The ancient Tulu nadu extended from Gokarna in the north, all along coastal Karnataka down to Kasargod in the south. This included both coastal Uttara Kannada district as well as all of Dakshina Kannada district. Over many centuries, the principal language of Tulu nadu was Tulu, which today is spoken only south of the River Kalyanpur in Udupi and in the Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. This is the heartland of Tulu nadu today.
Udupi is the religious center of Tulu nadu, while Mangalore is the commercial hub. Innumerable smaller towns and villages comprise a green landscape within the mountainous range of the Western Ghats as well as along the coastal Karnataka, with access to Arabian Sea. Here, the Tulu language, one of the five main Dravidian languages of the South, is spoken with its extinct script.
For historical purposes, the regions settled by Brahmins are considered to be three in number: Haige or Haive (Uttara Kannada), Taulava (Dakshina Kannada) and Kerala.
The origins of the Tuluva Brahmins are recorded in the manuscript, Grama Paddhati. There are various recensions of the document, which are believed to have been re-written in their current form sometime in the 15th century, although additions could have subsequently been made. Grama Paddhati can be divided into three different sections for the purposes of study. It is the only document that contains the history of Tuluva Brahmins.
The first section deals with the legend of Sri Parasurama, who created coastal Tulu nadu by reclaiming land from the sea. When Parasurama’s father, the sage Jamadagni and his wife were heckled by Kshatriya Kartaveeryarjuna, who also stole their precious cattle, Parasurama defeated them and vowed to annihilate the Kshatriya tribes. Later when he repented for his actions, he handed the newly reclaimed land over to the sage Kashyap as penance for destroying twenty-one successive generations of Kshatriyas.
When Parasurama found no Brahmins in the land, he is said to have elevated the fishermen class to the upper class of Brahmins. After giving them all the amenities, Parasurama went to the Meru Mountain for his meditations, but not before promising that the new Brahmins could summon him if they needed any help. Soon after, the Brahmins wanted to test the veracity of Parasurama, and summoned him without a valid reason. An angered Parasurama immediately stripped the Brahmins of their upper class status.
The second part of Grama Paddhati deals with the story of the settlement of Tulu nadu by Brahmins. The Kadamba King Mayuravarma facilitated this migration. On the advice of sages, Mayuravarma invited Brahmins to the area from Ahichhatra. Sixteen families were settled in Haige in Uttara Kannada, thirty-two Brahmin families in Tulu nadu and sixty-four in Kerala. Ahichhatra (which may also be known as Ahiksetra) was located on the banks of River Godavari. This new migration in the 7th or 8th century created skirmishes between the newcomers and the Brahmins, who were already there (perhaps Parashurama’s Brahmins). To appease the rioters, Mayuravarma donated land to them.
Kadamba’s history is also touched upon in this section of the document. A son was born to Parameshvara and Parvati under a Kadamba tree. The baby Kadamba was given a boon that he would be a ruler of a kingdom. His son, Vasu Chakravarti, followed King Kadamba. He had a daughter named Susheela. Hemanga from Suryavamsha married Susheela and adopted Kadamba’s name. Their son Mayuravarma is a hero, who invited Brahmins to settle in the land created by Parashurama. He not only donated land and villages to the thirty-two Brahmin families in Tulu nadu, but also arranged for servants for them, called Nayars.
When his son Chandrangada was born, Mayuravarma renounced his throne and went to the forest for contemplative meditation. All the Brahmins then left Tulu nadu and returned to Ahicchatra. After Chandrangada became the ruler he saw the deficiencies of a society without Brahmins, and invited them back again, enticing them with more facilities and land. After his death, the Shudra King Hubbasiga started hectoring the Brahmins, and some of them again left Tulu nadu. Chandrangada’s son Lokaditya, with the help of a Chandasena from Gokarna, used craftiness and intrigue to murder Hubbasiga. Lokaditya went back to Ahichhatra to escort the Brahmins back to Tulu nadu following the riddance of the menace of Hubbasiga.
The third part of Grama Paddhati deals with naming the various villages and districts and the names of the families settled there. The thirty-two villages with the names of the Brahmin family that usually bore the name of the villages, are also named.
