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The Kur community

TENSING RODRIGUES

Gaudo, may not be the only word that points to the shared ancestry of kumlbi, kunbi, kurmi, kurambi, kudubi, kurni, kanbi, kuruba, kurumba, etc. There could be many more. Sieving through the glossary, so meticulously collected by Thurston, Enthoven, Russel, Risley, etc I came across another word: cavdi (chavddi). Thurston writes: ‘Among both the Kurubas and Bedars, a special building, built by public subscription, and called the katta-illu or chavadi, is set apart for council meetings, at which tribal affairs are discussed and decided’ [Thurston, 1909: Castes And Tribes Of Southern India, Vol IV, 143].

Kumlbi in Goa and the contiguous areas in Karnataka too use the term cavdi for the place where the elders of the community meet for deliberations. The term is also used with the same meaning among the kabbera, a community of Kannada fishermen and cultivators in Ballari and Mysuru [Thurston, 1909: Vol 3, 1]. And also among the kallan, in Tanjavur, Tiruchirappalli, Karur, Ariyalur, Perambalur and Madurai districts of Tamil Nadu; Thurston feels that ‘There are good grounds for believing that the kallan are a branch of the kurumba’ [Thurston, 1909: Vol 3, 84]. The term is common throughout the lands of Deccan occupied by the Kannada, Marathi and Telugu animal herders. The jenu kurumba of Wayanad too use the term for the meeting place in the village [Thurston, 1909: Vol. 3, 162]. So too the razu of Rajapalaiyam, in Tamil Nadu.

These shared terms mark an ancient community; though we still have only a sketchy picture, it looks very probable that such a community existed. To facilitate our further search could we name it the ‘kur’ community? The other communities that encountered it must have given it a name with the root ‘kur’. What could kur be? We will have to search for the etymology of that root. Most of the scholars feel that the root kur comes from the Kannada word kuri for the sheep; in Tamil, kori. As these people transited from hunting-gathering to settled living, they must have herded sheep and/or goats. This is still a predominant occupation in this region. The relative aridity of the region is probably responsible for it. But, we cannot rule out the possibility of another etymology of the word kur.

The map that these shared terms trace out includes largely Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. To some extent it might have crossed the borders of the contemporary states, or excluded some of their territories; for instance, some bits of now Oriya (like the Ganjam district) or Tamil (like the Tanjavur or Madurai districts) land must have been part of it. That is natural; because we are looking at the social, cultural and ethnographic geography of the peninsula several centuries back, could be even a few thousands of years ago.

But the land that it covers is what we are familiar with. We have called it ‘the middle country’, or Deccan, the country that lay between the Aryavarta in the north and the Tamilakam in the south; while it was separated from the former by river Narmada and Vindhya mountains, there was no significant barrier setting it apart from the latter. Ayyangar fixes the northern limit of Tamilakam as a “belt of country beginning with Pulikat (40 kilometres north of Chennai) on the east coast and terminating with the Kalyanpuri River (Udupi), the northern limit of Canara, on the west coast” Aiyangar, 1923: Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture, 40]. But it is possible that even the Mysuru territory was part of the kur country. The fact that the kallan were found as much to the south as Tanjavur and Madurai, only means that it was a very ambiguous dividing line [The Middle Country, 22 Jan 17].

But apparently either people felt a strong animosity towards each other arising out of ethnic differences; the references to the kur people in the Tamil literature bear ample witness to this. They were called vadukar, meaning northerners. They are described as robbers by profession habitually engaged in cattle-lifting. The chieftain Erumai of Kudanadu (Kodagu or Coorg) is referred to as a vadukar; the corresponding chieftain on the eastern side with his capital at Tirupati was also possibly a vadukar by name Pulli, who is described as the ‘chieftain of robbers’, kallvarkoman. According to one poet vadukar kept cruel dogs; another Sangam poet refers to the sacrifices that these people offered in thanksgiving for the capture of herds of cattle (Aiyangar, 1923: Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture, 3). And the echoes of that hatred and humiliation have still not died out. If we are to accept Stuart, the community name kurumban comes from the Tamil word kurumbu meaning wickedness; and the community name kallan is derived from the Tamil word kalavu, meaning theft [Stuart, 1895: Madras District Manuals – North Arcot, Vol 1, 220]. Who were the kur and who were the tamil? Tracing the history of their conflict could perhaps unravel a still unread chapter of our early history.

In the absence of any alternative appellation, we had called them the vadukar. Now we know who they were. We still do not know their name; but now we know that their name probably included the root kur. From which, over time, as they spread across the Deccan, they acquired different names. The fundamental unity of this land and its people comes out beautifully in the words of Durga Bhagwat: ‘Although these three regions – Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra – differ in language, their culture is one. This cultural unity has blossomed in the pastoralist culture of the hilly rural areas of these three regions’ [Bhagwat, 1970: ‘Pamdharica Vithoba’, in Pais, 37]. Of course, Bhagwat was describing a more recent reality; maybe a few centuries back. But now we know the substratum on which this unity was based.

One may wonder, how a few pockets of kur community could entitle it to be treated as the substratum. A few pockets now. For the last several centuries, could be even a few thousands of years, it has been swamped by migrations; new communities have flooded in through the gaps at the either ends of the Vindhya mountains. We know of at least two or three: the ksatriya, the bramhan and the kirat; many more could have come. The kur have been assimilated and displaced; and the new communities have biologically united with them, producing new communities. The mosaic that contemporary Deccan presents is the result. On that mosaic the kur show up as only occasional ‘antique’ patches. Our endeavour is to trace back the process of the weaving of this mosaic. A good part of that kur country, constituted the Brhatkomkan, the Komkan as it was at the turn of the millennium [Konkan Once Upon A Time, 25 Dec 16].

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