Know the Etymology: 236
Place Name of the Day: Wednesday, 09 January 2013


Kuruppu-mulla, Kochchi-kade

குருப்பு முல்ல, கொச்சி கடே3
Kuruppu mulla, Kocci kaḍē

Kuruppu+mulla
Kochchi+kade


The Kuruppu’s Corner
The Kochchi Bazzar


KuruppuAlso Kurup: A sub-group of the matriarchal Nayar community of the Malaiyaa’lam country/ Kerala; An occupational title among the Nayars; One who gives training in Ka’lari (martial arts) to the members of royal family, martial arts preceptors; Worriers, generals and war lords in the service of kings; Temple supervisors; In Central Travancore, barbers and funeral rites performers among Nayars (Malayalam); A minor caste identity or family identity that is found among some influential Sinhala families (Sinhala); Kuruppan: A title of the Nayar priest who performs rituals at Ka’lari/ arena for martial arts (Malayalam); Ku’ruppu: A chief (Malayalam, DED 1844); From the root Ku’ram for a hill tribe and Ku’rumpu for a petti chief (Tamil, cognates in 7 Dravidian languages, DED 1844); Kuruppu-Aarachi, Kuruppu-Muhaandiram, Kuruppu-Mudaliyaar: Parts of some old Sinhala personal names in which the caste identity is coupled with colonial titles meant for native and low-ranking military officers or petti chiefs, village heads, chiefs, etc. Most of the old names had Christian prefixes, some showing Portuguese connections.
KochchiCochin, the harbour city of colonial fame in Kerala (Malayalam); Kochchu: Small (Tamil, Malayalam, DED 2041); Cochin: Named after the small river (Cocci) that flows in there (Nicolo Conti, c. 1430 CE, Padre Polino); the addition of M or N as Cochim or Cochin was typical of Portuguese (Hobson Jobson)
Mulla Corner (Sinhala); Moolai: Corner (Tamil, DED 5044). See column on Viyaapaari-moolai
KadeShop, bazaar (Sinhala); Kadai: Shop, bazaar, market, (Tamil, DED 1142). See column on Kade-weediya


Demographic movements between the island of Sri Lanka and the western part of peninsular India was a phenomenon of continuity since prehistoric times just as the process was with the eastern part.

The Western part of extreme peninsular India or today’s Kerala was part of the ancient Tamil country until Malayalam asserted itself as an identifiable linguistic identity in the late medieval times.

Those who were following the columns might have noticed the many similarities among the place names of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the place names in the island of Sri Lanka (both Sinhala and Eezham Tamil), not only in concept, theme and linguistics but also in clan and demographic identities.

Some of the clan identities such as Aay and Uthi, found in the Early Brahmi inscriptions of the island are specifically related to identities of Kerala in the Changkam times, while the Eezhava identity found in Kerala is specifically related to the island.

Even though the demographic interactions and assimilations were continuing since early times, some clan identities of relatively later origins coming from Kerala, such as Kuruppu, Pa’nikkan, Tantri, Perumaa’l, Malaiyaa’lan etc., survive to this day in Sinhala and Eezham Tamil place names. (See columns on Pa’nikkan Ku’lam, Thanthiri Malai and place names such as Malaiyaa’la-puram, Aiyam-perumaa’l etc)

Among such identities, Kuruppu is unique as it survives not only in the place names but also in the family identities of an affluent section of Sinhalese.

Even the family of Mrs. Srimao Bandaranayake, on its maternal side, is traced to Kuruppus. Srimao’s father was Barnes Ratwatte Disawe. But her great grandmother on the female line was Jane Petronella Kuruppu.

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Kuruppu and Pa’nikkar were largely professional titles for persons specialised in traditional martial arts and engaged in teaching them. They were also commanders of soldier groups or guilds in times of war.

They came from certain castes of Kerala to get the title due to their professional expertise. But due to hereditary practice of the profession the titles either became identities of sub-castes or became family names.