Thirty-two Brahmin families, purified by twelve thousand agnihotras, were said to have been brought and settled in Talagunda and Kuppatturu, both in Shimoga district (this effort of procurement is credited to a Mukkanna Kadamba). From here, during the rule of the Alupas in Tulu nadu, certain batches of Brahmins migrated to Alvakheda (ancient name for Tulu nadu) and Haive (current Uttara Kannada). Talagunda agrahara, however, was in existence in the 3rd century. Mayuravarma may have influenced the Ahicchatra Brahmins to migrate here, who then migrated to the various agraharas in Dakshina Kannada.
The earliest Brahmin presence mentioned in Dakshina Kannada was in the seventh century (Grama Paddhati). They are the migrants from Ahichhatra invited by Mayuravarma. Later, Brahmins from different agraharas may have come to Tulu nadu at different times. In the 11th century another migration occurred, after the destruction of the agraharas in Talagunda and Kuppagadde in Shimoga district, by the Chola kings. This might have provided a major impetus for the Ahichhatra Brahmins to migrate to Tulu nadu and settle in Haive, Shivalli, Kota, Koteshvara, and Kandavara etc. The migration from Mysore was a more continuous process that occurred many centuries into the medieval times.
The Tulu nadu Brahmins settled in different places and developed their own individual characteristics. By virtue of their settlements in various regions, five such groups came to be recognized in the Tulu nadu. They are Shivalli, Kota, Koteshvara, Kandavaras and the Panchagramis. However, it is likely that there were only two settlements in Shivalli and Kota, both villages in Udupi district. Later, religious differences may have resulted in a schism, thus the other three may have split off from the original two to form their own settlements.
Grama Paddhati does not differentiate between the Shivalli, Kota or Kandavara Brahmins, all of who claim to be Ahicchatra Brahmins.
All the sects of Brahmins in Dakshina and Uttara Kannada follow different Deities as their main idol of worship. Prior to the time when Sri Madhvacharya’s Dvaita philosophy took a firm base in Udupi, most of them were Shiva worshippers. Shivalli Brahmins belonged to Balekuduru Matt, which is an Advaita (Shankara) matha. After Madhva founded the Ashta (eight) matha in Udupi, with its sixteen Upamathas, many Shivalli Brahmins became followers of Vishnu (followers of Sode Matha in Udupi). However, all Shivalli Brahmins are not Vaishnavites. They follow different sampradayas, like Bhagavata, Smarta, etc. Of these, the Smarta and Bhagavata sampradayas perform the panchayatana puja with Shiva or Vishnu at the center of their altars during abhisheka.
Koteshvara Brahmins living in Koteshvara village were also converted by Sri Vadiraja Swami of Sode Matha, and were taken as disciples of Vishnu. The Kota Brahmins from a village near Udupi did not convert to Vaishnavism, and remained as bhasma-dharis and followers of the Smarta sampradaya.
Kandavara Brahmins remain attached to Balekuduru Matha, with Skanda as their family Deity. The Sthanikas are Shaiva Brahmins, who acquired their name owing to their managerial positions in temples. They are followers of Shankaracharya and have customs similar to the Kota Brahmins. They speak the same dialect of Tulu as the Shivalli Brahmins.
The Kota, Kandavara and Koteshvara Brahmins speak a variant of Kannada, despite their presence in Tulu nadu for many centuries. Shivalli and Sthanikas are the only two sects that speak Tulu language. Both Kandavara and Koteshwara are villages in Kannada speaking Coondapur Taluk, which explains why these Brahmins speak a variant of Kannada rather than Tulu.
There are a number of other Brahmins in current day Tulu nadu, distinguished by their own different spoken languages and forms of worship. They migrated in later centuries by land and sea. These include Chitpavana, Karadi, Konkanastha and Sarasvatha Brahmins. Marathi Brahmins, Chitpavana and Karadi Brahmins, who are Advaita followers, migrated to Tulu nadu from Ratnagiri and Karad in Maharashtra. Another Marathi immigrant group is called Padia Brahmins, of whom there are very few in Dakshina Kannada. The Deshasthas, among whom both Smartas and Madhvas are to be found, are relatively recent migrants.
