Friday, November 9, 2007

Tulu Nadu

The Land and its People

Karnataka is not a homogeneous state as evidenced by its diversity. Kannada spoken in different regions of the state has been “colloquialized “, to such an extent that in many instances it is incomprehensible to one well versed in classical Kannada. Even more surprising is the presence of two districts in Karnataka that speak entirely different languages, which makes one wonder how they were classified under the linguistic state of Karnataka. These two regions are Tulu Nadu and Kodagu. Though Kannada is the official language, the spoken languages here differ a great deal from it. When the history of Tulu Nadu is studied, the reasons for it to be included in Karnataka become apparent.

The areas currently known as Dakshina Kannada and the coastal part of the adjacent district Uttara Kannada up to Gokarna are the historical Tulu Nadu. Many centuries ago the center of Tulu culture was probably in the Uttara Kannada (Honnavara), and Udupi as well as Mangalore were at the periphery. Today, however, Tulu is spoken only in the region below River Kalyanpur. The people living north of the river now speak Kannada. The reason for this is not clear in history. The region, although it maintained some form of independence, was always under the suzerainty of various rulers and dynasties that controlled Karnataka. Tulu Nadu was originally called Alvakheda (a second century C.E. reference from Greece calls it Olokhoira). Many historians agree that this is the region Emperor Ashoka referred to in his edicts as Satiyaputra, one of the four regions outside of his empire (the other three being Chola, Chera and Pandya kingdoms).

The political history of Tulu Nadu can be classified as follows:

1. The Alupa (Aluva) period

2. The Rayas of Vijayanagara period

3. The Nayaks of Keladi period

4. The Sultans of Mysore period

5. The British period.

6. Post Independence period.

The longest reigning dynasty of Tulu Nadu was the Alupas (Aluvas). Switching between Mangaluru and Udyavar, Barakuru and back to Mangaluru as their political centers, Alupas have the distinction of a continuous dynasty for more than one thousand years. They were the feudatories of the prominent dynasties of Karnataka. Kadamba dynasty of Banavasi was the earliest, under which the Alupas flourished. Later the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta, Chalukyas of Badami, Chalukyas of Kalyani, Hoysalas of Durasamudra and Rayas of Vijayanagara were the overlords. Alupas, however, were independent and their subordination was nominal at best. They ruled until the Vijayanagara kings totally dominated the Tulu Nadu from 14th to the 17th centuries. The region became extremely prosperous during Vijayanagara period with Barakuru and Mangaluru gaining importance. After the decline of Vijayanagara Empire, the Nayaks of Keladi (Ikkeri), who controlled much of Tulu Nadu, let it decline and internal skirmishes eventually led to it being controlled, at the end of 18th century, by the Sultans of Mysore, namely Haider Ali and Tippu Sultan. Mangalore played a prominent role in Tippu’s battles with the British. Tippu’s French alliance also led to some French presence in Mangalore. The British gained full control in 1801, after the defeat of Tippu in 1799. The British ruled the region with Madras as its headquarters. When the Indian independence was achieved in 1947, Tulu Nadu became part of Madras state. When the states were divided into linguistic states in the 1950’s, Tulu Nadu became part of Karnataka.

Much of the land known as Tulu Nadu was under sea eons ago. There is fossil evidence to support this. This might even have led to the legend of coastal Karnataka as a creation of Parashurama. Lord Parashurama was said to have had a dispute with the lord of the seas, Varuna. In a rage he threw his axe and claimed the coastal region from the sea, part of which is Tulu Nadu. Hence the region is referred to as “Parashurama Srishti.” Visits to seven well-known temples of Parashurama kshetra (Tulu Nadu) will bring countless blessings to the devotees. The seven temples all nestled in the coastal Karnataka are in Udupi, Kolluru, Subramanya, Gokarna, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Shankaranarayana. They are collectively called mukti sthalas.

Proof of earliest human habitation is from about 10,000 years ago. Before the Kadambas of Banavasi invited Brahmins in the 5th century to settle in the region, the people were mainly spirit-worshippers (bhuta-aradhana). Brahmins brought Vedic culture to Tulu Nadu. In the 8th century Shankaracharya had a profound effect on the theology and philosophy of the educated class. He had visited Subramanya and Kolluru, where he won over many theologians in discursive debates. Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya became popular.

The Land and its People

Over the following many centuries, more ethnic groups migrated to the area. Konkanas from Maharashtra and many of their sub-sects moved to Tulu Nadu, mainly seeking business opportunities. Konkanas and Gouda Sarasvats were said to have come by sea, as Mangalore was a major port that was serving not only the Portuguese but also the Arabs for maritime trades. Jains were already a prominent group and even today are uniquely preserved in Tulu Nadu. Their prominence declined not only after the Hoysala king, Vishnuvardhana converted to Hinduism – with the influence of Ramanujacharya in Melukote – but also because of targeted decimation of their population by the Muslim rulers in the North. The strong influence Madhvacharya had in the region also played an important role in decline of other religions. However, Jain community thrived in smaller numbers, in the relative safety of Tulu Nadu. The ancient Jains have left behind indelible reminders of their glory with temples-bastis- (Mudabidri) and monolithic statues of Bahubali, the gomateshwara in Karkala, Venoor and now in Dharmasthala.

The Alupas (or Aluvas-hence the term Alvakheda) who were ruling Tulu Nadu continuously for more than one thousand years have left few reminders of their existence except for some forts, which are in ruins. Their descendents are now in the Jain as well as non-Brahmin communities. Madhvacharya in the 13th century built the eight monasteries (Matths) in Ududpi, which became the nucleus of Hindu theosophy. In the 16th century there was a large influx of Catholics to Tulu Nadu. They arrived from Goa, mainly as farmers and had a close association with the Portuguese. They quickly became successful landowners but suffered a setback under Haider Ali and Tippu Sultan in late 18th century. About 60,000 of them along with Portuguese Christians were interned in Srirangapatnam, when their loyalty was questioned and they were accused of colluding with the British. Only after Tippu’s death in 1799 did the survivors return to Tulu Nadu, once again to become a prosperous community. A glorious church, inspired by the Sistine chapel of the Vatican, built in Mangalore (at St. Aloysius College campus) is a monument to the Catholic architecture. They also excelled at building educational institutes. The Muslim community of Tulu Nadu is also prominent. They have had close ties to the Muslims of Kerala and even speak a language that is a combination of Malayalam and Tulu. Their population increased during the rules of Bijapur sultans and the sultans of Mysore. They, along with the Konkanas have carved a niche in the business society of Tulu Nadu.

All these communities live in harmony in Tulu Nadu today. This has given it a diverse culture and society. The Brahmins, Konkanas, non-Brahmin Hindus, Jains, Catholics and the Muslims play a pivotal role in the local economy. Having vastly different landscapes, from seashores to mountainous Western Ghats, with their rain forests, give the region a unique advantage. Farmers, landowners, businesspeople and professionals are to be found in all the communities. The once prevalent separation according to castes is no longer seen in Tulu Nadu.

