By Dr Veena Poonacha*

Background of Ethnography Frozen in Time

My review essay, ‘Ethnography  Frozen in Time,’ written in 2003, for the Economic and Political Weekly was born out of my discomfort with  Prof. M. N. Srinivas’s book Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India. This book, first written in 1952 and reprinted in 2003, with a fresh introduction from Andre Beteille, is considered a sociological classic. Yet, it was a book which disturbed me deeply, when I first read it, as a post-graduate student of sociology.  The reason why the book disturbed me was because I felt the book gazed at the Coorgs/Kodavas, as if they were specimens under a microscope.

I felt Srinivas’s interpretation of Coorg culture was not the culture I knew. As a child born to Coorg parents, I presumed I knew the culture I grew up in. It was a culture that did not recognize the ritual authority of the Brahmin priest; the various Coorg rites associated with birth, marriage and death are conducted without an officiating priest. Yet, here was a sociologist who argued that the Coorgs sought to rise in the caste hierarchy by adopting certain Brahminical values, through a process he called ‘sanskritization.’

I would have had no objection to his theory, if he was describing a simple process of acculturation (i.e., the process of cultural exchange and adaptation) which occurs naturally in a shared socio-cultural space. What I found objectionable was the ways by which his own caste location as a Brahmin coloured his view of Coorg society and religion. In my view, although moulded by several strands of cultural influences, Coorg culture is unique.  It was a culture that did not acknowledge the ritual superiority of the Brahmin priests.

The flipside was that I decided way back in 1985 to pursue my PhD and study the Coorg cultural heritage.  I was awarded a PhD degree in 1991 for my thesis Women in Coorg Society: A Study of Status and Experiences through the Use of Proverbs, Folksongs, Oral Histories and Genealogies. It was an attempt to study Coorg culture from the standpoint of women’s experiences.

While undertaking my thesis, I was advised by my guide, Dr.Neera Desai, an eminent sociologist, not to question Srinivas’s concept of ‘sanskritization,’ since he was considered one of the doyens of Indian sociology. However after receiving my PhD, I have been able to present an alternative interpretation of Coorg culture within social history. It was only when the Economic and Political Weekly asked me to review his book in 2003 that I was able to voice my critique in the review.

Srinivas’s interpretation of Coorg culture is still largely unchallenged. So defining was Srinivas’s work, that even writers like B.D. Ganapathy, who in the 1960s to 1980s wrote extensively on Coorg culture, did not question it. This is not to discount the importance of B.D. Ganapathy’s work.  I have referred to his works extensively for my thesis. I feel B.D. Ganapathy’s works as well as I. M. Muthanna’s works should be preserved and made available widely.  It is in this context that I feel, the translation of Pattole Palame by Boverianda Nanjamma and Chinnappa into English is extremely important. It has made Nadikerianda Chinnappa’s valuable work available to all scholars on Coorg. In translating this classic into English, Boverianda Nanjamma and Chinnappa have rendered yeomen service to scholars who undertake the study of the Coorgs. Many other Coorg scholars are now writing about our unique heritage, which to my mind is a positive trend.

Source: Are Kodavas (Coorgs) Hindus? by P.T. Bopanna, Rolling Stone Publications, 2018.

*Photo of Dr Veena Poonacha

The paperback copy of the book is available on Amazon:


By Dr Sandeep Shastri*

The Indian federal system is unique and distinct in a wide range of ways. The defenders of the classical Western notion of federalism even went to the extent of arguing that India was not a truly federal state. They were willing to concede only a quasi-federal status to the Indian arrangement as crafted by the Constitution. If federalism is seen not as a set of formal institutions and procedures but as a ´way of managing diversity’, then it could be argued that the political system the Constitution inaugurated was very much a federal system.

Both at the dawn of Independence and at the moment of the adoption of the Constitution, a variety of factors dominated the nature and course of politics in the country. A theme that appears to be the undercurrent of all political activities was the desire to maintain the unity and integrity of India. This was a concern which was topmost on the minds of most well-meaning Indians. There were differences and debates on how that unity was to be forged and the integrity was to be protected. The Congress leadership in the early years after freedom was convinced of the need for a strong Centre and questions of state rights were not a high order of priority. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru even went to the extent of asserting that it really did not make a difference whether a region was part of one state or another as long as it was an integral part of the Indian Union!

This mindset provides a backdrop for the analysis of developments relating to the status of Kodagu around the time of the re-organization of states in 1956. Any demand for a new state was invariably kept waiting at the “gates” of existing boundaries that had been roughly drawn up and the effort appeared more to be to negotiate all such demands within the contours of the states already broadly worked out. Kodagu was one such demand that was negotiated in this manner and thus became a part of the Mysore (later Karnataka state).

