Know the Etymology: 124
Place Name of the Day: Wednesday, 27 September 2017


Nantik-kaṭal, Kuṟukkuk-kaṭal, Veḷḷaik-kaṭaṟkarai

நந்திக்கடல், குறுக்குக்கடல், வெள்ளைக்கடற்கரை
Nantik-kaṭal, Kuṟukkuk-kaṭal, Veḷḷaik-kaṭaṟkarai

Nantu+kaṭal
Kuṟukku+kaṭal
Veḷḷai+kaṭal+karai


The sea/ lagoon of conches

The sea/ lagoon lying across; or the intruding sea/ lagoon

The white (sand) beach


Kaṭal sea (Tamil, Malayalam, DED 1118, Kuṟuntokai, 101: 1); Kaḍa: sea (Kodagu, DED 1118); Kaḍal: sea (Kannada, DED 1118); Kaḍalû: sea (Tulu, DED 118); Kaḍali: sea (Telugu, DED 118); Kaḍulu, Kańḍulu, Kańḍu: ocean, deep sea, sea channel, inter-atoll sea (Dhivehi/ Maldivian, DBF, Lōmāfānu Copper Plates; note the nasalization); Kaṭa: (verb) to cross, pass through, traverse, go, pass as water etc. (Tamil, DED 1109; cognates in 18 Dravidian languages including Brahui); Kaṭai: end, limit, boundary (Tamil, DED 1109); Kaṭavu: beach, landing place, wharf (Malayalam, DED 1109)
Kaṭaṟkarai seashore, beach (Tamil, MTL, Tivākaram, 5: 41); Kaṭal+karai: (Tamil, DED 1118+DED 1293); Kaṭal: sea (Tamil, DED 1118); Karai: shore, bank (Tamil, DED 1293); Kaḍakkara: seashore, "Mūduverala" (Sinhala, Sorata)
Nanti from Nantam: conch (Tamil, MTL, DED 3591); Nantu, Nattu, Nattam: snail, conch (Tamil, DED 3591, Naṟṟiṇai, 280: 7; Patiṟṟuppattu, 23: 21); cognates in Malayalam, Tulu and Telugu
Kuṟukku lying across, intervening, lying transverse; related to Kuṟukkiṭu: (verb) to cross the path of, to intervene (Tamil, MTL); Kuṟai: (verb) to cut (Tamil, DED 1859);
Veḷḷai (adjective) white; (noun) whiteness (Tamil, DED 5496a); Veḷ, Veṇ: white, pure, shining, bright (Tamil, DED 5496); Veḷi: (verb) to break as the day, whiten, become bright (Tamil, DED 5496a; cognates in 19 Dravidian languags)


Kaṭal and Kaṭaṟ-karai are common Tamil words of Dravidian etymology, meaning sea and seashore respectively. Kaṭal corresponds to the verb Kaṭa meaning to cross and the noun Kaṭai meaning end.

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Kaṭal meaning ocean, sea:

"விரி திரைப் பெருங் கடல் வளைஇய உலகம்" (குறுந்தொகை, 101: 1)

"Viri tiraip peruṅ kaṭal vaḷaiiya ulakam" (Kuṟuntokai, 101: 1)

The world surrounded by big ocean of moving waves


"கடல வெண் திரைப் புணரி ஆடியும்" (குறுந்தொகை, 144: 1-2)

"Kaṭala veṇ tiraip puṇari āṭiyum" (Kuṟuntokai, 144: 1-2)

Bathing in the white crested waves of the sea [Kaṭal+a > Kaṭala; genitive case]


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Kaṭaṟkarai meaning seashore:

"வேலையும் பாராவாரமும் கடற்கரை" (திவாகரம், 5: 41)

"Vēlaiyum pārāvāramum kaṭaṟkarai" (Tivākaram, 5: 41)

Vēlai and Pārāvāram means Kaṭaṟkarai (seashore, beach)


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Nantu is an old Tamil word, meaning conch. A related word Nattai is commonly used in Tamil today to mean snail.

Nantu as conch:

"நந்தின் பேழ்வாய் ஏற்றை" (அகநானூறு, 246: 1)

"Nantiṉ pēḻvāy ēṟṟai" (Akanāṉūṟu, 246: 1)

The wide-mouthed male conch


"நந்தும் முரளும் ஈர் அறிவினவே" (தொல்காப்பியம், 1528)

"Nantum muraḷum īr aṟiviṉavē" (Tolkāppiyam, 1528)

Conch and oyster have only two senses, i.e., feeling in body and mouth


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Nantik-kaṭal is the name of a lagoon in Mullaiththeevu district.

Kuṟukkuk-kaṭal is the name of a sea intrusion found near Nārāntaṉai in Kayts division of Jaffna district (Jaffna OIS)

Veḷḷaik-kaṭaṟkarai is the name of a beach known for its white stand in Allaippiṭṭi in Kayts division of Jaffna district.

