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363. Deciphering Tulu-nadu place names

The readers would observe that many of the Tulu Place names may not convey, on the face of it, any specific meaning or apparent meanings...

Thursday, July 20, 2017

386 . ‘Amba pāđuni’ – A catchword of action in Tulu

Folkways!  It denotes the ways of living, thinking and acting in a human group, built up without conscious design but serving as compelling guides of conduct.  So, it is descriptive of a unique characteristic of a social group.

Aamba/Ambe Paaduni
When I came across the term mentioned in the introductory para, I remembered the phrase ‘Amba/Ambe Pāđuni’(ಅಂಬ/ಅಂಬೆ ಪಾಡುನಿ) in Tulu.  Even a half century or so after its near extinction, the Ramponi and its high-spirited cry of action ‘Amba/Ambe’ in Ambe Pāđuni’ has been haunting my mind. It is more so because of the inscrutable sound of concord for moving and lowering the Ramponi  boat, called Pađavu' (ಪಡಾವು), to sea and pulling it up from sea.
A ‘kontala (ಕೊಂತಲ = small boat) is sent to the sea, manned by two or three skilled and experienced  persons, with keen eyes, to look out for shoals of fish, moving towards break-water area.  On discovering the shoals, the headman signals to men waiting on shore, gesturing the length and breadth of shoals and showing the direction for covering the nets.  Normally, it is a secret signal so as not to be understood by rival Ramponi’s kontala.  The call of ‘amba’ stirs the members resting in shades of groves on the shore. Commotion and enthusiasm ensue on the discovery.  Ethically, as an unwritten law of the community, rival ramponi is not allowed to snatch these shoals detected by the first one but sometimes small skirmishes arise due to misunderstanding.

History of Ramponi
The coastal fishing method of ‘Ramponi’ style was more powerful, vigorous and popular. It was giving livelihood to all, besides the community people. It was successful up to the last leg of 20th Century.  It is documented that this method of catching fish was introduced in the first decade of 20th Century in Goa by Ramponi, a Portuguese missionary and hence the name ‘Ramponi’ for this fishing method. It may be true that such type of catching shoals of fish was originated in Goa but we deduce that the random fishing (without waiting for shoals of fish) must have been there even earlier in western coastal belt. We see that small version, named ‘Kairamponi’, is still extant.
The introduction of mechanized boats for fishing proved a death-knell for traditional shoreline fishing.  This is mainly because of fall in shoals of fish coming shore-ward because of disturbance.
‘Ramponi Fund’ is an organization, created on unique co-operative principle (when no co-operative laws were in place then). It is for coastal fishing and managing its moneys for the benefit of its members, including Hamgamies (temporary workers without contributing to stock of the Fund).
We do not wish to burden the article with descriptive sketch as our purpose is to explain the meaning of ‘amba or ambe paaduni’.  How the system works can be visualized by reading the Book: ಮೊಗವೀರ ಸಮಾಜ – ಒಂದು ಅಧ್ಯಯನ (Mogaveera Community – A Study)’.  It is also available on Internet, both in Kannada and English.

The phrase is not known outside the world of fisherfolk and the people connected with them.  This vocabulary of Tulu language is now included in the Tulu Lexicon; thanks to the Compilers!  But we differ with the Lexicon as it generalized the meaning whereas it has a specific connotation.  Let us explore the distinctive description.

Amba paaduni = Rowers’ song (TL Vol.1, pg. 27)
Amba/Ambe/Ambo = Bellowing, lowing, a cry, noise, cry of a cow.  In children’s vocabulary, ‘amba’ means cow.
Amba also means:  Divine Mother like Goddess Bhavani or Mahalakshmi.
Ambe Kaar Paaduni (Tulu Lexicon, page 31) & Ambgaalikku, Ambalikku Ambegalisu (Kannada) = Child’s crawl on hands and knees.  Eg. ಆನೆ ಮರಿಯವೊಲಂಬೆಗಲಿಸಿ ನಡೆದ ಕೃಷ್ಣಮ್ (Aane mariyavolambegalasi nadeda  Krishnam = Krishna crawled (awkwardly) like a child-elephant).
English equivalent to ‘Amba Pāduni:
Yo-heave-ho = It is a chant shouted by sailors to maintain a steady rhythm when hauling something together.  So, it is a cry in rhythm formerly used by sailors while pulling or lifting together.

Clearly, rhythmic   songs of rowers and sailors are different from Amba-yali utterances in ‘Amba Pāduni’.  These are exhorting utterances for pushing, pulling, raising or lifting of such big boats loaded with nets for lowering it to sea.  It is a speech for action by a skilled leader, showing high spirits. To avoid striking of padāvu (resting on logs of wood called  ’ dade/tade) to sandy ground, he moves around up and down to goad members to start and stop as and when necessary. The boisterous sound is full oflife, vitality or high spirits.
The bending, lifting or raising and pushing, using human body is like a child’s awkward crawl, measuring up in unison to the catchword utterances. The 'Amba' call is met with 'Hi Josh, Hi Josh' by men concentrating their energy by backing the Padaavu on both sides to raise and push. When padaavu starts moving, the echoing sound ‘yaali yaali’ (ಯಾಲಿ, ಯಾಲಿ) continues. Visualize this unified action from the picture, put   elsewhere in this article.