The Kodagu region which became a district of the Karnataka State, started off with just two Assembly seats which later increased to three when the number of seats in the state legislature increased. With the new round of delimitation of the Assembly constituencies, the seats assigned to Kodagu have once again reduced to just two.

With the reorganisation of States, Kodagu lost its identity as a distinct Parliamentary constituency and became a part of Mangalore and later Mysore West Lok Sabha constituency. In recent years, the Lok Sabha member representing the constituency which covers the Kodagu region has never been from the Kodagu area.

Over the years the Kodagu region has seen an increasingly assertive demand for its being given the status of a state of the Indian union. This demand has gained currency largely because of the manner in which the region has lost its political clout and representation within the Indian Union on the one hand and its inability to bargain effectively within the state of Karnataka. Given the limited number of seats it has in the state Assembly, its voice is often not heard in the corridors of power. Successive chief ministers have given a token representation to the region by making a legislator from that region as a minister and really nothing more. Even though the region has the distinction of providing the state with a chief minister, it did not alter in any significant way the weightage of the region in either the State or the Indian Union.

The question is not one of mere political representation. It is a fact that the cultural distinctiveness of the region is fast eroding. Little has been done to develop the economic base of the region and effectively tap its tourist potential. This automatically triggers off the demand for a distinct status.

Given the contemporary reality and the nature of politics and political processes in India, what best can the Kodagu region and its people hope for? It may be a bit far fetched to demand the status of a separate state at this point of time. There are larger regions with stronger claims for a separate state that the Indian Union finds difficult to concede. It is clearly apparent that the Central government will not re-open the states reorganisation question but will take up individual demands from time to time.

In this context and keeping in mind the best interests of the Kodagu region and its people, it may be more worthwhile for a limited autonomy being sought. The creation of an Autonomous Kodagu Council within the State of Karnataka may be a more viable option. There could be a clear delineation of functions and responsibilities outlined in the provisions for the creation of this Council. It would then be the responsibility of the people of the region to ensure that this Autonomous Council zealously works to protect and promote the cultural, social, political and economic interests of the region.

*Dr Sandeep Shastri (in picture) is a political commentator.  

Source: ‘Rise and Fall of the Coorg State’ by P.T. Bopanna, Rolling Stone Publications, 2009.

The ebook is available at Google Play Store:


By P.T. Bopanna         

Though the Coorgs (Kodavas) benefited from the British rule, the nationalist movement sweeping India, did not spare Coorg (Kodagu). The freedom movement threw up several leaders from Coorg. Many common people, including students, courted arrests in large numbers to protest against the British rule.  During the ‘Quit India’ movement alone, 150 people were arrested in Coorg and 80 persons were imprisoned.

Among those who were in the lead during the early years of the freedom struggle, were Congressmen – Pandianda I. Belliappa (in picture) and Paruvangada Kushalappa. The latter had an untimely death in 1928 at Madras while he was returning from the Calcutta Congress session.

The first batch of freedom fighters to be arrested in Coorg in 1930 were Pandianda Belliappa, Kollimada Karumbayya (who later became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1954-55), Janab Abdul Ghafur Khan, of Bilugunda, and H.R. Krishnayya, of Besagur.

Coorg women did not lag behind during the freedom struggle. The women who courted arrest were Baliatanda Muddavva, Pandianda Seetha Belliappa, and Mukkatira Bojamma.

The Kodagu Weekly, started by the Coorg Company in 1920, was instrumental in spreading the nationalistic awareness among the people. The stalwarts of the freedom struggle, including Pandianda Belliappa and C.M. Poonacha were part of the editorial team of the Weekly which featured mainly political issues.

In 1929, Congress volunteers picketed liquor shops and other business establishments selling foreign goods at Virajpet and Madikeri. In a daring act, Mallengada Chengappa, B.G. Ganapaiah and Mandepanda Cariappa removed the Union Jack, and hoisted the Indian National flag at the Madikeri Fort in December, 1930.

Around the same period, C.M. Poonacha was involved in the composing, cyclostyling and distribution of a publication named ‘Veerabharati’ from Gonikoppal.  The police finally managed to track the cyclostyling machine. Poonacha was sentenced to nine months rigorous imprisonment at Kannur jail. 

Students of the Madikeri Central High School too participated in a strike, leading to the closure of the school for 10 days. The students arrested on the occasion included S.R. Narayana Rao (literary figure Bharati Suta), C.B. Monnaiah and Poojari Ramappa. The students were rusticated from the school.

