An Enthralling - Mental Revisit at some place names of Nilgiris (Ooty)


Dr. G. Lakshmi
Sr. Faculty Member
ICFAI National College


The study of place names for the analysis of cultural ecology and historical heritage of any given locality or region is an established fact.  A few samples of hitherto unstudied place names of Nilgiris are taken up for a mental revisit.

Breeks (1873) and Rivers (1906) can be said to be the pioneer contributors (albeit unintentionally) to the study of Nilgiri place names.  Rivers had catalogues all the names of Toda settlements with their Badaga equivalents which itself provides revealing insights into the toponymic and linguistic ethos of the region.  Emeneau;s (1944; 1946; 1984) passing references to Kota and Toda place names may also be mentioned here. A Badaga monographer K.P. Raju has also published (1981-83) a study of place names but inspite of his vst knowledge of the local force, his approach remains a severely slanted one.  Svelebil (1973-75) has also dissected, though in a sporadic manner, several Irula place names.  Kapp also seems to be in possession of detailed information on Kurumba place names. This now seeks to deal with a few place names connected with the Nilgiris and found in Sangam texts of the early centuries of Christian era.


This is a Anglo Tamil rendering of the name of the river dividing Nilgiri uplands from the Wynad plateau and considered very sacred by the Todas.  They call the river Teipave.  Rivers (1906:418) employs an alternate name Teipakh.  Badagas call this river Paikare.  Mandadan settis call the river Pailkare or Pailkara.  Unmistakably, the name is related to Payalnad of Sangam period (Puram 398) and the name simply means boundary of Payalnad (Payal+Kare/Kara).  The present day name of Wynad is obsiously, a corrupted form of Payalnad which was during the medieval period called Bayalnad in several Kannada inscriptions.

W. Francis (1908:91) derives the name Bayalnad from "Swamp or Overtopped "bank.  Interstingly, the Toda name means sacred +watercourse and the Toda word Pavi has close connections with river, drainage etc., (DEDR 4317:4318)


This is a small village in the present day Gudalur Taluk.  Being located in the ancient Payalnad the name appears to betray some historical significance.  In Puram 398 text we find that the principal seat of Vanchan, the ruler of Payalnad referred to as Perumpeyarmudur.  Interestingly, both the Todas and the Mandadan settis also call this place Muttur (Emeneau 1984-270)  Hence, Srimadurai seems to be an alternate and later version of Perumpeyarmudur (Perum  =  significant + Peyar = Name + Mudur  Place of Yore.  Cf. Sri Meaning significance or importance and Madurai being an inflated form of Mudur.

What is further interest is that another name probably of the same place is found in a couple of copper plates bearing the name of Ganga King Sripurusha.  The plates of his period dating back to 762 A.D. and 776 A.D. mention one Sripura in the vicinity of Gudalur.  An archaeological investigation if and when undertaken would surely enlighten the reference to this place for, Wynad as a whole, still remains a vastly unexplored territory.

A matter of added attention is that the ancestral saga of one of the Badaga clans recalls the name of one Seepura ayya (meaning a progenitor from the place called Seepura or sripura).  Kota traditions also speak of one Seepura but in a slightly different location about 5 miles south of Gudalur town.  This Seepura in Kota reckoning constitutes the limit of the boundary of one of the four nadus of Kota societal terriroties.  SO most probably the whole tract of territory for about a length of 10 miles along Gudalur at the western base of the Nilgiris must have had something to do with Perumpeyarmudur or Sripura.


It is the name of another location in Gudalur Taluk barely a mile west of Srimadurai.  Though Avvai Duraisamy Pillai (1968:99) seemed to have correctly identified (as earlyas 1957) this place as Umbarkadu of Sangam period (Padirruppattu texts) the seriousness of the suggestion seems to have been ignored by several later authors on the subject). The tendency to identify Umbarkadu with Anamalai in the Coinmbatore region (mainly basing on the meaning of the words indicating elephants and hills) is not quite sustainable.  There are really not many evidences for claiming Anamalai to have been populous place during Sangam period.