According to Professor P. Gururaja Bhatt, there are five distinct features of Tulu Nadu that separates it from the rest of Karnataka. These give an exclusive Tuluva flavor to the region:

1. Bhuta-nritya or spirit-dance: This practice can be still seen played in villages and many bhutas are still worshipped (see later).

2. Naga-mandala and Dakke-bali: An elaborate form of serpent worship, unique to Tulu Nadu. There is a distinct form of dance associated with it that is akin to yakshagana. It is performed only by a group of people who call themselves Vaidyas.

3. Aliya-santana: The practice of inheritance passing to the nephew (maternal), instead of one’s progeny. This along with 14 kattus and 16 kattales (laws governing the society), is seen in the non-Brahmin community. Similar to the gothras of Brahmin community, the ancestral lineage is traced through bali (Dravidian system).

4. Tulu language, spoken nowhere else, serves as a bond between the people of different communities, giving them a sense of separation from the rest of South India.

5. Tatva-vada of Sri Madhvacharya (birth place of Dvaita philosophy). If Christianity influenced

Madhva philosophy, as proposed by some experts, the influence of Christianity in the region was long before the appearance of the Portuguese in the 16th century.

To this may be added the extraordinary dance ritual of yakshagana, which is practiced in the form of bayalata, in open-air theaters. It is the rendition of stories of the Hindu mythology and Puranas in the form of dance-drama. The most popular theme for bayalata is the story of Koti–Channaye, which has deep-rooted mythical significance in Tulu Nadu.

The origin of naga-mandala is still a mystery. It seems to be a remnant of some ancient tribal worship of the serpent god: naga. The naga-bandha is an art that is drawn at the time of the dance ritual. The dance is associated with the families of Vaidya and the origin of such families is also lost in obscurity. Naga-mandala ritual is practiced in only four districts in Dakshina Kannada, namely Udupi, Karkala, Puttur and Mangalore. One naga-patri (possessed one) and three or more Vaidyas dance around the naga-bandha for hours, to the music of drums (called dakke or damaruka) and cymbals, in a trance like manner. It is believed that the ritual will absolve the attendees of the curse of the serpent and protect them from leprosy. It also restores prosperity of progeny and begets children to barren couples.

Bhuta-aradhana in Tulu Nadu is similar to the rest of South India though the bhutas as well as their worship differ. The kola or nema is the yearly ceremony celebrating the festival of bhutas. They have attained a godly status among some worshippers, mainly non-Brahmins, and even have their own bhuta-sthanas (a place of abode similar to temples). Bhutas can be animistic as in Panjurli (pig) or Pili-bhuta (tiger). However, in many villages the Brahmins, who consider these spirits as their protectorates, conduct the yearly ceremonies. A second variety can be representatives of characters taken out of the Puranas like Berme (Brahma), Lekkesiri (Raktesvari, Kali) or Vishnumurti etc. A third category is deified human beings like Gulige, Annappe, and Koti-Chananye etc. The fourth kind is strictly local characters like Male-Chandi (from the male-Nadu), Ullaldi (from Ullal), and Malaraye (from the Ghats). Then there are devils which provide comical relief during nemas, namely Marlu-Jumadi (crazy Jumadi) or Potte (dumb/deaf devil). Newer bhutas also have been added like Posa-bhuta (new devil), Vokku-Ballala, and Muttappe etc.

The legend of aliya-santana (as against makkala-santana) is traced back to Bhutala-Pandya in year 77 C.E. Deva-Pandya launched his newly built fleet of ships into sea but ran afoul with the lord of demons, Kundodara. The demon asked the king to give him one of his sons as sacrifice, the king's wife refused. Satyavati, the king’s sister offered her son, Jaya-Pandya instead. The demonic Kundodara was pleased by this act, honored the child and restored to him his father’s kingdom of Jayantika. Later, the same drama was played out again and this time the king’s wife not only refused to part with one of her sons but also publicly renounced her position as queen and her son’s rights for any property. Kundodara then instructed Deva-Pandya to disinherit his children and make his sister’s son (nephew) his legal heir. Jaya-Pandya was given the name Bhutala-Pandya and was seated on the throne, from where he ruled for 75 years. Thus was born the aliya-santana, where the nephew became the legal heir to property. From whence the practice of aliya-santana is prevalent in the region is not clear.

The etymology of Tulu language is also not known as well the meaning of the term Tulu is a matter of conjecture. There are half a dozen variations of spoken Tulu. An original Tulu script was thought to have never existed but a script resembling Malayalam was used to write it. Brahmins seeking further knowledge in agama shastra went to Kerala and jotted down notes in a script that was thought to be heavily borrowed from Malayalam. This came to be known as Tulu script, which later became extinct due to disuse. However, the close resemblance to Malayalam may have created the impression that Tulu is not a legitimate language with its own script. More recent discovery of some Tulu literature (two poems and one prose) may yet prove that Tulu had its own script derived from Grantha script just like other Dravidian languages like Tamil and Malayalam. It is now strongly believed that the script of Malayalam (which evolved much later than Tulu) was derived from the original Tulu script and not the reverse. With their close association with Karnataka throughout its history, the Kannada language is the official language of governance and trade. More and more evidence has been gathered to suggest that Tulu is one of the oldest Dravidian languages (one of five) with its own script, and preceded many of the major languages of the South used today.

Madhvacharya’s tatva-vada or Vaishnava-siddhanta took shape in Udupi in the 13th century. Madhva was a child prodigy, who had mastered Sanskrit by age five and the Vedas by the age of ten. He lived for eighty years and said to have joined his guru, Badarayana in the Himalayas in the year 1317. He was a well-built personality, a tall and strong-limbed man, interested in varied subjects including music, sculpture, debating and weight lifting. He has written 40 books, mostly commentaries on Vedanta, and established a unique approach to Vedantic philosophy. He claimed to be the third incarnation of Vayu, the sublime angel of God. His tatva-vada is referred to as Dvaita philosophy (dual). He founded the Sri Krishna temple in Udupi and the eight monasteries for the ascetics around the temple. Udupi became the center of devotional Hinduism and even today is considered as the hub of Vaishnavism and Vedanta. Madhvacharya was undoubtedly the most famous and influential personality of Tulu Nadu.
Over its history, Tulu Nadu has been the melting pot for outsiders. The immigration continues even in the modern era. Many Northerners like Gujaratis and Sindhis have settled in Mangalore and become successful businessmen. It is the largesse of the heart of Tuluva people that does not discriminate between the people of any ethnicity, caste or creed. This quality is deeply rooted in their history.

