Know the Etymology: 218
Place Name of the Day: Tuesday, 03 July 2012

Uvaayadi Vaaykkaal

உவாயடி வாய்க்கால்
Uvāyaṭi Vāykkāl


The canal in the locality of Uvaay trees

Uvaay: 1. Also called Ukaa, Ukaay, Ukai, Upaa, Oamai: A shrub-like tree of drooping foliage, usually found in the arid coastal tracts of the North, Toothbrush Tree, Mustard Tree, Salvadora persica, also called Salvadora indica (Tamil, Changkam Diction, MTL, DED 560; Uvaay: Tamil dialect of Mannaar, where the tree is commonly found; Uku: (verb) To shed, fall down (Tamil, DED 562); Ogani, uguni: Salvadora persica (Kannada, DED 560); Maalittan: The Sinhala name for the tree
Uvaay: 2. Also called Uvaa, Uvaa-theakku, Ukaa, Ukaak-kaay: A timber tree bearing edible and medicinal fruit, shaped like a hoof and its pulp like claws, known as Elephant Apple, Sandpaper Tree, Dillenia indica (Tamil, MTL, DED 560); Ukir: Nail, claw, hoof (Tamil, DED 561); Uka-maram: Dilennia speciosa (Malayalam); Malay-uka: Aleurites moluccana (Malayalam); Uva, Uvva: Dillenia indica (Telugu, DED 560); Wam-para, Honda-para: Dillenia indica (Sinhala); Para: Dillenia dentate (Sinhala)
Adi Locality (in the context of toponyms); foot, base, bottom, source, origin (Tamil, DED 72); Adiya: Foot, the bottom of anything (Sinhala). Also see columns on Adiyamala-thenna, Vammiyadi-oottu
Vaaykkaal Also Kaal-vaay: Irrigation channel (Tamil, DED 1480); Vaaykkaal: Small or narrow canal (Malayalam); Kaal-vaay: River mouth, irrigation channel (Malayalam, DED 1480)); Kaal: (noun) Leg, wheel, wind, pace, course, irrigation channel (Tamil, DED 1479, 1480, 1481, 1483); (verb) To flow, leap forth as a waterfall, to trickle, flow gently (Tamil, DED 1478); Kaal-aa’ru: Branching river (Tamil, Theavaaram, Appar 6:94:3); Kaal, Kaalive, Kaaluve, Kaalve, Kaavale: Water course, channel, brook (Kannada, DED 1480); Kaalivea: Channel for irrigation (Tulu, DED 1480); Kaalava, Kaaluva: Canal, channel, gutter, drain, sewer (Telugu, DED 1480); Khalla: Canal, creek, trench (Sanskrit/ Prakrit, Turner CDIAL 3849); Khaala: Canal Creek, trench (Prakrit, Turner, CDIAL, 3849); Vaay: Mouth (Tamil, DED 5352); (verb) To flourish (Tamil, DED 5350); Course, way (Tamil, Changkam Diction, Akanaanoo’ru 251:14); Canal (Tamil, Theavaaram, Champanthar 1:5:5)

Salvadora persica
Salvadora persica/ Salvadora indica: Ukaa/ Ukaay/ Uvaay/ Oamai in Tamil [Image courtesy: S.Q. Mehdi]

Ukaa/ Ukaay, which is also called Uvaa/ Uvaay is a name in Tamil for two species of trees.

In one meaning, the name stands for Salvadora persica, a shrub-like evergreen tree of the arid coastal tracts, and in the other, it stands for Dillenia indica, a timber tree bearing an edible fruit called Elephant Apple (Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 560)

Uvaay or Ukaay, in its first meaning Salvadora persica, was also known as Oamai in the Changkam Tamil classics. The tree, in Changkam Tamil references, was invariably associated with Paalai Nilam or the arid tract.

