Know the Etymology: 130
Place Name of the Day: Monday, 11 May 2009

Colombo / Kozhumpu / Ko'lumpu / Ko'lamba

கொழும்பு / கொளும்பு
Colombo / Koḻumpu / Koḷumpu / koḷampa

The point where the land bends inside
The point of the bend

Colombo Colonial rendering of the place name, from Tamil and Sinhala, Kozhumpu / Ko'lumpu / Ko'lamba / Kollam-tota etc., that stood for the landscape of the place, i.e., point of abrupt turn.
Kozhu Plough point, coulter (Tamil, Changkam Diction, lexicons, and modern in the usage of farmer's technical terms); The sharp end of eyes, buds, shoots, sprouts etc, as adjective (Tamil, Changkam Diction); Kozhuk-kaddai: A steamed pastry of pointed ends on either side (Tamil); Ka'ruththak-kozhumpaan, Ve'l'laik-kozhumpaan: Varieties of mango of dark and light greed skin, having curved points; Ko'luththu: An alley of sudden bend (Tamil, Old Lexicons); Ko'lu: Extreme point of things (Dhivehi / Maldivian, comes in the names of Maldivian islands, located at the tips of the outer reef of atolls or an atoll itself making a tip in the chain of atolls); Koa: A sudden curvature in the reef that leads inside (Dhivehi / Maldivian, Dhivehi Bas Foi Dictionary); Kola, Kolaa: Islands situated at turning points of the reef (Dhivehi / Maldivian, An Etymological Dictionary of Maldivian Island Names); Kodu, Koadu: (adjective) Bending (Tamil, Changkam Diction, literary, note the Zh / 'L / L / D interchange); Ko'lukki: A hook; Ko'luvuthal: Hooking (Tamil, obviously by ZH becoming 'L); Ko'lai: The Yaazh (lute) of the curved body (Changkam Diction and Chilappathikaaram); Koalambaka: Curved body of a lute, large water jar (Sinhala): Kola: Curving parts of body, such as hip, flank etc. (Sanskrit); Kolamba: a large jar of sharp curves (Pali / Prakrit); Koala: curving body parts, objects, the sharply curving coast from Orissa to Tamil Nadu (Sinhala); Kolombiya: Species of a mango tree (Sinhala); Kollan-gaha: A tree bearing hook-tipped fruits, Xanthocymus pictorius (Sinhala); Ko'lom: A tree bearing globular flowers (Sinhala, Adina cordifolia). See column on Koava'lam for the etymology of Koa
Kollam An ancient and important harbour-city in southern Kerala, became Quilon in colonial renderings. There are also other places in Kerala having the name Kollam. The landscapes of all these places are sharp turning points, comparable to that of Colombo. Kolamba-pattana: The name of Kollam in Sanskrit (Indian Epigraphy, D.C. Sircar, P269, Indian Antiquary Vol II, P360); Kolamba-samvat: Sanskrit term for Kollam Aa'ndu, a reckoning of Era, prevalent in southern Kerala and some southern parts of Tamil Nadu; Kollam-tota: Said to be the old name of Colombo; Tota: Port, ford, ferry (Sinhala; the Tamil cognate Thoduvaay from the verb root Thodu means touching or reaching point); Kolu: rising position (Tamil); Kolu, Kolla: High ground (Malayalam)

Location of Colombo and Kotte [Satellite image courtesy: Google]
Colombo Fort and harbour. The harbour constructions are additions since late colonial times. [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Kozhumpu and Neerkozhumpu (Colombo and Negombo). Note the similarity in geography but the addition of a body of water in the case of Negombo [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Colombo and Kollam [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
An Indian plough. Note the 'kozhu' or plough-tip inside the circle. [Photo courtesy: flickr image]
The place Colombo and its place name came into prominence ever since the Portuguese built a warehouse and later a fort in the present Fort area of the Colombo city, in the early 16th century.

Colombo, the coastal location selected by the Portuguese, was only a few km northwest to the capital of one of the native kingdoms of the island at that time, located at Kotte (literally means fort; the locality of the present day parliament complex at Sri Jayawardanepura).

