Know the Etymology: 29
Place Name of the Day: Wednesday, 11 July 2007




  1. The big Piraay tree
  2. The fearsome Piraay tree
  3. The possessed Piraay tree

Urum Anything or anybody, capable of evoking fear in the minds of people (Changkam diction) Uru: Possession of spirits or deities, apparition. Uru (Adjective): big, large, long
Piraay Also, Paraay: A tree. Trophis aspera or Streblus asper.

A forest of Piraay trees
A young piraay tree
Piraay (Trophis aspera or Streblus asper) is a small tree with a milky juice. The juice was used for poisoning fish and to catch them. The bark of this tree has medicinal properties.

Piraay is spelt as Paraay in the literary works. Pi is normally the colloquial form of Pa. Note, Palaa and Pilaa (jackfruit).

One of the temples mentioned in the early devotional hymns (Theavaaram), is Thiru-paraay-thurai.

This wild tree is one of the sacred trees of the Tamil tradition, believed to be an abode of deities and spirits.

A place in Jaffna, having a shrine in a grove of Paraay trees is Cholai-Amman or Manthuvil Amman temple, near Charasaalai in the Thenmaraadchi division.

The prefix Urum has different relevant meanings.

Uru as well as U'ru as adjectives, intensify quantity or quality meant by the nouns. In the case of Urumpiraay, the shades of meaning for Uru are big, large, impressive and tall.

In the Changkam diction, Urum as a prefix before nouns, make those objects or persons fearsome. The word Urum alone means fear, thunderbolt etc.

One shade of the meaning for Uru, found used in the Changkam diction, and prevails today in the folk usage, is the phenomenon of the possession of spirits, deities etc., or an apparition.

It is a common practice in the folk culture of Sri Lanka to identify and name, especially sacred, wild trees as possessed ones.

As usual, the identity of the tree became the identity of the settlement in the locality of that tree.

The place name survived even though the nucleus settlement became large and important later.

Urumpiraay is a large place of four GS areas in the Valikaamam East (Koappaay) division of Jaffna district.

There are a few more examples for Piraay tree in the place names of Jaffna: Kaddaip-piraay, Vealam-piraay and Veam-piraay.

Piraay: foliage [Courtesy: Street trees of Bangkok]

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

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