MAGNUM OPUS: LIFE AND TIMES OF NADIKERIANDA CHINNAPPA, COMPILER OF ‘PATTOLE PALAME’

By Boverianda Nanjamma and Chinnappa

Much as we admire him and are inspired by him, we have never seen our grandfather Nadikerianda Chinnappa – he died before we were born. We are cross-cousins. This narrative is based on recollections of our parents, aunts and elder cousins, gleaned in casual conversations over the years.  

He had gone to a remote village, riding his horse across a stream and through a forest path to investigate a quarrel over ownership of a strip of land. On his way back, he stopped by the stream to eat the rice roti sweetened with jaggery that his wife had packed for him. The sun was setting behind the hills, and had painted the scattered clouds in brilliant hues of red and gold. Captivated by the scene, Nadikerianda Chinnappa (in picture) sat lost in thought, when he heard the distant sound of Kodava dudis (drums). He mounted his horse quickly and raced towards the drum-beats. Four men seated around a bon-fire near the village green were singing Kodava folk-songs, practicing for Puthari, the harvest festival. It was getting dark, but he waited for them to finish. They recognized him, and touched his feet respectfully. He invited the leader of the team, and took him home on his horse.

This was not uncommon – his wife Nanjavva knew that he had brought a singer home for the night. She made a bed for the visitor in the attic, and served them a hot meal with a drink of frothing toddy. Refreshed, Chinnappa and the singer sat in the hall, and while the singer sang a ballad, Chinnappa transcribed the words late into the night. After many such sessions with singers, he had a good collection of Kodava songs sung during weddings, funerals and festivals, and ballads in praise of deities and heroes.

Himself a good singer, it was Chinnappa’s passion for Kodava songs and ballads that prompted him to collect them. During his travels around Kodagu as a Police officer, he observed that the unique customs and traditions of the Kodava community that he belonged to and was proud of, were being forgotten or changed. This was in the early 1920s. He feared that Kodava traditions and songs that had been handed down orally over the generations would be lost, because of the dominance of the English language, and the influence of the cultures of neighbouring areas. So he decided to document them.

After work, late in the evenings, he neatly wrote down all the songs, proverbs and riddles that he had compiled, by the dim light of a kerosene lamp, literally burning the midnight oil, while smoking his favourite cigars. When he started documenting the customs and traditions, he consulted his mother Ponnavva who was well-versed in them. His wife would read what he had written to ensure that it was clear to a lay person. If there were parts that she did not understand, he tore up the pages and rewrote them. The waste paper basket was always full in the morning. 

While he worked, his concentration was absolute. One Sunday, when he was writing at his desk in the verandah of his ancestral home, his two-year old son stood at the edge of the verandah, about four feet above the stone-paved court-yard, and called out “Appa, shall I jump? Shall I jump?” A servant maid who was sweeping the yard saw this and chided her master “Is your scribbling that important that you cannot listen to your son?” 

British officials in Coorg (as Kodagu was called by them), encouraged Chinnappa and got his draft book reviewed by some prominent Kodavas. On their recommendation, C.S.Sooter, Commissioner of Coorg, authorised financial assistance to publish it. Chinnappa chose the name Pattole Palame, meaning ‘Silken Lore’, for his book, which was first published in 1924. Its 6th edition was printed in 2012. 

The Pattole Palame, is a precious document of the heritage of the Kodava community. In the second edition published by the University of Mysore in 1975, the editor describes it as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, extensive collection of folklore of any Indian community written in an Indian language by an Indian. 

The text of the Pattole Palame is in Kannada and the folksongs, proverbs etc., in it are in Kodava thakk, the language of the Kodavas, an oral language written using the Kannada script. Nearly two-thirds of the book consists of folksongs that were transmitted orally down generations, and are sung even today. Traditionally known as Balo Pat, these songs are sung by four men who beat dudis as they sing. The songs have haunting melodies and evoke memories of times long past. Kodava folk dances are performed to the beat of many of these songs, which are a rich source of information on the language, culture and history of the Kodava people. 

Nadikerianda Chinnappa himself began translating the Pattole Palame into English, but could not complete it. He died of cancer in 1931 at the age of 56, a few months after his retirement. It was in 2003, nearly 75 years after the Pattole Palame was published, that we, his grandchildren, translated it into English and published it.  