Neria Harish Hebbar, MDJune 15, 2002

The Eight Tulu Monasteries of Udupi

The history and the organization of the eight monasteries (called Ashta-Matts) in Udupi, Karnataka established by Sri Madhvacharya are interesting. It is perhaps one of the rare Hindu religious centers where the customs and routines as practiced by its founder have not been altered significantly for over seven centuries. Madhvacharya in late 13th century established the Krishna temple and the eight monasteries in Udupi. For seven centuries the monasteries have served as the bastions of Vaishnavism in India. It is one of the most sacred temples which boasts of many legendary saints, swamis as well as devotees. The monasteries have upheld the Dvaita (dualism) philosophy as proposed by Madhvacharya. Dvaita is Acharya Madhva’s interpretation of Upanishads and is incorporated in the philosophical branch of Darshana literature called Vedanta (end of Vedas).

Madhva was born in a village called Pajaka (Belle Grama) near Udupi. He was a prodigy who mastered Sanskrit and the Vedas at an early age and with the help of his guru Achutaprajna, amassed a wealth of knowledge from the Upanishads. Guru Achutaprajna was a proponent of monism (Advaita) of and tried to indoctrinate young Madhva into that philosophy. However, Madhva from his observations formed his own opinions after an intense study of the Upanishads. Eventually he even convinced his guru to abandon Shankara’s theory of monism and adopt the dualistic theory of Dvaita. Guru Achutaprajna gave Madhva the name Purnaprajna after he completed and mastered the Vedas. Later he coronated (pattabhisheka) Madhva as a sanyasin and gave him the title Ananda Thirtha.

Acharya Madhva traveled the length and breadth of India to propagate his theory of dualism and won many disciples. There is a reference to one of his travels to North India when he was stopped by the Muslim rulers of Delhi. It is thought to be either Alauddin Khilji or Balban. Anyway, Madhva convinced the Muslim ruler that humans are children of the same God (Vishwakutumba). Impressed, the Sultan offered land and other amenities to Madhva, which he promptly refused. He asked for safe passage to Badrinath along with his disciples and the Sultan granted this.

Acharya Madhva not only was well versed in Vedas but also of the opinion that a healthy body was essential for a sound mind. He encouraged his disciples to exercise and build a strong body. He was also an ardent fan of wrestling. Acharya Madhva’s talents did not end there. He was a student of music and is considered to be the father of Carnatic music. He was a renowned singer of classical music. There are reports of him singing to a spellbound audience. Udupi, a part of Karnataka, was the hub of music because of Madhvacharya’s interest. Later this type of music spread all over South India and came to be known as Carnatic music (originated in Karnataka.)

Acharya Madhva was also interested in dance and drama. The unique indigenous folk dance called Yakshagana (a dance drama usually glorifying Indian mythology) is now thought to be the precursor of some of the well-known South Indian dances like Kuchipudi. Yakshagana was the medium created by Madhvacharya for the consumption of ordinary folks who were not well versed in the scriptures. He used this medium to educate the masses in spirituality. His disciple, Narahari Thirtha of Adumaru Matt was also instrumental in bringing this art to the forefront.

Yet the art of Yakshagana has moved away from Udupi, its birthplace, and has its base elsewhere in Tulu nadu today. A lack of support from the subsequent swamis of Udupi is blamed for this.

The Monasteries (Matts)

Madhvacharya established the Krishna temple of Udupi. The temple was built according to vastu shilpa. The idol was established facing west, which was a common practice at that time. (This was because the archaka can face east while performing puja. In temples where the idol faces east, the archaka is seen facing north, as he should never face west.) The idol could either be facing east or west, and both were acceptable according to Agama Shastra. This takes an important meaning, as we will see later as an urban legend tells the tale of devotee Kanakadasa, on whose account the idol of Krishna turned around 180 degrees so that the devotee could see Krishna’s face.

Acharya Madhva established the eight Tulu monasteries (Matts) in Udupi. The Matts were named in accordance with the names of the near by villages where they had the most assets. Thus Palimaru, Adumaru, Krishnapura, Puttige, Shiruru, Sode, Kaniyuru and Pejavara Matts came to be known as the Ashta-Matts of Udupi. Over centuries these monasteries upheld Madhva’s dualistic theory called Dvaita, which forms the basis of Hindu majority belief today. Uniquely, all the eight Matts are headquartered around the temple with their own buildings.

Sri Madhvacharya indoctrinated the eight disciples as swamis first. Later, when they were proficient in Vedanta, they were coronated (pattabhisheka) as heads of the eight Matts. In addition, he had a ninth disciple who did not have his headquarters in Udupi but was established over the Western Ghats. However, this Matt was closely aligned with Adumaru Matt. There is also close association between Udupi Matts and other nearby Matts. Subramanya Matt, Bhandarakeri Matt in Barkur and Bhimnakatte Matt in Thirthalli also belong to the Tulu family of Matts. Palimaru Matt and the well-known Matt in Gokarna (in Uttara Kannada; it is the gurupeeta for the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin society) are also considered as sister Matts.

When the swamis were coronated and placed on their thrones as heads of the various Matts, a suffix of ‘Thirtha’ was added to their names. Thus Hrishikesha Thirtha was the head of Palimaru Matt. He was the first disciple of Acharya to be coronated. The eight Matts are in this order:
1. Sri Hrishikesha Thirtha of Palimaru

2. Sri Nrisimha Thirtha of Adumaru

3. Sri Janardhana Thirtha of Krishnapura

4. Sri Upaendra Thirtha of Puttige

5. Sri Vamana Thirtha of Shiruru

6. Sri Vishnu Thirtha of Sode

7. Sri Rama Thirtha of Kaniyuru

8. Sri Adhokshaja Thirtha of Pejavara

The ninth Matt was headed by Sri Padmanabha Thirtha and is called Deshastha Matt. Each one of these Matts was also assigned a deity, but only four forms of Vishnu were chosen. They are Rama, Narasimha, Varaha, and Krishna (or Vittala). Each one of these deities represents the first syllable of the sacred ‘AUM’ (or OM that has four distinct sounds).

During Acharya Madhva’s time the organization of the Matts was slightly different than now. There were three swamis in each Matt. The oldest swami, on the verge of retirement was not involved in the administration of the Matt’s affairs. Instead, he concentrated on teaching the youngest trainee swami as well as spent his time in meditation. The younger swami was in charge of the daily affairs of the Matt as well as performed other obligatory functions for the spiritual uplift of the society in general. The youngest swami was usually a mere boy, being indoctrinated to ascend to the higher position. His training was the responsibility of the elder swami.

There was no rule that the swami had to be a bachelor. Even a married man could be chosen as the swami as long as he had renounced the worldly affairs and was willing to devote his life in the service of Lord Krishna.

Many palm leaf scrolls belonging to 14th century onwards are preserved in various Matts in Udupi. They are both in the Kannada and Tulu scripts. Many have been lost because of poor preservation technique. Some have made it to the modern print media and have been published. Many more need to be translated and published.


Researcher Bannanje Govindacharya has had the privilege of seeing many of the preserved texts from the Matts. With his immense knowledge and interest, Govindacharya has an advantage, as he is proficient in Sanskrit, Kannada and Tulu scripts. He has been able to read the document that is in Palimaru Matt, written by none other than the first disciple of Acharya Madhva, Sri Hrishikesha Thirtha. The palm leaf scroll written in beautiful handwriting is the replication of his guru Madhvacharya’s works. The work had been read and blessed by Acharya Madhva himself. Two other creations called “Sampradaya Paddhati” and “Anu Madhva Charite” are also credited to this Hrishikesha Thirtha, though there is not enough proof for this.

