Know the Etymology: 42
Place Name of the Day: Friday, 19 May 2017

Mullait-tīvu, Tēttāt-tīvu, Viṭattal-tīvu, Kākkai-tīvu, Kūṉit-tīvu, Ōṭakkāran-tīvu, Pōra-tīvu

முல்லைத்தீவு, தேத்தாத்தீவு, விடத்தல்தீவு, காக்கைதீவு, கூனித்தீவு, ஓடக்காரன்தீவு, போரதீவு
Mullait-tīvu, Tēttāt-tīvu, Viṭattal-tīvu, Kākkai-tīvu, Kūṉit-tīvu, Ōṭakkāran-tīvu, Pōra-tīvu


The water-surrounded place of Mullai shrubs or trees

The water-surrounded place of Tēttā trees

The water-surrounded place of Viṭattal shrubs or trees

The water surrounded place of herons or cormorants

The water-surrounded place to get small shrimps

The sandbank islet of the boatman

The water-surrounded fertile ground or hollow ground

Tīvu island, islet, water-surrounded ground or bank (Eezham Tamil place names); island (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Puṟanāṉūṟu, 397: 21-22). See column 32 for etymology
Mullai1 a tree (Tamil, Kathiraiverpillai); a shrub or small tree of edible leaves that are used in the rituals for ancestors and in making a soup (Eezham Tamil, botanical term couldn't be ascertained); Mullaic-coti: a kind of soup made of the said Mullai leaves and coconut milk (Eezham Tamil, Jaffna usage); Erumai-mullai: a kind of shrub (Tamil, Winslow); Serratifolia L. (Tamil, identified with Midi in Sinhala, A Revised Catalogue of Indigenous Flowering Plants and Ferns of Ceylon, 1911); Midi: shrub or small tree with greenish white flowers and unpleasant smell, Premna serretifolia (Sinhala, Clough); Erumai-mullait-tīvu: an ancient name of Jaffna, so called from the Erumai-mullai shrub (Tamil, Winslow, Kathiraiverpillai; the MTL entry on Erumai-mullai identifying it with jasmine creeper is perhaps not correct); Pacu-mullai: Latifolia (Tamil, identified with Maha-midi in Sinhala, A Revised Catalogue of Indigenous Flowering Plants and Ferns of Ceylon, 1911); Maha-midi: a small tree, Premna latifolia (Sinhala, Clough)
Mullai2 Arabian jasmine, some other varieties of jasmine (Tamil, DED 4987, Kuṟuntokai, 62: 1; 108: 3); Mullai, Mullai-nilam: forest, sylvan tract or pastoral tract of land that got the name from Mullai flower (Tamil, MTL, Naṟṟiṇai, 59: 8; Tolkāppiyam, 19: 5); Mullaiyar, Mullaiyāḷar: pastoral people or people of the sylvan tract (Tamil, Tivākaram, 2: 132; Cūṭāmaṇi, 2: 69); Mullaikkāraṉ: one who cultivates the land and looks after the cattle etc., of a land-owner (Tamil, Batticaloa usage, MTL cites Jaffna diction)
Tēttā Eezham Tamil variation of Tēṟṟā, Tēṟṟu, Tēṟu: clearing-nut tree, Strychnos potatorum (Tamil, DED 3471, Porunarāṟṟuppaṭai, 199; Maṇimēkalai, 23: 142; Piṅkalam, 9: 87; Aṭṭappirapantam, 7: 85); Tēṟṟā-maram: Strychnos potatorum (Malayalam, DED 3471); Tēṭa: clearness, purity, transparency, any clear liquid, the thin and clear upper stratum of a liquid (Telugu, DED 3471); clearness, purity as that of water (Kannada, DED 3471); Tēṭu: pure, clear (Tulu, DED 3471); Tēṟṟu: (verb) to make clear; (noun) making clear (Tamil, DED 3471); Tēṟu: (verb) made clear as water; (noun) clearness (Tamil, DED 3471); Tēṟal: clearness, pure, clarified toddy, clarified juice (Tamil, DED 3471); Tēṟu, Tēru: (verb) to become clear or free from suspended (Telugu, DED 3471); Ińgini, Hińgini: Strychnos potatorum (Sinhala, CDIAL 1554 traces to Iṅguda in Sanskrit, meaning the tree Terminalia catappa)