On the other hand, Wynad region wherein is situated Nambalakod (the present day form of Umbarkadu) appeared to have been a very active zone.  The brahmadeya of 500 villages endowed by Imayavaramban Neduncheraladan in Umbarkadu to poet Kannanar is a pointer in this regard (cf. Notes on preamble to II Decd. Of Padirruppattu).  Avvai Duraisamy Pillai further suggests that the present day Cannanore on the western coast wasprobably named after poer Kannanar.  If this were to be so, the brahmadeya limits probably extended from Cannanore to Nambalakod.  A significant link in this connection is that the Nilgiri –Wynad even during the British revenuesettlement in the 19th Century had formed part of the jurisdiction of the Raja of Kottayam – a principality in the vicinity of Cannanore (Logan 1891: Index xii).

The Badaga name for Nambalakod or Numbelahcotah is Kottebetta and it accords well with reference to the famous fort in Umbarkadu overrun by Palyanai Selkely Kuttuvan (Preamble to III Dec. of Padirruppattu).  In what ws the original site of the fort, even to the present day, exists a hoary shrine complex called the Beteraasami Koyil (shrine of the "Lord of Hunt") sacred both to the Todas and Mandadan settis.  The shrine is maintained by the Janmi or Nilambur in Kerala. The priest at the shrine complex (interviewed on 5.7.1985) claimed that according to astronomical deductions bsed on documents at Nilambur, the shrine complex is 1700 years old whatever be the credibility of this claim, the significant view commanded by the site is very telling. Situated at 3513, above mean sea level, the military importance of this lace in the olden days cannot but the acknowledged.  With the Nilgiri hills at the backdrop including a view of river Paikara and the vast expanse of territory running west towards the coast, the place must have indeed been a strategic one.


What is significant of Nambalakod is also shared by the Gudiayirebetta in Gudalur situated 12 miles west of Gudalur town in the vicinity of Pandalue.  Called in badaga Gudiayirebetta (hill of the shrine of Ayire) in some old maps it is also named as Ammanmudibetta( ahill top of the goddess);  in some recent maps it is indicated as Kudierebetta or Kudlebetta.

The female deity at the top of this 3788 hill is locally called Malagatti (she of the hillside) or Tamburatti (the spouse of the lord)  Ayiral mountain in the Neduvarai ranges (see following section) and the crucially sacred Ayirai goddess (ECHT 1983:153) are mentioned in Sangam texts.  This clue to the Sangam period reference is strengthened by the fact that one Airubilli is an important deity of the Kurumbas in Wynad (Francis 1908:156)  The name means bow wielding Airy" the connection between Airu and Ayiral of Sangam period is obvious, as well as the location of the seat of this goddess in the Gudalur Taluk.


The present day Naduvattam situated between Ooty and Gudalur is an important land mark.  The name is derived from Badaga Nedubetta or Lengthy Mountain.  In Malayalm, it is used to be called Nedumala forming an important range of hill boundary separating Nilgiris from Kerala in the South west (Grigg 1880 App. 17)  These range of hills during the sangam period were known as Neduvarai (Padirruppattu 21:29;85;7) meaning lengthy range of hills.  The view encompassing location of the hills is beautifully recalled in Padirruppattu 85:7 as Nadula Neduvarai (the view point in the lengthy range of hills).  The present day Nadugani (nadu = Country + Kan) to view)  2 miles north of Kerala border on the way to Devala, confirms this identification. The south western flank of these hills beyond the present day Naduvattam are also to this day called Ellamalai for boundary hills.)


The above throws light on the importance of the study of place names in Nilgiri Wynad region.  Their antiquity goes back to the Sangam period especially the time of Chers.  In addition to the above mentioned places, there are also, easily identifiable locations such s Cherakodu and Cherampadi in Gudalur Taluk.  An intensive aerial study of tsuch place named coupled with ethno linguistic investigations may enlighten several aspects of the history of cis-nilgiri region.

Notes and References:

1. Pudirruppattyu -  Commentary in Tamil  Saiva Siddhanta Publishing society Ltd., Madrs

2. Avvai Duraisamy Pillai  History of the Ancient Chera Kings.  1968, Tuticorin.
3. History of Tamilnadu Sangam  - Director of Tamil Development 1983.
4. H.B> Grigg. A namual of the Nilgiri District in the Madrs Presidency 1880.
5. Lewis Rice  Mysore Inscriptions  1979  Bangalore
6. The Kongu Country  1956  Madras.

Dr. G. Lakshmi
Sr. Faculty Member
ICFAI National College

Source: E-mail October 25, 2008


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