There were many more historians, poets and Vedantis amongst the many Swamis of the eight Tulu Matts of Udupi. There is a wealth of literature that has been preserved. A scroll describing the method of attaining ‘sanyasa’, a sort of guidebook for would be renouncers of worldly affairs was written by Sri Vishnu Thirtha of Sode Matt. It is called “ Sanyasa Paddhati”.

Another scholar was Sri Rajarajeshwara Thirtha of Palimaru Matt from the 14-15th century, who wrote several popular poems and bhajans. His creation “Ramasandesha” is compared to Kalidasa’s writings.

Of course, the most well known of all the Swamis is Sri Vadiraja from Sode Matt from the 16th century. Many other scholars lived and administered in Udupi Matt and their works and names are too many to enumerate here.

Swami Vadiraja (1480-1600)

After Acharya Madhva the most well known figure in Udupi is Swami Vadiraja He took over as the head of Sode matt in early sixteenth century. He was a reformer and a visionary par excellence. Originally Sode Matt was called Kumbasi matt as the major assets of the Matt were in Kumbasi. Swami Vadiraja defeated the Virashaiva guru of the local king in Vedantic discursions and established his base in the village of Sode. Since then the Matt has been called Sode.

Swami Vadiraja was not only a scholar but also a poet. He wrote hundreds of critiques and treatises to Acharya Madhva’s works as well as works of other Swamis before him. He was also mindful of the common people who needed guidance and directions in their devotion to Lord Krishna. Bhajan was an important part of daily routines of Hindus. Swami Vadiraja gave them innumerable songs including the famous ‘Shobhane’, which is recited even today by women at dusk every day as part of their prayer routine. Swami Vadiraja also was a pioneer in reforming the administration of the Matts as regards to their obligations towards the puja ritual of the temple. Previously, various heads of Matts were in charge of puja at Krishna temple for a period of two months at a stretch. He introduced the ceremony of Paryaya, when the designated Matt is in charge as overall administrators for a period of two years. The first Paryaya was held in the year 1522, when swami of Palimaru Matt took over as the overall administrator of the temple for a period of two years. Vadiraja (of Sode matt) himself became the head of Paryaya for the first time in 1532. The order of Paryaya was selected according to the order of the swamis being coronated by Madhvacharya (note the list above). In the year 1596, it was the turn of Sode Matt to take charge of Paryaya for the fifth time. Though Swami Vadiraja was alive at that time he let his younger disciple take over. Swami Vadiraja died in the year 1600 at the age of 120.

Today Paryaya ceremony in Udupi draws a global audience every two years. In the year 2000, a cycle of thirty Paryayas for each Matt was completed (478 years). In 2002, Palimaru swami took over to begin yet another cycle (31st).

Swami Vadiraja was also the builder of the famous Kanaka-na-kindi (Kanaka’s window) on the western wall of the temple, which had been devoid of windows. The swami restored the honor and dignity to Kanakadasa, who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna in Udupi.

Kanakadasa (1508-1606)

Kanakadasa is a legendary figure in Udupi. Born to a shepherd family near Dharwar, he did not have the power or the status of a higher caste Hindu. He was a devotee of Thirumalai Venkateshwara and his devotion to Krishna was extraordinary. This quintessential devotee composed and sang countless songs in praise of Lord Krishna. When he was not allowed to enter the temple to see his favorite God because of a caste dispute, he stood outside the western wall of the temple for days and nights, singing and pleading Krishna to give him audience (darshan). Legend has it that the idol of Krishna, which heretofore had been facing east, turned around to face west, as the western wall collapsed so that Kanakadasa could see the face of his favorite idol.
The construction (according to vastu shilpa) of the temple does not support this legend. The idol had always been facing west as evidenced by the other structures built in the ancient temple, around the idol of Krishna. The main entrance to the sanctum sanctorum is, as always from the east. There is a pond called Madhva Sarovara on the eastern front of the main entrance. When denied entrance into the temple, the only place Kanaka could have stood and prayed was the outside the western wall on the street.

However, it is believed that there was a minor earthquake at night when Kanakadasa was singing outside the western wall. A crack appeared in the western wall and Kanakadasa was able to see the idol of Krishna in plain view. In a composition of Kanakadasa, he makes a reference to the shaking of the earth at night, while he was praying with his eyes closed.

Apart from Acharya Madhva who himself composed devotional songs of Krishna, Sri Narahari Thirtha is considered to be the father of Haridasa (servant of Vishnu) movement in Udupi. Three other swamis of Udupi were also patrons of Haridasa movement namely Sri Padaraja Thirtha, Sri Vyasaraja Thirtha and Sri Vadiraja Thirtha. Sri Vyasaraja gave an impetus to the Dasa movement by taking both Kanakadasa and Purandaradasa as disciples. Another disciple, Sri Vadiraja, who was a contemporary of Kanakadasa, rebuilt the western wall of the temple with a window. This window came to be known as Kanaka-na-kindi (Kanaka’s window). The nine partitions in the window signify the nine pores of the human body (eyes, ears, nostrils, and the two pores for excretion, and the mouth). The temple is considered to be the human body with the idol occupying the heart and the window thus becomes as part of the human body. The memory of Kanakadasa was permanently etched in the temple of his beloved Lord Krishna, thanks to Sri Vadiraja. He also established a gudi (a cottage) in memory of Kanakadasa where he had stayed. Recital of Vedas was a daily occurrence here for many centuries. Today a statue of Kanakadasa has replaced the gudi.

Ironically, the entrance to the temple was denied to a lower caste member like Kanakadasa in a temple of Krishna, who himself belonged to the lower caste of cowherds. Krishna even had set an example by refusing the invitation to stay with Bhishma or Drona when he visited Hastinapura but stayed with lower caste Vidura. Yet the upper class had forgotten the moral example set by their own Lord Krishna and in their narrow sightedness denied Bhakta Kanakadasa entrance to the temple. Though Kanakadasa is immortalized in Udupi, the caste-warfare and discrimination sadly still exist.

Neria Harish Hebbar, MDFebruary 23, 2003
Reference:“Taulamatagala Koduge”: A Kannada article by Vidyaavaachaspati Bannanje Govindacharya.

The Tale of Tuluva Brahmins

The ancient Tulu nadu extended from Gokarna in the north, all along coastal Karnataka up to Kasargod in the south. This included both coastal Uttara Kannada district as well as all of Dakshina Kannada district. Over many centuries the principal language of Tulu nadu was Tulu. Today Tulu is spoken only south of River Kalyanpur in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. This is the heartland of Tulu nadu today. While Udupi is the religious center of Tulu nadu, Mangalore is the commercial hub. Innumerable smaller towns and villages comprise of a green landscape within the mountainous range of the Western Ghats as well as along the coastal Karnataka with access to Arabian Sea. Here Tulu language, one of the five main Dravidian languages of the South, with its extinct script is spoken. For historical purposes the regions settled by Brahmins are three in number. Haige or Haive (Uttara Kannada), Taulava (Dakshina Kannada) and Kerala.