Although he was best known for the Pattole Palame, Chinnappa’s major literary work as a poet was the Bhagavantanda Paat, his translation of the Bhagavad Gita into the Kodava language, composed in the style of Kodava folksongs, published in 1929.

When Grierson, a British linguist, embarked on the first Linguistic Survey of India (1913 to 1920), he looked for knowledgeable representatives of the various Indian languages. Chinnappa, who was good in both English and Kodava thakk, was chosen for the Kodava language. As required, he translated the parable ‘Prodigal Son’ into Kodava thakk and narrated it, and sang his own poem on the river Kaveri “Sri Moola Kanniye”. These were recorded in 1922 on gramophone records, and copies of the recordings in all the languages were kept in the British Library in London and in the Madras Museum. They were digitised recently by the Linguistics Department of the University of Chicago.

Born in 1875, Chinnappa was the fifth of eight children. After matriculating in Madikeri, he went to Mangalore for further studies. But when his elder brother Subbayya died suddenly, Chinnappa returned to Kodagu to take on family responsibilities. In accordance with Kodava tradition, he married Subbayya’s widow, Nanjavva. 

His career took many twists and turns. A teacher at first, then a Revenue Inspector, and then an officer in the Coorg Regiment of the army, he joined the Police Department when the regiment was disbanded in 1904, and rose to the rank of a Prosecuting Inspector. 

Chinnappa was fond of sports. He was a bowler in the All Coorg XI Cricket team, which in those days consisted mainly of Englishmen. When he played billiards at the Victoria Club in Virajpet, his British opponents would often swear under their breath on losing a game to him. On one such occasion, Chinnappa lost his patience, broke the billiards stick on his knee and threw it on the floor. This was a very daring act for an Indian, and the story made the rounds in the club for a long time.

Chinnappa was involved in establishing the Police Officers’ Co-operative Society, Coorg Co-operative Society, Coorg Central Bank and the Coorg Education Fund. 

He was known to be very fond of children and always had peppermints in his pockets for them. He was a caring father to his own three children, to his two step-children by his elder brother, and to his deceased sister’s daughter, whom he and Nanjavva adopted. He sponsored the education of many poor children, and there were always a few students boarding in his residence, free of cost. 

Nadikerianda Chinnappa was a man of vision and talent, who was self-driven. He was a folklorist, poet, police officer, sportsman, historian, singer, philanthropist, and a caring householder. Above all, he was a man who lived life to the fullest and left a lasting and invaluable legacy for his people in his writings.

PAVITHA ASHWIN’S PAINTINGS REFLECT NATURE WORSHIP CONCEPT PRACTICED BY KODAVAS (COORGS)

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By P.T. Bopanna

Chiriapanda Pavitha Ashwin’s paintings drew much appreciation at the recently concluded ‘All Kodava Artist Visual Art Exhibition’ held at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru.

Pavitha (in picture), daughter of Mayanamada Poonacha and Bojamma, hails from Srimangala in Kodagu (Coorg). Currently residing in Bengaluru, she started her art journey in 2005.

The Kodavas (Coorgs) are nature worshippers, and their rituals and way of life symbolise this connection deeply. This same connection to nature is a common thread which runs through Pavitha’s paintings.

She specialises in realism in her paintings and her incredibly detailed work is her signature style. Her chosen medium is oil and acrylic, mostly on canvas. She has a background in interior design, and has a very good eye for colours, contrasts, textures and design which she picked up while studying at Art Institute of Dallas.

Pavitha has also specialized in abstract art, bringing out the beauty of the Universe, expressed in her Nebula series of paintings. Her body of work comprises over 40 artworks.

Pavitha noted: “Like many self-taught artists, my journey started with one painting – “The Teapot” (Oil on Canvas, 2006). It was a challenge due to the intricacy, details and the metallic texture that had to be rendered with care. This painting was a success, and from that point, I have not looked back.”

Pavitha is married to Chiriapanda Ashwin Uthappa, and they have two sons, Ved and Virat.

Follow the link to check out Pavitha’s work:

https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/pavitha-ashwin

COORG MATCHMAKING: GIRLS CALL THE SHOTS

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By P.T. Bopanna

It is the girls who call the shots in the matrimonial market in the Kodava (Coorg) community in Karnataka. It is not just that. Nowadays, the girls expect the Kodava boys to have a “sense of humour”.

