KODAVA REFERENCE BOOK ‘PATTOLE PALAME’ COMPLETES 100 YEARS

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By Boverianda Chinnappa and Nanjamma Chinnappa

Our grandfather, Nadikerianda Chinnappa,completed writing the Pattole Palame on the 1st of January 1922 in Karada village, 100 years ago. He noted that date and place at the end of his foreword to the book. 

It was a remarkable achievement for anyone to have done so in the early 1900’s. The University of Mysore called it the earliest extensive collection of the folklore of a community in any Indian language. 

It was a large volume covering Kodava culture, folksongs and traditions, written in Kannada and in Kodava thakk (songs, plays, proverbs, riddles etc.) using the Kannada script. The orally transmitted songs compiled in the book were in the Kodava thakk that was prevalent more than a century ago.

As a police officer, Chinnappa travelled all over Kodagu on horseback.  He was fascinated by the wealth of folksongs and traditions of the Kodavas. Fearing that they would eventually be distorted or forgotten he decided to transcribe them.

Since the Kodava language does not have a script, he used the Kannada script that has been in vogue since the 17th century when the Lingayat Rajas ruled Kodagu. 

He called this collection the ‘Pattole Palame’, which literally translates to ‘silken lore’.

The original text of the Pattole Palame in Kannada and Kodava thakk was first published in 1924 by the author himself. It has run into seven reprints.

It is a very popular ‘epic’ that has been consulted and quoted from innumerous times and is used in resolving legal cases related to Kodava traditions.   

Some of the songs are believed to be over 400 years old[1]. Since they were handed down orally, a singer was free to improvise on them. The songs that were transcribed in the Pattole Palame could be somewhat different from those that are sung today. However, they are broadly representative of the songs that are sung in Kodagu during marriage and death ceremonies, during Kodava festivals and during festivals in honour of local deities and heroes.

Traditionally, these songs, called Balo Pat, are sung by four men who beat dudis (Kodava drums) as they sing. They are sung in a simple tune, to a slow rhythm. The melody is haunting and evokes images of times long past. Kodava folk dances are performed to the beat of some of these songs.

The Pattole Palame also contains humorous stories and plays narrated during the harvest festival, and enchanting ballads about local deities and heroes. There are more than 700 proverbs in the Pattole Palame that provide fascinating insights into the heritage, wisdom and traditional wit of the Kodava people. These songs, stories, plays and proverbs are rich in detail and give a picturesque account of the geography and topography of the land and of the way of life of the Kodavas, a people with a unique culture and an immensely practical outlook on life.

Even when he wrote the book, Mr. Chinnappa was aware that the smaller languages in India were dying and felt the need for an English translation. He started to work on it, but did not live to complete the project. He died of cancer in 1931, at the age of 56, a few months after his retirement.

The need for an English translation is even greater now, especially for the younger generation of Kodavas who, even if they know the spoken language, may not know the Kannada script. Also, this translation could help researchers interested in the folk cultures of India.

The Pattole Palame belongs to a genre of Indian folk literature that might have been lost had it not been transcribed and published. If these folksongs die, it is not only the songs but the collective memory of a people as well that will die. Translations help us preserve that memory and the wisdom in them.  

We realized the importance of his work to make his book available to a larger audience, and decided to complete his English translation in homage to his fore-thought.

It is 17 years since our English translation of the Pattole Palame was published in 2003. This translation has gone into three prints, and is now out of print. We have now completed the second edition of our translation, where we have adopted a bilingual format, which enhances the value of the translation. This edition is being published by the Kodava Cultural Studies Centre, University of Mangalore.

In the bilingual format, the songs are presented in two parallel columns on each page, with the original Kodava song in the column to the left and its English translation in the column to the right. This helps the reader to get the meanings of Kodava words that are no longer in use.

We wish to add some important observations.

  • The Kodava language is “an independent Dravidian language and not a dialect, as was wrongly surmised by early western writers. It belongs to the South Dravidian group of languages, which branched off from Proto-Dravidian…” probably around 3000 years ago (1000 B.C.)[2]
  • Some aspects of Kodava customs, where current practice differs from what is given in the Pattole Palame, clearly show the influence of Hinduism/Brahminism on Kodava culture – an influence that appears to be increasing with time. 
  • The influence of Hinduism/Brahminism on Kodava culture is also seen in some of the folksongs.
  • It is also notable that in the songs, Kodava women are shown to be bold and unafraid, talking to strangers and inviting some of them to their homes. They do not hesitate to question and challenge elders in public.

These efforts at transliteration and translation of documented Kodava customs and folklore will promote the understanding and preservation of the Kodava language and culture, and will contribute to the celebration of the diversity of languages and cultures in India.

If indeed the Kodava language is silenced and Kodava culture is forgotten, these efforts will help retain the memories of the identity and cultural heritage of the Kodava-speaking people – a precious heritage that was handed down orally and was first committed to writing in the Pattole Palame.  


[1] These songs might have originated at different times. G.Richter says in the Gazetteer of Coorg (1870) “Some of them (the songs)…seem to be very old….must have existed previous to the events related in the Rajendra Name…which begins with the year 1633”.

[2]  Source: Introduction to the ‘Kodava Arivole’ (2016), Boverianda C.Uthaiah and Boverianda U.Thangamma.

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