Know the Etymology: 52
Place Name of the Day: Saturday, 29 December 2007




The settlement near the mosque

Pa'l'li Mosque, church (old usage), Jain or Buddhist temple (old Tamil), bed cut in the rock for the Jain monks (Brahmi inscriptions), temple, hermitage, school, place to sleep, village, settlement of cattle herders, a woman of the community of agricultural workers, the community of agricultural workers; Pa'l'lip-padai: Burial temple; Palli (Sinhala): small village, suffix of place names, school, place of Christian worship, a woman of a caste; Palliya (Sinhala): Chappel, church, school room; Pa'l'li (Malayalam): Hut, small settlement of jungle tribes, public building, place of worship of Buddhists or foreginers, Mosque, Royal couch; Ha'l'li (Kannada), Pa'l'li (Old Kannada): Village, hamlet, settlement, abode; Pa'l'liru (Kannada): to rest, inhabit; Palli, Palliya, Palle (Telegu), Pa'l'li (Old Telugu): Village, small village, hut; Pa'l'li (Tulu): Mosque; Ha'l'li (Tulu): Hamlet, small village; Pa'l'li, Va'l'li, Valli, Vali: Place name suffix in Andra, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Sindh in Pakistan; Fa'l'li (Dhivehi / Maldivian): Mosque
Kudiyiruppu settlement; Kudi: people, clan, hut, house, cluster of houses, cluster of families, small village, village; Iruppu: Place of residence, permanent place, seat; Iru (verb): sit

Pa'l'li is one of the earliest Tamil words available to us in its original written form through the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions.

It was written in various ways, Pa'l'li, Pa'li-iy, Pa'liy and Pa'li. (Note the old Tamil grammar of adding Y to I ending words and the Sinhala form of the word ending with YA)

In the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, the word Pa'l'li meant a hermitage of the Jaina monks with beds cut on the rocks of caves and rock-shelters.

The primary meaning of the word seems to be bed or a place to sleep.

The place of eternal sleep, a burial monument, was also called Pa'l'li.

The following references found in the Changkam literature must have meant burial monuments or megalithic monuments erected for deceased kings on the spots where they died: Paa'ndiyan Ilavanthikaip-pa'l'lith-thugnchiya Nanmaa'ran (the Pandyan king Nanmaaran who went into eternal sleep at the pa'l'li near the pond. The same is mentioned as the place of death for the Chola king Nalang Ki'l'li Cheadchenni); Choazhan Kuraap-pa'l'lith-thugnchiya Thirumaava'lavan (the Chola king Thirumaava'lavan who went into eternal sleep at the Pa'l'li in the grove of Kuraa trees. The same is said for the Chola king Ki'l'li Va'lavan); Chearamaan Chikkat-pa'l'lith-thugnchiya Chelvak kadungkoa-Aazhi-Aathan (the Pa'l'li at Chikkal where the Chera king Chelvak-kadungkoa Aazhi Aathan went into eternal sleep).

There is a strong connection between the word Pa'l'li and megalithic burial practices. In Kerala, rock-cut caves were one type of megalithic burials.

The megalithic monuments of South India and Sri Lanka were largely secondary burials, found to be interred with the remains of cremation or exposure.

Later, with the influence of Paasupatha Saivism, memorial temples with Shivalingas placed on the burials of kings and preceptors were built, which were called Pa'l'lip-padai. The practice spread to Southeast Asia too.

The etymology of the word Pa'l'li is connected to another Tamil word Pa'l'lam, which is a shallow place or a pit. The cognates of the word Pa'l'lam mean the same in the other Dravidian languages too.

Another etymological possibility is the connections between Pa'l'li and the Tamil word Padu (D and 'L interchange). Padu as a verb means sleep, lie down etc. Paduthal is dying, sleeping, staying etc (Changkam Diction; from the root pad, ex: paddaan: died.) Padukar is a shallow place or pit (Tamil Lexicons). Paddu and Paddi are synonyms of Pa'l'li as place name suffixes.

Pa'l'li is the pit of eternal sleep.

A Buddhist temple was called a Pa'l'li, because the early stupas were burial monuments of relics.

