Kodavas through the Ages – By Maj Gen Codanda K Karumbaya, SM (Retd)

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Courtesy: Yamini Muthanna

Introduction

In the absence of a script of our own, our Kodava ancestors have not been able to leave behind, a record of our history or an explanation of our simple religious faith.

Over a period of time, they have got distorted.

After several centuries of our existence, we showed disunity and allowed ourselves to be ruled by others.

These rulers with the connivance of the priestly class who had the ability to write, distorted our history and undermined our true faith, to serve their own interests.

Kodavas are neither Hindus, nor is our language a dialect of Kannada as we are made to believe.

We are the only tribe in India without the scheduled status, which are accorded to other tribes in India.

Our language is of Indo-Iranian origin and not Dravidian.

Our customs, traditions, religious beliefs, dress and food habits are different from our neighbouring communities.

As our numbers are small and dwindling, we need to be given the minority status under Article 29 of the Constitution, even more deservedly than Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Jains.

It is a Fundamental Duty, of every citizen of the Country, under the Article 51A(f) of the Constitution ‘to preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture’.

To brand us as Hindus, when we do not even practice their caste system, concept of God and form of worship, has been unjust and unconstitutional.

Kodagu is as sacred to Kodavas as Mecca is to Muslims.

All our Ain Manes (ancestral houses), Kaimadas (shrines dedicated to our elders) and Jamma Lands are in Kodagu.

Therefore a special provisions needs to be made for Kodagu under Part XXI of the Constitution, just as made for J&K, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Sikkim and some parts of Mahrashtra, Gujurat and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, to preserve and protect our composite culture.

This article is an attempt to bring out facts and remove deeply ingrained misconceptions about Kodava history and faith, so that we are not continued to be deprived of our rights as citizens.

ORIGIN OF KODAVAS

The story that has been repeatedly told to us that we Kodavas are the descendants of Chandraverma, is fictitious and needs to be rejected straight away.

On the other hand, what Prof Ponjanda S Appaiah had stated after two decades of research based on historical, anthropological and linguistic studies appears to be more authentic.

According to Prof Appaiah, our ancestors were part of the warlike Brazani Tribe originally hailing from the Kurdish area of present Turkey, Iran and Iraq, which is a hilly region like Kodagu.

They entered India during 320 BC in the pre-Islamic era, as a part of the Iranian contingent which had joined Emperor Alexander’s invading army.

In those days, when the army advanced, the families of fighting men too moved behind them, as camp followers.

After Alexander returned, some tribes in his army who had no energy to get back to their home land, stayed back in India.

It has been established that a tribe called Drogpas migrated North along the River Indus and have now settled in the Kargil area for several centuries.

Our ancestors believed to have taken a southerly route along the Western Ghats in search of better prospects and eventually settled in Kodagu which was then an unnamed, inhospitable and extremely rugged hilly region.

En-route, they worked as mercenaries in different Kingdoms, before the surviving twelve families, reached Bithoor in the present Kerala State, sometime during 3 Cent AD.

A temple (Kaimada) dedicated to the eldest person of this small group still exists there.

The astounding similarities between the Brazani Tribe and our own, even though separated by vast space and time, are too striking to be brushed aside by any historian.

Yet, they have been ignored.

Both the tribes are terraced paddy cultivators and rice is our staple food.

Surprisingly, our weapons like ‘Odi Kathi’ and ‘Piche Kathi’ are identical to their weapons and are of unique design which are not found elsewhere.

Our traditional dresses (especially those worn by our bride grooms) and folk dances of our men and women are remarkably similar.

Even the jewellery worn by our women like ‘Kokke Thathi’ and ‘Pathak’ have a close resemblance to theirs.

Wonder of wonders, there are similar names like Muthana, Muthava, Bojappa, Bojava, Atchaya, Appa and Ajja.

A long list of similar words, which are non-Dravidian, diligently listed by Prof Appaiah proves beyond doubt that the Kodava language is not a dialect of Kannada as made out to be; but an independent language of Indo-Iranian origin which later incorporated other words from regional languages like Kannada and Malayalam with which we have had a long association.

KODAGU AS HOMELAND

After centuries of a nomadic and risky life, our ancestors longed to have their own homeland, where they could settle down and be masters of their own destiny.

