Bappa Raya



Pallav in kurumbar language and tondai in Tamil means a freshly sprouted twig. We do not know why this word is associated with the particular clan /group of kurumbar or the kurumbar as a whole. It could be a totem or emblem used by that clan. Sircar suggests this when he says that the Pallav ‘name appears to be of totemistic origin like that of the Kadambas’. [Sircar, 1954: Genealogy And Chronology Of The Pallavas, in Majumdar, The History And Culture Of The Indian People – The Classical Age, 275]

But what is of much interest to us is the fact that the komkni word for a freshly sprouted twig of a tree is palvi, and that for the fresh sprouts altogether is palav; we say ambo palela (palæla). The Sanskrt word for freshly sprouted twig is annkur; so palvi is clearly not of a Sanskrt / Indo-Aryan etymology. Here we have once again evidence of a kurumbar root of a contemporary Komkni word; like Avvo -> avai (mother) that we have seen before. [Avvo A Deep Ancestry, A Rich History, August 30, 2020]

Such instances pointing to kurumbar roots of Komkni seem to abound in Brhatkomkan and the entire peninsula. In his inscriptions, Sivaskandavarman, the second known king of the Pallav dynasty, refers to the first king as Bappa Dev. [Gopalan, 1928: History of The Pallavas of Kanchi, 33]

Sircar is of the opinion that ‘bappa’ should be taken as a vernacular word meaning ‘father’ rather than as a personal name, “because the word is used in the former sense in numerous royal charters and because it is quite unlike any of the many names in the traditional Pallava genealogy found in later records”. [Sircar, 1954: 276]

Bappa is a Komkni word still used for a father-like person; bap being the word used for father in contemporary Marathi, bapui being the word in Komkni. These again are not of Indo-Aryan etymology; the word for father in Sanskrt being pitr; Latin word is pater. The other Sanskrt word for father is janak; the corresponding Latin word is genitor. Thus bap / bapui are clearly not of Indo-Aryan origin. Bap could be variation of the current kumlbi word for father: ab. This is another example of kurumbar roots of Komkni. It is interesting to note that the kurumbar language that we are talking about was current in the Tondaimandalam in the early centuries of the Common Era; and Tondaimandalam was along the eastern coast of India. It is very likely that this language with obvious variations was used across the peninsula to the north of the Tamil territory. We have earlier called this language vaduku language, that is, the language of the vadukar, the inhabitants of the territory lying between the Vindhya on the north and the Tamilakam on the south.

Now we look at yet another word: ray (rai) or raya; the classical form of the modern Komkni word raja or raza, meaning king. Ray or raya seems to have been fairly popular up to the 16th century; it is found abundantly in the extant 16th century texts. We stumble upon this word in a first century BCE – third century CE inscription at a Buddhist stupa at Kanaganahalli in the Kalaburagi district of Karnataka, on the left bank of the river Bhima and about three kilometres from the famous Chandralamba Temple at Sannati where Ashokan inscriptions have been discovered. The remains of a possibly large stupa were excavated by ASI (Archeological Survey of India) between 1994 and 1998. The mahastupa had a diameter of more than 19 metres; thus it should have had an impressive height in keeping with the diameter. One of the most important and rare sculptural slabs of the stupa had a portrait of king Asok, accompanied by his queen and two ‘chauri’ (umbrella) bearers. A label inscription is carved at the top of the sculpted portrait, in Brahmi script of the Satavahana period, which reads ‘Rayo Asoko’. We do not know how exactly ‘rayo’ is to be pronounced; whether as rayo or as ray; assuming that Asoko was pronounced as Asok, it seems reasonable to suppose that rayo stands for ray.

The word rayer occurs often in the Mackenzie Manuscripts. The Tamil palm leaf manuscript number 217, counter mark 74, titled Kongadesa Rajakal has a reference to ‘Rayers of Bisnagar’; it most probably means kings of Vijayanagar. [Taylor, 1838: Examination and Analysis of the Mackenzie Manuscripts Deposited In The Madras College Library, 1]

The reference is in connection with the history of Komg Desam or Kongu Nadu. This was a region comprising the western part of Tamil Nadu (Salem, Coimbatore) and Mysore, which served as the eastern entrance to the Palakkad Gap. In ancient Tamilakam it was the seat of the Chera kings, bounded on the east by Tondaimandalam, on the south-east by Cholamandalam and on the south by Pandya Nadu regions. The word ‘rayers’, based on the context, appears to be meaning ‘kings’. Rayer could be an anglicised form of ray, as the pronunciation of the two words is similar; interestingly the word ray in Komkni is used both in singular and plural. Elaborating on Kongadesa Rajakal, Wilson lists the Konga / Chera princes; of these at least the first three have ray as part of their listed name: Vir Ray, Govind Ray, and Krsna Ray. [Wilson, 1828: Mackenzie Collection – Descriptive Catalogue Of The Oriental Manuscripts, 198]

The word ‘rayers’ seems to have been used in the Mackenzie Manuscripts to refer to the kings of the Vijayanagar dynasty (Rayers of Bisnagar). But the terms ray and raya seem to have also been used for kings of other dynasties. We have for instance Camundaray or Cavundaray (10th century CE), a general and a minister of the Talakadu Ganga kings. That may sound a little odd as Cavundaray was himself not a king; we have seen elsewhere that local chiefs acted as subordinates to the bigger kings; the ray title was probably applied to them as well, and Cavundaray could be one of those.

Ray seems to have been the preferred term for king in Brhatkomkan or Deccan till 16th century CE. It appears to be a derivation of ‘raja’ or ‘raza’, from Sanskrt root raja; the softening into raya could have happened on account of the native tongue of the vadukar. Later, probably under the influence of sanskrtisation it might have reverted back to raja.