The evolution of matchmaking in the microscopic Kodava community living in Kodagu district, has undergone several twists and turns in the last 50 years.

In the 1960s, boys in the Army were most sought after. The Generals from Coorg – Cariappa and Thimayya had become household names soon after the Independence. Those holding the rank of ‘Captain’ in the Army commanded the maximum clout.

Besides the Army, those employed in large plantations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, carried lot of weightage. Those working as ‘Assistant Managers’ in plantations and rode ‘bullet’ motorcycles were the glamour boys those days.

In the 1970s, following the coffee boom, the tide turned in favour of local Kodava boys who owned coffee estates in Coorg. With the boom, most of the households in Kodagu had a four-wheeler.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a major shift. Prior to this, girls were married off soon after graduation. The situation began to change with girls going in for higher studies and pursuing careers. With this, the tide changed in favour of girls who were better qualified and drew a higher salary.

In the matchmaking market, the girls began asserting themselves. Their demands included that besides the job, the boy should also own large acreage of land back in Kodagu.

Presently, it is the girls who dictate the terms in matchmaking. The other day I met an eligible girl and asked her what were her expectations. Without batting an eyelid, she replied that the boy should “have a sense of humour.”

The inference is simple. Both are equal partners. That is how it should be. Gender equality is the new mantra.

RECALL: LUNCH WITH KARNATAKA’S POLICE INTELLIGENCE CHIEF AT KOSHY’S

By P.T. Bopanna

Over 25 years ago, I was invited for lunch at Bengaluru’s iconic Koshy’s by Dr S.A. Subbaiah, IPS, who was then heading the Karnataka State police intelligence wing.

It was unusual to be invited by a top intelligence official. But the invitation was preceded by several developments in which the prime minister’s office (PMO) was interested.

H.D. Deve Gowda had become the prime minister in 1996. He was still preoccupied with the politics in his home state of Karnataka. So much so that it was being joked that Gowda was the ‘chief minister of India and prime minister of Karnataka.’

Around that time, I was hand-picked by the editor of The Pioneer (Delhi) Chandan Mitra to be the Special Correspondent in Bengaluru. I quit Times of India and joined The Pioneer. My brief was to concentrate on the new prime minister who was not well known in Lutyens Delhi.

I produced a series of exclusive articles on Gowda, most of which did not show Gowda in favourable light.

Around that time, I visited the house of Prof. K. Venakatagiri Gowda, a former BJP Member of Parliament. Prof Gowda had turned a bitter critic of Deve Gowda, apparently over Vokkaliga Sangha politics.

Prof. Venakatagiri Gowda told me that he had completed a book on the prime minister and shared with me excerpts from the book titled ‘The King of Corruption and the Unmaking of India’.

The Pioneer carried my ‘scoop’ and it triggered a political storm in Karnataka. No sooner Prof Gowda announced that he was coming out with yet another book on the prime minister. The PMO wanted to ensure that the book did not see the light of the day.

Around that time, I used to speak over the phone with Dr Subbaiah, who held the rank of additional director general of police (intelligence). One fine day, he invited me for lunch at Koshy’s.

Being a teetotaller, he did not take any drinks, but I ordered a beer. We both had a pleasant time discussing developments in Karnataka. It was a memorable occasion because Dr Subbaiah was one of the most well-informed persons I had met in my journalistic career. He had worked for over 17 years with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external espionage (spying) agency.

I wish to go down the memory lane and recall my first meeting with Dr Subbaiah, nearly half a century ago.

After completing my MA in political science from Karnataka University, I had approached him to get my marks card attested. He was then the SP of Mysuru. During our interaction, he seemed too busy and did not engage in any ‘small talk’ that follows a meeting between two Kodavas (Coorgs).

Dr Subbaiah was a workaholic and this seems to have led to his sudden death at the age of 52. He collapsed near his house in Indiranagar during his morning walk.

Had he been alive, he would have retired either as Karnataka’s Director General of Police or the head of RAW or Intelligence Bureau.

IN JEST: ACTRESS RASHMIKA’S SLEEVELESS BLOUSE IS A RED RAG FOR THESE COORG LADIES

By P.T. Bopanna

The Kodava community (Coorgs) in Karnataka was once known for its progressive and cosmopolitan outlook. But things have changed. Nowadays, a section of the women in the community observe everything through ‘saffron tinted’ glasses.

