What’s in a name? Mangalore, Mangaluru, Kudla…

Juliet may have said to her lover Romeo,

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet

but the love affair between the state of Karnataka and its cities is not so accommodating.

Eight years back Karnataka proposed changing the name of 12 cities. This renaming finally took place on November the 1st, the state’s Rajyothsava Day. As dignitaries celebrated the moment in 1956 when the linguistically defined state came into being,  Mangalore become Mangaluru, Bangalore became Bengaluru, Shimoga became Shivamogga, Mysore became Mysuru and so on, with the aim of better reflecting how these places are called in Kannada, the official language of the state.

The door of a laundrette in Mangalore
The door of a laundrette in Mangalore

Whilst this might seem like a long overdue redressing bad colonial-era naming, things are slightly more complicated for the smaller coastal city Mangaluru (previously Mangalore). Mangaluru derives its name from the deity Mangladevi, who is worshipped in one of the oldest Hindu temples in the city. However in Mangaluru most people’s mother tongue is not Kannada, but variously Tulu, Konkani, Beary, Malayalam (or Kannada).

In Tulu, the most widely spoken language, the city is called Kudla (which derives from the word for junction, as the city lies at the confluence of two rivers and the Arabian sea).

In Konkani, the language spoken by most Catholics, Gowda Saraswat Brahmins and Kudubis (amongst others) – all of whom were pushed down from Goa by Portuguese colonialists – the city is known as Kodiyal, which is also the name of a central part of the city in all languages.

The largest Muslim community, the Bearys, who speak a language of the same name, refer to the city as Maikala.

The numerous students and ‘medical tourists’ from the neighbouring state of Kerela speak Malayalam and refer to the city as Mangalapuram.

Finally, on ancient maps the city was marked as Bunder, from the Persian word for port, and the old port area of the city is still called Bunder to this day.

If this was not complicated enough, the district in which Mangaluru lies is also awkwardly named. Officially, Mangalore is the administrative centre of the district Dakshina Kannada. This name derives from the colonial name for the region, Canara. Canara is a corruption of Kannada, and was a name assigned to the coastal region of modern day Karnataka by colonialists who believed everyone to be speaking Kannada.

Colonial Map
Colonial Map

Once Canara came completely under British rule following the defeat of Tippu Sultan, it was attached to the Madras Presidency, unlike much of the rest of what is the southern part of present day Karnataka which went to princely Mysore. However, as detailed by Srinivas Havanur 1 , Canara was split into north Canara and south Canara in 1862 because cotton traders – whose profits were hit by the American Civil War – wanted a new port so they could avoid the expenses associated with Bombay.

Carwar (now spelt Karwar)  was selected as the site for the new port.  Carwar was in Canara, and the Madras Presidency were not so keen to pay for the building of port, thus Canara was bifurcated and northern part was passed over to the Bombay Presidency. However the American Civil war ended, cotton started flowing and Bombay traders put pressure on the government not to build the port. There was no new port, but there was now a North Canara and South Canara (sometimes spelt Kanara).

The two Canaras were unsurprisingly signalled out for a name change quite early after independence, but rather than give new administrative disctricts names that reflected how the regions had been locally known, they were instead transliterated and de-corrupted into Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada (South and North respectively). Many businesses however, including the famous Canara Bank, keep the colonial-era name.

In 1997 the state bifurcated Dakshina (south) Kannada, with the northern part of the district renamed Udupi, after the largest town there. More recently, there have been some murmurings from certain politicians about a desire to rename the district Mangalore, which would now be Mangaluru, though it looks unlikely to happen.

Mangalore into the dustbin of history
Mangalore into the dustbin of history

In a third and final layer of naming complexity, Mangalore (or rather in this context Kudla) lies within the cultural region of Tulu Nadu.

Tulu Nadu refers to the land of the Tuluvas – the region in which people speak Tulu and follow unique Tulu cultural practices such as bhuta kola (spirit worship), kambala (buffalo racing), Yakshagana (night-long folk drama) or korikatta (cock fighting). Though this region has often been part of larger empires, local rulers – such as the Alupas – wielded considerable autonomy within these larger bodies.

Tulu Nadu stretches across Dakshinna Kannada, parts of Udupi district and parts of Kasaragod district in Kerala. There has been an active movement to declare Tulu Nadu its own state since at least the 1940s, but it is not as well supported as state movements in other parts of the country (e.g. Telangana).

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The Power of Naming?

Kannada is widely spoken in the city. It’s one of the two main languages of education (the other being English); it’s the language of administration, with non-Tulu speaking civil servants regularly transferred here; and it’s the language of local news. Moreover, there is a strong Kannada literary tradition in the region 2 and even the first Kannada-English dictionary was produced here (by a German colonial-era missionary no less 3). The city was and will remain Mangaluru for many.

But that is not really the point. A lot of Tuluvas were of course angry or upset by the change, as it probably buries hopes of the city officially becoming Kudla any time soon and, more importantly, reaffirms Karnataka’s claim to the region. But aside from this, in an city with many names (in a district with many names), the official changing of one name for another seems like a waste of everyone’s time. Indeed it was “waste”, an English import widely used in Mangalore’s languages, that came up most when chatting with people about the change.

Whether or not maps read Mangalore or Mangaluru makes little to no difference in the lives of most people and they can see the move for what it is, a crude attempt at political populism masked as anti-colonial patriotism. In the everyday times and spaces of the of the city, linguistic plurality will continue to be reflected, no matter whether the city’s official name ends in an -ore or an -uru.

  1. Havanur, Srinivas. 1999. Bifurcation in 1862: A strange reality, in POLI – A commemorative volume for Canara 200 Edited by Sri M. Mukunda Prabhu et al.
  2. e.g. Mahakavi Muddana (1870 – 1901) the Kannada poet and writer.
  3. Reverend Ferdinand Kittel (1832 – 1903).

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