Tulu & Kannada Catchword Chants
O aalambeyaali, Elambe yaali, Aile yaali, Chambon embar yaali, Javanere marji yaali, Bandor baare yaali, Jor javana yaali, Kiniyaan maareyaali,C hiniyaanmaarae yaali, Yaalsolama yaali, Yaalre salama yaali, Deen solama yaali, Kaabanre (Captain) baage yaali, etc.
Reflecting on these utterances, we can infer that they are like an echolalia, i.e. the imitation by a baby of the vocal sounds produced by others.  It is not worthwhile to divine any meanings to such expressions.  Nevertheless, we can deduce some story occurred in the past.  There were instances in coastal history of rubbing shoulders with strangers with fisherfolk by drawing inference from words like, Aile (Mackeral in Byari Bhase), Din, Dinre, or Dinar, Alla, Solom or Salaam (Arabs), Kiniyaan (Kenya), Chin (Cheena), kaabarne or captain (of foreign  ships of marine trade of yore), etc. Later, new ‘Amba’ chants were coined to make fun on idiosyncrasies of people in a village or neighbouring villages.  These are based on dress, appearances and peculiar habits.

Summing up
‘Amba’ is invoking per se the mother’s love.  Readers are best judges to decide whether this statement comports with facts. ‘Amba, amba, amba paadula (ಅಂಬ, ಅಂಬ, ಅಂಬ ಪಾಡುಲ) is just like a call of loving mother, putting food or other attractive things in front of her child.  When she moves her child sitting on lap or legs, she repeats the word: aane, aane (ಆನೆ, ಆನೆ = elephant), bale aane, aane.   Accustomed to this expression, child moves to and fro without the help of mother.   Fisherfolk considers rivers and seas as ‘Gangamāta’ (Mother Ganga) and naturally, some of them regionally have assumed Gangamatastha, Gangakula or Gangaputra as caste names. 
“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope, getting out of bed.”  This is an aphorism by the renowned US Aphorist Mason Cooley (b. 1927).  This aptly applies to these toilers of sea, who are not slugabeds.

1. ‘Folkways’: Dictionary.com (based on Random House Dictionary).   It is a term used by W.G. Sumner in his Book of the same Title (1907).
2.  Ambegaalikku: Kannada Champu Nudigannadi by Dr. P.V. Narayana
3.  Mason Cooley: Columbia World of Quotations.

-Hosabettu  Vishwanath (Pune)

July 19, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

385. Kāpri-gudda and Kāpri-deva

The heritage land of Tulunadu has preserved many vestiges of ancient cults in the form of Spirit worships. However, during the course of passage of time it is likely that certain ancient Spirit aspects were forgotten from the mass heritage inadvertently.  Some of these inadvertent omissions are either, rather surprisingly, preserved in ancient place names or preserved in altered or evolved   divine  forms  in regions in the neighborhood.

Kapri gudda
Let us take example of the place name Kāpri guDDa in Mangaluru. It is a local place located to the east of Attavara, specifically behind (or East of) Casa Grande Apartment Complex or South of Falnir and Highland areas. In an earlier Post 273, I suggested that Kapri or Khapri was an ancient Spirit insect form which  can be traced to some of the ancient African cultures. It is probable that in the antiquity, ancient  migrating human tribes, who  traveled great distances on a prolonged  course of time, on foot, in search of better pastures, carried their belief systems also to the places of their new settlements in Coastal India.

In olden days we had people named after Kapri, Kaprianna, Kapira, Kampara etc. Now a days usage of such tribal proper names have  declined.

Kapri or Khapri deva
 Somehow it appears that there are no remains of physical evidence of worship of Spirit Kapri existing in Kaprigudda, Mangaluru, except for the preserved place name. However, in Karwar in Uttara Kannada district, we can find the absolute evidences for the worship of cult of Kapri or "Khapri-deva" in a shrine exclusively dedicated to him. Once in a year, some specific local communities engage in the worship of this God known as Khapri deva locally. The shrine dedicated to Khapri-deva has been renovated in the recent years as you can see in the pictures enclosed in this Post.

(Acknowledgement: Thanks to Shri Panduranga V. Nayak, Ankola, Uttara Kannada- for providing the photos of the shrine).


Monday, May 8, 2017

384. Menda or Mendan Bari - lineage

The Mendan (Mendon) is one of the bari   lineages or surnames commonly found in Tulu communities of the Tulunadu/West Coast. Though the “Mendon” bari lineage is mainly distributed among Mogaveer and Sapaliga communities, other sister communities have allied bari names, such as “Menda” in Bunts. Infact the word Menda+an (≥ Mendon) is equivalent of the word Menda, since suffix –an  is added in Old Tulu /Old Kannada to indicate a male person.
However, the Menda or Mendan surname/subcaste is not exclusive to Tulunadu. We find the Menda subcaste among Telugu speaking Velama Kshatriyas of Andha Pradesh/Telangana.

