered regions up to Nandavara and built many temples. Before going back, he appointed his chieftains as administrators and left behind Devadigas to serve in those temples as musicians and do other cleansing jobs.
At Kumble, Pandya Raja appointed Jayasimha as his representative. They assimilated into Tulu culture and adopted Tulu, Kannada and Malayalam languages, one of them being their mother tongue. So, they are polyglot, i.e. multi-lingual. (Source: YouTube: Shree Paadangara Bhagavathi Prasanna, Arikkad, Kumble).
The other story is that Kadamba King Mayur Sharma (later he assumed Varma, a Kshatriya name) encouraged construction of Hindu temples in Banavasi. Similar practices came up in Tulunadu. The Stanika Brahmins, Devadigas and Sapaligas were ordained by the rulers to work in temples to assist the temple preist Brahmins in maintaining the day to day business of the temple.
Shri Vadiraja Tirtha (C. 1480-C.1600), who lived for 120 years was a great Dvaita Philosopher, poet and mystic. He was a polymath. There is a belief in currency that he ordained Carpenters, Goldsmiths, and Devadigas to be treated as Brahmins during their period of stay in temple for doing temple duties by performing a sanctifying ritual.
Sappaliga or Sapaliga
Sappaliga means one who makes musical sound in a temple through Vadya (musical instrument) and Vadana (playing the musical instument). Now they are known as Sapaliga or Saphalya. Sapaligas, adept in playing musical instruments, used to serve in the temple along with Devadigas in temples, but there are no marital alliances between these two communities. Both have independent community associations and affiliations.
Traditionally there has been matrimonial alliances between the members of Sapaliga and Marakala (now Mogaveera) communities especially in and around the Udupi region. Besides, Sapaligas and Marakalas share similar bari lineages. The local oral legends also suggest that the initial members of Sapaliga were drawn from the Marakala fisher community during the ancient history and were trained in the art of playing musical instruments to serve as pipers and musicians in the temples.
In Mangalore and Bantwal areas, the Sapaliga have adopted coconut oil extraction as a profession and have considered themselves as Ganigas. The gāna is the device used for the extraction of oil. There are matrimonial alliances between Sapaligas and Ganigas in Mangalore-Bantwal area and they have designated their association as “Sapaligara yāne Gānigara Sangha’.
However there are generally no direct traditional matrimonial alliances between Mogaveeras and Ganigas in Mangalore area.
Beliefs & Customs
They follow same Hindu rituals, as other communities of Tulu Nadu, during birth, puberty of a girl (first menstruation), marriage, death. They are also followers of animism, i.e. the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena and the universe itself possess souls. So, they also believe in Spiritual beings or agencies. At some temples, they are mediums for spirit-possession (Pātris).
Nāgaradhane (serpent worship) is common in all communities of Tulu Nadu. Each Devadiga clan has its own ‘Moolāsthana’ where snakes are worshipped. There is one ‘Moolasthana’ of Adyaranna at Gudde Angadi, Kavattar, (near Mulki ; Pin code 574 195.).
They follow matriarchal system as other Tuluva communities. Marriage between girl and boy of same ‘bari’ is forbidden. Traditionally, heritance ofproperty rights moves along female line though male is custodian.
Septs of Devadigas
They too have similar clan (bari) names, like Mogaveeras, Billavas, Kulalas, i.e. Kunder, Salian, Suvarna, Shriyan, Karkera, Maindan, Mendon, Bangera, Gujaran, Uppian, Kukkiyan and so on. Besides that, we have come across other baris, viz. Bundhan, Bageeyatan, Adayran (Adyaranna?), Shettiyan, Kayaran, Guliyechan, Vadeyaran, Pergadan, Karmaran, Puthian, Odrenna, Malayanna, Huttaryan, Chandiyan and Katkane.
The incidence of Adayran and other baris among the Devadigas is interesting from the genetic point of view. For example, Adi is an ancient tribal community and about 192 villages named after Adi such as Adia, Adyar, Adiyur, Adivala, Adve, Adigon, Adihal etc are found in Tulunadu as well as in other parts of India.
Similar deductions can be made about some of the less common baris prevalent among the Devadigas enlisted above. Thus admixture of common and less common baris among the Devadigas suggest infusion of several tribal streams during the initial stages of creation of communities from the tribes.
Hindu temples follow Panchayatana (ಪಂಚಾಯತನ) system. That means: Five temples, having one for main God and other four for other Gods. Mostly, five Deities are: Vishnu, Shiva, Devi or Durga, Surya and Istha Devata, like Ganesh, Skanda, or any personal God of devotees. Temples for Divine Spirits are now accommodated within the precincts of main temple.
Devadigas of Kasargod have Paadangara Bhagavathi as Kula Devata. They officiate as priests to Divine Spirits, who are parivara Daivas attached to the Temple. They act as impersonator of the Bhoota Kola/Nema,
Kula Devata of Devadigas of Barkur Hobli is Shree Ekanatheshwari at Barkur, known since Alupa rule. The old temple with Parivara Daivas is under renovation since January 2017 and to be re-established and dedicated to the community and public on 15th February 2018 and related purification and Brahma Kalasotsava rituals and other ceremonies run up to 22nd February 2018.
Community Associations & Aspirations
Devadiga Sangha was established in 1948 at Dadasaheb Phalke Road, Dadar (East), Mumbai-400 014 for overall upliftment community people at native place and Mumbai. As other Tuluva communities, this Sangha has also branched offat many areas in Mumbai and Vashi (New Mumbai). There are many other organisations in Tulu Nadu also for the benefit of Devagidas.
At a symposium in the precincts of Ekanatheshwari Temple in April 2017, the Community elders decided to have a “Devadiga Global Foundation”.
-Hosabettu Vishwanath with Ravi Mundkur.