Viṭattal = Viṭattar, Viṭattēr, Viṭattērai, Viṭattalai, Viṭattāḷi, Viṭattē-toṭari: a spiny shrub or small tree, Dichrostachys cinerea (Tamil, DED 5391, MTL, Patiṟṟuppattu, 13: 14); Andara: a sort or tree (acasia) of which there are about seven or eight species in the island, Dichrostachys cinerea (Sinhala, Clough)
Kākkaialso Kākkāy: crow, Corvus splendens (Tamil, DED 1425); also Veṇ-kākkai, Ciṟu-veṇ-kākkai: a seabird, literally meaning little white crow (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Kuṟuntokai, 246: 1); heron?, crow having a greyish neck (Tamil, MTL); another seabird, Nīrk-kākkai, Nīrk-kākam: little cormorant, Phalacrofocrax javanicus (Tamil, MTL, Tivākaram, 3: 165); Kaṭaṟ-kākam, Kaṭaṟ-kākkai: a sea bird, also called Kaṭalurāyñci (Tamil, Kathiraiverpillai, Winslow); Kāka, Kākkā, Goyigama-kākkā: black crow (Sinhala, Clough); Kāka: crow (Sanskrit, Pali, CDIAL 2993); Onomatopoeia from the sound Kā
Kūṉi a very small shrimp (Tamil, Winslow); common shrimp (Tamil, MTL); Kūṉip-puṭṭu: a boiled, spiced and scrambled dish of tiny shrimp (Tamil Nadu usage); Kūṇiyā, Kūṇissā: (singular) a very small kind of shrimp (Sinhala, Clough, Kūṇi+issā; Issā: shrimp); Kūṇi, Kūṇissō: plural of Kūṇiyā/ Kūṇissā (Sinhala, Clough); Kūni, Kūnisi: small shrimp, "Kuḍā issā" (Sinhala, Sorata); either related to, 1. the hunchbacked attribute of shrimp, Kūṉ: bend, curve, humpback, snail (Tamil, DED 1927); Kūṉu, Kūṉi: (verb) to curve, become hunchbacked (Tamil, DED 1927); Kuṉi, Kūṉi: (verb) to bend, curve (Tamil, DED 1927); or related to, 2. the small size, Kuṉ: small (Kota, DED 1646); Kuṇṇi: small (Tulu, DED 1646); related to Kuñci: anything small (Tamil, DED 1646); also note, Kūnama: palanquin with a crooked bamboo (Sinhala. Clough); Kunu-mẹllā: snail (Sinhala, Clough); Gon, Goṇā: ox, bullock (Sinhala, Clough, from the hump?)
Ōṭakkāraṉ Ōṭam+kāraṉ: boatman, ferryman (Tamil, MTL, DED 1039+CDIAL 3053); Ōṭam: boat, raft, float, vessel (Tamil, Malayalam, DED 1039, Akanāṉūṟu, 101: 12-13); Ōṭi: large sea boat, long and narrow, chiefly from the Laccdives (Malayalam, DED 1039); Oḍi: boat, large sailing boat with two masts and a square sail (now obsolete, Dhivehi/ Maldivian, Fuah Mulaku and Addu dialects, DBF); Ōḍa: boat (Kannada, Parji, DED 1039); ship, vessel (Telugu, DED 1039); Hōḍa: raft, boat (Sanskrit, lexicons, etymology traced to Dravidian, CDIAL, 14174); Ōṭu (verb) to run, sail (Tamil, DED 1041); Ōṭṭu: (verb) to run, steer, sailing of a vessel (Tamil, DED 1041); cognates in 10 Dravidian languages. See column 153; Kāran: masculine termination of certain nouns meaning doer, possessor (Tamil, MTL); Kāra: making, doing (Sanskrit, CDIAL 3053, root is traced to Kṛ); similar meaning in Sinhala as in Karata-kāra: one who drives or possesses a cart (Sinhala, Sorata)
Pōra1 manure, dung (Sinhala, Clough); Pōra, Puvara: manure, "Vṛkṣalatādīnṭa āhāra vaśayen yodana dravyaya" (Sinhala, Sorata); Pōra-pas: manured soil, rich soil (Sinhala, Clough); Pore: (verb) to nourish, cherish, support, preserve, invigorate, be nourished or fed; (noun) nourishing, invigoration, refreshment (Kannada, DED 4283); Prōcu: to nourish (Telugu, DED 4283); Pura: to bestow (Tamil, DED 4283); Puravu: care (Tamil, DED 4283); fertility of cultivation field or crop (Tamil, literary usage);
Pōra2 probably from Pōṟai: hole, hollow, cavern (Tamil, DED 4604); Pōr: hole (Kannada, DED 4604); Boṟṟe: hole, burrow, hollow, pit (Telugu, DED 4604); Pōḻ: (verb) to be cleft, gape; (noun) cleft (Tamil, DED 4599, Ḻ/ Ṟ interchange)