The earliest mosque in South Asia was built in the ancient Tamil country in 629 CE, at Thiruvagnchaikka'lam in Kerala, the capital of Chearamaan Perumaa'l (probably, the city of Vagnchi of the Cheras).

Chearamaan Juma Masjid
The Chearamaan Pa'l'li (mosque) at Kodungkoa'loor (Thiruvangnchaikka'lam, Kerala), believed to have been built in 629 CE. The bodies of some of the original followers of the Prophet are said to be buried here. This mosque doesn't face towards Makka, but faces towards east like Hindu temples. Entry is allowed for people of all religions into this mosque. [Courtesy: Indian Public Domain Photographs, Wikipedia]
According to the legends of Kerala Muslims, it was built in the lifetime of the Prophet, by his followers, at the behest of the Cheara king, Chearamaan Perumaa'l. If the legends have historicity, then it is one of the earliest mosques in the world.

While the Chaiva traditions say Chearamaan Perumaa'l, who himself a Chaiva saint, went to Kailas along with another important saint Chuntharar, the Muslim legends claim that he went to Makka to meet the prophet and died at Oman.

The Arabs were regularly frequenting the southern parts of South Asia, since very early times, much before the advent of Islam. It is not improbable that the knowledge of Islam reached the ancient Tamil country in the Prophet's lifetime itself.

There are also the other evidences for early contacts between Islam and the southern parts of South Asia, which took place in an entirely different way from that of the advent of Islam in the northern parts through invasions.

The reference to Pa'l'lik-kuppaayam in Thiruvaasakam by saint Maa'nikkavaasakar has led to the interpretation that it was the gown-like stitched garment worn by the people of mosques and the Guru of the Chaiva saint was a Muslim mystic.

The early mosques of the Coromandal coast could date from the Chola times and their history is often shared by the history of mosques in Sri Lanka.

The first specific reference to Pa'l'li as an Islamic place of worship comes from a 13th century Tamil inscription. (Agnchuva'n'na-Pa'l'li. See the column on Naanaaddaan.)

A living evidence for early Arab contacts with Ilangkai is the Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) which is called Perukka maram in Tamil. This tree which was brought by the Arabs from Africa, is widely found in the Mannar region. The tree shown in the photograph which is found near Pa'l'limunai mosque of Mannaar is judged by its girth, to be around 800 years old. A settlement of a Muslim trade guild called Agnchuva'n'naththaar at Maanthai in Mannaar is recorded in a 12th century inscription [Photo: TamilNet]
The early school of Islam that had come to southern India and Sri Lanka was largely a mystic school, associated with Dargahs or burials of mystics. This, coupled with the practice of having burial ground adjacent to mosques, might have led to the use of the term Pa'l'li to the Islamic place of worship.

Note that the use of this term to mean a mosque is confined to Tamil, Malayalam, Tulu, Sinhala and Dhivehi or Maldivian.

Christianity also interacted since its inception with the ancient Tamil country. The Syrian Christians settled in Kerala in the early centuries of the Christian era.

A Christian church also gained the name Pa'l'li, probably for the same reason of having burials inside or adjacent to it. The Churches changed the terminology in Tamil later.

Valiya Pa'l'li (the big church) is the name of St. Mary's church in the Kottayam district of Kerala.

Thus, Pa'l'li eventually became a general term for all non-Brahmanic places of worship. Brahmanism, which practised cremation, disassociated itself from places of worship having burial or memorial connections. Such temples were maintained by non-Brahmin Paasupathas and Veera Saivas.

As an exception, some Vaishnava temples are called Pa'l'li because of the sleeping position of Vishnu.

A Siva temple in the Andra-Tamil Nadu border is called Churuddap-pa'l'li, because of the sleeping position of Siva in this temple, which is unusual.

A school became Pa'l'li, because it was the Jaina monks who started the institutional education in their hermitages. This shade of meaning for Pa'l'li and the term Aachiriyan have come to Tamil through its Jaina heritage.

A settlement of cattle herders was also known as Pa'l'li in the Changkam diction and in the lexicons, because it was a resting place for cattle. A word possibly connected to its etymology is Pa'l'lai, which was a general term for sheep and goat in the old Tamil.