While people coming from many communities received the title Pa’nikkar, only members of the matriarchal Naayar community received the Kuruppu identity. In Kerala, Kuruppu is considered as a sub-caste of Naayar.

Naayar is an umbrella identity for many matriarchal clans in Kerala that come next only to Brahmins in traditional hierarchy. The term Naayar is either related to matriarchy (Naay, Gnaay, Yaay, Thaay and Aay are cognates for mother in Dravidian), or is related to members of the soldier guilds, like Naayakkar in Telugu/ Kannada.

The etymology of Kuruppu could be traced to two roots:

The Dravidian Etymological Dictionary take the word Ku’ruppu, meaning a chief, as a cognate of the ancient Tamil words Ku’rumpu, Ku’rumpar and Ku’ram that meant chiefs, a worrier tribe and a hill tribe. Cognates are found in 7 Dravidian languages (DED 1844). The Kuruppu title of worrier chiefs or teachers of martial arts could have come from this root.

The other possibility is that the word Kuruppu is related to Guru (teacher/ preceptor) in Sanskrit. Kuruppus were known for giving training in martial arts to members of the royal family. The priest performing rituals at the traditional Ka’lari (arena for martial arts) is called Kuruppan. The priests performing funerary rites and in some contexts even barbers are called Kuruppu.

* * *


Kuruppus and Pa’nikkars seem to have come to the island with those identities, perhaps with the soldier guilds of the late medieval centuries that first served the native rulers and then served the colonial rulers.

Earliest use of the word Pa’nikkan, in the sense of a commander or a person connected to teaching martial arts is seen in literatures of 10th century CE. But the word Kuruppu in a similar sense of meaning is not found in early literature. It is probably an identity that emerged around the 15th century.

The Pa’nikkars who came to the island were mainly engaged in catching elephants for kings and chieftains, and later for colonial rulers. Their presence was largely found in the Tamil territories. They eventually lost the identity, even though place names survive. (See column on Pa’nikkan Ku’lam)

But Kuruppus seems to have become Catholics during the times of the Portuguese. They entered into the service of colonial rulers to become chiefs, petty chiefs and native commanders.

Note names like, Don Simon Kuruppu, Don Samuel Kuruppu Muhandiram, Don Batholomeus Kuruppu (Mudaliyaar) etc., and colonial administrative titles such as Kuruppu-Aarachi, Kuruppu-Muhaandiram, Kuruppu-Mudaliyaar etc.

The Kuruppu identity in the island survives to this day mainly in the South as a family name, even though their language is lost and they have become Sinhalese.

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Kochchi is the major harbour city in Kerala, called Cochin in Portuguese, Dutch and in English.

Like Colombo, Kochchi has also become a major harbour of strategic importance in the region, after the Portuguese chose it for their occupation and activities in 1503.

The earliest reference to the place name Cocci comes in the accounts of the Italian traveller Nicolo Conti in c 1430 CE. The way he comes out with the name indicates that Cocci was actually the name of the small river, at the mouth of which the port was located. Later records of the Portuguese also confirm it. The addition of M or N is a typical Portuguese linguistic feature for the place name to become Cochim or Cochin (Hobson Jobson).

Kochchi in Malayalam means small. It is a word of Dravidian etymology (DED 2041), related to words such as Kochchu, Kogncham, Kugnchu, Kuchchu etc in Tamil/ Malayalam.

The bazaar run by people from Kochchi became Kochchi-kade.

Another usage related to Kochchi in Sinhala/ Eezham Tamil is Kochchik-kaay for chillies. It was a food crop brought from Latin America and was introduced as a substitute for pepper by the Portuguese. Probably, it was introduced via Kochchi.

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Kuruppu-mulla is a place in Panadura division of Kalutara district

Kochchi-kade is in Negombo division of Gampaha district

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Some related place names:

Kuruppu Junction: The Kuruppu’s Junction; Thamankaduwa division, Polonnaruwa district

Malaiyaa’la-puram: The Malayali Settlement; Karaichchi division, Ki’linochchi district

First published: Wednesday, 09 January 2013, 23:48

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