The Tale of Tuluva Brahmins
BY: NERIA HARISH HEBBAR, MD
Parasurama, the Kshatriya's Nightmare
Feb 17, CANADA (SUN) A review in two parts of the South Indian brahmans established by Parasurama Avatar.
The ancient Tulu nadu extended from Gokarna in the north, all along coastal Karnataka down 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, which today is spoken only south of the River Kalyanpur in Udupi and in the Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. This is the heartland of Tulu nadu today.
Udupi is the religious center of Tulu nadu, while Mangalore is the commercial hub. Innumerable smaller towns and villages comprise a green landscape within the mountainous range of the Western Ghats as well as along the coastal Karnataka, with access to Arabian Sea. Here, the Tulu language, one of the five main Dravidian languages of the South, is spoken with its extinct script.
For historical purposes, the regions settled by Brahmins are considered to be three in number: Haige or Haive (Uttara Kannada), Taulava (Dakshina Kannada) and Kerala.
The origins of the Tuluva Brahmins are recorded in the manuscript, Grama Paddhati. There are various recensions of the document, which are believed to have been re-written in their current form sometime in the 15th century, although additions could have subsequently been made. Grama Paddhati can be divided into three different sections for the purposes of study. It is the only document that contains the history of Tuluva Brahmins.
The first section deals with the legend of Sri Parasurama, who created coastal Tulu nadu by reclaiming land from the sea. When Parasurama’s father, the sage Jamadagni and his wife were heckled by Kshatriya Kartaveeryarjuna, who also stole their precious cattle, Parasurama defeated them and vowed to annihilate the Kshatriya tribes. Later when he repented for his actions, he handed the newly reclaimed land over to the sage Kashyap as penance for destroying twenty-one successive generations of Kshatriyas.
When Parasurama 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, Parasurama went to the Meru Mountain for his meditations, but not before promising that the new Brahmins could summon him if they needed any help. Soon after, the Brahmins wanted to test the veracity of Parasurama, and summoned him without a valid reason. An angered Parasurama immediately stripped the Brahmins of their upper class status.
The second part of Grama Paddhati deals with the story of the 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 (which may also be known as Ahiksetra) was located on the banks of River Godavari. This new migration in the 7th or 8th century created skirmishes between the newcomers and the Brahmins, who were already there (perhaps 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's name. Their son Mayuravarma is a 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 then 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, the Shudra King Hubbasiga started hectoring the Brahmins, and some of them again left Tulu nadu. 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 also named.
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 the 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 a 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.
All the sects of Brahmins in Dakshina and Uttara Kannada follow different Deities as their main idol of worship. Prior to the time when Sri 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) matha. After Madhva founded the Ashta (eight) matha in Udupi, with its sixteen Upamathas, many Shivalli Brahmins became followers of Vishnu (followers of Sode Matha in Udupi). However, all Shivalli Brahmins are not Vaishnavites. They follow different sampradayas, like Bhagavata, Smarta, etc. Of these, the Smarta and Bhagavata sampradayas 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 Matha, 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 the Smarta sampradaya.
Kandavara Brahmins remain attached to Balekuduru Matha, with Skanda as their family Deity. The 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 the Kota Brahmins. They speak the same dialect of Tulu as the Shivalli Brahmins.
The 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.
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