Pingkalam Lexicon of 10th century CE equates Ukaay with Oamai. The Dravidian etymology of both the terms could be traced to a conspicuous attribute of the tree – its drooping foliage. (Uku: To fall down, Tamil, DED 562; Umung, Umboo, Ombaa and Umgre: To fall, prostrate, turn down, bow, in Kui, Kurux and Malto, DED 641)

In the Changkam literary references, the tree is described as a short-stemmed, white- barked shrub of delicate branches, bearing reddish bead-like fruits that turn into black when ripe. The seeds of the fruits are compared to pepper in taste. Wild elephants favoured the tree for its foliage and bark.

The attributes tally well with Salvadora persica found mostly in the arid coastal tracts of the island, especially in the Mannaar district, where the tree is called Uvaay.

The Sinhala name of the tree is Maalittang (a term comparing the tree with another tree called Tang bearing fruits similar to S. persica, and differentiating it by its Maala/ garland-like foliage).

Salvadora persica
Ukaa/ Ukaay/ Uvaay/ Oamai/ Salvadora persica/ Salvadora indica: details of foliage [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Salvadora persica, also botanically known as Salvadora indica, is commonly called in English as the Toothbrush Tree, for its mouth-refreshing, soft fibrous twigs were long used as toothbrush in West Asia. The tree has references in this regard in the Hadith of Islam.

All parts of the tree are used in native medical systems in treating a range of ailments. The properties of the tree are especially recognized in the products meant for oral health, from the fibre in making toothbrushes to root oil in toothpastes. In this respect the tree has gained special recognition from the WHO.

The tree is also considered economically a boon to the development of arid, coastal, saline, wastelands. Its evergreen foliage provides nutritious fodder for cattle and wood is used for fuel. The fruits are sweet and edible. The seed oil, recognised for its skin treatment qualities, is considered a good substitute for coconut oil in the soap industry.

Today, the distribution of Uvaay tree in the island is restricted only to some coastal pockets. Maanthai in Mannaar is one place where it could be found in plenty as natural vegetation.

There is a belief that the tree was brought to South Asia by West Asians in the medieval times as fodder for horses and camels. But the wide references in the Changkam Tamil literature show that the tree was already a part of the natural vegetation even in the remote arid jungles, by the dawn of the Common Era, if not earlier.

See the following examples cited from the Changkam classics:

* * *

Ukaa as a short, white-stemmed arid tract tree:

“Pu’ravup pu'raththanna pun kaal ukaa” (Ku’runthokai 274: 1-2)

“புறவுப் புறத்தன்ன புன் கால் உகா” (குறுந்தொகை 274: 1-2)

The short-stem of Ukaa (coloured) like the back of a dove (the poem comes in the context of arid tract/ Paalai Nilam)

Ukaay as an arid tract tree:

“Pul arai ukaa-ay vari nizhal” (Ku’runthokai 363: 4)

“புல் அரை உகா-அய் வரி நிழல்” (குறுந்தொகை 363: 4)

The (leaf-bereft) line-shade of the Ukaay tree of stunted stem (the poem comes in the context of arid tract)

Salvadora persica
Ukaa/ Ukaay/ Uvaay/ Oamai/ Salvadora persica/ Salvadora indica: Unripe (red) and ripe (black) fruits [Image courtesy: Eden Foundation]
Koel/ Indian cuckoo, the eyes of which are compared with unripe fruits of Salvadora persica, in the Changkam Tamil literature, Akanaanoo'ru [Image courtesy: Wikipedia]
The description of Ukaay fruits tallying with Salvadora persica:

“Kuyil ka’n anna kuroo-ukkaay mutti
Ma’nikkaasu anna maani’ra irungkani
Ukaay menchinai uthirvana…” (Akanaanoo’ru 293)

“குயில் கண் அன்ன குரூஉக்காய் முற்றி
மணிக்காசு அன்ன மாநிற இருங்கனி
உகாய் மென்சினை உதிர்வன…” (அகநானூறு 293)

The Ukaay tree, from its delicate branches, would drop black ripe fruits resembling dark beads, which have matured from their unripe stage of resembling the (red) colour of the eyes of a Koel (Indian Cuckoo).

