Know the Etymology: 205
Place Name of the Day: Monday, 12 June 2017

Ūrāt-tuṟai/ Kayts, Paṇṇait-tuṟai, Kappal-tuṟai, Nāvān-tuṟai, Paṭavut-tuṟai

ஊராத்துறை/ கைற்ஸ், பண்ணைத்துறை, கப்பல்துறை, நாவாந்துறை, படவுத்துறை
Ūrāt-tuṟai/ Kayts, Paṇṇait-tuṟai, Kappal-tuṟai, Nāvān-tuṟai, Paṭavut-tuṟai


The port of the Ūrā type of sailing ships/ The quay or harbour

The port of the Paṇṇai type of cargo boats

The port of the Kappal type of sailboats

The port of the Nāvāy type of boats

The port of the Paṭavu type of boats

Ūrā from Uru: schooner, small vessel (Tamil, DED 659); cargo ship, cargo boat, sailing ship, vessel larger than a boat (Tamil, inscriptions, 1270 CE, SII, viii, 405; 1524 CE, TAS, vi, 128); boat (Tamil, Batticaloa usage, V.C. Kanthaiya); schooner, sloop, small vessel (Tamil, MTL notes colloquial); Uru, Uruvu: vessel, ship (Malayalam, DED 659); Ōṛa: boat (Gondi, DED 1039); Oru: boat, canoe (Sinhala, Clough, Oruva in singular); journeying vessel moving in water, canoe;"Diyehi patina yātrāvak, Vīṇā-drōṇiya" (Sinhala, Sorata); Yātrā-oruva: vessel, largest kind of Sinhalese boat (Sinhala, Clough); Oru-toṭu: a port or harbour where Oru type of vessels anchor; "Oru navatvana toṭupala" (Sinhala, Sorata); Horu: = Oru (Sinhala, Sorata); Ūr: (verb) to move slowly, sail (Tamil, DED 749, Kalittokai, 106: 5; 103: 9); Ūrtal: (noun) moving, riding, sailing (Tamil, Naṟṟiṇai, 210: 5-6); Ūrti: vehicle (Tamil, Akanāṉūṟu, 44: 4-5); Ūru: movement, "Gatiya" (Sinhala, Sorata)
Ūrāttuṟai the name of the seaport that became Kayts in colonial times (Tamil, Tiruvālaṅkāṭu Chola inscription, 1175 CE, EI, xxii, 14; Nayiṉātīvu inscription of Parākramabāhu, 12th century CE, Indrapala, K., 2006, plate 33)
Paṇṇai large dhoney, "Marakkalam" (Tamil, MTL citing Jaffna diction, Winslow); boat (Tamil, Kathiraiverpillai); boat, as compared to belly (Tamil, Kampar, Āraṇya Kāṇṭam, 15: 7); Paṇṇaiya: (verb) having boats (Tamil, Kampar, Āraṇya Kāṇṭam, 7: 119); Paṇai: (verb) be large, bulky, plump (Tamil, Kuṟuntokai, 201: 3-5); (special verb, Uriccol) big (Tamil, Tolkāppiyam, 17: 41); (noun) thickness, bigness (Tamil, DED 3894); drum, large drum (Tamil, DED 3893, Akanāṉūṟu, 84: 2); Paṇava: drum (Sanskrit, traced to Tamil/ Dravidian, CDIAL 7716); Paṇṭi: belly, pouch (Tamil, DED 3898); cart, vehicle (Tamil, Peruṅkatai, 37: 221); Bańḍu: belly (Dhivehi/ Maldivian, DBF); Bańḍu-oḍi: cargo boat (Dhivehi, Maldivian, DBF)
Kappal ship, sailing vessel (Tamil, DED 1219, cognates in Malayalam, Toda, Tulu and Telugu; literary usage in Tamil is not very early); from the sail of a vessel; Kappu: (verb) to overspread (Tamil, DED 1221); to cover, spread, extend, overspread (Kannada, Telugu DED 1221); Kammu: to cover, overspread (Telugu, DED 1221); Kampal: cloth, blanket (Tamil, Kalittokai, 65: 6); Kappuka, Kammuka: (verb) to cover, overspread (Malayalam, DED 1221); Kavippa: (verb) to cover as with an umbrella, overshade, cover over as an arch (Tamil, DED 1221, Naṟṟiṇai, 271: 11): Kavippu: covering, canopy (Tamil, DED 1221); Kappara: ship, sloop (Sinhala, Clough); "Jalayātrāva, Nẹva" (Sinhala, Sorata)
Nāvāy ship (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Naṟṟiṇai, 295: 6); sail boat (Tamil, Cīvakacintāmaṇi, 11: 5); fishing boat (Tamil, Kampar, Ayōttiyā Kāṇṭam, 8: 10); Nāvā: boat (Sanskrit, Rig Vedic, Pali, Prakrit, CDIAL 7081); root is traced to Nau: ship, boat, vessel (Sanskrit, Rig Vedic, Monier Williams); Nẹva: ship, boat, vessel in general (Sinhala, Clough)
Paṭavu small boat (Tamil, DED 3838, Kaliṅkattupparaṇi, 12: 28; inscription, 1175 CE, EI, xxii, 14); Paṭuvai: raft, float (Tamil, DED 3838, Tivākaram, 7: 219); Paḍavu: boat (Tulu, DED 3838); boat, "Nẹva, Yātrāva" (Sinhala, Sorata); variation of Paṭaku: small boat, dhoney, large boat (Tamil, DED 3838); Paṭar: (verb) to run (Tamil, DED 3844, Kuṟuntokai, 108: 2); Paṭarku: (verb) to go, as in Caṅkam usages Paṭarkuvai, Paṭarkuvar etc. (Tamil, Puṟanāṉūṟu, 69: 16; 154: 5); Paṭarpu, Paṭarvu: (noun) going, moving, flying (Tamil, Puṟanāṉūṟu, 383: 17; Campantar, 1: 126: 3)
Tuṟai seaport, harbour (Tamil, DED 3370). See column 45
Kayts from Cais: platform, landing place, pier, wharf, harbour (Portuguese, equivalent to quay in English)