Grama Paddhati

The origins of Tuluva Brahmins are recorded in the manuscript, Grama Paddhati. There are various recensions of the document. It is believed that the documents were re-written in its current form sometime in the 15th century, although additions could have been made in the ensuing centuries. Grama Paddhati can be divided into three different sections for the purposes of studying it. It is the only document that contains the history of Tuluva Brahmins.

The first deals with the legend of Parashurama, who created coastal Tulu nadu by reclaiming land from the sea. When Parashurama’s father sage Jamadagni and his wife were heckled by Kshatriya Kartaveeryarjuna, who also stole their precious cattle, Parashurama defeated the Kshatriya and vowed to annihilate the Kshatriya tribes. Later when he repented for his actions, he handed the newly reclaimed land over to sage Kashyap as penance for destroying twenty-one successive generations of Kshatriyas.

When Parashurama found no Brahmins in the land, he is said to have elevated the fishermen class to the upper class of Brahmins. After giving them all the amenities, Parashurama went to the Meru Mountains for his meditations but not before promising the new Brahmins to summon him if they needed any help. Soon after, the Brahmins wanted to test the veracity of Parashurama and summoned him without a valid reason. An angered Parashurama immediately stripped the Brahmins of their upper class status.

The second part of Gram Paddhati deals with the story of settlement of Tulu nadu by Brahmins. The Kadamba king Mayuravarma facilitated this migration. On the advice of sages, Mayuravarma invited Brahmins to the area from Ahichhatra. Sixteen families were settled in Haige in Uttara Kannada, thirty-two Brahmin families in Tulu nadu and sixty-four in Kerala. Ahichhatra (Ahiksetra?) was located on the banks of River Godavari. This new migration in the 7th or 8th century created skirmishes between the new comers and the Brahmins who were already there (Parashurama’s Brahmins?). To appease the rioters, Mayuravarma donated land to them.

Kadamba’s history is also touched upon in this section of the document. A son was born to Parameshvara and Parvati under a Kadamba tree. The baby Kadamba was given a boon that he would be a ruler of a kingdom. His son Vasu Chakravarti followed King Kadamba. He had a daughter named Susheela. Hemanga from Suryavamsha married Susheela and adopted Kadamba name. Their son Mayuravarma is our hero, who invited Brahmins to settle in the land created by Parashurama. He not only donated land and villages to the thirty-two Brahmin families in Tulu nadu but also arranged for servants for them called Nayars.

When his son Chandrangada was born, Mayuravarma renounced his throne and went to the forest for contemplative meditation. All the Brahmins now left Tulu nadu and returned to Ahicchatra. After Chandrangada became the ruler he saw the deficiencies of a society without Brahmins and invited them back again, enticing them with more facilities and land. After his death, a Shudra king Hubbasiga started hectoring the Brahmins and some of them left Tulu nadu again. Chandrangada’s son Lokaditya, with the help of a Chandasena from Gokarna, used craftiness and intrigue to murder Hubbasiga. Lokaditya went back to Ahichhatra to escort the Brahmins back to Tulu nadu following the riddance of the menace of Hubbasiga.

The third part of Grama Paddhati deals with naming the various villages and districts and the names of the families settled there. The thirty-two villages with the names of the Brahmin family that usually bore the name of the villages are named.

The Migration

Thirty-two Brahmin families, purified by twelve thousand agnihotras, were said to have been brought and settled in Talagunda and Kuppatturu, both in Shimoga district (this effort of procurement is credited to a Mukkanna Kadamba). From here, during the rule of the Alupas in Tulu nadu, certain batches of Brahmins migrated to Alvakheda (ancient name for Tulu nadu) and Haive (current Uttara Kannada). Talagunda agrahara however was in existence in the 3rd century. Mayuravarma may have influenced Ahicchatra Brahmins to migrate here, who then migrated to the various agraharas in Dakshina Kannada.

The earliest Brahmin presence mentioned in Dakshina Kannada was in the seventh century (Grama Paddhati). They are the migrants from Ahichhatra invited by Mayuravarma. Later, Brahmins from different agraharas may have come to Tulu nadu at different times. In the 11th century another migration occurred after the destruction of the agraharas in Talagunda and Kuppagadde in Shimoga district, by the Chola kings. This might have provided a major impetus for the Ahichhatra Brahmins to migrate to Tulu nadu and settle in Haive, Shivalli, Kota, Koteshvara, and Kandavara etc. The migration from Mysore was a more continuous process that occurred many centuries into the medieval times.

The Tulu nadu Brahmins settled in different places and developed their own individual characteristics. By virtue of their settlements in various regions, five such groups came to be recognized in the Tulu nadu. They are Shivalli, Kota, Koteshvara, Kandavaras and the Panchagramis. However, it is likely that there were only two settlements in Shivalli and Kota, both villages in Udupi district. Later, religious differences may have resulted in schism, thus the other three may have split off from the original two to form their own settlements.

Grama Paddhati does not differentiate between the Shivalli, Kota or Kandavara Brahmins, all of who claim to be Ahicchatra Brahmins.

The Brahmins of Tulu Nadu

All the sects of Brahmins in Dakshina and Uttara Kannada follow different deities as their main idol of worship. Prior to Madhvacharya’s Dvaita philosophy took a firm base in Udupi, most of them were Shiva worshippers. Shivalli Brahmins belonged to Balekuduru Matt, which is an Advaita (Shankara) Matt. After Madhva founded the Ashta (eight) Matts in Udupi with its sixteen Upamatts, many Shivalli Brahmins became followers of Vishnu (followers of Sode Matt in Udupi). However, all Shivalli Brahmins are not Vaishnavites. They follow different sampradayas, like Bhagavata, Smarta, and Vaishnava etc. Of these Smarta and Bhagavata Sampradayis perform the Panchayatana puja with Shiva or Vishnu at the center of their altars, during abhisheka).

Koteshvara Brahmins living in Koteshvara village were also converted by Sri Vadiraja Swami of Sode Matt and were taken as disciples of Vishnu. The Kota Brahmins from a village near Udupi did not convert to Vaishnavism, and remained as bhasma-dharis and followers of Smarta Sampradaya. Kandavara Brahmins remain attached to Balekuduru Matt with Skanda as their family deity. Sthanikas are Shaiva Brahmins, who acquired their name owing to their managerial positions in temples. They are followers of Shankaracharya and have customs similar to Kota Brahmins. They speak the same dialect of Tulu as Shivalli Brahmins.

Kota, Kandavara and Koteshvara Brahmins speak a variant of Kannada, despite their presence in Tulu nadu for many centuries. Shivalli and Sthanikas are the only two sects that speak Tulu language. Both Kandavara and Koteshwara are villages in Kannada speaking Coondapur Taluk, which explains why these Brahmins speak a variant of Kannada rather than Tulu.