The hilly region in Western Ghats, next to Bithoor in Kerala was chosen by them as their final homeland. The word Kodagu, derived from our own Kodava language, ‘Kodi’ meaning ‘high’ and ‘Adagu’ meaning ‘settlement’was an obvious and exciting choice, as the terrain was similar to what we had left behind in Kurdistan.

These two words, ‘Kodi’ and ‘Adagu’joined together became ‘Kodagu’.

We the original settlers of ‘Kodagu’ came to be called variously as ‘Kodavanga’, ‘Kodavaru’, ‘Kodavas’ and ‘Coorgs’.

The popular belief derived from Kannada literature that the word Kodagu was derived from the words ‘Kroda Desha’, is incorrect.

Kodagu, then was an inhospitable hilly region lashed with torrential rain during the monsoons.

This sustained a dense forest with varieties of wild animals, birds, reptiles and insects, where no man ventured to go.

Our ancestors having been agriculturists and soldiers knew the use of wrought iron implements.

With the help of the Poleyas and the Yeruvas, in the neighbourhood, who did not have a basic knowledge of agriculture and lived off the forest, our ancestors gradually moved inland, divided the land between the growing number of families and started the unique Okka system which is quite a different way of life to that of the Hindus.

Each Okka(family) had their own Ain Mane (ancestral house) and Kaimada (shrine dedicated to our ancestors).

As the women were fewer in number, some Kodava men married women from the neighbourhood like Kerala, South Canara and Mysore and absorbed them into our community.

Braving all hardships, Kodavas gradually converted Kodagu into a prosperous region with terraced paddy fields and cultivated much sought after condiments like pepper and cardamom.

They traded their produce through the sea faring Maphillas of Malabar who became their trusted partners.

As the region prospered and security improved with the presence of Kodavas, Kodagu attracted many labourers, artisans, traders, holy-men and other communities from the neighbourhood, among whom the Gowdas were prominent.

Kodavas, presumably during the 15 Century AD acquired firearms (muskets), which became as important to them, as their famed Odikathi and treated them with utmost reverence.

The gun thereafter, played a prominent role in warfare, hunting and rituals.

KODAVA FAITH

Kodavas do not belong to any social religions, believing in Almighty Gods who are interventionists, thought reading, sin punishing and prayer answering.

We are a simple tribal community, who consider Nature as our God.

Nature is both Creator and Creation of which we are a part.

It is more important to understand Nature and its manifestations such as the sun, moon, earth, water, flora, fauna and fellow human beings so that we can live in harmony with them.

We were branded as atheists, Melchas and Kafirs, out of frustration by followers of social religions who could not understand the rationale of our faith, which is more in consonance with the astounding modern scientific discoveries.

We do not have a Holy Book of our own like the Geetha, Bible or Koran.

There is no such need for us, as Nature itself is our greatest book.

God is everywhere, in everything and there is no place in the entire Universe, where there is no God.

We consider our ancestors as our Gurus (Teachers) in whose memory, we have built Kaimadas (shrines) near our Ain Manes (ancestral houses).

Our ancestors were our role models who believed in hard work, honesty, righteousness and family values.

The right to defend ourselves against attacks from our enemies and enjoying ourselves with our family members and friends after a hard day’s work, have been part of our ethos.

By lighting a lamp and remembering our ancestors for a few seconds every morning in our Nellakki Nadu Bade (central place earmarked in our homes), gives us tremendous peace of mind and all the inspiration necessary to live our lives, in a meaningful and fruitful manner.

We do not need to learn the art of living from the so called ‘Godmen’.

OUR FESTIVALS

We have mainly two festivals viz Kailpod (end of sowing and beginning of hunting season) and Puthari (Harvest Festival), which are related to seasons and paddy cultivation cycles. The month of Kakkada(Jul-Aug) is considered to be inauspicious for the simple reason that it interferes with the paddy transplanting work.

KAVERY PURANA

The river Kavery as we know today had existed from time immemorial as a natural geographical phenomena.

The Kodavas originally called it as ‘Thayoor Pole’ meaning ‘Mother Land River’, originating and flowing across our land.

