Siddis of Karnataka


How many of you knew of the existence of a significantly sizable African community of India? I am guessing not many. There is extraordinarily little awareness of their presence, their location and culture in media in general. That is probably because it is not a very influential community, and also, they don’t seem to participate in the any of socio-political discussions or noise.

BTW. I am referring to Siddi’s of Karnataka.

Siddi’s find their origin in the Bantu tribe of southeastern Africa, brought to India by Portuguese colonizers as slaves. That is right. It’s similar to but in opposite directions of Indian slaves’ communities built in Fiji, Guyana and West Indies etc. The only difference is Bantus made great soldiers and bodyguards to the royalty, where Indian slaves were taken for farming.

Siddi girl from Yellapur taluk, Uttara Kannada District, KarnatakaIndia. (through Wikipedia)

Once colonies and princely states collapsed, Siddi’s pretty much became redundant. Subsequently, they got assimilated into rural India and ceased being significant. Indian diaspora in Africa, on the other hand, kept appearing on stories. Be it Gandhi’s South African Chronicles or Idi Amin’s economic war on Indians. Even that Divya Bharati’s Saat Samundar had its premise set in Kenya.

Anyways, the first time I heard about Siddi’s was when I was a kid. An African community found their mentions among the Chronicles of Chhatrapati Shivaji when Grandmother narrated them. It goes like this – At some point in history, the Siddi’s gained control over a strategically important Janjira island fort located off Maharashtra’s coast. Shivaji’s Navy laid multiple sieges without any avail and largely remained unsuccessful. The Legend goes that Marathas even used monitor lizards to climb those walls but could not sustain the hot oil poured on them from the top.

Janjira fort , image through wikipedia

It is hard to believe this warrior clan is now reduced mainly as farm labourers or foraging honey from the jungles of Karwar.

I have not personally met one, but based on what I know, they speak Indian languages, worship Indian Gods, dress like Indians. However, they still have retained small little features of African cultures through their collective memory. Have a look:

P.S. There was one attempt by the Government of India to train this community’s youth in Olympics sports. Despite initial success, I believe the program did not take off.

The Yazidis And India connection


If you happen to keep track of the seemingly never-ending middle eastern conflicts, you may find this post interesting. Evidently, there are no winners, only losers. However, if you were to assess who lost the most, that would be Yazidis and Kurds’ communities. They are perpetually at receiving end of the wars which has been running for decades now. Their men get killed, and women get sold. Very unfortunate, indeed, and I hope this conflict ends soon, and the desert will settle the score eventually.

The term Kurd was not unfamiliar before this conflict; however, at the time, Yazidis did not ring a bell to many. Only after targeted persecution, the scholars and academics scrambled to research every bit of information that they could find. This also means what the mainstream media and their collective knowledge on this topic are less than a decade old.

I was going through a few of the documentaries on Yezidism and Yazidis in general. The first thing that came to my mind was this community seem to have trapped at that location in a time capsule. If you evaluate their culture and practices, it is evident that they obviously do not belong to that region. Whatever the little assimilation to local culture seems to have achieved with the only purpose of living in harmony. This obviously did never to work and proven from time to time.

Remember the Kalash tribe we spoke about?

The academics’ conclusion is seemed hurried in the available documentaries and were taken based on the surface information available to them. They unimaginatively concluded without attending to outlier or information, which are many. Of course, I did not do as much research as those. But It does not require rocket science to see the pattern amongst linguistic and geological evidence, which near conclusively place them where they are currently present. Even then, a few things are not adding up, and I am shocked to find no mention of these facts in any documentaries.

Okay, this is a list of topics related to Yazidi cultures with the first look at documentaries. I hope some of those academics’ stumble upon my post and consider answering these strange correlations.

Religious Beliefs

  1. It’s an oral, documented and transferred religion. Yazidis pass on their myths through inheritance. There is not centralized text. Just like Vedic texts were propagated through inheritance.
  2. They have angels called Heft Sur. A basic understanding of Persian and Sanskrit can translate what it is – seven gods. Hefte is a Persian word with Sanskrit origin of Sapta for seven. During ancient ages, Indians called their gods Sur and demons Asurs. Exactly then, understandably, Persians called Gods as Asur’s and monsters as Sur. If you asked to put a straightforward logical conclusion, where would you put Yazidis?
  3. They believe in seven angels, the most important being Melek Tawus, a peacock. Here is an interesting trivia for you. Peacock never existed in the Kurdish region. If you need to find one, you need to travel east till you reach… You guessed it right! Indian subcontinent.
  4. Emanations, I.e., God, emanates as 7 transcended angels (haft Sur), sounds very similar to avatars. This is a remarkably similar concept to that of neighboring Zoroastrianism.
  5. Reincarnation based on karma in the current incarnation.