The choice of the Portuguese to locate their settlement at today's Fort area of Colombo was determined by its strategic landscape making a point as well as a curving coastline to anchor ships.

With the rise of the Portuguese power, and the conquest of the kingdom of Kotte, the native capital became abandoned and the Portuguese town became the central place. Colonial trade and trade route considerations made Colombo as the seat of the governor in the Portuguese, Dutch and the British times.

However, until early British times, Colombo was actually confined to today's Fort area. The native town outside of the fort was today's Pettah (from Tamil Peaddai means wholesale area or downtown; Peadu in Tamil / Telugu means village, settlement etc).

The etymology of Colombo is not convincingly traceable through Sinhala sources, but there is a memory that the old name of Colombo was Kollam-tota.

Today Colombo is written and pronounced in Sinhala as Ko'lamba.

Various conjectures have been made with the help of Sinhala vocabulary to trace the etymology to a variety of Mango tree (Ko'lambiya), Mango leaves (Ko'le-amba), a tree bearing mango-like fruits (Kollan-gaha), and another tree bearing ball-like flowers (Ko'lam). Kollam-tota is also interpreted as the port to embark for Kollam in Kerala. Tota is port, ferry etc in Sinhala, connected to Thodu-vaay (from the verb root Thodu) in Tamil, meaning, touching or reaching point.

However, how Colombo is called in Tamil usage, and similar place names in Malayalam and Dhivehi (Maldivian), seem to provide an important key to understand the etymology of Colombo. It is also pertinent to note here the wide prevalence of Tamil / Malayalam demography in the western coastal belt of Sri Lanka until they were absorbed into Sinhala identity after 19th century (see column on Udappu).

Colombo is written and pronounced as Kozhumpu or Ko'lumpu in Tamil.

It is not an isolated place name in Eezham Tamil. There are two more Kozhumpus or Ko'lumpus: Negombo, some km north of Colombo is always called Neer-Kozhumpu or Neer-Ko'lompu in Eezham Tamil. There is one more place Kozhumputh-thu'rai or Ko'lumputh-thu'rai in the Jaffna Peninsula.

All the three Kozhumpus are coastal ports, sharing similar geographical features.

Kollam, Kolamba Pattana, Ko'lumpu & Ko'lu-ma-dulu
Note the occurrences of Ko'lu in the place names of Kerala, Sri Lanka and Maldives

The pastry called Kozhukkaddai. It is a tradition to prepare it when babies get their first teeth.
The Ka'ruththaik-kozhumpaan variety of mango.
The ve'l'laik-kozhumpaan variety of mango
The location and geography of Neer-Kozhumpu (Negombo) [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The location and geography of Kozhumputh-thu'rai [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The Ko'lumadulu atoll in Maldives. Note that this atoll is the southern tip of a chain of atolls. [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The coastline of Kollam making a bed [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The location and geography of Kollam [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The location and geography of another Kollam in the north of Kerala [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Kollan-gaha, literally meaning the Kollam tree. Note the shape of its fruits
The Kolam tree, gains its name from its ball like flowers. This tree is irrelevant to the etymology of Colombo
Even though not certain the Jambu-ko'la pattina is identified with the location shown in the map near Maathakal of the northern tip of the Jaffna peninsula [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Interestingly, there are more than one Kollam (Kolamba-pattana in Sanskrit) in the Kerala coast, showing identical geographical features to that of the three Kozhumpus.

Significant parallels could be seen in many of the island names of Maldives where the terms Ko'lu, Kolaa etc stand for a specific geographical feature comparable to that of Colombo.

The etymology of Colombo lies in its geography.

The word Kozhu, often pronounced as Ko'lu, in Tamil, stands for a tip, point etc.

In Tamil usage, very specifically Ko'zhu stands for the tip of a plough, which is actually a bent tip.