These women are upset with actress Rashmika Mandanna of ‘Pushpa – The Rise’ fame for wearing sleeveless blouse while wearing a Kodava or Coorg style sari recently.  

Rashmika wore a midnight blue georgette sari by designer Nitika Gujral. The gorgeous sari featured antique zardozi embroidery. 

When I posted Rashmika’s photo in Kodava sari on Facebook, some of these matronly ladies left comments (hidden!) disapproving Rashmika showing her bare arms.

These ladies forget the fact that fashion is a form of self-expression at a particular period and place and in a specific context.

I wish to bring it to the notice of these ladies, that in the past, a Coorg widow wore only white in the case of the sari, blouse and vastra (head dress). This is not strictly adhered nowadays which is an indication of the progressive thinking in the Coorg society.

For their information, sleeveless or half-sleeved blouses are of recent phenomenon. In the olden days, Kodava women wore Kala Kupya with long sleeves and closed up to the neck.

Gradually, the short sleeved, round-necked choli replaced the traditional jacket. There was a considerable amount of change in this garment after the British annexed Coorg in 1834. There were variations in the styling of the neck. The jacket saw the introduction of the high neck and the band collar. The placket was also first seen with the jacket having an opening in the front. The sleeve also became stylish and fitted with an opening at the end with a sleeve placket.

The jacket initially was a shapeless garment only serving the purpose of an upper garment. Following the influence of the British, the stitching patterns changed. What was initially a garment without darts, had darts in front and at the back. Then came the princess seam and also the patch pocket to serve the utilitarian purpose.

The fabrics changed from cotton to silk to experimental fabrics such as satin and velvet which were more often than not imported. The trims also became more fanciful and instead of the usual press buttons, pearl and shell buttons were used.

For more on Kodava sari, follow the link below:

http://www.coorgjewellery.in/coorg-sari.html

ACTRESS RASHMIKA MANDANNA THROWS SPOTLIGHT ON COORG STYLE SARI. VIDEO ON HOW TO DRAPE KODAVA SARI

By P.T. Bopanna

The Coorg style sari recently worn by actress Rashmika Mandanna (in picture), who is fresh from the success of the movie ‘Pushpa-The Rise’ has thrown the spotlight on Kodava (Coorg) sari.

Rashmika, who won the title National Crush of India, hails from the Kodava community in Karnataka’s Kodagu (Coorg) district. Kodavas have a distinct culture.

The Coorg style of draping a sari involves tucking the pleats at the back of the waist, instead of the front. The end of the sari is brought below the left shoulder, and secured over the right shoulder in a firm knot. This style suits Coorg women leading an active life while climbing up and down slopes in their mountainous homeland in the Western Ghats in the Indian State of Karnataka.

Sharing the ‘Coorg Sari’ video featuring Femina Miss India (Miss Photogenic) 2011 Dayana Erappa. Directed by fashion guru Prasad Bidapa, the video featuring Dayana, an international model who is also from Coorg, demonstrates step by step the sequence involved in draping the Coorg style sari. 

COORG JEWELLERY WEBSITE COMPLETES TEN YEARS

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www.coorgjewellery.in, the first exclusive website devoted to Coorg jewellery and costume, has completed 10 years. The culture of Kodavas (Coorgs) in Kodagu district of Karnataka is distinct from that of its neighbours in southern India.

Besides jewellery, the website has sections for Coorg sari, men’s costume and accessories.

The unique aspect of some of the Coorg jewellery is that they are hollow and lac is filled inside to give them a sturdy appearance. The repousse work commonly used in Coorg jewellery, uses a small quantity of metal, beaten to paper thinness, to convey an impression of weight and solidity, and a three-dimensional effect.

Coorg style bracelets (kadagas) have become popular with non–Coorg women in cities like Mysuru and Bengaluru.

An interesting part of the website is a video featuring Dayana Erappa, an international model who is also from Coorg, on how to drape a Coorg style sari. The video has been directed by fashion guru Prasad Bidapa.

There is a section devoted to Coorg wedding which is a colourful affair and an occasion that allows women an opportunity to show off their saris and jewellery.

Input for the website was contributed by Chindamada Arati Monappa, textile designer. Designer Mevada Deepali Vedprakash also offered valuable help.