Architecture and artefacts

  1. The template towers mysteriously resemblance with conical shapes.
  2. Snakes guard the temple entrance.
  3. The Peacock lamp looks like Samay used in Indian traditions.

Practices

  1. They do not allow themselves to marry outside the religion or, most importantly, into it. It’s forbidden to convert out or in.
  2. Prayers are directed towards the sun. Sunrise. and sunset aligning the Sandhya Vandana.
  3. Castes. Marriage must be within the same group.
  4. Use of fire in religious practices, including an Aarti.
  5. Practice tilak/bindi between the brow for the forehead.
  6. Salute with folded hands.

The list goes on and on.

Let me know what you think.

Saree, Kachra and Rathore


This is a more of research paper for a blog post. I literally had to reside below a bodhi tree for a month to gain this knowledge. You better read it and like it. 🙂

If you recall a post I had Previously written, I had adequately addressed a few of my north Indian friends’ quintessential questions. It was “Why does Karnataka has a flag of its own, while other states don’t“. This is the second one in that series “Why do South-Indians add a letter h to ‘t‘ sound, such as Jayalalitha as against a proper Jayalalita“. Okay, let us get to it.

South-Indians consider four ‘t’ sounds a set of mutually exclusive and distinctive representations in their native languages. For this very reason, when written in a foreign script, such as English, they will get four different spellings.

  1. t for voiceless retroflex,
  2. tt for voiced retroflex,
  3. th for voiceless dental,
  4. and finally, tth or tthh for voiced dental.

North Indians, however, chose to manage it with two even though Devanagari still has the same combinations.

  1. t for both voiceless retroflex and dental
  2. th for both voiced retroflex and dental.

For example, the English spelling of an Atal and Atul for a north Indian will change to Atal and Athul for a south Indian.

Now, who is correct? The answer is neither, nor maybe both.

Please be aware that this cannot be a spelling bee. Indian native languages are exceptionally and perfectly capable of representing all their native sounds in their preferred scripts. The trouble comes only when one needs to write them in a foreign language such as English. In English, however, we simply do not have a one-to-one mapping for all the sounds of Indian origin. Why should they? Understandably this is by design.

If it is of any consolation, the vice versa is true as well. For instance, we can never write the word ‘acid’ in any Indian languages, convincingly. It can be either ‘A-sid’ or ‘aasid’, and that is the best you can get. Hence the verdict is, the argument itself is wrong. Unless we are talking about Unicode or international phonetic symbols as foreign languages of consideration, both representations should and are correct. Stop arguing now.

Now that we have settled that debate let me pose a counter-question on a related topic. Why do all North Indians write few words such as Saree, Rathore and Kachra with two different representations or even pronounce differently? You must be familiar with Saadi, Rathod and Kachda.

Most of the time, it is pronounced as a Sadi and written Saree? This is very annoying for a non-native.

Disclosure. I am not a native Hindi speaker; I did not even have proper formal education on Hindi. I studied Hindi as my fourth language, but my Hindi teacher was in a great hurry and skipped a topic or few, such as alphabet! Obviously, she could not answer may of such questions we had. Why such a level of imperfections

  1. Why does Hindi omit (or swallow) the final vowel, e.g., Kannad for Kannada?
  2. Why does turtle have strange spelling ending with a vowel KachuAA instead of Kachuva?
  3. Why does translation for Yesterday and Tomorrow has the same word leaving it to its verb to decide the fate?
  4. And the most crucial question is, why on earth Hindi does not end a word with a consonant and must be a vowel? I mean, Hindi’s mother Sanskrit does the proper ending of each word. E.g., In Hindi Jal and Jala written the same. At the same time, Sanskrit differentiates even with the same script of Devanagari.

What surprised me the most is my friends with proper education on Hindi could not explain this deviation of Hindi from her mother, (Samskrutam) Sanskrit.

In my quest for knowledge, I had asked many many of my friends on these discrepancies. I quizzed them precisely on the r spelling for d sound. Most of them dint have a clue but a few attempted explaining it to me. Apparently, the language Hindi has a sound/letter that falls somewhere between an ‘r‘ and a ‘d‘. Unfortunately, this consonant does not sit in a scientifically classified and tabulated alphabet of Indian languages. So, it has to be foreign.

It’s called Nuqta. Let me quote Manisha Kulshreshtha, and Ramkumar Mathur on what they wrote in Dialect Accent Features for Establishing Speaker Identity. A few sounds, borrowed from the other languages like Persian and Arabic, are written with a dot (Bindu or nuktā). Many people who speak Hindi as a second language, especially those who come from rural backgrounds and do not speak conventional Hindi (also called Khariboli), or speak in one of its dialects, pronounce these sounds as their nearest equivalents.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of a dot (period). You can bring this confusing sound by merely putting a period, below or on the side, wherever you find some space. It should be done for one and the only purpose – to represent a foreign sound, especially with loan words. By definition, anything and everything can be covered here, including click sound of African languages. Nuqta was introduced in Devanagari to accommodate pronunciation India’s invaders bought in.

This is brilliant stuff; I have full clarity now. Absolutely useless! But still brilliant!

This raises more questions than answers. Why on earth would you consider sadi/saree is a foreign loaned word? Have you seen anyone in central Asia or the middle east wearing it? The Saree, its style, its etymology – they all have origins in India. It existed even before Hindi was even born, let’s not even talk about loans.

Photo by Nivedita Singh on Pexels.com

The answer is very straightforward. This is the side effect of a hangover by Turkik and Persian speaking empires ruling us. We could not even decide if a piece of clothing we wore for a millennium, was foreign or Indian. Finally, we settled, and we decided its foreign. Well done there.

Let me know your thoughts, do write your opinion on the comments section.

Reviving a thousand year old song


I could not help but share this fantastic rendition of one of the oldest songs in the Kannada language. The ‘old’ part is an understatement. It’s written somewhere around 900 C.E in an older version of Kannada. Credits of this poem go to Pampa, who generally, is referred to as Adikavi – an honorary title (Translation: first poet).

What is heartwarming is the attempt to revive a song written more than a millennium ago. 

Okay, Here you go. 

Lyrics, 

ಚಾಗದ ಭೋಗದಕ್ಕರದ ಗೇಯದ ಗೊಟ್ಟಿಯಲಂಪಿ ನಿಂಪುಗ ಳ್ಗಾರವಾದ ಮಾನಿಸರೆ ಮಾನಿಸರಂತವರಾಗಿ ಪುಟ್ಟಲೇ |
ನಾಗಿಯುಮೇನೊ ತೀರ್ದಪುದೇ ತೀರದೊಡಂ ಮರಿದುಂಬಿಯಾಗಿ ಮೇಣ್‌ ಕೋಗಿಲೆಯಾಗಿ ಪುಟ್ಟುವುದು ನಂದನದೊಳ್‌ ಬನವಾಸಿ ದೇಶದೊಳ್‌ ||

Chagada bhogadakkarada geyada gottiyalam pinimppuga Lgagaramada manasare manasarantavaragi puttale | Nagiyumeno tirdapude tiradodam maridumbiyagi men Kogileyagi puttuvudu nandanadol Vanavasi deshadol ||

Although the language used in this song is Kannada, not many can comprehend it because it is an old Kannada version. The language has moved on from here and evolved into a different version by gathering influences from various languages of neighbors, traders and invaders.

Anyways, while you are here, and if you are interested, please take some time to read through a fantastic post on same topic.

Translation: Hands up – Avane Srimannarayana


It’s deplorable that in the land of Kuvempu and Bendre, the Kannada movie songs exceedingly obsessed nothing more than morning hygienic routines. Or it’s evening routine if you chose to take a bath at night. Don’t get me wrong – these are beautiful songs with great original tunes, it’s just that their poetic value is abysmal. This is not something I could tolerate easily with the unfortunate reason that I happen to know the language. Sometimes, it seems like producers never provision a budget for a lyricist and instead choose to get it done by their kindergarten kids.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Exhibit 1: A foot-tapping item song with 61 million views translates as “Female: Planning for a Disco, I donned self payal. I used Lux branded soap and just took a bath. Male: I was relaxing after a large meal of Onions !! I washed my hands just to shake your hands.”  

Exhibit 2: another viral song translates as “Put soap, scrub body, close the door and take a bath, then put on powder … “

I can go on and give you more examples, but you get the point. To make it absolutely clear, I am not an anarchist to dislike songs about human hygiene and its importance. But I am absolutely convinced that we don’t need legends, songs and epics on what we should do in the bathroom.  

Generally, it could take up to a for a single fantastic song to come out of this industry with both good tune and lyrics. One of such rarities I liked very much is “Hands up” from Avane Shrimannaraya. A very classy song in all aspects. The Originality, choreography, direction, cinematography, lyrics, tune. It’s an all-round entertainment. I am sure you have seen it as it had gone viral a few months ago.

Unlike the typical Kannada movie songs, this song is actually written in Kannada, not with English vocabulary. You would definitely require a translation to understand the context. However, unfortunately, the entire Internet does not have a translation. That would be a criminal injustice!

So, I thought, why not do that service.

Disclaimer: I do not call myself a poet, or even a translator. I have tried my absolute best to do this, Hope it helps.