Public meetings were held at Virajpet, Gonikoppal, Hudikeri and Irpu to spread political awareness. Among those who addressed these meetings were Jammada Madappa, Chokanda Devaiah, Kalengada Chinnappa, Vokkaligara Annaiah, Ajjamada Madappa, Ajjamada Ayyamma, Ajjikuttira Chinnappa, and Ajjikuttira Ponnappa.

Harikatha Vidwan Belur Keshavadas was externed from Kodagu for staging Harikatha programmes to infuse patriotic feelings among the people.

Several senior Congress leaders such as Allur Venkata Rao, Ranganath Diwakar, and Kamaladevi Chattopadya visited Coorg to motivate local leaders.  Eminent writers like D. R. Bendre, K.V. Puttappa, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, D.V. Gundappa also made trips to Coorg to enthuse the people. 

Many affluent planters who were used to dressing in Western attire and consuming foreign liquor, started wearing traditional Indian dresses and also gave up alcohol.

In 1930, the sale of liquor was affected due to the picketing of liquor shops under the leadership of Koravanda Ponnappa. Many women, led by Kotera Accavva picketed liquor shops.

During the annual Keil Poldu festival, the sale of liquor came down from 800 gallons to 200 gallons at Virajpet and from 300 gallons to 36 gallons at Gonikoppal. Consequently, several excise contractors were not able to pay the bid amount and had to give up their contracts. According to a report, the sale of arrack which was 2,742 gallons in Coorg in 1929, dropped to 229 gallons in 1930.

Mahatma Gandhi toured Coorg in February, 1934, to propagate the eradication of untouchability. The Mahatma visited the Harijan colony at Kaikeri in South Coorg. He stayed at the Ramakrishna Ashrama at Ponnampet. Gandhiji who entered Coorg from Thithimathi, visited Gonikoppal, Hudikeri, Virajpet, Ammathi, Siddapur and Suntikoppa prior to addressing a large public meeting at the ground near the Raja’s Seat in Madikeri.

The freedom struggle peaked in Coorg during the Quit India movement. Pandianda Belliappa, Kotera Karumbaiah, Chekkera Monnaiah, and Kollimada Karumbaiah were arrested in August, 1942. C.M. Poonacha was arrested while returning from the Bombay session of the Congress. Subsequently, Biddanda Cariappa, Korana Devaiah, Mandepanda Somaiah were arrested. They were taken to the Vellore Jail in Madras State. Students too were in the forefront of the movement. These included Ajjikuttira Appanna, Paruvangada Uttanna, B.D. Subbaiah, Maneypanda Chinnappa, and Singura Kuttappa. Around 90 students of the Virajpet High School were expelled from the school hostel.

The office of the Kodagu Weekly was sealed and its Sub-Editor B.D. Ganapathy was arrested.

The events which marked the freedom struggle in Coorg go to prove that the people of Coorg did not lag behind in nationalist fervour and sacrifice. 

Source: Rise and Fall of the Coorg State by P.T. Bopanna. Rolling Stone Publications (2009). The ebook is available on Google Play store.



Researchers Dr Boverianda Nanjamma Chinnappa and Boverianda Chinnnappa (in picture) have tried to answer the question as to why Kodavame or Kodava way of life is relevant today.

In their foreword to the book ‘Are Kodavas (Coorgs) Hindus?’, the couple has noted that Kodavame is a precious heritage “handed down to us by our ancestors”.

In their foreword, the Chinnappas wrote:

We commend P.T.Bopanna for his initiative in selecting the theme for this book and bringing together well-known writers to contribute to it – a book whose time has come. This book may well be the catalyst that will help Kodavas understand and appreciate their way of life and take steps to preserve it.

The title of this book ‘Are Kodavas (Coorgs) Hindus?’ is undoubtedly thought-provoking. It is an important question for today’s Kodavas to ponder upon – a question that may not even occur to most of them. While seeking to answer it, this book attempts to understand the question, discusses it from various points of view, and introspects on ‘Kodavame’, the way of life of the Kodava community.

Kodavas are an ancient tribe, who were primarily ancestor and nature worshippers. Like most primitive tribes, they deified their ancestors; they respected the forces of nature that governed their lives, and worshipped the deities who they believed embodied or controlled each of these forces.

Hinduism is an ancient religion that evolved over a long period of time. It is more a spiritual way of life than an organized religion. Unlike the other major religions, Hinduism has no one holy text that defines it but a multitude of sacred writings that cover a whole range of beliefs. Amongst its countless gods are the tribal deities who were absorbed into the Hindu pantheon.   