The Konkanas migrated to Tulu nadu by about 12th century and have a flourishing community today. The Sarasvathas are further subdivided into Sarasvathas and Gouda-Sarasvathas. The former are Smartas and the latter converted to Vaishnavism. The Sarasvathas originally hailed from Punjab and then later migrated to Kashmir, East Bihar and Goa. In Goa they had inhabited 96 villages and hence were called ‘Shannavatyas’, or Shenvis. When Goa fell into the hands of the Portuguese, they migrated southward and settled in coastal South India, all the way down to Malabar and Travancore.
Tradition tells us that there are 360 Brahmin families spread all over Tulu nadu. There are also 360 Janardhana temples scattered over the region of Tulu nadu, each representing a family of a particular line.
It is also interesting to note that Neria, Gangamula and Kalasa Hebbars perhaps originally belonged to the Panchagramis. Sri Ramanuja moved to Melukote in Karnataka to escape from the relentless hector of Shaivite Chola kings. He was welcomed by the Hoysala raja and was given asylum. Sri Ramanuja’s followers, the Hebbars, who originally hailed from Srirangam and Kanchipuram, followed him to Karnataka. Then they settled in five of the following districts: Kadaba, Grama, Srirangapattana, Muloor and Belur. Hence they came to be known as Panchagramis.
In the year 1515, Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara bestowed vast lands to some of the Hebbars. The three families of Hebbars in Gangamula, Kalasa and Neria, who were beneficiaries of Vijayanagara Empire, are still in existence. However, some Hebbars (e.g. Hebbars from Neria) converted from the Sri Vaishnava sect of Ramanujacharya to the Dvaita teachings of Madhvacharya at a later date. They joined the Sode Matha of Udupi during the time of Sri Vadiraja Swami. They are now considered Shivalli Brahmins. The other two Hebbar families of Gangamula and Kalasa joined the Sringeri Matha of Sri Shankaracharya.
In the course of history the Hebbars aided in converting the Shaivas of the region (called bhairava aradhakas) to Madhva Brahmins (or bhasma-dharis to nama-dharis). They also converted the Shudras to Gowda communities. Thus, from worshippers of Bhairava, the Gowdas of Dakshina Kannada became followers of Tirupathi Venkataramana.
Original worshippers among Tulu Brahmins mainly followed different deities. They were the followers of Shaiva, Saura, Shakta, Ganapatya and other sectarian cults. Sri Shankaracharya visited Kumaradri (Subramanya) and Kolluru in the late 8th or early 9th century and defeated the local followers of different deities in a philosophical discursion and established the spread of Panchayatana (Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganapati and Surya) form of worship, and helped unify all sects of Brahmins under the large umbrella of Hinduism.
The Brahmins of Tulu nadu are classified in many ways. The division of Havika, Kota and Shivalli is generally based on the place of their origin. Another division is also based on the deity they worship, and thus they are classified as bhasma-dharis (Shaivites) or nama-dharis (Vaishnavites). Their form of worship divides them into different sampradayis, hence Bhagavata, Smarta or Vaishnava sampradaya, etc.
The ritual of performance of puja differs according to one’s sampradaya. Even further divisions like shat-karmis and tri-karmis also exist. The calendars followed by the various Brahmin sects are also different. Some follow the lunar calendar while others follow the solar calendar. The Vaishnava sampradayis follow the Udaya-thithi for a full day, while Smarta sampradayis follow the actual running thithi. Because of this, ekadasi falls on different days for Vaishnava and Smarta sects.
Shivallis are also divided into nada Shivalli or grama Shivalli; again depending on the area they settled in, be it in the village or in the general vicinity of the village.
The Sacred Temples
The Shivalli Brahmins gained a reputation as learned Vedic scholars. They are most commonly employed as arhchakas (priests, pujaris) in the temples in Tulu nadu. The Sthanika sect at one time was powerful because of their managerial positions in the temples and access to the temple coffers. With newer immigration of Brahmins from Shimoga and Mysore, the Shivalli Brahmins became more powerful, claiming superiority. The immigration of Talagunda and Kuppegudde Brahmins to Tulu nadu to escape from the onslaught of the Cholas at this time gave the resident Shivalli Brahmins more power. Sthanikas were eventually relegated to more insignificant jobs in the temples. The Shivalli Brahmins became the administrators as well as the main priests of the temples.
