Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Tulu tribes

Tulu is a Dravidian language which became an independent language from Proto South-Dravidian-I before any other languages belonging to that tree(Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil etc.). In one of my previous posts I have argued that many ancestors of present day Malayalees were basically Tulu tribals who lost their language because of Tamil imperialism.

Cultural similarities between Tuluva(s) and Malayalee(s)
Couple of cultural similarities that I discussed previously were;
1. Matrilineal or matrifocal system
2. Spirit worship

My grandmother once told me that our lineage system is the same as that of Tuluva(s). The lineage system is very common to South Asian and Central Asian tribes. Hindus call this lineage system "Gotra". However, there are many variations in this Gotra system. The Vaidik gotra system is different from caste specific Gotra systems. Some authors call the lineage system observed in Tulu and North Malabar regions as "Dravidian Gotra or lineage system"[2]. Well, the term Dravidian could be used only in linguistic sense, the cultural usage of this term is increasingly becoming meaningless as we understand more about Indian male and female lineages thro' genetics. So I would refrain from giving it Dravidian identity but I would just call it lineage system of Tulu tribes. This is known as 'bari' in Malayalam and 'bali' in Tulu. Another Malayalam word 'illam' is the term used by Malayalee Brahmins for their lineages instead of 'Gotra'. So I will drop that word. Probably, in literary Malayalam the term should be 'Vazhi(as in Tavazhi -> tAy + vazhi = matrilineal line)' but of course the original form the word could be found in my Malayalam which is 'Bari'(b->v change ; according to me 'b' is the original Dravidian sound and not 'v' but nobody agrees with me).

baLi system
All the baLis are common across the non-Brahmin communities in this region[4]. Eventhough, Malayalee bari names differ from that of Tulu(sometimes Kannada, as you can find both Tulu and Kannada speakers belonging to a single caste in geographically adjacent areas) names, people identify the corrsponding lineages between these two linguistic groups[1].

The rulers of Tulu regions established 14 Kattu(system)s and 16 Kattale(commandment)s. Curiously, all these rules which included caste rules lacked Brahmin touch as it was said to be imposed by a ruler called Bhutala Pandya under the instructions of a spirit called 'Kundodara'.

Spirit worship:
In my previous posts I maintained that Korati was the original spirit goddess because she was worshipped in Tharavadu(joint family house)s. I am not very sure now. It looks like Korati is the main spirit of a tribe called 'Koraga' along with her male counterpart which is called Koraga[3]. But this spirit is worshipped as a protector of domestic and crops by other communities too.

Also, previously I mentioned that we don't find any IVC worship traces in South India because all the spirits were worshipped in symbol format. However, it looks like couple spirits, Jumaadi and Maari(the so called mother goddess) were worshipped in idol format (mostly crude wooden figurines)[3]. I wonder if the IVC goddess figurines were also crude.

Interestingly, many female spirits have male counterparts. eg.
Korati -> Koraga
Ullalti -> Ullaya
Kallurti -> Kalkunda
and they are generally brother and sisters.

Another important spirit Jumaadi is in fact half male and half female[3]. So this must be the origin of the later Ardhanarishwara.

I wonder what happened to male consort of our Mari. I did not find Maju.

The later Vaidikization saw all these spirits being part of Shaiva legends. However, later Vaishnava movement saw couple of spirits with Vishnu's touch. eg. Bermeru and Panjurli. Among these Bermeru is a very interesting spirit. He is not supposed to be identified with Vaidik Brahma but has the Sanskritized name Brahma. Also, Vishnu himself has taken spirit form in 'Vishnumurthy'.

The story of Vishnumurthy spirit is rather complicated. Malayalees believe this spirit was created in memory of a Hoysala king Bittideva who converted to Vaishnavism and became Vishuvardhana(He was originally a Jain). So basically, this is an import to Malayala region from Tulu region.

But according to Tuluvas, this is in fact a very popular spirit of Malayalees which gradually made its appearance in Tulu regions. I read this account first and it sounded reasonable to me as Vishnumurthy is the Kula daiva(family, lineage spirit) of my 'bari'. I mean an import from Tulu region can't be a main spirit of a Malayalee community. But when I read the Malayalee version that sounded more logical so I am confused.

1. My grandmother
2. The Bunts of Tulunadu, an article by Dr. Neria Harish Hebbar
3. Spirits, an article at Bunts' community page
4. Bunts' history, an article by Aerya Lakshminarayana Alva


Srimanjari said...

I am a tulu speaking person living and working in Delhi. Read your blog. Extremely interesting. I am writing on the bunts of mangalore between 1900-1960. Do you have some information? If you have kindly share it with me- it will be acknowledged.

Manjunat said...

Thank you very much for your appreciation.

I am afraid I may not be much help in your endeavour as you can clearly see I am an internet scholar :-). Most of the things I know about Bunts is thro' internet.

Scope of your research looks like decline of matrilineal system and transition from feudal system (but I guess it took place after 1960). Probably, you can refer;
Aliyasantana Law by M V Shanker Bhat for the first case.

Of course, for the second case you may be having more first hand accounts.

You may want to communicate with Ravi Mundkur (at whose knowledge about Tulu people and culture is profound.