The place names discussed in this column are not exactly islands, like the ones discussed in column 32.

Except Ōṭakkāraṉ-tīvu, which is a tiny sandbank islet in the lagoon, the others are just water-surrounded or marsh-surrounded places found along a seacoast, lagoon coast or riverbank. The geographical phenomenon is often seasonal or partial. Yet they get the toponym Tīvu in Eezham Tamil place names (see column 134).

See column 32 on the meaning and etymology of Tīvu

* * *

Mullai commonly means a kind of jasmine in Tamil. But in Eezham Tamil the term also means a wild, thorny shrub or small tree, the leaves of which are edible and used in the rituals to ancestors. In Eezham Tamil place names Mullai seems to be meaning the tree (see related place names).

The leaves of the Mullai tree are used in making a coconut-milk soup called Mullaic-coti.

Both the jasmine-Mullai and the tree-Mullai have tripartite leaves. There is a probability that the term has come from Mū-ilai, meaning triple-leaf (Tamil, DED 5052+497). The use of the Mullai-tree leaves in ancestor rituals is perhaps because it is a wild tree (preferred for such rituals) and because the leaves are tripartite (which is considered sacred in Saivism).

See boxes on Mullai 1 and Mullai 2.

* * *

Tēttā is the colloquial form of Tēṟṟā, meaning the clearing-nut tree, Strychnos potatorum. Both the forms are found in Eezham Tamil place names. Tēṟu is the form found in Caṅkam literature and the form Tēṟṟu could be seen in later literature and in Piṅkalam lexicon.

The albumin-rich nut of the tree, when rubbed on the interior of a water pot or vessel, will clear the water by making suspended matter to settle down. The seeds are odourless and will not make the water to smell any different.

The root Tēṟu as a verb in Tamil means to make clear as water, and is listed as Dravidian (DED 3471).

Tēṟu/ Tēṟṟu as a tree the nut of which is used in clearing water:

"உகு தேறு வீ" (பொருநராற்றுப்படை, 199)

"Uku tēṟu vī" (Porunarāṟṟuppaṭai, 199)

The falling flowers of Tēṟu tree

"தேறு படு சில் நீர் போலத் தெளிந்து" (மணிமேகலை, 23: 142)

"Tēṟu paṭu cil nīr pōlat teḷintu" (Maṇimēkalai, 23: 142)

Becoming clear (in thought) like inferior water being treated by the nut of Tēṟu

"தேற்று வித்தால் புனல் தேற்றுநர் போல்" (அட்டப்பிரபந்தம், 7: 85)