Being Nature worshipers we venerated this prominent life sustaining river.

During the month of October, when the monsoon fury is over and the water is in its purest form, it has been customary for Kodavas to collect water from its highest spring and use it for all our rituals.

Agastya Rishi, who is one among the thirty five Agastyas known to history came to Kodagu much later, in 5 Century AD to learn Ayurvedha from Kavera Muni who had an ashram near the present Bhagamandala.

It was a well known Ayurvedic Centre of those days, where the locals who had many ailments used to go for their treatment.

Agastya married Kavery, the eldest of three orphaned Brahmin sisters, who had taken shelter at the Ashram.

After marriage, Agastya took his wife, Kavery to his Ashram at Tala Kavery where there was always a mountain spring (now known as Kundige) with a small bathing pond (Kere) next to it.

Little while later, Kavery died under mysterious circumstances followed by her sisters, when Agastya was away.

Agastya left soon after.

The Kavery Purana, which is a part of Skanda Purana was written a century later, in 6 Century AD, where it is claimed that Kavery was a Goddess who turned into a river to serve mankind!

The original name of the river was changed to ‘Kavery’.

A Chola ruler, who wanted to reinforce this story, built temples at Bhagamandala and Tala Kavery.

This mythological story saying Agastya’s wife Kavery had turned into a river to serve the mankind, however interesting and convincing it may seem to some, directly impinges on the Kodava belief in Nature.

The river had existed centuries earlier as Nature’s creation before Agastya, or Kodavas set their feet in Kodagu.

Without this river, how could the copious monsoon water which the land received, drain out of Kodagu?!

Kodavas must believe in truth and not continue to be fooled.

The so called ‘Theerthodbha’, cannot be true as any geologist with basic knowledge could testify.

It is ridiculous to claim that it’s water erupts once a year at the Kundige, precisely at a date and time predicted by Hindu priests.

If their claim is true, why do these priests surround the place chanting mantras and throwing flowers and kumkum into the Kundige not allowing the devotees to witness the event?!

During the month of October in Kodagu, it is usual for bubbles to pop up in water bodies like Kundige due to the release of air pockets in the underground vents through which the spring water emerge.

Such phenomenon are seen in many parts of the world.

That some Kodavas still believe in Theerthodbava, sadly exposes our subservient nature and lack of scientific temper.

We need to worship Kavery water in its natural form and not in a human form, that too in an alien dress.

We need to restore our faith in what is true rather than placing our trust in mythological stories, written with an ulterior motive.

BLANK PAGES OF HISTORY (3 CENT AD TO 17 CENT AD)

The outstanding role played by the Kodavas, during the initial 1500 years in transforming Kodagu into a habitable land and a rice bowl in the region, before they came under the Rule of Haleri Rajas, has been successfully blanked out by the historians; such as those who wrote Rajendraname and Hukum Nama.

Based on some temples and inscriptions that were found, it was assumed that the region was ruled earlier by Gangas, Chalukyas, Cholas, Changalvas and Hoysalas before the Haleri Rajas.

Surely, these Hindu dynasties did come to establish bases, only to collect paddy and other farm produces forcibly as a booty; but the countryside was ungovernable, which was in full control of the local people.

It is easy for an invading army to erect victory stones or build temples wherever they go; but does that mean that they remained on the land and administered it?!

Some semblance of governance was brought about during the period of Vijayanagara Empire.

Naikas were appointed (many of whom were locals), to collect paddy and other farm produces on their behalf.

The mutual rivalry between these Naikas and the lack of unity sowed the seeds for our subsequent failure.

ACHU NAIKA’S FAILED REBELLION AND CONSOLIDATION OF THE RULE OF HALERY DYNESTY

During 1728 AD, Kodavas in South Kodagu, under the leadership of Achu Naika ( belonging to the present Ajjikuttira Family) rebelled against the then ruler, Siribai Veerappa of the Haleri dynasty, which had gained ascendancy in North Kodagu by playing one Kodava against the other.

The rebellion collapsed after its leader, Achu Naika was treacherously ambushed and wounded near the entrance to his fort, while returning from ‘Koot Bote’(Collective Hunting) and then taken as a prisoner to the Raja by a Kodava Karyakara named Pardanda Ponappa.