The column discusses the etymology of some of the vessel terms in Tamil associated with Tuṟai suffix (see column 45 on Tuṟai and see column 8 and 42 on other terms Cammāṉ and Ōṭam).

Ūrāt-tuṟai is the earliest available written form of that place name, attested by two Tamil inscriptions of 12th century CE, one seen locally and the other coming from Tamil Nadu.

Ūṟā-toṭa is the form found in the 13th century Pali chronicle Pūjāvaliya (Toṭa means the same as Tuṟai. See column 166 on the etymology of Toṭa/ Tōṭṭam). Until mid 20th century the form Ūṟāt-tōṭṭai was also heard in local Tamil speech, as the name of the port.

The H-added form Hūrā-toṭa, interpreting Hūrā as boar, and the myth associating the place with the landing of a mythical boar, first appear in the 17th century chronicle Rājāvaliya. The myth seems to be the reason behind the Dutch naming their little fort built at the port entrance as Hammenhiel (the hoof of the pig).

The addition of initial H and the boar-myth paved way for the 18th century Pali chronicle, Cuḷuvamsa, Part II, to come out with the name Sūkara-titta for the port (Sūkara in Sanskrit and Pali mean boar and Titta in Pali means the same as Toṭa and Tuṟai).

The Pāḷi-isation and the trend of myth construction are very similar to how some old Tamil place names were Sanskritised along with myths in Tamil Nadu (example: Maṟaik-kāṭu > Vēdāraṇyam).

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Tamil writers thought of rechristening the place name as Ūr-kāval-tuṟai, citing the guarding location of the port at an entrance to the Jaffna Lagoon and Jaffna city (Kāval: guarding; Ūr: town, large village, one's native place)

Looking at the context of Ūrāt-tuṟai and similar vessel-related port names, the prefix form Ūrā, seen in the earliest available Tamil and Pali sources, seems to be a variation of Uru meaning a sail ship, large cargo boat etc., in Tamil and Malayalam. The term is listed as Dravidian (DED 659).

Oru meaning a boat, the H-added form Horu meaning the same, Yātra-oruva meaning the largest kind of native boat and Oru-toṭa meaning a port frequented by Oru type of vessels in Sinhala, strengthen the case of deducing the original meaning of Ūrā as a kind of vessel.

Ūrā has to be taken as the Eezham Tamil cognate of Uru in Tamil, Uru/ Uruvu in Malayalam, Oru/ Oruva in Sinhala and Ōṛa is Gondi - all meaning a vessel. Uru is still in use in Batticaloa dialect of Eezham Tamil to mean a boat.

The root verb citable in this case is Ūr meaning to move slowly or sail in Tamil/ Dravidian (DED 749). Note that Sinhala has a noun form Ūru, meaning movement.