The website also features a Coorg jewellery video put together by Dr Dechu Puliyanda from Southern California.  Dr Dechu was helped by Koopadira Aiyanna.

The website was part of the effort by journalist P.T. Bopanna to chronicle the rich traditions of Coorg. The jewellery website was designed by Tiramisu, a Bangalore-based new media solutions company.

For more, check out www.coorgjewellery.in

CONTRARIAN VIEW: WHAT SHOULD KODAVAS (COORGS) FIGHT FOR?

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By M.M. Thimmaiah*

“What should Kodavas fight for?” is a question typical of a community stranded at the crossroads of their socio-cultural journey. The question can also be rephrased as, “Which road should Kodavas take?” One road will take them towards reaffirmation of their cultural identity and clinging to their roots in Coorg. In political terms this will mean a separate fight for our land, language and continuation of privileges like Exemption under the Arms Act, as also a demand for special constitutional protection for this unique micro-ethnic group in education and jobs. The other road may mean merging in the cultural mainstream of the Nation and making common cause with all the groups fighting for better governance and equal opportunity, through the mechanism of parliamentary democracy.

Before we chart out future journey, a brief recap of our recent past may be in order. The period between 1834 when the British took over the administration of Coorg and 1956, when Coorg was merged with Karnataka seems in retrospect, as a golden era of Kodavas. The establishment of rule of law with a permanent judiciary, the documentation of land records, opening of schools and recruitment of Kodavas in the British Army and Civil Service created ample opportunities for the advancement of the community. The introduction of coffee, a stable commercial crop enabled Kodavas to develop their idle bane lands and establish a sound financial base. Leaving behind generations of persecution and bloodshed the population of Kodavas rose from 24,000 in the 1861 census (quoted by Rev. Richter in the Coorg Gazetteer) to an estimated 100,000 by the middle of the 20th century.

Just before the merger with Karnataka, Kodavas were the dominant social group in Coorg with widespread land ownership, universal literacy, high social status and plenty of job opportunities. The merger of Coorg with the erstwhile Mysore state, at one stroke, not only ended the dominant political role of Kodavas, but saw the beginning of a slow and steady erosion of our rights over our lands and natural resources. Kodava language, culture and heritage were threatened by the progressive state-sponsored imposition of Kannada in education and administration.

Sporadic protests did occur against the steady colonisation of Kodagu. The earliest uprising was against the Barapole and Kumardhara water diversion projects which would have caused submergence of large tracts of low-lying areas in Coorg to supply irrigation water to other districts. During the late 70’s and 80’s Kodagu Moolanivasigala Sangha highlighted the issue of occupation of government revenue lands by settlers from outside, edging out local landless tribals. By the mid-eighties, the Kodagu Ekikarana Ranga was formed as an umbrella organisation, representing all major segments of society, to highlight the lack of development and the special problems of Coorg in the areas of land tenures, tree rights, etc.

Around this time the emergence of a separatist organisation named Liberation Warriors of Kodagu (LIWAK) with its demand for statehood for Kodagu caught the imagination of Kodavas. It brought a lot of media attention to the plight of Kodavas by organising colourful protests in state and national capitals. The organisation however frequently changed its name and objectives and refused to be part of broad-based protests with other ethnic groups of Coorg who were also suffering from neglect by the State government. The symbolic protests of CNC and demands submitted to constitutional heads like the Governor or the President hardly produced any administrative response. The closed leadership of the organisation and the extreme highlighting of caste identity, has unfortunately led to the alienation of Kodavas from the political mainstream and weakened our impact.

The early nineties saw the successful struggle for free market in coffee, to end the exploitation of coffee growers under the monopoly pooling system of Coffee Board. The introduction of free market for coffee not only transformed the economy of Coorg, but initiated a change in the mind-set of Kodavas. Unlike our ancestors, Kodavas are now aware of market dynamics, risk-taking, new forms of investment other than farming, and are slowly learning entrepreneurship.