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Some related place names:

Kaṭal:

Ciṟu-kaṭal: Karaithuraippattu, Mullaiththeevu

Kaṭalūr: Koralaippattu, Batticaloa; Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee

Tiruk-kaṭalūr: Trincomalee Town and Gravets, Trincomalee

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Kaḍal: (Sinhala, place name)

Kaḍalāna: Moratuwa, Colombo. Kaḍal+āna: Āna: place (Sorata)

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Kaṭaṟkarai:

Aḷampil-kaṭaṟkarai: Karaithuraippattu, Mullaiththeevu. Aḷampil: a coastal place that has got its name from saltpans

Kaṭaṟkaraic-cēṉai: Moothoor, Trincomalee. Cēṉai: shifting cultivation field

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Notes on conch diving:

Diving for conches was an ancient economic activity in the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Ilaṅkai.

The Jaffna Lagoon, Nantikkaṭal of Mullaittīvu and the lagoons of Kaṟpiṭṭi, Puttaḻam, Negombo and Batticaloa were known centres of this activity in the island.

The type of conch that is of commercial value belongs to the species Turbinella pyrum, which is found only in the waters of Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar.

Howell who studied them in 1916 identifies three sub-species: Turbinella pyrum pyrum, found north of Adams Bridge, i.e., in the waters of Jaffna; Turbinella pyrum rapa Lamarch, found in the south of the Adams Bridge and Turbinella ponderosa found around Kumari Muṉai (Cape Comarin)

The archaeological sites on either side of the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar bear extensive evidences for the prevalence of conch craft from very early times. 

Sawed conch shells, fragments of conch-bangles, heaps of discarded wastes of shells etc. found in large numbers in the sites of Jaffna Peninsula, Māntai in Mannar and Koṟkai - Aḻakaṉ Kuḷam - Atirāmpaṭṭiṉam stretch of the Tamil Nadu side of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait, speak of the popularity of conch craft in this region. 

Caṅkam literature is another testimony for the antiquity of this craft in Tamil heritage.

In the later times after 12th century CE, Bengal, especially Dhaka became the centre for conch craft. The Bengali community of conch craftsmen are believed to be Tamil migrants of the times of the Cholas and later. 

Even in recent times, conches gathered in the north of Ilaṅkai were exported to Bangladesh, where the shells and ornaments made of them are of great cultural value. 

For Bengalis and Oriyas, a bangle made of conch shell is somewhat like a Tāli in Tamil culture. 

Banglapedia, the National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh, records that a particular species of conch available in Jaffna and Titpur in Tamil Nadu constitutes the basic raw material for the conch craft of Bangladesh.

150 conches costing 40 - 45 Tk in 1910, now cost 14,000 - 30,000 Tk, the encyclopedia says. 

The Jaffna conches are of more value than the Indian conches in the Bangladesh market and one of the complaints of the Bangladesh craftsmen today is scarcity and high price of quality raw material. 

The conch and pearl divers, whether on the side of Ilaṅkai or on the side of Tamil Nadu, mainly came from two ancient Tamil coastal communities known as Mukkuvar and Paravar. 

The etymology of the name Mukkuvar is connected to the Tamil word, Mukku or Muk-kuḷittal, which means holding one's breath and diving. 

Mukkutal and Mūḻkutal (immersing in water) are cognates in Tamil.

The name of the other community Paravar comes from another old Tamil word Paravai meaning sea.

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Nanthikkadal
Location of Nanthikkadal, the conch-lagoon [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]


Turbinella pyrum pyrum
Turbinella pyrum pyrum
Turbinella pyrum pyrum, the type of conch found in the waters north of Adams Bridge, ie. Palk Bay, Jaffna Lagoon, Nanthikkadal etc. [Photo courtesy: Hardy's Internet Guide to Marine Gastropods]
Turbinella pyrum pyrum
A matured specimen of Turbinella pyrum pyrum [Photo courtesy: shells.webz.cz]
Shell bangles
Shell bangles of the times of Indus civilization [Photo courtesy: imagesofasia.com]
Turbinella pyrum pyrum
Turbinella pyrum and bangles made of it in Bangladesh [Photo courtesy: Banglapedia]
Conch shells
Bangles made of conch shells, West Bengal, India [Photo courtesy: sos-arsenic.net]
Turbinella pyrum pyrum
A conch craftsman at work in Dhaka, Bangladesh [Photo courtesy: SOS-arsenic.net]
Turbinella pyrum pyrum
Note the shell bangles in the hands of the lady from West Bengal, India [Photo courtesy: flickr.com/tonymitra]


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Revised: Thursday, 27 September 2017, 18:30

First published: Friday, 06 March 2009, 05:42

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