Over time, with the spread of Hinduism in South India, Kodavas, like other tribal groups, assimilated some of the Hindu beliefs and forms of worship, although they did not accept Brahmins in their rituals or adopt the caste system of Hinduism. Their deities too were absorbed into the Hindu pantheon.

The articles in this well-researched and informative book address the question posed in the title from the points of view of several writers – views that overlap, converge, diverge and sometimes are quite different from each other. The writers have defined the key words in the title, or words related to it – ‘Kodavas’, ‘Hindus’ and ‘religion’ – in order to clarify and elaborate their views. They have pointed out the stark differences between some of the Kodava customs and those followed by Hindus and have shown how, over time, the Kodava way of life has moved towards the Hindu way of life. And, in order to give some context to the question, they have described Kodava customs and practices and narrated its history in brief.

The author of the book, P.T.Bopanna, says this is “a serious effort…to analyze and debate the various facets of Kodava religion” and “to inform Kodavas, especially the younger generation, about their original faith and belief system” and “help them to better appreciate their original faith which is slowly being eroded….”

That raises another question – why is it important that Kodavas be made aware of and appreciate their original faith? This has been answered in different ways by the writers and may be summed up as: so that they are inspired to maintain their unique identity and faith which respects elders and nature and which keeps their society stable and helps protect the environment. One may further ask – but why is it important to practice and preserve this unique identity and faith? To which, the answer in this book is: because it adds to the diversity and richness of global culture and helps it survive, just as the variety of species in nature adds to the rich biodiversity of life on earth and helps it survive.

We wish to add another dimension to this answer: The immensely practical and pragmatic nature of Kodava customs made them easy to comply with. Because the codes of conduct and traditions of Kodava faith were transmitted orally down generations, with no ‘guru’ or ‘dogmatic document’ to dictate customs, they were not frozen in time, and remained flexible enough to meet the needs of changing circumstances.

In the words of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakishnan: “It is essential to every religion that its heritage should be treated as sacred” to help “transmit culture and ensure the continuity of civilization.”… “A living tradition influences our inner faculties, humanizes our nature, and lifts us up to a higher level. By means of it, every generation is moulded in a particular cast which gives individuality and interest to every cultural type.”

The writers Bopanna chose for the book, as their articles reveal, have themselves lived the Kodava way of life, have observed Kodava cultural practices keenly, studied them, thought deeply about them and questioned them. They have written honestly, boldly, forcefully, and with conviction. Each writer wrote from his or her perspective, unaware of what the other contributions to the book would be, and that has added to the value of the book as a text to be debated.

We urge Kodavas to read this book attentively, debate and discuss the views presented in it, especially the ‘way forward’ suggested at the end. And, at a personal level, we encourage them to understand and practice the simple, unique faith of the Kodavas with pride. Kodavame is a precious heritage handed down to us Kodavas by our ancestors. We hope that it will be practiced and preserved for generations to come, and continue to add to the rich diversity of faiths in India. 

Are Kodavas (Coorgs) Hindus? by P.T. Bopanna is available on Amazon:



By P.T. Bopanna

As a born Kodava (Coorg), I feel the Kodava belief in ancestor and nature worship, is nearer to rationalism, than the mainstream Brahminical Hinduism.

Because the Kodava faith was transmitted orally down generations, it was not frozen in time and remained flexible to adopt to changing circumstances.

Kodavame, or Kodava way of life, is a precious heritage handed down to us by our ancestors. It should be practiced and preserved for generations to come.

But I cannot understand why the modern day Kodavas, especially the women, try to follow outdated Brahminical rituals and go after swamis of dubious reputation.

Being a rationalist, I have always admired physicist Stephen Hawking. The same goes for philosopher Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and our very own E.V. Ramaswamy Naikar, popularly known as Periyar, the leader of the Dravidian movement. All these geniuses advocated scientific reasoning, instead of blind belief in dogmas.

I was always stumped when a believer wanted to know as to who created this universe, if there was no God.

Finally, Hawking provided the answer in his book ‘The Grand Design’. He argued that the Big Bang was the consequence of the laws of physics alone and there was no need to invoke God to explain the origin of the universe.

In response to criticism, Hawking had said; “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” When pressed on his own religious views by the Channel 4 documentary Genius of Britain, he clarified that he does not believe in a personal God.

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

We should be thankful to our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru for advocating scientific temper, even though he may have failed as an administrator.

I admired Periyar, the Dravidian icon, for fighting against the blind belief of people, though I did not approve of his beating up Hindu idols with slippers.


Caricature of P.T. Bopanna by cartoonist Nala Ponnappa

Source: ‘Round and About with P T Bopanna’, Rolling Stone Publications, 2022. Buy paperback book at Amazon: