Know the Etymology: 29
Place Name of the Day: Sunday, 11 June 2017

Urum-pirāy, Vēm-pirāy, Kaṭṭaip-pirāy, Vēlam-pirāy, Pirāyaṉ-kāṭu

உரும்பிராய், வேம்பிராய், கட்டைப்பிராய், வேலம்பிராய், பிராயன்காடு
Urum-pirāy, Vēm-pirāy, Kaṭṭaip-pirāy, Vēlam-pirāy, Pirāyaṉ-kāṭu

Pirāy+aṉ+kāṭu/ Pirāy+am+kāṭu

A place name either connected to a sheltering grove or to a Pirāy tree

The grove of Vēmpu trees

The grove enclosure; or the Pirāy tree with a platform built around it; or the short Pirāy tree

The grove of Vēl trees

The jungle of Pirāy trees

Pirāy1 probably from Pirai-iṭam: a dense grove (Tamil, Putumaippittaṉ, Tuṉpakkēṇi); Purai-iṭam: grove, garden (Tamil, MTL, inscriptions, 844 CE, Travancore Archaeological Series, II, pp 13-14; c.1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207); 1. Puṟāy: general term for cultivation land (Tamil, inscription, C. 1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207); Puṟavu, Puṟavam: forest, grove (Tamil, DED 4333, Akanānūṟu, 234: 15; Patiṟṟuppattu, 30: 35); from Puṟam: outside (Tamil, DED 4333); 2. Purai, Pirai: a shady place, covered place, canopied place, thatched place, shed, house, dwelling, compartment, cell, niche (Tamil, MTL, DED 4294);
Pirāy2 also Parāy: a tree, Trophis aspera or Streblus asper (Tamil, MTL, Appar, 5: 30; Maṇivācakar, 23: 4); Gẹṭa-niṭul: Streblus asper or Trophis aspera (Sinhala, Clough)
Urumprobably from 1. Urumpu, Urumam: exasperation by heat, the heat of the daytime, noon (Tamil, DED 656); Urumattukku-viṭutal: releasing from work during the hot part of the day (Tamil, MTL); Uruma-viṭuti: midday recess (Tamil, Jaffna Dictionary); Uruma-kālam: hot weather, summer (Tamil, Winslow); 2. Uru, Urum: fierce (Tamil, MTL, Tolkāppiyam, Col, 365);
Kaṭṭai1 enclosure (Eezham Tamil place names). See column 33
Kaṭṭai2platform (Tamil, see column 33)
Kaṭṭai3 shortness of stature (Tamil, DED 1151)
Vēmpu the tree, neem or margosa, Azadirachta indica (Tamil, DED 5531)
Vēl babul tree, Acacia arabica or Mimosa Arabica (Tamil, DED 5537); from the thorns of the tree; Vēl: dart, spear, lance (Tamil, DED 5536)
Pirāyaṉ Pirāy (tree)+aṉ (attributive suffix); or Pirāyaṉ < Pirāy+am (empty morpheme, Cāriyay coming in conjunctions). Note another place name, Pirāyam-pattai
Kāṭu forest, jungle, thicket (Tamil, DED 1418, 1438). See another column

Pirāy as a suffix is peculiar to place names of Jaffna. 

In Tamil, Pirāy or Parāy commonly means the tree, Trophis aspera/ Streblus asper. This is a wild but sacred tree, believed to be an abode of deities and spirits. At Mantuvil in Teṉmarāṭci, Jaffna, a shrine for a goddess called Cōlai-Ammaṉ (grove-goddess) could be found in a grove of Pirāy trees.

In place names such as Pirāyaṉ-kāṭu, Pirāyam-pattai etc., where Pirāy comes as prefix, the term obviously means the tree.

However, a collective look at the place names having the component Pirāy would show that this tree is not the sole toponymic meaning especially in cases where it comes as a suffix, as other trees come in the prefixes, in examples such as Vēm-pirāy, Vēlam-pirāy etc.

A convincing meaning could be applied in these cases if Pirāy is taken as a variation of Pirai or Pirai-iṭam, meaning a shady abode or dense grove.

Note the following usage example of Pirai in the Tirunelvēli Tamil dialect of Putumaippittaṉ, where Pirai means a grove.