The community of agricultural workers gained the name Pa'l'lar, probably due to the place of work, the paddy field, which is always shallow (Pa'l'lam). The other possibility is that it has come from Ma'l'lar through the interchange of the phonemes P and M. Ma'l is strength in old Tamil and Ma'l'lar were cultivators as well as soldiers.

Many place names in South India has the suffix Pa'l'li, Ha'l'li, Va'l'li or A'l'li attached to them. They gained it originally through their connections with facilities to take rest, burial places and places of worship or hermitages.

For instance, Thiruchchiraap-pa'l'li (Trichy) has Jaina caves in its rocky hill. The Ha'l'li of Karnataka might have originated from the megalithic complexes and became Jaina villages later. Eventually, the suffix itself stood for a village or hamlet and in compound words, for the village culture opposed to the urban culture, as it is understood today in Kannada.

Velgam Vehara
Velgam Vehara or Raja Raja Perumpa'l'li, situated 15 km northwest of Trincomalee off the Trinomalee - Horawapothana Road. Also known as Naathanaar Koayil, the temple, probably of Mahayana sect, is an important evidence for the prevalence of Tamil Buddhism in Sri Lanka. [Courtesy: K. Indrapala, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity]
Paalaavikku'lam Iyanaar Koayil
A headless image of Buddha, made of limestone, is worshipped as Aiyanaar at Paalaavikku'lam, facing Pa'l'likkudaa Bay. The image is blackened by the application of oil. A close look may reveal the drapery on the left shoulder of the image. [Photo- Antony Richard, Ki'linochchi]
The mosque, and its Tamil term Pa'l'li or Pa'l'li-vaasal are legacies of much antiquity in the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.

The term Pa'l'li predominantly means a mosque in the Tamil place names of Sri Lanka today. In a few instances it has Buddhist connections.

A Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka, Velgam Vehara, in the Trincomalee district, was known as Rajarajap-perum-pa'l'li, (the great Buddhist Pa'l'li named after the Chola emperor Rajaraja) in the Chola times.

Pa'l'lik-kudiyiruppu is a large Muslim village of two GS areas in the Akkaraippattu division of Ampaa'rai district.

There is another Pa'l'lik-kudiyiruppu, which is a GS area in the Moothoor division of Trincomalee district. This place name seems to have originated from a settlement of the community of agricultural workers or cattle herders. In addition to a woman of the community, the entire community is sometimes known by the term Pa'l'li in Tamil Nadu.

The following are some other examples of place names having the component of Pa'l'li in them:

Pa'l'li-munai: The point having a mosque. The place has two GS areas in the Mannaar town division of Mannaar district

Maavadip-pa'l'li: The mosque in the locality of a mango tree. It is a place of two GS areas in the Kaaraitheevu division of Ampaarai district

Kaaddup-pa'l'li-veddai: The open land of the mosque in the jungle. A village in the Earaavoor 02 GS area in the Earaavoor town division of Batticaloa district

Oaddup-pa'l'li-veddai: The open land of the tiled mosque. A place in the Earaavur 06 GS area of the Earaavoor division of Batticaloa district

Pa'l'li-vaasal-ve'li: The open land of the mosque. A village in the Veappangku'lam GS area of the Musali division in the Mannaar district

Pachchilaip-pa'l'li: The name of a division in the Jaffna peninsula. Place names in the division and nearby, such as Changkaththaar-vayal and Changkaththaanai, indicate possible connections with the Buddhist Sangha (See Pachchilaippa'l'li)

Pa'l'lik-kudaa: The bay of the Pa'l'li. A GS area in the Poonakari division of Ki'linochchi district: The place probably had a Buddhist establishment, the remains of which are found at Paalavikku'lam

Tamil Brahmi Inscription
Tamil Brahmi inscription at Mannaar Koayil, Tamil Nadu, which records the making of a Jaina Pa'l'li (hermitage). [Image and text courtesy: I. Mahadevan, Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions]

Velgam Vehara Inscription
One of the many Tamil inscriptions of the Chola times found at Velgam Vehera. Note the place names Velakaama and Raaja Raajap Perum Pa'l'li, underlined in red. [Courtesy: K. Indrapala, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity.]

First published: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 01:00

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