"Tēṟṟu vittāl puṉal tēṟṟunar pōl" (Aṭṭappirapantam, 7: 85)

Like those who clear water by the nut of the clearing-nut tree

* * *

Viṭattal is a commonly found thorny shrub or tree, similar to acacia and botanically called Dichrostachys cinerea. Viṭattar is the form found in Caṅkam literature. The terms are listed as Dravidian (DED 5391)

The mention of Viṭattar (Viṭattal) tree in Caṅkam literature:

"திரி காய் விடத்தரொடு கார் உடை போகி" (பதிற்றுப்பத்து, 13: 14)

"Tiri kāy viṭattaroṭu kār uṭai pōki" (Patiṟṟuppattu, 13: 14)

The twisted-fruit Viṭattar and the dark acacia started growing (in the war-torn land that once had sugarcane fields). [A conspicuous attribute of Viṭattal is its bunches of twisted, beans-like fruits.]

* * *

Kākkai commonly means crow in Tamil. But in giving names to islands and coastal places, Kākkai means seabirds like heron, cormorant etc., that are called Veṇ-kākkai, Nīrk-kākam and Kaṭaṟ-kākam or Kaṯaṟ-kākkai (the last one is also called Kaṭalurāyñci).

Use of the term Kākkai for a sea bird:

"பெருங் கடற் கரையது சிறு வெண் காக்கை" (குறுந்தொகை, 246: 1)

"Peruṅ kaṭaṟ karaiyatu ciṟu veṇ kākkai" (Kuṟuntokai, 246: 1)

The little white Kākkai resides on the shore of the vast sea

* * *

Kūṉi in Tamil and Kūṇi in Sinhala mean a very small kind of shrimp.

The etymological cognates could be traced to Kūṉ meaning hunchback in Tamil/ Dravidian (DED 1927) or to Kuṇṇi meaning small in Tulu/ Dravidian (DED 1646)

Kūṉi meaning curved or hunchbacked:

"வேனிற் பாதிரிக் கூனி மாமலர்" (அகநானூறு, 257: 1)

"Vēṉiṟ pātirik kūṉi māmalar" (Akanāṉūṟu, 257: 1)

The big, curved flower of Pātiri that blossoms in summer. (Pātiri: Trumpet Flower, Binonia chelonoides)

Kūṉi meaning a very small shrimp:

"கூனி கொத்தி…கொக்கிருக்கும் பண்ணை" (குற்றாலக் குறவஞ்சி, 94)

"Kūṉi kotti…kokkirukkum paṇṇai" (Kuṟṟālak kuṟavañci, 94)

The backwater resided by cranes pecking on small shrimps

* * *

Ōṭam meaning a boat etc. in Tamil/ Dravidian (DED 1039) correspond to the verb Ōṭu, meaning to run or sail (DED 1041).

The suffix Kāraṉ (in Ōṭakkāraṉ) meaning doer or possessor, and its parallel Kāra in Sinhala, are of IA etymology, corresponding to the root Kṛ in Sanskrit (CDIAL 3053).

Ōṭam meaning boat:

"விசும்பிற்கு ஓடம் போலப் பகலிடை நின்ற பல் கதிர் ஞாயிற்று" (அகநானூறு, 101: 12-13)

"Vicumpiṟku ōṭam pōlap pakaliṭai niṉṟa pal katir ñāyiṟṟu" (Akanāṉūṟu, 101: 12-13)

The many-rayed Sun that was like a boat in the sky in the daytime (which was moving like a boat in the sky)

Ōṭṭi and Ōṭṭiya (verb forms of Ōṭu meaning to run) used as verb forms to sail:

"சேரலாதன் முந்நீர் ஓட்டிக் கடம்பு அறுத்து" (அகநானூறு, 127: 3-4)