* * *


"அவ்விரண்டு குட்டிச்சுவர்களும் எதிர் எதிராக இரண்டு நந்தவனத்தைச் சுற்றி வருகின்றன. தங்க அரளியும் செவ்வரளியும் முல்லையும் தறிகெட்டு வளர்ந்திருக்கும் ஒரு பிரையிடம்" (புதுமைப்பித்தன், துன்பக்கேணி, 1935)

"Avviraṇṭu kuṭṭiccuvarkaḷum etir etirāka iraṇṭu nantavaṉattaic cuṟṟi varukiṉṟaṉa. Taṅka araḷiyum cevvaraḷiyum mullaiyum taṟikeṭṭu vaḷarntirukkum oru piraiyiṭam" (Putumaippittaṉ, Tuṉpakkēṇi, 1935)

The two half-walls encircle two flower gardens placed opposite to each other. It is a Pirai-iṭam where flower shrubs such as Taṅka-araḷi, Cev-alari and Mullai are haphazardly found.

* * *

Pirai and Pirai-iṭam are provincial usages and Madras Tamil Lexicon equates them respectively to Purai of Caṅkam diction and Purai-iṭam of inscriptional usage.

Purai-iṭam in Tamil inscriptions coming from the Chera country means a grove or garden.

The usage may be related to Puṟāy, coming as a general term for cultivated land in Tamil inscriptions, from Puṟavu meaning forest or grove in Caṅkam diction (DED 4333, from Puṟam meaning outside), or may be related to Purai basically meaning a covered place, cell, niche etc. (DED 4924).

* * *


"பீலிக்கோட்டு புரை இடமும்" (Tamil inscription, 844 CE, Travangore Archaeological Series, II, pp. 13-14)

"Pīlikkōṭṭu Purai iṭamum" (Tamil inscription, 844 CE, Travangore Archaeological Series, II, pp. 13-14)

Also the grove or garden place at Pīlik-kōṭu

"குறுமாப்பள்ளிக் கரியாலும் ஈரைப் புரையிடத்தாலும் செல்லும்" (Tamil inscription, TAS, ii, pp. 173-207)

"Kuṟumāppaḷḷik kariyālum īraip puraiyiṭattālum cellum" (Tamil inscription, TAS, ii, pp. 173-207)

Which passes through the land at Kuṟu-māp-paḷḷi and through the grove or garden at Īrai


"பறையன் புறாயுமாய்" (Tamil inscription, C. 1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207)

"Paṟaiyaṉ puṟāyumāy" (Tamil inscription, C. 1000 CE, TAS, II, pp 173-207)

Also the cultivated land of the person of the drummer community

* * *

The prefix, Urum or Uru in Urumpirāy has no other toponymic example and assigning a meaning may be elusive. There is also a probability that the original form of the prefix is lost. If an obsolete local usage could be considered, Urumpirāy may mean a grove recognized for its shelter from hot sun. (See box on Pirāy 1)

* * *

Urum-pirāy is in Valikamam East division of Jaffna district.

Vēm-pirāy is a place in Thenmaradchi division of Jaffna district

Kaṭṭaip-pirāy is located near Kōppāy in Valikamam East division of Jaffna district

Vēlam-pirāy is near Kōyilāk-kaṇṭi in Thenmaradchi division of Jaffna district

Pirāyaṉ-kāṭu is a locality in Mātakal, Jaffna district (Arul Subramaniyam)

* * *

Some related place names:

Tam-pirāy: Poonakari, Kilinochchi. Tampa/ Tampu in this case may mean a place cleared by burning

Vam-pirāy: Thenmaradchi, Jaffna (Balasundaram, p. 337)

Māṉam-pirāy: a locality in Vacāviḷāṉ, Jaffna (V. Almanac). Mānā: a kind of grass, Māṉam-pul

Vaṭakkam-parai: Tolpuram, Valikamam West, Jaffna. Vaṭakku: north

Pirāyam-pattai: also Pirām-pattai: Caṅkāṉai, Valikamam west, Jaffna. Pattai: = Paṟṟai: thicket

* * *

Paraay, Piraay, Streblus asper, Trophis asper [Image Courtesy: Pixabay]
Foilage of Paraay
Foliage of Paraay, Piraay, Streblus asper, Trophis asper [Image Courtesy,]

* * *

Revised: Sunday, 11 June 2017, 18:30
Revised: Tuesday, 04 August 2015, 21:03

First published: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 01:00

Previous columns:


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