The unripe Ukaay fruit/ seed tasting like pepper:

“Mi’laku peythanaiya chuvaiya pun kaay ula’ruthalai ukaa-ay” (Natti’nai 66)

“மிளகு பெய்தனைய சுவைய புன் காய் உலறுதலை உகாஅய்” (நற்றிணை 66)

The dry-branched Ukaay, the unripe fruits of which have a pepper-applied taste

Ukaa equated with Oamai:

Oamai Ukaavea (Pingkalam Lexicon 9:120)

“ஓமை உகாவே” (பிங்கலம் நிகண்டு 9:120)

Oamai means Ukaa

Oamai as a short shrub-like tree compared with the tall Yaa tree:

Yaa uyarnthu oamai neediya kaan idai aththam (Natti’nai 198: 1-2)

“யா உயர்ந்து ஓமை நீடிய கான் இடை அத்தம்” (நற்றிணை 198: 1-2)

The track in the arid jungle having Yaa growing high and Oamai spreading into an expanse

Oamai as a tree of the arid tract:

“Kaana yaanai thoal nayanthu u’nda
Pori thaa’l oamai va’li poru nedugn chinai
Alangkal ulaval ea’ri oyyenap
Pulampu tharu kurala pu'ravup pedai payirum
Aththam…” (Ku’runthokai 79:2)

“கான யானை தோல் நயந்து உண்ட
பொரி தாள் ஓமை வளி பொரு நெடுஞ் சினை
அலங்கல் உலவல் ஏறி ஒய்யெனப்
புலம்பு தரு குரல புறவுப் பெடை பயிரும்
அத்தம்…” (குறுந்தொகை 79:2)

The trail of the arid tract, where, perched on the swaying dry branch of the wind-fighting, rugged-bottomed, Oamai tree – the bark of which had been eaten by wild elephants – a dove of lonely voice would call its female

Dillenia indica
Ukaa/ Uvaa/ Uvaath-theakku: Dillenia indica [Image courtesy:]

Dillenia indica
Ukaa/ Uvaa/ Uvaath-theakku/ Dillenia indica, bearing a large, white, fragrant flower [Image courtesy:]
Dillenia indica
Ukaa/ Uvaa/ Uvaath-theakku/ Dillenia indica: Note the claw-like core inside the hoof-shaped fruit [Image courtesy:]
The other tree called as Ukaa or Uvaa/ Uvaay/ Uvaa-theakku in Tamil is Dillenia indica, the common English name for which is Elephant Apple or Sandpaper Tree (Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 560).

This is a timber tree bearing large fragrant flowers and peculiar-shaped fruits.

The etymology of the Tamil term could be traced to the hoof-like shape of the fruit or the claws-like pulp of it.

Ukir in Tamil means both a hoof and a claw (DED 561).

However, early literary references in Tamil, for the name Ukaa standing for a tree of the attributes of Dillenia indica could not be traced.

The tree is called Uka-maram in Malayalam and Uva or Uvva in Telugu.

The Sinhala name of the tree is Wam-para or Honda-para. The terms compare and differentiate the tree from another popular tree known in Sinhala as Para.

Both the sepals and core pulp of the fruits of the tree, tasting sour, are edible.

The juice of the fruit is used in the preparation of cough mixture; leaves and bark have medicinal properties; pulp of the fruit is used in making shampoo and the timber is valued in house construction and in ship-building (Lim T.K., Edible Medicinal and Non –Medicinal Plants Vol 2, Fruits, pp 410-415)

* * *

The phrase Vaayk-kaal, meaning an irrigation canal, channel or flood outlet in Tamil, is a common component in the Eezham Tamil locality names.

As both the Tamil words, Vaay and Kaal mean the same, in some usages the phrasing becomes Kaal-vaay. However, there is a subtle difference in the usage of the phrases. Kaal-vaay is normally used in the context of a large canal, whether for irrigation or for navigation. Vaayk-kaal is usually smaller in scale, ranging from irrigation canals and channels to drains and flood outlets.

The Dravidian etymology of both the terms, Vaay and Kaal are given in the table.

The word Kaal has a cognate Khalla in Sanskrit and Khaalla in Prakrit, meaning a canal, creek or trench.