"Cēralātaṉ munnīr ōṭṭik kaṭampu aṟuttu" (Akanāṉūṟu, 127: 3-4)

The Cēra king Cēralātaṉ sailed in the three waters (Indian Ocean) and felled the Kaṭampu tree (the totem tree of the tribe in the islands)

"வானவன் குட கடல் பொலம் தரு நாவாய் ஓட்டிய அவ்வழி" (புறநானூறு, 126: 14-15)

"Vāṉavaṉ kuṭa kaṭal polam taru nāvāy ōṭṭiya avvaḻi" (Puṟanāṉūṟu, 126: 14-15)

When the Cēra king sailed his gold-bringing ships in the western sea

* * *

The word Pōra as in Pōra-tīvu is unusual to Eezham Tamil place names. In the absence of other examples, meaning has to be deduced solely from the geography.

The place is a rich paddy field tract, surrounded by lagoon and found with many water-bodies in the middle.

Pōra in Sinhala means manure and the phrase Pōra-pas means rich soil. The Sinhala word is a close cognate of Pore in Kannada/ Dravidian, meaning nourishing or invigoration (DED 4283). The related Tamil verb root Pura stands for bestowing anything for nourishment, protection, care etc. The derivative word Puravu was used in Tamil to mean fertility of a cultivation land. In another possibility, the place name Pōra-tīvu could also have come from the pits or hollow areas (Pōṟai, Tamil, DED 4604) found in the middle of the tract. Built with dykes, they serve as tanks for the irrigation of paddy fields. 

Puravu meaning fertility of a cultivation field:

"புரவு ஆர் கழனிகள் சூழ் திருப்புலியூர்" (சடகோபர், 8: 9: 9)

"Puravu ār kaḻaṉikaḷ cūḻ tiruppuliyūr" (Caṭakōpar, 8: 9: 9)

(The place) Tirupuliyūr, surrounded by paddy fields full of fertility

Pura, as in the adverb Pura-kkum, meaning nourishing:

கோடை ஆயினும் கோடா ஒழுக்கத்துக் காவிரி புரக்கும்" (புறநானூறு, 393: 23)

Kōṭai āyiṉum kōṭā oḻukkattuk kāviri purakkum" (Puṟanāṉūṟu, 393: 23)

Even if it were the summer, the river Kāviri, which is unfailing in its flow, would nourish (the fields)

* * *

Mullait-tīvu is headquarters of a district in its name in the Northern Province.

Tēttāt-tīvu is a place in Manmunai South and Eruvilpattu division of Batticaloa district.

Viṭattal-tīvu is in Manthai West division of Mannar district.

Kākkai-tīvu is the name of a coastal bank located north of Jaffna city (Jaffna OIS). There are other islets of banks having the same name in Valaip-pāṭu (Tunukkai OIS) and in Kalpitti, Puttalam (two islets near Kaṟpiṭṭi have the name; Kalpitti OIS)

Kūṉit-tīvu is in Moothoor division of Trincomalee district.

Ōṭakkāraṉ-tīvu is a small islet of sandbank near Kaṟpiṭṭi in Puttalam district (Kalpitti OIS).

Pōra-tīvu has given its name to a division called Pōra-tīvup-paṟṟu in Batticaloa district

* * *

Some related place names:


Mullaip-pulavu: a locality in Kārainakar North, Karainagar, Jaffna. Pulavu: field

Mullaik-kaṭṭai: a locality in Aḷaveṭṭi, Valikamam North, Jaffna (Balasundaram, p. 189). Kaṭṭai: part, enclosure, block of land, terrace built around a tree etc., see column 33

Mullaiyaṭi: Mullai+aṭi: Paḻai, Pachchilaippalli, Kilinochchi (HAM temple register). Aṭi: locality, mostly used in the cases of tree-localities