Menda villages in India
Once upon a time the Menda appear to have been distributed in many parts of the country as we can see in the distribution of some 27 village names that begin with Menda in different state such as Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharshtra, Meghalaya, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Uttara Khand. The Menda village names include Menda, Mendal Mendadi, Mendaki, Mendara, Mendaraka, Mendamal, Mendauli, Mendawali, Mendadi-konda, Mendan-kallur, Mendakwas, Mendarbahar, Menda-kheda, Mendangi,   Mendabeda  and  Mendapalle  etc.

Totem Menda
It appears the Menda was an ancient   tribal totem to begin with. The Menda in Pali/ Prakrit langauge means a ram.
In early cultures the ram appears to be a specially respected animal. As we find that the ram is the symbol of zodiac month of Aries or Mesha. Further the ram is considered an astral symbol of rulership.  Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, which signifies the ram-like attributes of leadership, authority, and other forefather-type characteristics.
Menda (Pali) =ram (intact male sheep).  Menda/ Mendan:  Totem of ram
Rams are male bighorn sheep, animals that live in the mountains and often settle arguments with fights that include ramming their heads into others. Not to be confused with mountain goats, rams can be identified by their long, curved horns; long fur; and split hooves.
The sheep (Ovis aries) is a quadrupedal, ruminant mammal typically kept and reared as livestock. An adult male sheep is called a ram and an adult female sheep is a ewe. Rams are intact male sheep used to breed ewes. Rams are often bigger, more muscular and have larger horns than ewes.

Genetic significance
It is interesting that two versions of the bari lineage namely the Menda (among Bunts) and Mendan (among Mogaveers) exist in Tulunadu side by side. Since the ancient tribes were known to migrate from place to place in search of better pasture and living conditions, we can presume the two versions suggest two separate episodes of immigration into Tulunadu. There is a distinct possibility that the soldiers (kshatriya) from Tulunadu might have migrated to Telugu areas and settled or vice versa.

The retention of the Prakrit Pali name Menda probably also reflects the period of immigration of these tribes into Tulunadu. In Karnataka and Tulunadu it has been deduced that the Prakrit/Pali was the administraative language of the region in the early centuries of the Common Era   probably upto 300 or 400 CE.  The –an suffix in “Mendan”  is a chacteristic of the Old Tulu/Old Kannada/Dravidian languages prevailing during the early centuries of the Common Era. These inferences may be useful in deducing the period of immigrantion of the tribes which can be fine tuned further based on other corroborative evidences.

African  source of origin?
Geneological studies trace most of the tribes to an origin of   ancient African homeland. It is interesting to note that ethnic groups named as Mende can be found among Mande tribes of African countries like Sierra Leone and Southern Province. One of the reference sources suggest that the African meaning of the term Mende is a warrior. Incidentally, it has certain parallelism with the term Pali term Menda which represents a ram an animal of warrior attitude.


Friday, April 28, 2017

383. Bobrudeva in Bobruwada

The West Coast of India especially the Uttara Kannada district, shares several aspects of cultural history and evolution with Dakshina Kannada - Udupi ( literally, Tulunadu) though language differs in these region. The features of  worshipping ancient Spirit forms and other tribal deities has been a common phenomenon, though vestiges of ancient cults are gradually undergoing changes or evolution in the course of time.

In the post 381 we discussed about the character of   Babru- vāhana that has appeared in the epic Mahabharata.

In the suburb of Ankola town in Uttara Kannada district, we can find a village known as “Bobru-Wāda”. One of the interesting features of this village is a temple dedicated to “Bobru-deva”.  
Bobrudeva, idol at Bobruwada, Ankola.

Entrance to the temple of Bobrudeva, Bobruwada, Ankola

The temple houses a black   idol of Bobru-deva in sitting posture. The people around told that the new idol was installed about six years ago. The earlier image had a ferocious façade like those of rakshas characters; but the present idol has a pleasant face.

It appears that Bobru was a martyred hero, who was worshipped as a spirit after his lifetime. In the rural tribal people of the region, the Bobru, and Babri etc are known to be the common names, though nowadays the trends are changing in favor of modern style personal names.

In Tulunadu, Bobbarya is a well known Spirit deity. The origin of the name of the Spirit Bobbarya has been obscure and controversial. One gets a feeling whether the name Bobbarya  was derived from or related to the tribal name of Bobru or the Bobba.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

382. Gudi Padva

Gudi Padwa was celebrated in Maharashtra on 28th March 2017. It is being celebrated in Karnataka on 29th by those who are following Lunar Calendar (Chandramana Almanac, based on movements of Moon). Our Hearty Greetings on this auspicious day, which is celebrated in different names all over India.

Legendary stories from Puranas are attached to this hoisting of Welcome Flag, to usher in the New Year.  It is called as Brahma Dwaja, raised to  mark the creation of the Universe by Lord Brahma.
Gudi Padva (image courtesy  www.shumee.in)

History about Gudi Padva is clubbed with Karnata-Maratha-Telugu cultures. In Maharashtra, Gudi Padwa means first festival falling on the first day of first  Lunar month of Chaitra Shukla Pratipada according to Hindu Calendar. It is known as Ugadi (Chandramana) in Karnataka.
 Special food offerings are made while worshipping the Gudi.   Gudi = Flag is hoisted by Hindu Householders on this auspicious day. Gudi comprises: a new sari-like cloth with brocades in deep green or yellows colours, decorated with Neem and Mango leaves, garland of sugar crystal (Sakar Gathi) and (red) flowers. It is attached to a Bamboo Pole.  This pole top is covered by inverting a copper or steel Kalash as pinnacle. 

It is raised in commemoration of victory of Vikramaditya over Shakas (Scytians) when a New Era, styled Shalivahana Saka, was started.  There is controversy over the actual King Vikrama or Vikramaditya (Bhoja, Gupta or Chalukya dynasties) or Shalivahana of Satavahana dynasty of Pratisthanapura. 

Every year, mostly all newspapers bring out Special Souvenirs on this day.  Normally, nowadays people know the rituals but not the historical value. At such festival times, people think it is auspicious to buy gold and ornaments.  It has acquired commercial value as these Souvenirs depend on ads from Jewellers. 

-Hosabettu Vishwanath

Saturday, March 25, 2017

381. In search of Babru vāhana

Babru vāhana (or Babhru vāhana) was a son of Arjuna born of Manipur princess Chitrangada in the great epic of Mahabhārata. The heroic character of Babru vāhana has been made ever unforgettable by the superior histrionics of the well known veteran actor Dr Rajkumar in a Kannada movie. In Mahabharata, the valiant son Babru vahana fights against his father Arjuna on the trail of Ashwamedha.

Inspite of popularity of this particular mythological character, the essential meaning of the unusual word “babru” has remained elusive and mysterious. The suffix vāhana in the word Babruvahana represents a vehicle, essentially an animal motif well entrenched in the Indian tradition.
Thus mooshika vāhana means the one riding on a “mooshika” (=rat); mayura vāhana represents the one who travels on a mayura (=peacock), and similarly we have Nandi vāhana (nandi=bull), Simha vāhini (simha= lion)   and so on. Thus the term Babru vāhana   suggests   that the prefix   babru   is an animal. Then what exactly is the animal babru?

Totem Babru,   the mongoose
The Pali-English dictionary throws light on the meaning of the word babru. The entry on “babbu” (in page number 536) explains that babhruka in Sanskrit represent an ichneumon. The ichneomon includes animals such as mangoose, otter or beaver which was considered an enemy of dragons and crocodiles in mythology. 
In Rig Veda the word “babhru” apparently represented   the brown (color). The word “babhru” was also found in Akkadian language but it was without any clear meaning. Liny Srinivasan (2011) has reported that Prof Gordon applied the purported Vedic meaning (brown) to Akkadian word”.  

Totem Mongoose
Obviously, this leads us to a   natural confusion whether we should take babru as an animal or a color. However the name of the character Babru vāhana clearly connotes that it is a live vehicle (animal) like other mythical vahanas described in the epics. Therefore, the babhru should have been an animal most probably the common mongoose.
The serpent (Nāga) is being venerated since antiquity by numerous tribes and the traditional practice continues to date. The Nāga was the totem for many of the ancient tribes. It is possible that mongoose was also a traditional tribal totem though there is paucity of historical documented data on this aspect.
Mongoose (Babru) is a daring animal that fights against the serpent valiantly and this feature should have appealed to some of the ancient tribes to adopt it as totem.

Extention of idea with time
It is   reported   that in Rigveda, the word “babhru” refers to color of deep brown or reddish brown. The deep brown incidentally is also the color of the skin of mongoose and allied creatures.  It not clear whether the connotation of brown color was adapted from the skin color   of the animal babhru.

However, with passage of time the term “babhru” has been applied in different ways such that the original Pali/Prakrit meaning of the word has almost been lost.  Hosabettu Vishwanath has gathered a number of additional meanings implied to the word "babhru". Summarizing his data,  the term “babhru”  found to have been applied apparently in post-Mahabharata  Sanskrit  literature as follows:

1.  A   lover of red flowers, like lotus. ( Alludes to 'the Sun'.)
2.  A   reddish yellow, to red rays of dawn. ( The epithet for Sun who rides on Aruna)
3.  A   thunderbolt. (Thus the one who rides over a thunderbolt' is Indra the God of sky.)
4.  A tolerant, merciful sustainer of Universe (Vishnu).
5.  A reddish brown cow (Alludes to Shiva on a bull)
6.  Babhravi  - is a form of Goddess  Durga.
7.  Babhruka - is a constellation of stars.

These extention of the ideas to the term Babhru/Babhru-vahana, variously attribute the implied meanings to Sun, Vishnu or Shiva or even Durga. However we do not get such extended ideas in Mahabharata,   wherein Arjuna confronts his son Babhru Vahana. In other words Mahabharata does not projects the Arjunas' son Babhru-Vahana as an incarnation or form of Sun, Vishnu or Shiva or else.

Therefore, it would be apt to restrict the original meaning of the word Babhru to an animal like mongoose or a mythical dragon as implied in the Pali dictionary. The implication of a dragon appears logical as Manipur the homeland of Babhru Vahana of Mahabharata has had certain geographic affinity   to China.

The entry of the word “babba” as an accepted synonym for “babru’ (or babhru) in Pali- English Dictionary cited above is quite interesting. Incidentally the term “Babba”   is a common pet name for boys in many regions including the Tulu nadu. Such pet names appear to have been inherited from days of our tribal cultures.