For this service, Ponappa was promoted as a Diwan and vast captured property was handed over to Ponappa’s son to start a new family.

Later the very same Raja, got Pardanda Ponappa killed for becoming overbearing and subjected his family to Kuthi Nasha (destruction of the entire family)!

Kuthi Nasha became a powerful tool thereafter for the subsequent Rajas to subjugate the people and demand instant obedience.

Siribai Veerappa, having thus got control of the whole of Kodagu, divided the land into 12 Kombus and 35 Nadus.

He ordered that his newly acquired kingdom, Kodagu will have one Maha Thai(Kavery), each Nad will have a Maha Deva (Ishwara), each Oor(Village) will have a Povodi, each Keri will have a Ayappa, each Oni will have a Nathha and each Okka(Family) will have a Poda(Lesser God).

He then appointed ‘Deva Thakkas’ from gullible Kodava families to construct and run these temples to impose Hindu beliefs on the Kodavas.

This step resulted in undermining our original faith and bringing about a major distortion to it.

The practices of Kodavas consulting astrologers, performing poojas through Brahmin priests and classification of time as Rahu Kala and Gulige Kala etc are some of the Hindu customs which were imposed on Kodavas from this period, ie 18th Century onwards.

The said Raja, also appointed Desha Thakkas, Seeme Thakkas, Nad Thakkas and Oor Thakkas from loyal Kodava families to administer Kodagu.

He proclaimed that all lands owned by the locals as his; but gave back bulk of them, as Jamma Land with a nominal tax under the proviso that these families in return would supply a portion of their produce to meet the Palace requirement, agree to do Palace duties by turns and get mobilized during wars, when summoned through the Thakkas.

It is an irony that the present government thinks that the Jamma Lands did not belong to the locals and the same was granted by the Rajas (Read now the Government), out of their generosity!

Achu Naika’s failed rebellion was the turning point in the history of Kodavas, which has NOT been adequately highlighted by historians.

We Kodavas were effectively subjugated, made to forget our past and serious attempts were made to undermine our faith.

The Thakkas served the interest of the Rajas and not of Kodavas.

When thousands of Kodavas were killed by the last three Rajas in cold blood, these Thakkas were conspicuous by their silence.

The claim that the Thakka system based on loyal families appointed by the Rajas in the 18 Cent AD, is the original custom of Kodavas, is wholly wrong.

IGGUTHAPPA MAHIME

Kodavas did not know of Igguthappa, till Linga Raja (1811-1820) imposed this Malayali God on us through Apparanda Bopu, the future Diwan to commemorate Linga Raja’s successful elephant shooting expedition at the foothills of Thadyandamolu Peak.

With the power vested in them, the Pardanda Deva Thakkas ( this family was later resuscitated by Viraraja to check outside infiltration from Kerala) have ensured that over the years that Kodavas forget their own faith and start believing in imposed ones.

Many educated Kodavas, still believe that we get rains due to the grace of Igguthappa!

This belief, imposed during 19 Cent AD, again impinges on Kodava’s original faith.

One would wish that the generous Kodavas who have been liberally donating their hard earned money to improve this temple could also think of donating money, for improving their own family Ain Manes and Kaimadas.

RULE OF HYDER ALI AND TIPPU SULTAN(1780 TO 1791 AD)

Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan, wrested Kodagu by deceit.

By their desire to carve out an empire and Islamise the whole population, they exterminated many families of Kodavas in cold blood, who had resisted and many more including women were taken as prisoners again by deceit to forcibly convert them to Islamic faith.

This was the biggest setback for Kodavas and the darkest period of our history.

The depleted number of Kodavas were so infuriated that they not only rescued Vira Raja from captivity; but rallied under him to drive Tippu’s Army out of Kodagu on their own.

It was only later that they invited the British and rendered all help to them, in order to eliminate Tippu Sultan once and for all.

Tippu was a religious bigot and not the foremost freedom fighter as made out to be by the so called historians.

To make up their numbers, Kodavas took into their fold, like minded families from other communities in Kodagu.

END OF HALERI RAJAS RULE (1834 AD)

Having made use of Kodavas to regain and retain their throne, the last three Rajas became increasingly cruel and autocratic.

