Know the Etymology: 239
Place Name of the Day: Thursday, 28 March 2013


Marakkalaha-watta

மரக்கலஹ வத்த
Marakkalaha Watta

Marakkalaha+watta
Marakkalayaa+ha+watta


The grove or garden of a navigator
The grove or garden of a Muslim


Marakkalayaa A Moor man, A Muslim of the island of Sri Lanka (Sinhala); Marakkalam: Ship (Tamil, Ma’nimeakalai 29:10); Marakkalan: Sailor, captain of a ship (Tamil, Thivaakaram Lexicon, 2:61); Marakkalavar: Navigators (Tamil); Marakkala-naayan: Captain of a ship (Tamil, inscription, 1088 CE); Kalam: Vessel, utensil, earthenware, ship (Tamil, Malayalam, DED 1305); Kalavar: Navigators (Tamil, DED 1305); Kalamu: Ship (Telugu, DED 1305); Kalamari: Sailor (Telugu, DED 1305); Kalaa: (in combinations) Boat (Sanskrit); Kala’sa: (in combinations) Pot (Sanskrit); Maram: Tree, wood, timber (Tamil, DED 4711). Cognates found in 16 Dravidian languages; Marak-kaal: A wooden cubic measure (Tamil, DED 1305); Marap-pu’nai: a wooden float, boat (Tamil, Chilappathikaaram, 13:179, DED 4321); Marakkaayar: Tamil-speaking Muslims (Tamil, Malayalam, MTL); Markab: Something to ride, vehicle, saddle, boat etc., (Arabic)
Watta (singular); Wattu (plural): A garden or grove of coconut and other fruit trees, place of residence consisting of a garden (Sinhala); Vaththai: A place name suffix for a field / plot/ stretch of land, usually not productive (Jaffna Tamil usage); Vatthu: A site, ground, field, plot, property (Pali/ Prakrits, CDIAL 11449); Vastu: The seat or place of anything (Sanskrit, CDIAL 11449); Vaasthu: The site or foundation of a house, site, ground, building or dwelling place (Sanskrit, CDIAL 11606). See column on Koththiyaa-vaththai


In Sinhala usage, the word Marakkalayaa means a Moor or Muslim person of the island.

The word is of Tamil origin and is of Dravidian etymology, literally meaning a person of the ship.

The Tamil word Marak-kalam has two components: Maram, meaning wood in this context (DED 4711) and Kalam, meaning a vessel or ship (DED 1305). Literally the phrase means a wooden vessel, i.e. a ship.

Another comparable phrase in Tamil is Marap-pu’nai, meaning a wooden float, i.e., a boat.

The word Kalam or Kalan itself stood for a ship in Changkam Tamil diction of the dawn of the Common Era (see examples)

The phrase Marakkalam, meaning a ship, is found used in Ma’nimeakalai of the early centuries of the Common Era.

Tamil Lexicon Cheanthan Thivaakaram dated to c. 8th century CE and inscriptions come out with later examples for the usage of Marakkalam and related words.

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, a word Marakkaayar is now used to identify a particular group of Tamil-speaking Muslims. Even though the word is often traced to Marakkalayar in Tamil, there is also a view that the origin of the word Marakkaayar is related to Marakab in Arabic, meaning a boat or ship.

The Arabic word Marakab originally means anything to ride, such as a vehicle, boat or saddle of a horse etc. The Tamil word Marak-kalam, meaning a ship and was in use in Tamil since early times, comes from a different etymology as could be seen from the table.

The Sinhala usage Marakkalayaa, meaning a Moor or Muslim, shows without ambiguity that the word is connected to Tamil/ Dravidian etymology.

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Examples from Tamil usage:


Kalam/ Kalan meaning a ship:

“Kadal aazh kalaththin thoan’ri maalai ma’raiyum avar ma’ni nedung kun’rea” (Ku’runthokai 240: 6-7)

“கடல் ஆழ் கலத்தின் தோன்றி மாலை மறையும் அவர் மணி நெடுங் குன்றே” (குறுந்தொகை 240: 6-7)

Like an ocean-going ship, his (the lover’s village) dark high hill will appear and then disappear when the dusk comes

“Kazhani naappa'n eamuttu u’nangku kalan aazhiyin thoan’rum oar eyil” (Pu’ra:naanoo’ru 338:11-12)

“கழனி நாப்பண் ஏமுற்று உணங்கு கலன் ஆழியின் தோன்றும் ஓர் எயில் (புறநானூறு 338:11-12)

The fort amidst the paddy fields deceives the vision and looks like a sunbathing ship in the sea.


Marak-kalam meaning a ship:

“Marak-kalam keduththoan mainthanaik kaa’naathu” (Ma’nimeakalai 29:10)

“மரக் கலம் கெடுத்தோன் மைந்தனைக் காணாது” (மணிமேகலை 29:10)

(The merchant) who left his ship perish didn’t find the boy (who was entrusted in his care)


Marap-pu’nai meaning a boat:

“Maathavaththaaddiyodu marap-pu’nai poaki” (Chilappathikaaram 13:179)

“மாதவத்தாட்டியொடு மரப்புணை போகி” (சிலப்பதிகாரம் 13:179)

(They) went in a boat with the great ascetic woman


Marakkalan meaning the captain of a ship:

“Neekaan, marakkalan, meekaaman aakum” (Thivaakaram Lexicon 2: 61)

“நீகான், மரக்கலன், மீகாமன் ஆகும்” (திவாகர நிகண்டு 2: 61)

The words Neekaan and Marakkalan means Meekaaman (sailor or captain)


Marakkala-naayan meaning the captain of a ship:

“Marakkala naaya:num keavika’lum” (Tamil inscription, 1088 CE, Aava’nam pp 118-19)

“மரக்கல நாயநும் கேவிகளும்” (Tamil inscription, 1088 CE, ஆவணம் pp 118-19)

The captain of the ship and those who row it

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Marakkalaha-watta is a village in Beruwala division of Kalutara district. The original form of the place name could be Marakkalayaha-watta. The ‘ha’ suffix stands for the possessive case.

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Some related place names:

Sea column on Choanaka-theru, Yoanaka-pura

First published: Thursday, 28 March 2013, 07:11

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