The earliest temples of Tulu nadu are Shiva temples from the 7th or early 8th centuries. One such early temple is the Anantheshvara temple of Udupi. The Sri Krishna temple of Udupi, founded by Madhvacharya, is from the 13th century. For the last eight centuries Udupi has remained the hub of Madhva philosophy.
Mukambika temple of Kollur is an example of Shakti worship in the region. Seven temples all nestled in the coastal Karnataka, in Udupi, Kolluru, Subramanya, Gokarna, Kumbasi, Koteshvara and Shankaranarayana are collectively called Mukti Stalas. All of them are built in the holy land reclaimed from the sea by Parashurama and hence they are called Parashurama Kshetras. Several temples house Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha – a monument to a happy family in Dakshina Kannada. Kumbasi has a Ganesha idol and Koteshvara enshrines Kotilingeshvara, Ardhanarishvara, Parvati and Ganesha. Shankaranarayana, as the name implies is a combination of Shiva and Vishnu, thus called Hari-Hara. The shrine has lingam as well as Anjaneya, Subramanya and Venugopal.
Mangala Devi temple in Mangalore is responsible for the name of the city – Mangalapura -later anglicized as Mangalore. It is also an ancient temple with an interesting history. Perhaps in the ninth century a Queen Premila of Malabar became a disciple of Matsyaendranath and renounced her kingdom, deciding to follow her guru. The cult called Nath cult advocated renouncement of materialistic pleasures and acceptance of meditation as a path to salvation. As the guru and her new disciple crossed the River Netravathi near Ullal, she fell ill. She was confined to a home in Bolar, where she spent her last days in meditation. The site became a shrine, where later the Ballals (the feudal lords of Mangalore at that time) built a Durga temple, installing the deity Mangala Devi. In the year 968 C.E., then Alupa ruler Kundavarma renovated the temple. The town around the temple grew and came to be called Mangalapura, the land of Mangala Devi.
The most famous son of Tulu Brahmins is Sri Madhvacharya. The story of Tuluva Brahmins cannot be complete without the mention of this great scholar and saint. Born to a poor family of Brahmins near Udupi, he was named Purnaprajna. True to his name, he became a scholar and well versed in Upanishads and Vedanta. The enlightened Madhva (the name given to him by his guru) argued a dualistic (Dvaita) theory with his guru who had preached Advaita’s monistic themes. He professed theism and made Vishnu (Vishnusarvothamattva) as the central figure of the universe. Eventually, he persuaded and converted his guru Achyutprajna to accept Dvaita philosophy. After gaining fame and popularity, Madhva established the eight monasteries (Mathas) in Udupi and established the fabled Sri Krishna temple there. At age 79 he attained moksha during a pilgrimage to Badrinath.
Madhva was blessed with a handsome physique and was also interested in physical training. In addition he was an avid fan of music. He claimed to be an avatar of Hanuman, thus the son of Vayu (Wind). Madhva remains the greatest and the most important gift to Hinduism from Tulu nadu.
Vadiraja Swami of Sode Matha in Udupi attained legendary fame during his time. He visited many sacred pilgrim centers and wrote a sort of travelogue of his visits. He also elaborated on Madhva’s philosophy and laid a foundation for future Dvaitis to argue their cases with others. Vadiraja wrote many bhajans in praise of Vishnu and gave the women the popular Lakshmi Shobhane that even today the women sing every day in the South.
In summary it is noted that there are three main divisions of Brahmins in Tulu nadu, namely Havika, Shivalli and Kota with three subdivisions: Koteshvara, Kandavaras and Panchagramis. The Sthanikas and Saklapuris form other sub-sects. Newer immigrations of Brahmins to the region complete the picture with Chitpavana, Karadi, Padia, Deshastha, Konkanastha and Sarasvatha taking root in Tulu nadu.
The ancient land called Tulu nadu, now with its unique language spoken only in this region by some of inhabitants, can also boast about the sanctity of its land with a legendary tale of creation by Parasurama and some of the oldest temples in the South. All the major Deities are represented equally with their own temples. Madhvacharya, a Shivalli Brahmin from Udupi, is the most significant contributor to Hinduism. His Dvaita tenets are followed by most practicing Hindus today in India. There are many more famous Tulu Brahmins, who have made precious contributions to the society.