* * *

Uru meaning a vessel larger than a boat:

"சிற்றுருவிற்கு அரைப்பணமும் தோணிக்குக் காற்பணமும்" (Tamil inscription, 1270 CE, SII, viii, 405)

"Ciṟṟuruviṟku araippaṇamum tōṇikkuk kāṟpaṇamum" (Tamil inscription, 1270 CE, SII, viii, 405)

Half a Paṇam (a denomination of money) for a small Uru and quarter a Paṇam for a boat [paid as port tax]

Uru meaning cargo boat:

"ஏற்று இறக்கு உரு ஒன்றுக்கு பணம் ஒன்றாகவும் விலை விற்ற தம்பானுக்கு பணம் ஒன்றாகவும்" (Tamil inscription 1524 CE, TAS, vi, 128)

"Ēṟṟu iṟakku uru oṉṟukku paṇam oṉṟākavum vilai viṟṟa tampāṉukku paṇam oṉṟākavum" (Tamil inscription 1524 CE, TAS, vi, 128)

One Paṇam [as tax] for export-import Uru [vessel] and one Paṇam for the Tampāṉ [Campāṉ type of vessel] that has sold the cargo

The verb Ūr meaning to move as a boat:

"கடலுள் பரதவர் அம்பி ஊர்ந்தாங்கு" (கலித்தொகை, 106: 5)

"Kaṭaluḷ paratavar ampi ūrntāṅku" (Kalittokai, 106: 5)

Like Paratavar (maritime people) move on boats in the sea

"துறை அம்பி ஊர்வன் போல் தோன்றும் அவன்" (கலித்தொகை, 103: 9)

"Tuṟai ampi ūrvaṉ pōl tōṉṟum avaṉ" (Kalittokai, 103: 9)

He looks like a person moving his boat towards the port

* * *

See boxes above and citations below on the etymology and usage of Paṇṇai, Nāvāy and Paṭavu. Among them, Nāvāy is of Indo-Aryan etymology, traced to the root Nau in Rig Vedic Sanskrit, but its usage could be found in Tamil since Caṅkam times

* * *

Paṇṇai meaning a cargo boat:

"தண் துறை இனப் படுமணி குவிக்கும் பண்ணைய" (கம்பர், ஆரண்ய காண்டம், 7. 119)

"Taṇ tuṟai iṉap paṭumaṇi kuvikkum paṇṇaiya" (Kampar, Āraṇya Kāṇṭam, 7. 119)

The cool port has cargo boats or ships that bring in large quantities of choice precious stones

"பணைத்த பண்ணையில் துற்றிய புகுதரும் தோற்றத்தால்" (கம்பர், ஆரண்ய காண்டம், 15: 7)

"Paṇaitta paṇṇaiyil tuṟṟiya pukutarum tōṟṟattāl" (Kampar, Āraṇya Kāṇṭam, 15: 7)

[The belly partaking food] was of the appearance of food cargo being laden on a large Paṇṇai type of boat

* * *

Nāvāy meaning an ocean-going sail ship:

"வேறு பல் நாட்டுக் கால் தர வந்த பல் வினை நாவாய் தோன்றும் பெருந் துறை" (நற்றிணை, 295: 6)

"Vēṟu pal nāṭṭuk kāl tara vanta pal viṉai nāvāy tōṉṟum perun tuṟai" (Naṟṟiṇai, 295: 6)

The big harbour, where ships of various businesses brought by the winds of many different countries appear

Nāvāy meaning a fishing-boat:

"நாவாய் வேட்டுவன்" (கம்பர், அயோத்தி, 8: 10)

"Nāvāy vēṭṭuvaṉ" (Kampar, Ayōtti, 8: 10)

Hunter using boat (fisherman)

* * *

The usage of the form Paṭavu in inscriptions:

"படைகளும் புகுதவிட்டுப் படவுகளுஞ் செய்விக்கிறபடி கேட்டு" (1175 CE, Tiruvālaṅkāṭu inscription of Rājhādirāja II, EI, xxii, 14)

"Paṭaikaḷum pukutaviṭṭup paṭavukaḷuñ ceyvikkiṟapaṭi kēṭṭu" (1175 CE, Tiruvālaṅkāṭu inscription of Rājhādirāja II, EI, xxii, 14)

[The Chola king] hearing that [Parākramabāhu I] has brought in military and is making boats [for a naval invasion]

* * *

Ūrāt-tuṟai/ Kayts is a port town and headquarters of a division by its name in the Jaffna district.

Paṇṇait-tuṟai is the traditional name of the port adjacent to the fort in Jaffna city, facing Jaffna Lagoon.