It is interesting to note that one of the habitations (hamlet) within Ankola town near Karwar in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka, is known as “Babruwada”. Within the colony there is a small shrine devoted to the deity known as Babru!
(I could not verify the exact present form and nature of the deity Babru - especially whether it has been transformed to any of our current Vedic forms).  However, it is clear that the worship of Babru is vestige of an   ancient practice inherited from the history.

Cult of   Akkadian   Origin?
It is possible that the Babru worship cult arrived in the West Coast (such as Ankola) along with ancient tribal immigrants during the ancient history. The existence of the word “Babru” in Akkadian (as cited above) leads me to such a suggestion.
There is another parallel example of ancient worship of exotic deity Kapri near Kadwada near Karwar, Uttara Kannada. The original cult of Kapri can also be traced to the ancient African insect deity Kapri. Traces of the forgotten cult of ancient Kapri worship can also be tracked in the city of Mangaluru, where we find a locality named as Kapri gudda, near Attavara.

Babba, Babra Villages
Coming back to the ancient forgotten totem cult of   Babru/Babba we find villages not less than   18 named as Babra or after Babba (Babrala, Babrana, Babrani, Babrapur, Babbanpur Babbidi, Babbalpur, Babbur Babruliang etc) in various parts of India, such as Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharshtra, Rajastan, Uttar Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.

Based on the analysis of the available data, it appears that the ancient tribal name Babru    ( ~ Babba)  possibly represented mongoose which was an animal totem for some of the ancient  tribes of India.  The remnants of tribal cult of   Babru worship (similar to the remnant cult of Kapri) existing sporadically in the West Coast  of Karnataka appears to have prevailed among the ancient immigrant tribes from the African countries.

Liny Srinivasan, Dr. (2011) Desi words speak of the Past. Indo  Aryans in the ancient Near East.  572  p.  (also in Google  books.)
Rhys Davids, T.H   and William Stede [Editors]: (1921-25). The Pali -English Dictionary. The  Pali   Text   Society. 813p.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

380. Antiquity of iDli

The Idli being a steam cooked dish made of ground and fermented paste of rice and black gram can be considered as one of the healthiest foods discovered and evolved in southern India. A number of steamed cousin dishes of idli are known in coastal India (especially Tulunadu) since times immemorial. The idli has been mentioned in some of the ancient Kannada texts.
Incidentally, now you can find numerous notes in the internet fueling  controversies and disputes that the technology of steaming as well as fermenting were borrowed from abroad.  The common myths floating in the internet are:
Myth 1: The process of fermentation was not known in India.
Myth 2: There were no vessels   for making steam baking in India till 7-8 C CE.
Myth 3: Idli technology was derived after an Indonesian dish called kedli.
Myth 4: Idli was made from the pulse Urudu (black gram) only in 10th Century.

We need to accept that the exchange of ideas and technologies is a common phenomenon in the global village since antiquity. However, let us review the available data for obtaining a better perspective understanding on the antiquity of idli.

Antiquity of  agriculture of Urudu and Rice
It is interesting to note that the pulse urudu (uddu, urad, or ‘black gram’) is an indigenous crop in origin.  The archeo-botanical studies on ancient ash mounds of suggest that urudu (Botanical name: Vigna mungo Linn) was grown in parts of northern Karnataka as early as 2200 BC.  It has been considered to be native crop of South India evolved from the wild varieties like Phaseolus  sublobatus, a wild plant prevalent in the Western Ghats (Fuller,     ).
It has been considered that the rice (Oriza sativa) was said to have been introduced in India during Harappa civilization ca 2500 BC.  Archeo-botanical studies in semi-arid zone of Karnataka suggest that rice was introduced in south India ca 1800 during iron ages. The archeo-botanical data might not be representative, since the rice is a preferred crop in regions of   intensive rainfall, where the ancient seeds either may not have been adequately preserved or available for studies.
The European words for rice (Old French ris; Italian riso; German/Welsh: reis etc) suggest derivation from Dravidian words like ‘arici’ (Tamil) and ‘ari’ (Tulu). The Arab and European countries were engaged in trade with south Indian ports during the early centuries and the along with the exports some of the Indian words also were absorbed in the Europe.

Antiquity of the process of Fermentation
The Myth No 1 is not true.
The knowledge on the process of fermentation is not new to Indians since remote antiquity. The intoxicating drinks were well known in India since Vedic times at least as early as ca.2000BC. Similarly brewing toddy from palms was a profession and tribes specializing in the art were known as idiga or devar since antiquity in India. The ancient art of making of curd (yoghurt) from milk   also involved the understanding the intricacies of fermentation.
Similarly the art of marinating fruits and vegetables (pickling) in saline water was also akin to the process of fermentation. Coastal Indians were adept in marinating vegetables and fruits in saline water and preserving for lean seasons, since saline water was available in the proximity. Traditional pickles of jack fruit or mango in saline water, without chillies, were once popular in rural Tulunadu and are known as “neer uppad “(=watery pickle) in Tulu.
The grains of urudu and rice were both common home grown agricultural products in southern India since antiquity. It is possible that ancestors naturally learnt the art of fermenting the mixtures of ground urudu and rice pastes as a consequence of keeping the mixture overnight. 