The present plight of Kodavas is not as miserable as the perception created by the popular narrative of victimhood. Thanks to the merit-based CET system of admission to professional courses and opening up of opportunities in the IT sector, the educated younger generation have been able to find good jobs in the private sector. This has softened the blow from the loss of government jobs due to reservation and corruption in recruitment. The rise in prices of coffee and pepper has enabled even small planters to invest in improvements to their estates, further boosting their incomes in the long run. In fact many of the problems of the community such as extravagant lifestyle, alcoholism and gambling, rising rates of divorce, lack of interest in education and recklessness among youth, are more the symptoms of an affluent and care-free community. These malaise, however glaring do not constitute an existential threat to the community, which is on course in its steady progress. The present generation of Kodavas being well-educated, smart and confident, are poised to grab the opportunities offered by our growing globalised economy.

So what should be the future course of action for the Kodavas in political terms? In a democracy based on one-man-one-vote system, numerically insignificant groups like the Kodavas are bound to be side-lined and neglected by the political system. Dominant groups like the Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Kurubas, Scheduled Castes and Muslims control state power by promoting caste-based politics.

A tiny minority like the Kodavas cannot play the same game of identity politics or that of mass protests as it will hardly create a ripple in state or national levels. As most of the problems faced by us like poor governance, corruption and lack of development are not unique to our community but are common issues, Kodavas should join mainstream movements where they can take leadership positions. Despite our small numbers, Kodavas in the past reached high positions because of our admired qualities such as integrity, courage and sense of fair-play. It may be wiser for Kodavas to leverage this “soft-power” rather than try to match the muscle power and overwhelming numbers of the other social groups.

*Machimada Thimmaiah, a former economist and banker lives in Coorg. A farmer activist, he heads the Coorg Public School, Gonikoppal, Kodagu district.

KODAVA THAKK (COORG LANGUAGE): FLAVOUR OF THE SEASON

By P.T. Bopanna

By a happy coincidence, Kodava language has been the flavour of the season this January.

It began with the news that Pattole Palame, the monumental work by Nadikerianda Chinnappa, covering Kodava culture, folksongs and traditions, had completed 100 years.

This was followed by an illuminating article by researchers Boverianda Chinnappa and Nanjamma Chinnappa, who maintained that Kodava thakk, the language spoken by the Kodavas (Coorgs), is an independent Dravidian language and not a dialect, as was wrongly surmised by early Western writers.

I am happy that both the stories were featured prominently in the blog of my recently promoted website www.kodavas.in, to preserve and promote the unique Kodava culture.

My posts received a lot of buzz and interesting responses. One of them was from Palandira Shubha, who lives in Bahrain. She wrote: “I have a copy of this much cherished book Pattole Palame which was originally presented to my maternal grandfather, Parvangada Kushalappa by the famous Kodava playwright Appaneruvanda Appacha kavi himself! Kushalappa gave it to his older daughter, Boju who gave it to her sister, Bollu (my mum). And I got it eventually.”

While on the Kodava language, I wish to point out that one of the most important literary works which came out in the recent years was the  ‘Koḍava Arivōlé’ (dictionary), by Dr. Boverianda Chetticha Uthaiah and Boverianda Uthaiah Thangamma (in picture), published by Kodava Samskritika Adhyayana Peetha, Mangalore University, 2016.

Though a few Kodava dictionaries had been published in the past, Arivole is the first comprehensive tri-lingual dictionary which, besides providing meanings of the Kodava words in Kannada and English, explains the meaning of words in the Kodava language itself. This dictionary will serve as an important resource material for the development and research of Kodava language in the coming years. The Arivole also uses diacritical marks to indicate the correct pronunciation of Kodava words which are written in the Kannada script. 

Dr Uthaiah, a former professor of agricultural sciences, had told this writer a few years ago that since he was not in a position to write due to age-related problems, he was assisted by his wife in the writing part of the work. Thangamma, born in the Kolera family, helped in the inclusion of Kodava words from Kiggatnad in the dictionary.

Dr. Uthaiah and Thangamma dedicated 15 years to collecting Koḍava words and their meanings to make the dictionary as comprehensive as possible.

KODAVA THAKK , AN INDEPENDENT LANGUAGE , NOT A DIALECT

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By Boverianda Chinnappa and Nanjamma Chinnappa*

A language is not only a means of communication – it is a repository of the cultural values and traditions of a people and an important determinant of its identity. It is a living, dynamic record of the history and experiences of a people, memories of which are preserved and conveyed to future generations in words, proverbs, riddles, songs, myths and stories. 