It is a word of Changkam Tamil usage found to be used even today in the farmer's technical terms:

"Kollai uzhu kozhu eayppa, pallea ellaiyum iravum oon thin'ru mazhungki"

"Like the plough's tip that burrows the slash and burn field, the teeth got blunted by eating meat day and night". (Porunaraattuppadai: 117-118)

"Naagnchil uduppu muka muzhuk kozhu moozhka oon'ri"

"Burrowing deep by the plough's tip fixed at the base of the plough completely going into the earth", (Perumpaa'naattuppadai: 199)

"Naagnchi aadiya kozhu vazhi marungkin"

"In the burrowed filed where the tip of the plough did its work", (Pathittuppaththu, 58:17)

The word Kozhu, in its meaning curved tip, can also be found used in some other word-combinations, especially in Eezham Tamil:

Kozhuk-kaddai is a steamed pastry having curved tips on either side.

Recognizing the curved tip of mango fruit, two varieties of mangoes in Jaffna are called by the name 'Kozhumpaan' in Jaffna Tamil. They are differentiated as Ka'ruththak-kozhumpaan and Ve'l'laik-kozhumpaan because of the dark-green and light-green shades of the fruits. (Ka'ruppu: dark; Ve'l'lai: white or light)

Anyone who looks at the geography of Colombo's location can immediately recognize why it is called Kozhumpu in Tamil. It is a curved tip, the land bending on one side. (See images)

It is the same geography that can be seen in the case of Neer-Kozhumpu (Negombo) and in the case of Kozhumputh-thu'rai in Jaffna (thu'rai means, port, ferry etc). The prefix Neer (water, sea etc) of the place name Neer-kozhumpu stands for the lake of that place. (See images)

The suffix Umpu in Kozhumpu (kozhu-umpu) is a usual linguistic addition known in Tamil grammar as Chaariyai (euphonic particle of a word)

Revealing examples for the use of the word Ko'lu, standing for the geography of place names, come from the Maldivian island names, and in one example from an atoll name in the Maldives.

The word Ko'lu in the Maldivian language Dhivehi, gives the same meaning tip, point, etc., as in Tamil, even though there is no specificity as such a plough's tip. (Dhivehi Bas Foi: Dictionary of Dhivehi Language (in Dhivehi), National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research, Maldives). Dhivehi and Tamil also share another shade of meaning for the word Ko'lu /Kozhu (wooden logs, straight stems, branches, poles etc. Kolombuwa in Sinhala is a wooden log to sit)).

An atoll at the southern tip of the chain of atolls in Maldives is called Ko'lu-madulu, meaning the tip-atoll (written as Kolhumadulu in the Maldivian transcription system; Madulu means, atoll, circle, district etc; from Sanskrit Ma'ndala)

There are many other islands in Maldives, having the word Ko'lu (Kolhu) in their names and all those islands invariably make a tip in the atoll reef. (See images and related place names)

Another cue that comes from the Maldivian island names is the use of the word Koa for a curve in the reef. Islands at the point where the reef makes a curve are called Koala, Kolaa, Koalaa, etc. (See related place names)

The two Kollams in the Kerala coast, Kurakkeni-Kollam and Panthalayani-kollam are etymologically and geographically related to Colombo as well as the Maldivian island names discussed here.

Kurakkeni-Kollam of Then-Kollam (the southern Kollam) is the place popularly known as Kollam in the historical records. This was an ancient port in southern Kerala, and was an important centre in the colonial times. The Portoguese called it Caulao and the anglicized form that is sometimes found used today also in writing the place name in English is, Quilon.

Panthalayani-Kollam is in northern Kerala and is called today as Quilandy.

Both Kollams are located at points where the coastline bends significantly, in the opposite direction to that of Colombo, signifying that geography was behind the etymology of their names. (See images)

The more famous of them, the southern Kollam was rendered in the Sanskrit inscriptions as Kolamba-pattana. (Indian Epigraphy, D.C. Sircar, P269, Indian Antiquary Vol II, P360)

There is an era called Kollam Era, in the traditions of the extreme peninsular India. The era, named after the place Kollam, and beginning from 825 AD, is still used in southern Kerala and in some southern parts of Tamil Nadu. This era in Sanskrit is called Kolamba-samvat. (Samvat: era). The adjective Kolamba is obviously the sanskritized form of Kollam.