The Havikas (or Havyakas) settled in Haive in Uttara Kannada and established a community there. A dissenting group of Havikas called the Saklapuris settled in the border town of Saklapuri (between Uttara and Dakshina Kannada). Curiously, the Havikas also have four subdivisions, namely, Havikas, Kotas, Saklapuris and Shivallis! Havikas are followers of Shankara Matt in Ramachandrapur.

There are number of other Brahmins in current day Tulu nadu, distinguished by their own different spoken languages and forms of worship. They migrated in later centuries by land and sea. These include Chitpavana, Karadi, Konkanastha and Sarasvatha Brahmins. Marathi Brahmins, Chitpavana and Karadi Brahmins, who are Advaita followers, migrated to Tulu nadu from Ratnagiri and Karad in Maharashtra. Another Marathi immigrant group is called Padia Brahmins, of whom there are very few in Dakshina Kannada. Deshasthas, among whom both Smartas and Madhvas are to be found, are relatively recent migrants.

The Konkanas migrated to Tulu nadu by about 12th century and have a flourishing community today. The Sarasvathas are further subdivided into Sarasvathas and Gouda-Sarasvathas. The former are Smartas and the latter converted to Vaishnavism. The Sarasvathas originally hailed from Punjab and then later migrated to Kashmir, East Bihar and Goa. In Goa they had inhabited 96 villages and hence were called ‘Shannavatyas’ (or Shenvis). When Goa fell into the hands of Portuguese, they migrated southward and settled in coastal South India all the way down to Malabar and Travancore. Tradition tells us that there are 360 Brahmin families spread all over Tulu nadu. There are also 360 Janardhana temples scattered over the region of Tulu nadu, each representing a family of a particular line.

It is also interesting to note that Neria, Gangamula and Kalasa Hebbars perhaps originally belonged to the Panchagramis. Sri Ramanuja moved to Melukote in Karnataka to escape from the relentless hector of Shaivite Chola kings. He was welcomed by the Hoysala raja and was given asylum. Sri Ramanuja’s followers, the Hebbars, who originally hailed from Srirangam and Kanchipuram, followed him to Karnataka. Then they settled in five of the following districts: Kadaba, Grama, Srirangapattana, Muloor and Belur. Hence they came to be known as Panchagramis. In the year 1515, Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara bestowed vast lands to some of the Hebbars. The three families of Hebbars in Gangamula, Kalasa and Neria, who were beneficiaries of Vijayanagara Empire, are still in existence. However, some Hebbars (e.g. Hebbars from Neria) converted from the Sri Vaishnava sect of Ramanujacharya to the Dvaita teachings of Madhvacharya at a later date. They joined the Sode Matt of Udupi during the time of Sri Vadiraja Swami. They now are considered Shivalli Brahmins. The other two Hebbar families of Gangamula and Kalasa joined the Sringeri Matt of Sri Shankaracharya.

In the course of history the Hebbars aided in converting the Shaivas of the region (called bhairava aradhakas) to Madhva Brahmins (or bhasma-dharis to nama-dharis). They also converted the Shudras to Gowda communities. Thus, from worshippers of Bhairava, the Gowdas of Dakshina Kannada became followers of Tirupathi Venkataramana.

Original worshippers among Tulu Brahmins mainly followed different deities. They were the followers of Shaiva, Saura, Shakta, Ganapatya and other sectarian cults. Sri Shankaracharya visited Kumaradri (Subramanya) and Kolluru in the late 8th or early 9th century and defeated the local followers of different deities in a philosophical discursion and established the spread of Panchayatana (Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganapati and Surya) form of worship and helped unify all sects of Brahmins under the large umbrella of Hinduism.

The Brahmins of Tulu nadu are classified in many ways. The division of Havika, Kota and Shivalli is generally based on the place of their origin. Another division is also based on the deity they worship and thus are classified as bhasma-dharis (Shaivites) or nama-dharis (Vaishnavites). Their form of worship divides them into different sampradayis, hence Bhagavata, Smarta or Vaishnava sampradaya etc. The ritual of performance of puja differs according to one’s sampradaya. Even further divisions like shat-karmis and tri-karmis also exist. The calendars followed by the various Brahmin sects are also different. Some follow the lunar calendar while others follow the solar calendar. The Vaishnava sampradayis follow the Udaya-thithi for a full day and Smarta sampradayis follow the actual running thithi. Because of this ekadasi falls on different days for Vaishnava and Smarta sects. Shivallis are also divided into nada Shivalli or grama Shivalli; again depending on the area they settled in, be it in the village or in the general vicinity of the village.

The Sacred Temples

The Shivalli Brahmins gained a reputation as learned Vedic scholars. They are most commonly employed as arhchakas (priests, pujaris) in the temples in Tulu nadu. The Sthanika sect at one time was powerful because of their managerial positions in the temples and access to the temple coffers. With newer immigration of Brahmins from Shimoga and Mysore, the Shivalli Brahmins became more powerful claiming superiority. The immigration of Talagunda and Kuppegudde Brahmins to Tulu nadu to escape from the onslaught of the Cholas at this time, gave the resident Shivalli Brahmins more power. Sthanikas were eventually relegated to more insignificant jobs in the temples. The Shivalli Brahmins became the administrators as well as the main priests of the temples.

The earliest temples of Tulu nadu are Shiva temples from the 7th or early 8th centuries. One such early temple is the Anantheshvara temple of Udupi. The Sri Krishna temple of Udupi, founded by Madhvacharya is from the 13th century. For the last eight centuries Udupi has remained the hub of Hindu’s Madhva philosophy. Mukambika temple of Kollur is an example of Shakti worship in the region. Seven temples all nestled in the coastal Karnataka, in Udupi, Kolluru, Subramanya, Gokarna, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Shankaranarayana are collectively called Mukti Stalas. All of them are built in the holy land reclaimed from the sea by Parashurama and hence they are called Parashurama Kshetras. Several temples house Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha - a monument to a happy family in Dakshina Kannada. Kumbasi has a Ganesha idol and Koteshvara enshrines Kotilingeshvara, Ardhanarishvara, Parvati and Ganesha. Shankaranarayana, as the name implies is a combination of Shiva and Vishnu, thus called Hari-Hara. The shrine has lingam as well as Anjaneya, Subramanya and Venugopal.

Mangala Devi temple in Mangalore is responsible for the name of the city – Mangalapura –later anglicized as Mangalore. It is also an ancient temple with an interesting history. Perhaps in the ninth century a Queen Premila of Malabar became a disciple of Matsyaendranath and renounced her kingdom and decided to follow her guru. The cult called Nath cult advocated renouncement of materialistic pleasures and acceptance of meditation as path to salvation. As the guru and her new disciple crossed the River Netravathi near Ullal, she fell ill. She was confined to a home in Bolar, where she spent her last days in meditation. The site became a shrine, where later the Ballals (the feudal lords of Mangalore at that time) built a Durga temple there, calling the deity Mangala Devi. In the year 968 C.E., then Alupa ruler Kundavarma renovated the temple. The town around the temple grew and came to be called Mangalapura, the land of Mangala Devi.