Urudu and urugu
Note that the Tulu word for fermentation (“urugu”) is related to the word for the black gram (“urudu”). The modern Kannada word for fermentation “hudugu” has subsequently been modified from the original Old Kannada/Tulu  equivalent of “urugu”. It needs to be pointed out here that Tulu and Old Kannada cultures shared many common words till about 10th Century CE.  With evolution of language, the modern Kannada (Hosa-Kannada) has modified the original old Kannada words, whereas the Tulu has preserved its antique and basic oral characters, probably because of lack of   pervasive and well- spread script for writing the language. In any case, the word clearly suggests that ancient people of Tulu/Kannada regions were versed with the art of fermenting the ground urudu +rice pastes.

Cousins of idli:  mooDe, gunDa,  kottige and tondru
Myth No 2 that there were no steaming vessels in ancient India, attributed to Chinese Buddhist traveler monk  Xuanzang (or Hsuan Tsung , ca 602-662 CE)   may not be correct, in the sense that the art of steam cooking was known in India, even though it is difficult to date the chronological event in the absence of precisely dated texts.
Ancient Greek traveler reports dating back to the beginning of the Common Era (ca.100 CE) mention that Indians were using boiled grains (Post 11; 31 March 2007. It reminds me of the boiled rice was being used as a nourishing food in Tulunadu since ages.
Steam cooking does not any need elaborate designer vessels. In coastal Tulunadu since ages steam cooking is done using simple earthen pots.
There is a number of traditional steam boiled dishes made out of fermented ground mixtures of rice + urudu. These ancient cousins of modern idli are known by Tulu names such as mooDe, gunDa, kottige and tondru adde.

Traditional Steam cooking
The fermented batter is poured into containers fashioned nout of specific leaves and kept systematically in upright vertical position   in a abutting series   inside a large earthen pot. The pot is filled with water to the half full level. Then the pot is closed with a lid and kept over the fire. The water in the pot boils generating steam that boils the contents of the containers kept   inside the pot. The traditional rural cooks can identify the appropriate degree of baking based on the emanation of specific fragrance of the steamed dishes couched within the leafy containers.

mooDe: leafy tubular container
Of these mooDe is steam -baked in tubular structures fashioned out of ribbon like leaves of  the shrub known as “munDevu “ (Indian Screw pine or Pandanus utilis) which grows in coastal areas and preferentially along the river banks. The leaves are shorn of their spines and warmed over fire to make them supple. Thus fire-stoked tender leaves were fashioned into tubes of desirable size, making use of vegetal pins derived from fronds of coconut palm. The tubes are closed at one end so as to contain the fermented mixture of rice+ urudu batter.
In olden days, in rural Tulunadu, mooDe tubes of about 10 to 14 inches long with 3 to 4 inch diameter were being knitted using the tendered munDev leaves, especially on the eve of specific festivals. (Nowadays, the size of the mooDe tubes available commercially in the market or in local hotels have shrunken and it is common to find shorter than six inch long mooDe tubes of less than two inch diameter).

Incidentally the word mudepini or mudeyuni in Tulu is usually applied to the art of knitting ribbon like leaves into containers or knitting palm frond into mats. Thus moode is a tubular leafy container fashioned out of fire-tendered ribbon like leaves of mundev plant.
The term munDevu (ಮುಂಡೇವು) is quite interesting. The common screw pine plant (Pandanus utilis) apparently was named after Munda tribes, who are Austro-Asiatic tribes considered to have been migrated to India from South East Asian countries early in the history.

gunDa/ kottige
The containers for gunDa or kottige are fashioned out of leaves of jack fruit tree. To make a single gunDa container four jack leaves are selected and placed like a star and using pins made from coconut fronds fashioned into small tumbler shaped containers.  Rest of the steam baking procedure is common as described above.
Another related steamed rice+ urudu dish is known as “tondru adde  which we covered in Post : 227 ( dated 2 February 2010).
These are the ancient pattern of preparing   steamed dishes from the fermented paste mixtures of rice and urudu (normally in the ration of 4:1).

Secrets of Fermentation
The batter (banda in Tulu) for preparing   steamed dishes from the fermented paste mixtures of rice and urudu were traditionally ground separately using manual grinders and mixed subsequently. Our grandmothers preferred   the rice and urudu combination in a ratio of 4:1.  In fact the process of uruguni (=fermenting, Tulu) of the urudu paste overnight holds the key for production of tasty moodes, gundas or idlis   using steam cooking techniques. The fermentation is a secret natural process abetted by microbes. Intelligent observers (specially the biologists with a flair for cooking) have noted that fermentation in some houses (where specific set of fermenting microbes survive in abundance) result in tasteful moodes / idlis, whereas in utterly ‘clean’ (microbe free) the optimum degree of taste and savor can be deficient! Some cooks prefer the ratio of 1:2 for the urudu: rice proportions to enhance the strength of fermentation. And besides, the rice used is, preferentially composed of equal proportions of boiled and raw rice.

In rural Tulunadu, toddy was added to the batter to increase the degree of fermentation. Increased level of fermentation leads to pronounced taste of the steam cooked dishes. Some persons add (chilled) coconut water, and /or green chillies, ginger and/or other spices etc to soften the batter.

The exact version of the coastal dish moode might not have been in usage in Karnataka mainland possibly as the shrub Mundev (Screw pine)  is not found growing in interior regions. However, it seems in northern Karnataka some other leaves were used to make containers for iddali-ge.

Tulu - Old Kannada: lingual affinity
The Tulu language though geographically restricted to coastal Karnataka shared equivalent words with Old Kannada obviously as a consequence of consanguineous evolution and development.  Thus we find many ancient words common to Tulu and Kannada - as we can verify from the text of inscription at Halmidi or works of poet Pampa or even texts like Vaddāradhāne. Consequently, some of the old Kannada words now non-existent in modern Kannada can be traced in Tulu language with regard to clarification of their original meanings.  
Tigale: One interesting example that immediately comes to my mind is a term “tigale” ( ತಿಗಲೆ) which can be found in the text of Vaddāradhāne. Prof. D.L. Narasimhachar, in the notes of Vaddāradhāne has given (probably guessed) the meaning of the word “tigale”   as neck. However, it may be noted that the “tigale “  is a very commonplace word in Tulu and it means the chest.

The Kannada/Tulu term “iDe” means small leaf cup with space inside to hold the batter (There is also another word for leafy cups known as “donne” in Karnataka). 

It can be noted that there are many words “–De” that signify space in Tulu also such as iDe (=gap; here); aDe (= thereto); ode (=whereto); hooDe (=sandy place) etc. There are rice dishes having suffixes of –DDe. :  aDDe =rice dish (usually steam baked);  oDDe (or oDe)= fried donut of urudu (black gram) paste. Therefore,   iDDe+lige  is the word applied to a related steamed dish of rice + urudu mixture. The suffix –lige is also used as in the case of polige or holige.

It is clear that the ancient term  “IDDalige” has been abbreviated to “iDli” with passage of time.  However in the instance of sweet dish ‘polige’ (which has become holige in modern Kannada)  an abbreviated term   ‘poli’ exists in Maharashtra.
Idada: It is interesting to note that “Idada” is an idli equivalent made of rice and urudu  and is popular in Madhya Pradesh.

 Iddalige in Vaddārādhane
In one of the earliest known (Old) Kannada texts discovered, in a descriptive list of dishes in a story, the name of iddalige can also found. The ancient Kannada text is a compilation of Jain religious stories, apparently translated from its Prakrit original is popularly known as Vaddaradhane, even though there are disputes that it is not its original name.
It is necessary to emphasize that only the name iddalige is mentioned within a list of dishes prepared in a feast in a story and that grain composition or method of making has not been explained in the text as assumed by some of the writers in the net.

Age of Vaddārādhane
The earliest  known text in early  Old-Kannada   ‘Vaddārādhane’ attributed to author Shivakotacharya was considered to have been  composed around Kogilu area in western part of present Bellary district, Karnataka.  The precise date of composition of the text has been difficult to decide.  Prof. D.L. Narasimhachar editor of the Vaddārādhane considered the work to have been compiled ca 920 CE.  However, another veteran Manjeshwar   Govinda Pai  based on the style of language used in the text is said to have estimated the date of compilation at not later than ca. 600 CE. The Old Kannada version has been understood to be a translation of 19 stories of Jain tradition originally compiled by Shivakoti-Acharya in Prakrit language known as “Bhagavati Aradhana” of ca. 2nd Century CE. It is not clear whether the iddalige has  also been mentioned in the original Prakrit work. Anyway considering various possibilities and uncertainties of dating the old texts, we may conclude the textual reference to the iddalige to be anytime between ca. 2nd and ca.10th Century CE.
The Prakrit was the administrative language in Karnataka in the early centuries of the Common Era (Shettar, 2007 ). Even in Coastal Karnataka the influence of Prakrit period is also well entrenched in Tulu language also as we find numerous Prakrit words in Tulu. Subsequently probably 4th Century CE onward Kannada came into prominence in Karnataka. With accent on Kannada, it appears the rulers of the land encouraged translating and rewriting older Prakrit texts in to Kannada.

Lokopakara & Manasollasa
Iddalige and Iddarika are further also found in Kannada and Sanskrit works of ca 11 Century known as "Lokopakara" and "Manasollasa" respectively. 
The Lokopakara (Kannada) was complied by Chavundaraya II (ca.1025 CE) .  Chavundaraya II was Sarvadhikari under Kalyana Chalukya king Jayasimha II. He belonged to Mudgal ( now in Raichur district, Karnataka.) Earlier he was a minister at Banavasi.  The 7th Chapter of  Lokopakara deals with cooking. Narasimha Murthy ( 2008 ) mentions only one line about the idli in Lokopakara: “While referring to the popular Indian dish iddali, he mentions mung dal, cumin seeds, coriander and pepper”
Similarly, in “Manasollasa” (ca. 1130th Century CE) a Sanskrit work compiled by Someshwara, the ruler of Kalyana (Bidar district, Karnataka,) the dish has been referred to as “iddarika”.

