Know the Etymology: 29
Place Name of the Day: Tuesday, 04 August 2015

Urum-piraay, Veam-piraay, Kaddaip-piraay, Vealam-piraay

உரும்பிராய், வேம்பிராய், கட்டைப்பிராய், வேலம்பிராய்
Urumpirāy, Vēmpirāy, Kaṭṭaippirāy, Vēlampirāy


A place name connected to a grove or a Piraay tree

The grove of Veampu trees

The grove enclosure or the short Piraay tree

The grove of Veal trees

Piraay1 from Pirai-idam: a dense grove (Tamil, Puthumaippiththan, Thunpakkea'ni); Purai-idam: grove, garden (Tamil, MTL, inscriptions, 844 CE, Travancore Archaeological Series, II, pp 13-14; c.1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207); 1. Pu'raay: general term for cultivation land (Tamil, inscription, C. 1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207); Pu'ravu, Pu'ravam: forest, grove (Tamil, DED 4333, Aka:naanoo'ru, 234: 15; Pathittuppaththu, 30: 35); from Pu'ram: outside (Tamil, DED 4333); 2. Purai, Pirai: basically meaning a shady place or covered place; shed, house, dwelling, thatched place, compartment, cell, niche (Tamil, MTL, DED 4294)
Piraay2 also Paraay: a tree, Trophis aspera or Streblus asper (Tamil, MTL, Appar, 5: 30; Ma'nivaasakar, 23: 4); Gæta-nitul: Streblus asper or Trophis aspera (Sinhala, Clough)
Urum 1. From Urumpu, Urumam: exasperation by heat, the heat of the daytime, noon (Tamil, DED 656); Urumaththukku-viduthal: releasing from work during the hot part of the day (Tamil, MTL); Uruma-viduthi: midday recess (Tamil, Jaffna Dictionary); Uruma-kaalam: hot weather, summer (Tamil, Winslow); 2. Uru: fierce, large, mature (Tamil); 3. Uru: when written in Tamil script the word will stand for numeral 25, hence may mean the 25th Piraay tree post on the highway (Balasundaram, p. 356)
Kaddai1 enclosure (Eezham Tamil place names); from Kaddu: to tie, fasten, shut up (Tamil, DED 1147); Kaddaik-kaadu: a jungle field enclosed for cultivation (Eezham Tamil, Codrington). See columns on Naaval-kaddai, Mazhavaraayar-kaddai-adampan and Kaddaik-kaadu
Kaddai2 shortness of stature (Tamil, DED 1151)
Veampu the tree, neem or margosa, Azadirachta indica (Tamil, DED 5531)
Veal babul tree, Acacia arabica or Mimosa Arabica (Tamil, DED 5537); from the thorns of the tree; Veal: dart, spear, lance (Tamil, DED 5536)

Piraay is a suffix peculiar to place names of Jaffna.

Piraay or Paraay in Tamil commonly means the tree that is botanically known by the names Trophis aspera/ Streblus asper. This is a wild but sacred tree, believed to be an abode of deities and spirits. At Manthuvil in Thenmaraadchi division of Jaffna, a shrine for a goddess called Choalai-Amman (grove goddess) could be found in a grove of Paraay trees.

However, a collective look at the place names having the Piraay suffix would show that this tree is perhaps not the toponymic meaning, as other trees come in the prefixes, in examples such as Veam-piraay, Vealam-piraay etc.

But a convincing meaning that could be applied to all the place names having the suffix Piraay could be arrived at, if Piraay is taken as a derivative of Pirai or Pirai-idam, meaning a shady abode or dense grove.


Note the following usage example of Pirai in the Thirunelveli Tamil dialect of Puthumaippiththan, where Pirai means a grove.