Famous Sons

The most famous son of Tulu Brahmins is Madhvacharya. The story of Tuluva Brahmins cannot be complete without the mention of this great scholar and saint. Born to a poor family of Brahmins near Udupi, he was named Purnaprajna. True to his name, he became a scholar and well versed in Upanishads and Vedanta. The enlightened Madhva (the name given to him by his guru) argued a dualistic (Dvaita) theory with his guru who had preached Advaita’s monistic themes. He professed theism and made Vishnu (Vishnusarvothamattva) as the central figure of the universe. Eventually, he persuaded and converted his guru Achyutprajna to accept Dvaita philosophy. After gaining fame and popularity, Madhva established the eight monasteries (Matts) in Udupi and established the fabled Sri Krishna temple there. At age 79 he attained Moksha during a pilgrimage to Badrinath.

Madhva was blessed with a handsome physique and was also interested in physical training. In addition he was an avid fan of music. He claimed to be an avatar of Hanuman, thus the son of Vayu (Wind). Madhva remains the greatest and the most important gift to Hinduism from Tulu nadu.

Vadiraja Swami of Sode Matt in Udupi attained legendary fame during his time. He visited many sacred pilgrim centers and wrote a sort of travelogue of his visits. He also elaborated on Madhva’s philosophy and laid a foundation for future Dvaitis to argue their cases with others. Vadiraja wrote many bhajans in praise of Vishnu and gave the women the popular ‘Lakshmi Shobhane’ that even today the women sing every day in the South.

There are many prominent Brahmins from Tulu nadu who have gained fame for their contributions to the community. Scientist Dr. U. R. Rao, award-winning physician Dr. K. N. Udupa, and philosopher-thinker Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy are products of Tulu nadu. Internationally known artist K. K. Hebbar hails from the Brahmin community of Tulu nadu. Poets and authors like Gopalakrishna Adiga, Vyasaraya Ballal, and Shivarama Karanth are well known. The numbers of classical musicians of fame from Tulu nadu of Brahmin origin are too numerous to mention in this article.


In summary it is noted that there are three main divisions of Brahmins in Tulu nadu, namely Havika, Shivalli and Kota with three subdivisions such as Koteshvara, Kandavaras and Panchagramis. Sthanikas and Saklapuris form other sub sects. Newer immigrations of Brahmins to the region complete the picture with Chitpavana, Karadi, Padia, Deshastha, Konkanastha and Sarasvatha taking root in Tulu nadu. The ancient land called Tulu nadu, now with its unique language spoken only in this region by some of inhabitants can also boast about the sanctity of its land with a legendary tale of creation by Parashurama and some of the oldest temples in the South. All the major deities are represented equally with their own temples. Madhvacharya, a Shivalli Brahmin from Udupi, is the most significant contributor to Hinduism. His Dvaita tenets are followed by most of practicing Hindus today in India. There are many more famous Tulu Brahmins, who have made precious contributions to the society.

Neria Harish Hebbar, MDJanuary 12, 2003
References:Studies in Tuluva History and Culture; Prof. P Gururaja BhattShivalli Brahmanas: A Historical Analysis of Their Origins; Malini AdigaGrama Paddhati Mattu Taulava Brahmana Itihasa: Nagendra Rao Udupi (Kannada)Shivalli Brahmanuru, Ondu Saamajika Sammekshe; Prof. P. Sripathy Tantri (Kannada)

Tulu Language: Its Script and Dialects

Tulu language is one of the five Dravidian languages of South India (Pancha- Bhasha, others are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam). The four major languages spoken today are dominantly spoken in their respective states (Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala), whereas Tulu is spoken in a small niche, mainly in coastal Karnataka and Northern Karala (Kasaragod district). About 2.5 million people speak Tulu and call it their mother tongue. Tulu nadu is a region where many languages are spoken. While Kannada is the official state language, different ethnic communities in Tulu Nadu speak different languages. Tulu, derived from proto-Dravidian is the predominant language spoken by Hindus of various castes and by the Jains of Tulu Nadu. Konkanasthas and Catholics speak two variants of Konkani. Muslims speak a language of their own that is derived from Tulu as well as Malayalam.

There are about 24 Dravidian languages recognized by linguists. Of these the five languages in the South developed into major languages. Tulu is the only developed language that has not received the recognition it is due. However, Tulu language with its near extinct script has been generating much enthusiasm amongst the linguists, as it is now believed to be one of the oldest Dravidian languages.

The Tulu language has lost its prominence as a major language. Lack of serious literature in Tulu language has also hampered its claim as a language to be taught in educational institutes. Though it is certain that most of the literature has been lost because of difficulties in preserving palm leaf scrolls, the earliest literature available is from the 15th century. This indeed is a much later work than the language itself, which is thousands of years old. There was also some confusion regarding the script of Tulu language, which closely resembles Malayalam. It was thought that priests from Tulu Nadu went south to Kerala to perform and learn Agama Sastra rituals, where they jotted notes borrowing the Malayalam alphabets. This was the prevailing thought of many researches although now there is a consensus that Tulu language possessed its own script before Malayalam script existed. Perhaps the reciprocal is true that the Malayalam script developed from Tulu script as the language predates Malayalam by more than a thousand years. The priests who went south are now credited with carrying mantras written in Tulu script to Kerala. Like Tamil and Malayalam, Tulu script is derived from the Grantha* script.

The earliest piece of literature, Tulu Mahabharata is from the 15th century written in Tulu script. Another manuscript that was discovered Tulu Devimahatme, a prose work like the Mahabharata, is also from the 15th century. Two epic poems written in 17th century namely Sri Bhagavata and Kaveri have also been found. Madhvacharya’s eight matts established in Udupi in the 13th century were centers of Tulu literature during his lifetime and thereafter. However, very little of this has survived. So it is not inconceivable (as it is claimed) that Madhvacharya himself did all his writings in the Tulu script. Other inscriptions discovered are Sanskrit mantras transliterated in Tulu script. It appears as though the Brahmins used the script mainly for this purpose.

In the first half of 19th century the German missionaries undertook a renaissance of the language. Unfortunately, they published Tulu literature and materials related to Christianity in the Kannada script as they had established printing presses in that language in Mangalore. In addition the German missionaries also produced Tulu lexicon and Tulu-English dictionary. They are also credited with transcription of Tulu folklore, Tulu proverbs and works on spirit worship in Tulu Nadu. Printing material in the Kannada script led to further disuse of the original Tulu script. By late 19th century Tulu script became remote and was endangered. Today there are no books or literature in the Tulu script and there are only a handful of Tuluvas who can read the script.

All the classic literatures discovered thus far are written only in one of the four dialects of the language, namely the Brahmin dialect. The dialect spoken by Brahmins in the southern part of Tulu Nadu is used in these manuscripts. The priests belonged to a sect of Tuluva Brahmins called the Shivalli Brahmins. (Only the Shivalli and the Sthanika sects in Tulu Nadu spoke the Brahmin dialect.) Tulu script was used by these Brahmins to write mantras. The Brahmin dialect also has imported many Sanskrit words into its dialect and lexicon. The Common dialect, which is spoken by the non-Brahmin class, was not used in writings of Tulu. However, the Common dialect is used in many of the folk songs, proverbs and riddles. The folk songs called the Paaddanas are treasures reflective of the rich culture of Tulu Nadu. They also allow a glimpse into the society of Tuluva people. These were never written down and have been passed on through generations as oral traditional songs.

The Language and its Dialects

Research in Tulu language and script has been sorely lacking. In 1856 Robert Caldwell undertook a systematic study of the Tulu language with his monumental work, “A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages.” Caldwell called Tulu one of the most developed Dravidian languages. In 1872 J. Bigel wrote, “Grammar of The Tulu Language.” Then in the 20th century S. U.Panniyadi and L.V. Ramaswamy Iyer published more books about its grammar. These authors contended that the language was well developed, and was one of the earliest off-shoots of proto-South Dravidian language, with many dialectal variations. (Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada also were derived from it, whereas Telugu was derived from proto-Central Dravidian). There is renewed interest in the language as evidenced by the fact that many universities both in India and abroad are promoting more research of Tulu language. Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Research Center in Udupi has encouraged such research. Dr. D.N. Shankar Bhat and Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya have been doing commendable, ongoing research in the field.

Different regions within Tulu Nadu developed its own dialect of the language. The language developed with various dialects and peculiarities, unimpeded by the proximity of the regions.

Five main such geographical divisions with dialectal variations can be seen.

1. Southwest: comprising of Kasargod District of Kerala

2. Southeast: Includes Sullia and Kodagu

3. South Central: comprising of Puttur, Belthangady and Bantwal

4. Northwest: area including Mangalore and Udupi

5. Northeast: includes Karkala.

Other languages have influenced some of the dialects in these regions. Thus Malayalam may have influenced Tulu in the Southwest (Kasargod), whereas in other areas Kannada has influenced it. The differences in the society also influenced the dialects. Brahmins developed their own dialect influenced by Sanskrit that they were proficient in. Four main social dialects have developed.

1. Brahmin Dialect

2. Jain Dialect

3. Common Dialect and

4. Harijan/Tribal Dialect

Brahmin Dialect - spoken by Shivalli and Sthanika Brahmins - is the language used in writing the few classical literature discovered thus far. They also borrowed Sanskrit words and pronunciation of words. Even the local Dravidian words were enunciated with retroflex words (unusual in Dravidian languages, where non-retroflex sounds are used).

Jain Dialect spoken by the Jains in the northern part of Tulu nadu. They have a distinct dialect where the initial t and s have been replaced by letter h. As an example the word tare (head) is pronounced as hare. Saadi (path) is haadi.

Common Dialect is spoken by the majority of people (non-Brahmins) of Tulu Nadu, and is the dialect of commerce, entertainment and art. It is the language of the Paaddana. It is subdivided into more than five groups as spoken by Bunts, Billavas, Mogaveeras, Gowdas and Kumabaras etc. Due to the similarity in these dialects, they are grouped under the common heading of Common Dialect or Common Tulu. The borrowed Sanskrit words in this dialect are invariably altered to a non-retroflex sound unlike in the Brahmin dialect where the words are pronounced just as in Sanskrit.

Harijan and Tribal Dialect is spoken by the Mera, Mansa, Harijan and Tribal classes. They closely resemble the Common dialect though in the South they still have maintained their distinction. The sound c replaces the sounds t, s, and c of other dialects. Hence tare is care and saadi is caadi. Onasu (meal) is pronounced onacu. Non-retroflex words are pronounced with retroflex in this dialect. New words like baanaaru (Brahmin), jeerklu/jeerlu (children), dekke/meere/korage (husband) and dikkalu/meerti/korappolu (wife) are also found in this dialect.

There is a common perception that there are only two kinds of Tulu dialects, namely Brahmin and Common. Dr. P Kekunnaya suggests studying the language in four different dialects by combining both geographical variations in the dialects and the different social dialects. Hence the divisions studied are:
1. Sb: Brahmin dialect of Southwest, Southeast and South Central region.

2. Sc: Common dialects of the same regions in the South

3. Nb: Brahmin dialects of Northwest and Northeast.

4. Nc: Common dialects of the same regions in the North.

Some of the differences in the words and sounds used by the Brahmin dialect and the Common dialect in the Northern regions have disappeared or are nearly imperceptible now. However, in the Southern regions, the differences are more commonly maintained and are more apparent.


In conclusion, it is fair to say that Tulu is one of the five major Dravidian languages, the script of which has not received the attention it is due. The Tulu script was mainly used to write Sanskrit mantras by the priestly class. Lack of serious literature before 15th century hampered its claim as one of the legitimate South Indian languages. Some literary works have been unearthed recently. The German missionaries in the early 19th century, perhaps, did much disservice to the Tulu script as they opted to transliterate Christian literature into Tulu language but used Kannada script to do so. But they are also credited with introducing print medium to the language, though in the Kannada script, thus helping in preserving many of the dying stories and folk songs. The dominance of Kannada print medium led to further disuse of the script. Currently there are no attempts at resurrecting Tulu language or the scripts in the universities and other institutions in the Tulu Nadu. The language and the script had remained a curiosity for researchers until recently but now there seems to be renewed interest in this ancient language. There seems to be some hope for a Tulu renaissance mainly because of works done by Padmanabha Kekunnaya, Drs. U.P and Susheela P Upadhyaya and the diligent work in the Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Samshodhana Kendra in Udupi.

There are many households in Tulu Nadu with many Tulu manuscripts and inscriptions, especially in the Brahmin homes. Many have been lost because of lack of interest in attempts to preserving them. Though most of these are Sanskrit mantras written in the Tulu script their numbers must be significantly high. Much effort and resources need to be spent towards research of the language of Tulu Nadu and its unique script.

Neria Harish Hebbar, MDFebruary 2, 2003

References: A major source of reference for this article is Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya’s thesis, “A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects.” Other referral sources are “Renaissance in Tulu literature” and “Tulu Lexicon:A New Experiment in Dictionary Making” both by Dr. U. P. Upadhyaya.*Grantha script: emerged from the Gupta script that in turn was derived from Brahmi script. Grantha script developed in the 5th and 6th century C.E. Veda Vyasa was said to have written the Vedas in the Grantha script. This led to the postulation that the Vedas were written down much later than their origins as oral traditions. This also suggests that the Tulu script developed much later than the language itself. All the Dravidian literature developed from Grantha script after the 5th century C.E. However, there is literature in Tamil dating back to 3rd century B.C.E. to 3rd century C.E. (Sangam literature). Currently Sanskrit language is written in Nagari script that developed in the 7th century C.E.