No wonder there is an etymological connection between Ko'lamba (Colombo) and Kollam, and the old name for Colombo is remembered as Kollam-tota in the Sinhala memory.

The etymology discussed through the Tamil words, Kozhu /Ko'lu, Dhivehi (Maldivian) Ko'lu / Kolaa and Malayalam Kolu / Kollam to arrive at the geographical meaning for the place name Colombo, is not totally lost in the Sinhala diction either. Ko'lambiya is a variety of Mango in Sinhala and Kollan-gaha bears fruits with a hooked tip.

Whether the Dravidian ZH (the velar L) became softened to retroflex 'L and alveolar L in Sanskrit / Prakrit through borrowing or vice versa is debatable linguistically.

However, this doesn't prevent concluding that the Eezham Tamil usage Kozhumpu for Colombo retains a linguistic shade an antiquity meaningful to the etymology of the place name.

It is of relevance to cite here that according to the Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka, Jambu-ko'la Pattana in the Jaffna Peninsula was the port where the emissary of Asoka bringing the branch of the sacred bo-tree landed in the 3rd century BC. Even though the location of the port is yet to be identified with certainty, the suffix Ko'la most probably means that the place was a point in the coastline.

With the ZH / 'L / D interchange in South Asian languages the Tamil Kozhu is connected to another Tamil word Kodukku (the sting of a wasp, scorpion, etc) and Koadi / Koti (tip, extreme point) in Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Sinhala etc. See the table for other related words.

Colombo was the seat of the Portuguese, Dutch and British governors. The British occupied Colombo and the Dutch territories in the island in 1796. The last native kingdom existed in the island that had its capital at Kandy was conquered by the British in 1815. The different territories in the island that were under Jaffna Patnam, Kandy and Colombo were unified by the British for administrative convenience in 1833 and Colombo became the capital of British Ceylon. The Western Province, where Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka is located, accounts for 51 percent of the island's wealth today.

The outlines of the Fort of Colombo can still be seen in the satellite image [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]

Some related place names:

In the island of Sri Lanka:

Neer-Kozhumpu, Neer-Ko'lumpu, Negombo: The point of the bend, having a water body. Neer: Water, sea, etc (Tamil, Dravidian etymological Dictionary 3690). Neer-kozhumpu or Negombo is a point where the landscape makes a bend, but at the same time makes an entrance for a large lake (see images). Negombo is obviously the Europeanized form of Neer-kozhumpu or Neer-ko'lumpu. The presently used Sinhala name Meegamuva (the village of Mee trees) is not etymologically connected to Negombo.

Kozhumputh-thu'rai, Ko'lumputh-thu'rai: The port at the bending point. The landscape makes a sharp bend at this place (see images). Thu'rai means port, harbour, ferry-point etc. (Tamil, Dravidian Etymological Dictionary 3370). The place is traditionally known as a port and a ferry point to cross the Jaffna lagoon and to go to the main island from the Jaffna Peninsula. Another possibility for the origin of the place name could be from the fact that it was the boarding point to travel to Kozhumpu (Colombo). Portuguese records give the place name as Colombogam (Kozhumpukam; Kam as in the place names Chu'n'naakam, Mallaakam etc is an Eezham Tamil cognate of Prakrit / Sinhala, Gama and Sanskrit Graama, meaning village)

In Kerala, India:

Kollam, Kolamba-pattana (Sanskrit), Korakkenni-Kollam, Then-Kollam, Coulao (Portuguese), Quilon (Anglicized): The point at the bend. An ancient port, continued to be of much importance in the colonial times and a major city in the southern part of Kerala. The landscape makes a point and a sharp bend at this place (see image).

Kollam, Panthalayani-Kollam, Quilandy (Anglicized): The point at the bend. This Kollam, known today as Quilandy, is located in northern Kerala. The landscape makes a point and a sharp bend a few km north of today's Quilandy town.