“Avvira'ndu kuddichchuvarka'lum ethir ethiraaka ira'ndu nanthavanaththaich chutti varukin'rana. Thangka ara'liyum chevvara'liyum mullaiyum tha'rikeddu va'larnthirukkum oru piraiyidam” (Puthumaippiththan, Thunpakkea'ni, 1935)

“அவ்விரண்டு குட்டிச்சுவர்களும் எதிர் எதிராக இரண்டு நந்தவனத்தைச் சுற்றி வருகின்றன. தங்க அரளியும் செவ்வரளியும் முல்லையும் தறிகெட்டு வளர்ந்திருக்கும் ஒரு பிரையிடம்” (புதுமைப்பித்தன், துன்பக்கேணி, 1935)

* * *

Pirai and Pirai-idam are provincial usages and Madras Tamil Lexicon equates them respectively to Purai of Changkam diction and Purai-idam of inscriptional usage.

Purai-idam in Tamil inscriptions coming from the Chera country means a grove or garden.

The usage may be related to Pu'raay, coming as a general term for cultivated land in Tamil inscriptions, from Pu'ravu meaning forest or grove in Changkam diction (DED 4333, from Puram meaning outside), or may be related to Purai basically meaning a covered place, cell, niche etc. (DED 4924).


“Peelikkoaddu purai idamum” (inscription, 844 CE, Travangore Archaeological Series, II, pp. 13-14)

“பீலிக்கோட்டு புரை இடமும்” (inscription, 844 CE, Travangore Archaeological Series, II, pp. 13-14)

Also the grove or garden at the place Peelik-koadu

“Ku'rumaappa'l'lik kariyaalum eeraip puraiyidaththaalum chellum”

“குறுமாப்பள்ளிக் கரியாலும் ஈரைப் புரையிடத்தாலும் செல்லும்”

Which passes through the land at Ku'ru-maap-pa'l'li and through the grove or garden at Eerai


“Pa'raiyan pu'raayumaay”

“பறையன் புறாயுமாய்”

Also the cultivated land of the person of the drummer community

* * *

The prefix Urum or Uru in Urumpiraay could be explained with different meanings, but pinpointing one is elusive as there are no other examples. There is also a probability that the original form of the prefix is lost. Most of the meanings for Uru are out of context, not in toponymic usage or could be far-fetched.

If priority is given to an obsolete local usage, a word Urumpu or Urumam meaning exasperating heat of the sun (DED 656) has been recorded in Jaffna Dictionary in the phrase Uruma-viduthi meaning getting recess from midday heat. Uruma-kaalam is a provincial usage meaning hot weather or summer according to Winslow's dictionary.

There is a probability that the place name Urum-piraay has come from a grove recognized for its shelter from hot sun.

Coming to the place name Kaddaip-piraay, even though the component Kaddai commonly means shortness (DED 1151) or a log of wood, in the context of place names it means an enclosure, coming from another etymon Kaddu (DED 1147). Kaddai-piray could therefore mean an enclosed grove. See columns on Naaval-kaddai, Mazhavaraayar-kaddai-adampan and Kaddaik-kaadu.

Veampu and Veal are common Tamil tree-names for margosa and a big species of acacia respectively. They fit in for the grove meaning of the suffix Piraay.

* * *

Urum-piraay is in Valikaamam East division of Jaffna district.

Veam-piraay is a place in Thenmaraadchi division of Jaffna district

Kaddaip-piraay is located near Koappaay in Valikaamam East division of Jaffna district

Vealam-piraay is near Koayilaak-ka'ndi in Thenmaraadchi division of Jaffna district

* * *

Some related place names:

Tham-piraay: The grove of Thampa trees; Poonakari division, Ki'linochchi district

Vam-piraay: The grove of Vammi trees; Thenmaraadchi division, Jaffna district (Balasundaram, p.337)

Maanam-paraai: The thicket or grove found with Maanam grass; a locality in Vasaavi'laan, Jaffna district (V. Almanac)

Vadakkam-parai: Probably, the grove in the northern side; near Tholpuram, Valikaamam West division, Jaffna district

Piraayam-paththai: also Piraam-paththai: The thicket of Piraay trees; near Changkaanai, Valikaamam West division, Jaffna district

Paraay, Piraay, Streblus asper, Trophis asper [Image Courtesy: Pixabay]
Foilage of Paraay
Foliage of Paraay, Piraay, Streblus asper, Trophis asper [Image Courtesy,]

Revised: Tuesday, 04 August 2015, 21:03

First published: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 01:00

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