The bulk of Kodavas led by Cheppudira Ponappa and Diwan and Apparanda Bopu helped
the British to overthrow the last ruler viz Chikka Viraraja and bring in British rule.

Kodavas also helped the British in successfully quelling the rebellion which followed in an attempt to bring back the rule of Haleri Rajas in Kodagu.

BRITISH RULE (1834 TO 1947)

The British, no doubt exploited and ensured their colonial interests; but they were more humane and better administrators.

Even though, they treated people of all communities equally as per their merit, they trusted the Kodavas more.

Many schools were started and Kodavas, who showed greater interest, got better jobs and prospered.

The justice system was strengthened and there was rule of the law.

Kodavas entered All India services and distinguished themselves in different fields like the military, police, medicine, forest, revenue and the true merit of Kodavas became known.

The British introduced coffee cultivation in a big way, which became a major cash crop.

They allowed Jamma tenure to continue; but started granting Jagir lands to those who served them well.

This contributed in weakening the joint family system which had existed for several centuries.

Kodavas, who were well versed in Kannada (the official language of Haleri Rajas), like Appaneravanda Appacha Kavi and Nadikerianda Chinnappa started writing about our history, culture, customs and traditions, but unfortunately it was about later Kodavas who had already come under the spell of Haleri rajas.

Even our Balo Paat (folksongs) start with the Haleri Rajas’ period, do not touch upon the earlier fourteen centuries of our history and traditions.

Some of the later Kodava historians too have failed to carry out meaningful research of our glorious past, and our true faith.

They have sadly with some exceptions inundated us with literature, to make the younger generation believe in mythologies and some alien rituals and customs as our own.

Some recent authors have done a strategic mistake by going to remote villages in Kodagu, to study their temple rituals to claim that they are following the old customs of Kodavas, which city dwellers are forgetting!

Unfortunately, those villagers are more vigorously following the imposed customs forced on by the Deva Thakkas appointed by the Rajas during 18th/19th Centuries.

It is an anomalous situation, where these Brahminised Kodavas aided and abetted by the Thakkas and modern politicians with their own selfish agenda are misinterpreting our original faith trying to convert ourselves into Hindus!

As the days pass, it will become increasingly difficult for us to revert to our earlier faith which is more in consonance with the recent scientific discoveries and universally accepted modern concept of human behaviour.

KODAGU AS A TINY MODEL STATE (1947-1956)

This could be called the Golden period of Kodagu.

There was very little corruption and exploitation. There was all round development, which made our first Union Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhai Patel comment that the centrally administered Kodagu State, was like Rama Rajya.

The success can be attributed to better education, liberal central aid and efficient civil officials trained by the British.

This was also the period of emergence of modern Indian politicians.

Intrigues, favouritism, communalism and lack of unity raised their ugly heads, so much so many people thought that it was a better option to merge with Karnataka.

Kodavas, mistakenly believed that the able administration of erstwhile Mysore State under the enlightened Maharajas assisted by very capable Diwans would continue.

Kodavas like Codanda Madiah Counciller, Chief Justice Palecanda Medappa, IGP Pemmanda Monappa, Chief Conservator of Forests Manepanda Muthana and Commander of State Forces Brig Cheppudira Ponappa had reached high positions in the former Mysore State by sheer merit and it was assumed that prospects of Kodavas would improve by joining the bigger State.

Little did we realize that political power would be taken over by communal minded politicians where merit will have little role to play.

On hind sight, one could say that our consent for merger without getting in advance, assurances about our rights over jamma lands, trees grown in our land, privilege to own guns, political representation in the State Assembly/ council, reservation policy and minority rights, has proved to be disastrous for Kodavas.

MERGER AND AFTER

It was quite a fall from being a centrally administered State to become just a small neglected district of a big State.

The decline of Kodagu and Kodavas has been steady, since its merger with Karnataka.

The majority communities like Vokkaligas and Lingayats have assumed political power by sheer numbers and benefitted themselves at the cost of others.

The bulk of the rest have been classified variously as Minorities, OBCs and SC/STs enjoying special unchecked benefits.

Kodavas are left out in a lurch not being included in any of these privileged classes.

The State’s reservation policy has hit our Community hard. E

ven though, we were told that it would last only for 10 years, it is continuing for more than 60 years and the end is not in sight!

Kannada is being imposed on Kodavas and the use of English which is the only international/ inter-state language that can fetch good jobs for us, is discouraged.

Kodavas in our villages who are taught only Kannada, are fooled to believe in our distorted history and faith.

Kodagu has been inundated with corrupt officials who have made it a habit to loot our wealth and constantly harass the people by trying to take away our lands and other rights.

Many Kodavas had to leave their land in search of jobs elsewhere.

Their ancestral lands were taken away by the ingenious ‘Tenancy Act’ – a brainchild of Late Devaraja Urs.

All government run institutions like schools, colleges and hospitals are in a deplorable state.

The roads are bad, electrical supply is poor and in spite of being the catchment area, the water is used elsewhere and people are denied even drinking water during summer in Kodagu.

Poverty, illiteracy and deliberate neglect are overtaking bulk of Kodavas.

Kodava politicians have been rendered utterly ineffective and forced to play a second fiddle to their political masters.

The present situation is discouraging and needs good leadership to improve matters.

The Codava National Council (CNC) under the leadership of Sri N U Nachappa is asking for an Autonomous Status in line with Gorkha Land.

Many Kodavas do not think that it will benefit us, as there has been a marked demographic change.

Kodavas are no longer a majority community in Kodagu unlike Gorkha Land where Ghorkhas have earned majority, to become rulers of their State.

Such issues need to be discussed by Kodavas in a common forum to arrive at a consensus.

But, where is such a forum?!

The present leadership of ‘Federation of Kodava Samajas’ have failed miserably.

By refusing to democratize the organization and take in representatives from other Kodava and Kodava dominated organizations in its fold, to provide such a forum, they are doing great harm, to the well being and very existence of Kodavas.

Precious time is wasted due to their ‘dog in the manger’ attitude.

At this critical time, we do not need heroes; but we need an organization working on democratic lines, to safeguard the interest of Kodavas and our homeland Kodagu.

There are major changes in the law of inheritance as our women have been given equal rights.

We need to change some of our earlier customs and traditions which have become meaningless in the present day world, while preserving our admirable old values, shown by our ancestors.

CONCLUSION

The well being of Kodavas and our sacred home land, Kodagu, can only be ensured if the present misconceptions about our history and our true faith are removed.

Only by this awareness, can we convince ourselves and others that we are not Hindus as made out to be; but a distinct tribal community with our own language, faith, customs and traditions.

If we are not found eligible for Scheduled Tribal status because of our comparatively better education and economic state, we are more eligible than others to earn the Minority status.

Kodavas are the original settlers of Kodagu. Kodagu and Kodavas need constitutional protection under Articles 29(1), 51A(f) and Part XXI of the Indian Constitution to preserve our unique culture and traditions.

Such a step is necessary in the national interest.

We, the rank and file of Kodavas, with the help of our respective Kodava Samajas/ Associations (the building blocks), spread all over the world need to persuade the reluctant present leaders of ‘The Federation of Kodava Samajas’ to democratise and convert themselves into ‘Fedration Of Kodavas’, to include representatives from other active organizations working for the welfare of Kodavas and our Kodagu.

It should also include experts from different fields like Education, Environment, Sports, Customs/ Traditions and Administration, from our community and derive benefit from their expertise.

This apex body of Kodavas will provide the most essential common democratic forum/ organization for Kodavas to sit together, chalk out action plans to achieve our common goal within the provisions of the Constitution.

There is also a need to bring in agreed internal reforms within Kodavas, shedding our belief in falsehood and blind superstitions, to emerge as a modern community playing our rightful role in Nation building activities, with friendship towards all and malice towards none.

In our quest towards progress, we Kodavas need to display the fine character qualities of our ancestors rather than narrow, subservient and selfish qualities of some section of our subjugated community.

Neither Igguthappa nor Kavery can help us, if we do not show our common resolve to help ourselves with a mind free of cobwebs.

“Unity leads to nine fold gains and disunity to twenty fold losses”
– An old Kodava Saying (Pattole Palame)

Maj Gen Codanda K Karumbaya, SM (Retd), Mysore.