Dhokla (Dhokra) popular in Gujarat is a related dish.  It was known as Dukkia earlier as mentioned in jain text, 1066 CE.  Flours of rice and chickpea (bengal gram Cicer arietinum or basan) are mixed and fermented and steam boiled to make the dish. A similar steamed dish made exclusively of Bengal gram is known as   Khaman.  There is another Gujarati dish known as Khandvi made of gram flour and yogurt. The latter is known as “Suralichi Vada” or “Patuli” in Maharashtra.

Achaya  and  Kedli ?
Achaya (2000, 2003) wrote that there is a suggestion that idli originated from an Indonesian dish called Kedli and brought to India by Hindu kings of Indonesia. Note that Achaya mentioned that it is a suggestion only.
However, information on an Indonesian steamed dish called kedli could not be traced.  Where went the mysterious kedli ?  A  little wandering in the jungle of internet revealed an interesting twist to the story of the  elusive kedli !

Kadele to Kadalai
Instead we could find an Indonesian dish popularly known as  Tempeh which was mysteriously based on  “kedalai “or “kadele.”
There were profuse cultural exchanges between South India and South East Asian countries during the first millennia of the Common Era. During the period tenets of Buddhism as well as Hinduism formed lasting impressions in the cultural settings of the South East Asian countries like Java, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand.

Under these events we find evidences for the export of south Indian words to those cultures. The “kaDale(Botanical name: Cicer arietinum) is a common (Tamil- Kannada - Tulu) Dravidian word for the pulse alternately known as Chick-pea or Garbanzo bean or the Bengal gram or Chana.
The term kaDale travelled to Java. However, it was applied to Soy bean there. The word kadele  means Soybean in Javanese.

In Indonesian it was modified to kedalai. The kedalai is Soybean in Indonesia. Whole grains of soy bean are fermented and used in the making of the dish called tempeh.
It is reported that the term kadele” has been mentioned in the Javanese manuscript called “Serat Sri Tanjung “  considered to have been composed in  12th or 13th Century CE.  The manuscript also contains a reference to a species of sugarcane known by the Indian name of “chintamani “  variety of sugarcane. Thus, the case of Indian influence in adoption of the word “kadele” is supported by another Indian word Chintamani.

The main object of this review is to discuss the available data and to refute some of the confusing myths floating in the internet. The process of fermentation was known in India, as suggested by the existence of fermented ancient products like somras, toddy and watery pickle (neeruppad). Ancient Indians probably made use of simple earthen pots for steam cooking, samples of which were existed in rural kitchens of Tulunadu till modern times, till some five to six decades ago. There is an overwhelming evidence to suggest that idli was invented in parts of ancient Karnataka, probably as early as ca.2nd Century CE, as referred to in ancient Kannada/Prakrit texts and further complemented by  data on steam cooked rice-urudu dishes akin to idli such as moode and gunda  from  the rural coastal Karnataka.

The term idli  or iddalige  is essentially an Early Kannada word and as such there is no proof to suggest that the technique of idli making was copied from an Indonesian dish supposed to have been called kedli.  The origin of the mysterious word kedli happens to be the Dravidian (Kannada/Tamil/Tulu) term kaDale. The Javanese term kadele or the Indonesian term kedalai  though derived from the Dravidian kadale refer to Soybean and not urudu.

Similarly, there is no staunch evidence to conclude that the ancient idli (Iddalige) was made exclusively of urudu and without rice.

 (Note: Copies of these two works -Lokopakara  and  Manasollasa - were not available to me so far for perusal hence would not be able to verify the details discussed by other fellow contributors in the net)


Achaya, K.T . (2000) The  story   of our food. Universities Press. p.140.
Achaya, K.T. (1993) Indian Food: A historical companion.
Achaya, K.T. (2003) Indian food;
Narasimha Murthy, A.V. (2008) Some aspects of agriculture as described in Lokopakara, Chapter 14. in Lalanji Gopal & Vinod Chandra Srivastava (ed): History of agriculture in India, upto c.1200 AD.

William Shurtleff, H.T. Huang, Akiko Aoyagi. (2014).History of Soybeans and Soy foods in China and Taiwan, and in Chinese  cookbooks, restaurants, and Chinese work with soy foods outside China (1024 BCE to 2014):.

ನರಸಿಂಹಾಚಾರ್,‍ ಡಿ. ಎಲ್. ,ಡಾ: (೧೯೪೯; ೨೦೦೩) (ಸಂ) ಶಿವಕೋಟ್ಯಾಚಾರ್ಯ ವಿರಚಿತ ವಡ್ಡಾರಾಧನೆ. ಡಿವಿಕೆ ಮೂರ್ತಿ,ಮೈಸೂರು-೪, ೩೪೪ ಪುಟಗಳು.
ಷೆಟ್ಟರ್‍,‍.ಷ.(೨೦೦೭; ೨೦೧೦) ಶಂಗಂ ತಮಿಳಗಂ ಮತ್ತು ಕನ್ನಡ ನಾಡು –ನುಡಿ: ಆರಂಭ ಕಾಲದ ದ್ರಾವಿಡ ಸಂಬಂಧದ ಚಿಂತನೆ. ಅಭಿನವ,ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು.೩೨೦,ಪುಟಗಳು.


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 Culture.by 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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