Mullaik-kallu: Vavuniya South, Vavuniya, Medawachchiya OIS

Mullaiyatik-kaḷappu: Kōmāri, Pottuvil OIS. Kalappu: backwaters; see Mullaiyaṭi

Ciṉṉa-mullait-tīvu: Akkaraippattu, Amparai. Ciṉṉa: small; the term differentiates the place from Mullait-tīvu in the North

* * *

Tēttā/ Tēṟṟā:

Tēṟṟāṅ-kaṇṭal: also called Tēttāṅ-kaṇṭal: Thunukkai, Mullaiththeevu

Tēttāk-kuḷam: Nanaddan, Mannar

Tēṟṟāvaṭi: Tēṟṟā+aṭi: Kandavalai, Kilinochchi (K. almanac)

Tēttāvaṭi: Iluppaik-kaṭavai, Manthai West, Mannar

Tēttāvaṭit-tīvu: Tēttā+aṭi+tīvu: Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee

Tēttāvaṭi-marutaṅ-kuḷam: Tēttā+aṭi+marutu+am+kuḷam: Mannar Town, Mannar

Tēttā-pola: Kalpitti, Puttalam. Probably, Tēttā-paḻai or Tēttā-pulam; there is an open land; marked as Tēttā-polai in Puttalam OIS; note Nīlap-paḻai becoming Nīlap-pola in Sinhala in Trincomalee and Tellip-paḻai noted as Teli-pola in Nampota

* * *


Viṭattal-paḻai: Thenmaradchi, Jaffna. Paḻai: pond. See column 63

Viṭattal-muṉai: Vannaththivillu, Puttalam

Viṭattal-kāṭṭuc-ciṉṉak-kuḷam: Vengkalachcheddikulam, Vavuniya

* * *


Kākkai-muṉai: Kinniya, Trincomalee. Muṉai: point

Kākkaiyan-kuḷam: Madu, Mannar. Kākkaiyaṉ: Kākkai+aṉ: Aṉ could be an adjective or attributive suffix; or Kākkayaṉ could be a personal name, as in Kākkai-vaṉṉiyan; Kākkai: the act of protecting, guarding; from Kā: (verb) to protect, guard (Tamil, DED 1416)

Kākkā-paḷḷi: Chilaw, Puttalam. Kākkā in this case could mean a Muslim; from Kākkā: elder brother, usage of Tamil Muslims (from Urdu, MTL)

* * *


Kōyil-pōra-tīvu: Poratheevuppattu, Batticaloa. The temple part of Pōra-tīvu

Periya-pōra-tīvu: Poratheevuppattu, Batticaloa. The larger part of Pōra-tīvu

* * *

Mullai tree
The Mullai tree of Eezham Tamil identification. Photographed in Jaffna. Botanical term not available. [Photo: TamilNet]
Mullai tree
The Mullai tree of Eezham Tamil identification: close-up. Note the tripartite leaves. Photographed in Jaffna [Photo: TamilNet]

Vidaththal, Dichrostachys cinera
Vidaththal (Dichrostachys cinera): shrubs photographed at Mallaavi-Panangkaamam area of Vanni. [Photo: TamilNet]
Vidaththal, Dichrostachys cinera
Vidaththal (Dichrostachys cinera): Dense growth photographed at Mallaavi-Panangkaamam area of Vanni. [Photo: TamilNet]
Vidaththal, Dichrostachys cinera
Vidaththal (Dichrostachys cinera): Close-up, note the foliage, thorns and flowers, photographed at Mallaavi-Panangkaamam area of Vanni. [Photo: TamilNet]
Kooni shrimp
Kooni: note the shape of a baby shrimp alive [Image courtesy: Labut’s photostream,]
Poara-theevu, as seen with its paddy fields and tanks in the 1968
Poara-theevu, as seen with its paddy fields and tanks and marshes in the One Inch Sheet, last revised in 1968 [Map courtesy: Ceylon Survey Department, 1971]

* * *

Revised: Friday, 19 May 2017, 18:30

First published: Friday, 27 July 2007, 01:00

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