Kodava thakk (the Kodava language) is the language spoken by the native communities of the district of Kodagu (Coorg), in the State of Karnataka. It is a language whose origin probably dates back to the early history of the region.

International language experts such as Prof.M.B.Emeneau, Prof.P.S. Subrahmanyam and Dr. R.Balakrishnan among others have established that Kodava thakk is an independent Dravidian language and not a dialect, as was wrongly surmised by early western writers.

It is said to be one of the oldest spoken languages in South India, an oral language that now uses the Kannada script. Prof. Emeneau, an Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Linguistics, Univ. of California Berkeley, a scholar in Sanskrit and Dravidian languages, stayed in Coorg for many months, studying the language.  Prof.P.S. Subrahmanyam Prof of Linguistics at Annamalai University, spent time after retirement studying the Kodava language and Dr. R.Balakrishnan Prof. of Linguistics at Annamali University, wrote two books on the Kodava language, Phonology of Kodagu with Vocabulary (1976) and A Grammar of Kodagu (1977).

That the Kodava language belongs to the Dravidian family of languages is undisputed, whatever may be the origin of the Kodavas. Comparative Dravidian studies have shown that the Kodava language belongs to the South Dravidian group of languages, which branched off from Proto-Dravidian. In that group it is closely related to Tamil-Malayalam. The other members of the group are Irula, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Tulu and Koraga. 

Kodava thakk is the mother tongue of the Koḍava community and of about 20 communities of the very early inhabitants of Kodagu. These include the Airi, Amma, Banna, Banya, Boone Patta, Golla, Hajama, Heggade, Kaniya, Kapala, Kembatti, Kodava Nair, Koleya, Koyava, Madivala, Maleya, Marangi, Meda, Panika and Poomale Kudiya, all of whom live mainly in the Kodagu region. All these communities, including the Kodava, are ethno-linguistic minority communities in Kodagu, and together they constitute about 17% of the population of Kodagu.

Besides these, some of the later immigrants who put down their roots in Kodagu are also fluent in Koḍava thakk, a language that they use for everyday conversation – often among themselves, in the market-place, and with communities whose mother-tongue is Kodava. Therefore the actual number of people who can and do speak Kodava thakk is larger than the number for whom Kodava thakk is the mother-tongue.

When the Haleri kings, whose mother tongue was Kannada, started to rule Kodagu in 1600, they imposed Kannada as the court language and as the official language of Kodagu. Ever since then, Kannada has had a major influence on Kodava thakk. When the British rule started in 1834, they introduced formal education in Kodagu with the establishment of schools. Most of the schools had Kannada as the medium of instruction. This strengthened the influence of Kannada on Kodava thakk, an influence which has increased further after Kodagu became a district in the State of Karnataka in 1956.

As is true for any living language, Kodava thakk cannot remain static and insulated from interaction with and from being influenced by other languages with which it has contacts. It continues to grow, borrowing from other languages, especially from Kannada. It has borrowed a few words from Hindi which was acquired by the large number of people from Kodagu who joined the Indian armed forces, and from English which became popular because of the demands of education and employment in modern times.

While Kannada continues to be the official and administrative language in Kodagu, the Kodava language is used primarily in the home, and during cultural occasions and community gatherings. Those whose mother-tongue is Koḍava thakk have a deep attachment to it and the language is an important marker of their identity. 

Koḍava thakk is a spoken language with no script. It does not have much written literature to speak of, as is true for the vast majority of languages of the world. But it is a language that is rich in traditional folk literature – folk-songs, folk-tales, folk-plays, ballads, proverbs, riddles and sayings, all of which were transmitted orally down generations of Kodava-speaking people.  During the rule of the Haleri kings, the Kodava language began to be written in the Kannada script, and following that the folk literature too was written in Kannada to help preserve and pass it on to future generations.  

However, there is a need for five diacritical marks to distinguish the vowel sounds that are peculiar to the language and help pronounce Koḍava words correctly when written in the Kannaḍa script – these diacritical marks have been used in the trilingual Kodava languge dictionary, ‘Koḍava Arivole’ (2016), by Dr. Boverianda C. Uthaiah & Mrs. Boverianda Thangamma Uthaiah.