But Kaal, in its shades of meaning in Tamil, has cognates in several Dravidian languages. The word in Dravidian, meaning from leg, wind, wheel, pace and course to a canal has clear etymological connections. Hence the cognates in Sanskrit and Prakrit meaning a canal have to be taken as borrowed ones from Dravidian. (See table)

The following are some examples for early literary usages of the words Kaal, Vaay and Vaayk-kaal, meaning a canal, irrigation channel, brook, branch of a river at the delta etc.

* * *

Kaal, Vaayk-kaal and Vaay meaning a canal:

“Perung ku’la madai neer viddena, kaal a’nainthu ethiriya ka’naikkoaddu vaa’lai, a’l’lal am kazhani u’lvaay oadi” (Natti’nai 340: 4)

"பெருங் குள மடை நீர் விட்டென, கால் அணைந்து எதிரிய கணைக்கோட்டு வாளை, அள்ளல் அம் கழனி உள்வாய் ஓடி" (நற்றிணை 340: 4)

When the water is released from the sluice of the big tank, the stout-horned Vaa’lai fish (of the paddy fields) that comes in the irrigation canal from the opposite direction would run into the interior of the muddy paddy fields (Vaalai is the Scabbard Fish of the paddy fields)

“Kal aaki, ka’la’ru aaki, kaanum aaki, kaaviri aay, kaal aa’ru aay, kazhiyum aaki” (Theavaaram, Appar 6:94:3)

“கல் ஆகி, களறு ஆகி, கானும் ஆகி, காவிரி ஆய், கால் ஆறு ஆய், கழியும் ஆகி” (தேவாரம், அப்பர் 6:94:3)

From becoming the mountain (course), becoming the barren rocky (course), becoming the forest (course), becoming the River Kaviri, becoming the branching rivers (at the delta) and (finally) becoming the estuary (entering the sea)

“Neerk kaal vaaykkaal ni’raintha poakkarum pa’nai” (perungkathai 49:29)

“நீர்க் கால் வாய்க்கால் நிறைந்த போக்கரும் பணை” (பெருங்கதை 49:29)

The paddy field tract with full of watercourses and canals, making it difficult to traverse

“Ilangku ve’l aruviya a’rai vaay umpar” (Akanaanoo’ru 251:14)

“இலங்கு வெள் அருவிய அறை வாய் உம்பர்” (அகநானூறு 251:14)

Beyond the hill passage (coursed by) the magnificent whitish stream

“Pala pala vaayththalai aarththu ma’ndi” (Champanthar 1:5:5)

“பல பல வாய்த்தலை ஆர்த்து மண்டி” (சம்பந்தர் 1:5:5)

Coming in roar from many, many, channels and joining

* * *

Uvaayadi-vaaykkal is a place in the Puthukkudiyiruppu division of Mullaiththeevu district. The location of the place suggests that the Uvaay tree that marked the place name must be Salvadora persica. Another place name Uvaayadip-pa’n’nai in the Mannaar island is a clear reference to Salvadora persica.

* * *

Some related place names:

Uvaa/ Uvaay:

Uvaayadip-pa’n’nai: The farm in the locality of Uvaay trees; Mannaar Town division, Mannaar district

Uvasi-ku’lam: Probably, the tank in the locality of Uvaa trees; Madu division, Mannaar district

* * *


Reddai vaaykkaal: The twin canal; Puthukkudiyruppu division, Mullaiththeevu district

Ampaddan vaaykkaal: The barber’s canal; Karaithu’raippattu division, Mullaiththeevu district

Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal: The canal lined with Mu’l’li plants or the canal found with Mu’l’li (Neer-mu’l’li an aquatic plant); Karaithu’raippattu division, Mullaiththeevu district

Veddina-vaaykkaal: The dugout canal; Ea’raavoorpattu division, Batticaloa district

Ve'l'lak-kaal-thalavai: The flood-outlet plain; Ea'raavoorpattu division, Batticaloa district

First published: Wednesday, 04 July 2012, 00:22

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