Kappal-tuṟai is a cove in Tampalakāmam Bay in Trincomalee. Kappal-tuṟai and Cammān-tuṟai are two opposite coves in the bay, marking the ports that were used by two different types of native vessels (Trincomalee OIS)

Nāvān-turai is a fishing port in the Jaffna Lagoon, located north of Jaffna city (Jaffna OIS)

Paṭavut-tuṟai is a port of fishing boats in Iluppaik-kaṭavai in Manthai West division of Mannar district (Mantai OIS)

* * *

Some related place names:


Oru-toṭa: Gampaha, Gampaha

Oru-goḍa-vatta: Kolonnawa, Colombo

Oru-gala: Giribawa, Kurunegala. Note place names like Toṇi-gala/ Tōṇik-kal, coming from boat-shaped rock or hillock

Oru-bẹńdi-vẹva: Rideemaliyadda, Badulla

Oru-bẹńdi-siyaṁbalāva: Elahera, Polonnaruwa

Horu-vila: Nochchiyagama, Anuradhapura

* * *



The place was a major harbour in the north in colonial and pre-colonial times. Strategically located at a narrow entrance to the Jaffna Lagoon, the port was commanding the sea routes through the Palk Bay in all directions. It was guarding the fort and city of Jaffna as well as Nallūr the capital of the kingdom of Jaffna. In the past, capturing this port was always a prerequisite to control the Jaffna Peninsula.  The Portuguese and the Dutch built two forts (Fort Eyrie and Fort Hammemhiel) on either side of the lagoon entrance of this port to guard it as well as to guard the entrance into the Jaffna Lagoon. In British times, a causeway to the Kāraitīvu (Kārainakar) Island, from Puṉṉālai in the Jaffna Peninsula was laid in 1869, mainly to link the Ūrāttuṟai port by land with the rest of the island, from the side of Kāraitīvu. The strategic importance of the port continues to this day, as a major naval base is located at this port on the side of Kāraitīvu (Kārainakar).

* * *


The Portuguese gave the name Cais to the port at Ūrāt-tuṟai. The fort they built there was called Fortalaza do Cais. In Portuguese language Cais means a platform, landing place, pier, wharf or harbour. The English word quay (pronounced as kī), meaning a wharf, pier etc. is etymologically related to this word.  The place name Cais later became Kayts in Dutch and in English renderings. Kayts is still in popular use, like the continued use of the colonial name Jaffna for Yāḻppāṇam.

* * *


Paṇṇait-tuṟai was the port of the Jaffna Fort. It was located just outside the walls of the Jaffna Fort. The port was commanding the sea routes coming from the Palk Bay as well as the sea routes running through the Jaffna Lagoon. As the archaeological evidences such as Rouletted Ware and Amphora potsherds recently unearthed inside the Jaffna Fort (Pushparatnam 2011) suggest, a port seems to have existed at this place for roughly 2000 years, since the Roman times. The Portuguese might have selected the location later to build a fort there. The port existed until the late British times, especially to bring in cargo to the city of Jaffna, from the ships anchored in the Palk Bay. The wharf area (Aluppānti) could be seen even to this day a few hundred meters southeast of the fort. Until 1950s, Paṇṇait-tuṟai was used for boat communication to the islands off Jaffna, especially to the Kayts Island. The port went into disuse when a causeway was built in the 1950s linking Kayts with Jaffna city. The suffix of the place name, Tuṟai (port) is lost today and only the prefix Paṇṇai survives. (The causeway is called Paṇṇaip-pālam.)

* * *

Nayinaatheevu ins
The inscription in Tamil, presently in Nayinaatheevu temple, and issued by Parakramabahu I in 12th century CE, which notes certain regulations about the Ooraaththu’rai port. Note the spelling Ooraaththu’rai in line two [Image courtesy: K. Indrapala]
Nayinaatheevu inscription
The deciphered text of the Nayinaatheevu inscription [Text courtesy: K. Indrapala]

The deciphered text of the Thiruvaalangkaadu inscription of the Chola king, Rajadhiraja II that mentions Ooraaththu’rai [Image courtesy: Sadasiva Pandaraththar, History of Cholas Vol II]

Location of the port of Ooraaththu’rai (Kayts) at a narrow entrance to the Jaffna Lagoon [Image courtesy: Google Earth; Legend: TamilNet]

Jaffna sea routes
Jaffna City, the sea routes [Map: TamilNet]

* * *

Revised: Monday, 12 June 2017, 18:30

First published: Tuesday, 03 May 2011, 18:55

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