There is a common misconception that Kodava thakk is a dialect and not a language, since it is an oral language with no script of its own. If the definition of a ‘language’ is ‘one that has its own script’, many major languages of the world like English, French, Spanish and German, which too do not have their own script and use the Roman/Italian script, and Hindi, which uses the Devanagri script, should be called dialects, which of course they are not.

The main body of literature in the Kodava language is oral folk-literature. A very early compilation of Kodava proverbs was done by a German missionary, J.F.Wile in 1886.  It was only in the early 1900s that stories, poems, songs, novels and plays etc., began to be written in Kodava thakk using the Kannada script.

The earliest published works in Koḍava thakk, now considered as classics, are the four plays by Appaneravanda Appacha Kavi (1868-1944) – Yayathi Maharajanda Nataka (1906), Savithri Nataka (1908), Subrahmaṇya Swami Nataka (1908) and Shri Moola Kaveri Nataka (1918) – all of which contain many poems.

And the two books by his contemporary Nadikerianda Chinnappa (1875-1931), the Pattole Palame, a compilation of Kodava folk-songs, proverbs and riddles (along with a description of  customs, written in Kannada) (1924), and Bhagavanthanda pat, his translation of the Bhagavad Gita in the balo pat style of Koḍava folk-songs (1929).  

Other early writers in the Koḍava language since the 1940’s were Bachamada D.Ganapathy and Iychettira M.Muthanna. In the past few decades there have been many more writers in the Kodava language, motivated and encouraged by the Koḍava language weeklies, and institutions such as the Kodava Thakk Parishath and the Karṇataka Koḍava Sahithya Academy. The popular Koḍava language weekly newspapers, Brahmagiri that started publication in 1980, and Poomālé that has been in print since 1997, have contributed much to promote and encourage writers and readers in the Koḍava language.

In 2007, the Karṇataka Koḍava Sahithya Academy,jointly with the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysuru, brought out a Language Primer called Koḍava Bārathi, along with teaching tools to introduce Kodava language as an optional subject in schools across Koḍagu. Recently, Mangalore University has announced its plans to offer an MA degree course in Kodava language, the curriculum and guidelines for which have been prepared in collaboration with the Karṇataka Koḍava Sahithya Academy. These are significant efforts to preserve and strengthen the Koḍava language.   

Since 1980, Aḍḍanda Cariappa, a playwright, has written, directed and acted in many plays in the Koḍava language. Significant recent additions to the poetic literature in the Koḍava language are Nagesh Kalur’s Sri Bhagavad Gita Darshana (2008), a translation of the Bhagavad Gita in choupadi (verse of four lines), and Manḍira Jaya Appanna’s award-winning ‘Koḍava Jayā Bhāratha’ (2011), a translation of the epic Mahabāratha in shatpadi (verse of six lines), in which are woven many Koḍava traditions, scenes and situations.

There are two major and well-recognized dialects in the Koḍava language – ‘Kiggatt thakk’ which is spoken in Kiggat nad (South Koḍagu) and ‘Mendale thakk’ which is spoken in Mendale nad (Central Kodagu). There is yet another dialect – the Surlabhi thakk which is spoken by the small number of people in Surlabhi nad (North Kodagu). Over time, the Mendale dialect has become popular and is now the preferred, standardized style of the language, for both speaking and writing. 

According to UNESCO’s 2009 report ‘Atlas of World’s Languages in Danger’, Kodava is one of five languages in Karnataka (the others are Tulu, Koraga, Kuruba and Irula), and one of 196 languages in India and 2500 in the world, that are considered to be ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’. UNESCO warns that unless the concerned authorities take immediate steps to protect and promote them “these languages may vanish by the end of this century”. G.N. Devy, the authority on Indian languages, says that of the nearly 780 Indian languages, 400 are ‘endangered’.

It is our fervent hope that Kodava language will not ‘vanish’ as is feared and that although the language is that of a very small community, we will continue to use it and develop it with more works being written in the language so as to keep Kodava culture and values alive.

*Boverianda Nanjamma and Chinnappa (in picture), researchers, are the grandchildren of Nadikerianda A. Chinnappa, compiler of the Pattole Palame, a collection of Kodava folksongs and traditions.

The couple completed the translation of the Pattole Palame, written in the Kodava language, into English in 2003.

In 2014, the Chinnappas wrote a book – Ainemanes of Kodagu, documenting information on the ancestral homes of the original inhabitants of Kodagu.