Note: Singer switches the roles between Narrator and Protagonist. Careful about that, please…

[Narrator] ಕೇಳಿ ಕಾದಿರುವ ಬಾಂಧವರೇ, ಭುವಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅವನ ಅರಿತವರೆ, ಯಾರಿಲ್ಲ ಬಿಡಿ, ಮುನ್ನುಡಿ, ಇದ್ದರದೊಂದು ದಂತಕಥೆ
Keli kadiruva bandhavare, Bhuviyalli avana aritavare, Yarilla bidi, munnudi, Iddaradondu dantakathe
Listen, patient Ladies and Gentlemen, and those who think who comprehend him, He is not that. What you heard of him is a pure urban legend.

[Narrator]ನಾಕು ದಿಕ್ಕಿನಲೂ ಬೇಕವನು, ಬಂದೂಕು ಹಿಡಿದ ಮಾನವನು,, ತಲೆಮೇಲಿದೆ ಕಿರೀಟ, ತೀರಾ ಹಠ, ಗುರಿ ಬೆನ್ನತ್ತೊ ನೇತಾರನು
Naalku dikkinalu bekavanu, Banduku hidida manavanu, Talemelide kirita, thira hatha, Guri bennatto netaranu
He is ‘most wanted’ in all directions, flaunting his gun, sporting a crown, a stubborn and very focussed on his goal.

[Chorus] ಗಾಳಿಮಾತಿನ ಬಜಾ಼ರು, ಸುದ್ದಿ ಸಾರಿದೆ ಸುಮಾರು, ಪಾತ್ರದ ಪರಿಚಯ ಇರೋರು, ಆ ಬಂದೂಕಿಗೆ ಇದೆ ಘನಹೆಸರು
Galimatina bajaru Suddi saride sumaru, Patrada parichaya iroru A bandukige ide ghanahesaru
You know the Rumour mill, has spread this news, Only those who know the character, must know, his gun has a reputation to keep

[Protagonist, Chorus] ಹ್ಯಾಂಡ್ಸ್ ಅಪ್‌, ಅದು ಅನವರತ , ಹ್ಯಾಂಡ್ಸ್ ಅಪ್‌, ನಾ ಅಜ್ನಾತ, ಹ್ಯಾಂಡ್ಸ್ ಅಪ್‌, ಇದೆ ವೇದಾಂತ
Hands up, adu anavarata , Hands up, na ajnata , Hands up, ide vedanta
Hands up, that’s infinite, Hands up, am in disguise, Hands up, its a philosophy

[Narrator] ಇದು ಚರಿತ್ರೆ ಸೃಷ್ಠಿಸೊ ಅವತಾರ
Idu charitre srusthiso avatara
This character meant to write history

[Narrator as Protagonist] ರಂಗೇರಿದೆ ಮಾಯಜಾಲ, ಅನುಭವಿಸು ಓ ಪ್ರೇಕ್ಷಕನೇ, ದೃಷ್ಟಿ ನನ್ನೊಬ್ಬನ ಮೇಲಿಡಿ, ತಪ್ಪದು ನಿಜ ಮನರಂಜನೆ
Rangeride maayajala , Anubhavisu o preksakane, Dristi nannobbana melidi, Tappadu nija manaranjane
The stage is now set, experience it oh Audience. Keep your eyes on me, and I promise you entertainment

[Protagonist] ನನ್ನ ಗೆಲ್ಬೋದು ಅನ್ನುತ ನಿಂದನು ಓರ್ವ ರಾಕ್ಷಸ, ತಪ್ಪಲ್ಲ ಆದರೆ ಅದುವೆ ಊಹೆಗು ಮೀರಿದ ಸಾಹಸ
Nanna gelbodu annuta nindanu orva raksasa, Tappalla adare aduve uhegu mirida sahasa
An evil man will face me thinking to defeat me, It is not wrong, but it’s a dare beyond imagination.

[Chorus] ಅನಿಸುತ್ತೆ, ಬಂದ ಹಾದಿಗೆ ರಚಿಸಲು ಹೊಸದೇ ಶಾಸನ, ಮೆರೆಯಲಿ ಗಗನದಲಿ ನಿಮ್ಮದೆ ಲಾಂಛನ
Anisutte, banda hadige racisalu hosade sasana, Mereyali gaganadali nimmade lanchana
It’s evident, has come here to write new rules, and to take your pride to the sky.

[Chorus] ಯುದ್ಧ ಮಾಡಬೇಕು ಓದಬಾರದು, ಕಟುಕರ ಮುಂದೆ ಭಗವದ್ಗೀತೆ
Yuddha madabeku odabaradu, Katukara munde bhagavadgite
Let’s fight the war and let’s not preach Bhagavat Geeta in front of butchers.

Okay, I had previously written about the plight of the Kannada movie industry and its literary bankruptcy, especially the lyrical value it brings to the table. You can consider this post is in continuation of that.