In Maldives:

Note the island of Dhuni-ko'lu making a tip in the reef in one of the atolls of Maldives [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Kola is an island in the beginning of a curve and Faru-ko'lu-huttaa making a tip of the atoll. In Tamil Faru-ko'lu-huttaa literally means Paa'rai-kozhu-puddi [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
The Ko'lu Fushi island at the tip of the atoll [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Maa-koa is in the curve and Oo-ko'lu-fino'lu making a tip in the atoll [Satellite image courtesy: Google Earth]
Kolhu-madulu (Ko'lu-madulu): The tip atoll. This is the name of an atoll that makes the tip of the northern chain of atolls of the Maldives (see image). Ko'lu (written in Dhivehi / Maldivian transcription system as Kolhu means a point. Madulu is the Dhivehi cognate of Mandala in Sanskrit, meaning a district, circle etc.

Dhuni-kolhu (Dhuni-ko'lu): The arrow's tip. This is an island that makes a tip in the Maalhosmadulu atoll of Maldives.

Faru-kolhu (Fa'ru-ko'lu): The tip of the reef. (Faru: reef in Dhivehi; Paa'rai in Tamil). An island located at the tip of a curving reef. Miladhunmadulu North atoll, Maldives

Faru-kolhu-huttaa (Fa'ru-ko'lu-huttaa): The island at the tip of the reef. (Faru: reef; Paa'rai in Tamil; Huttaa: an inferior island or islet in Dhivehi; Puddi: sandbank in Tamil). Huvadhoo South atoll, Maldives

Kolhu-fushi (Ko'lu-fushi): The tip island. (Fushi: an inferior island. The word is a cognate of Huttaa, known in old Dhivehi / Maldivian as Puti: Puddi in Tamil is sandbank). The island is in Kolumadulu atoll of Maldives. There is another island making a tip in the atoll know as Kolhu-fushi in the Mulaku atoll.

Faru-kolhu-fushi (Fa'ru-ko'lu-fushi): The island at the tip of the reef. (See earlier entries for Faru and Fushi). Male atoll, Maldives

Atholhu-kolhu-fushi (Atho'lu-ko'lu-fushi): The island at the tip of the atoll. (Atolhu: atoll; see earlier entries for Fushi). Male atoll, Maldives

Oo-kolhu-finolhu (oo-ko'lu-fino'lu): The sandbank making a pointed tip. (Oo: sharp point, needle-like; Finolhu: sandbank). The island is in the Faathippolhu atoll of Maldives.

Raalhu-laa-kolhu ('Raa'lu-laa-ko'lu): The tip washed by the surf. (Raalhu: waves, surf; Laa: being washed). This is an island making a tip in the Miladhunmadulu South atoll of Maldives.

Rashu-kolhu-huraa (Rashu-ko'lu- hu'raa): The islet at the tip of the land. (Rashu: land; Huraa: barren islet of rocks). The islet is in the Ari South atoll of Maldives.

Thin-kolhu-fushi (Thin-ko'lu-fushi): The island of three points. (Thin: three; see previous entries for Fushi). The island is in the Kolhumadulu atoll of Maldives.

Thoshi-ka'ndu-kolhu (Thoshi-ka'ndu-ko'lu): The island at the end of the insignificant reef. (Thoshi: reef, breakwater; ka'ndu: insignificant). Miladhunmadulu North atoll, Maldives

Koalaa: The island at the protruding part of the reef. (Koa, Kola, Kolaa: A curvature in the reef that leads inside > Dhivehi Bas Foi dictionary). Miladhunmadulu south atoll, Maldives

Kolaa: The island in the protruding part of the reef, where it curves inside. Huvadhoo atoll, Maldives

Kola-fushi: The island on the outer reef, where it curves inside. Kolhumadulu atoll, Maldives

Koa-duvaa: The island making a loop. (Duvaa: island; a cognate of Dveepa in Sanskrit). Huvadhoo North atoll, Maldives

Maa-koa: (The island at) the big inward curve of the reef. (Maa: big). Faadhippolhu atoll, Maldives

First published: Monday, 11 May 2009, 16:00

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