Monday, August 17, 2009

Tulu language

Tulu (തുളു/ತುಳು) is a Dravidian language of India spoken by an estimated native speakers between 3 to 5 million spread worldwide[6][9], known as Tuluvas. It is one of the oldest language born almost during the same time when Tamil & Prakrit were born.[10] Most Tuluvas are natives of the districts of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi in the west of the state of Karnataka. as also Kasaragod district of Kerala which is collectively known as the Tulu Nadu region. There are a sizeable number of Tuluvas in the gulf as well as in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. The original written script of the language Tigalari, adapted from the Grantha Script, from which the present day Malayalam script is also adapted, is rarely used today. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has mostly been written in the modified Kannada script.[11]




Tulu belongs to southern branch of the Family of Dravidian languages.It descends directly from Proto Southern dravidian which in turn descends directly from Proto-Dravidian,the hypothesised Mother language from which all dravidian languages descend. It is equally close to Tamil.And even today has a striking similarity with Proto-Dravidian[12][13]


The word Tulu has been implied by linguists as being that which is connected with water. ‘Tuluve’(jack fruit) means ‘watery’ in Tulu. The other water related words in Tulu which means water or moisture are talipu, teli, teLi, teLpu, tuLipu, tulavu, tamel and additionally in Kannada there are words like tuLuku and toLe. In Tamil tuli means water drop and tulli means the same in Malayalam.Thus it is beleieved that that the word Tulu implies ‘related to water’.Therefore Tulu means the language of the waters as the traditonal homeland of the tulu speaking people is the coastal region of modern Karnataka and parts of Northern Kerala.[14][15]

[edit]Geographic distribution

Ancient kingdom of Alva Kheda

According to malayalam works like Keralolpathi and Sangam literature in Tamil The region stretching from the Chandragiri river, now part of the Kasaragod district of Kerala, to Gokarna, now part of Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, was ruled by the Alupas and was known as Alva Kheda.This Kingdom was the homeland of the Tulu speaking people.However the present day Tulu linguistic Majority areas is confined to the region of Tulu Nadu which comprises the dictricts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada in the Indian state of Karnataka And the northern part of Kasaragod district of Kerala upto the river Payaswani also known as Chandragiri.,[15].The cities of Mangalore,Udupi and Kasaragod being the cultural centres of Tulu culture.

Tuluvas have a saying: "Oorudu nanji aanda paarad badkodu". A loose translation would be: "If it's tough at home; run away and survive". Tuluvas are true to this character and have migrated to other places in great numbers.Early migration was to neighbouring regions like Malabar ( Kerala now ) , Mysore kingdom, Madras Presidency ( Tamil Nadu now). The large scale migration of Tulu speaking people from undivided South Canara district to other provinces ( regions ) of India is happened during World War I, but there are no concrete materialistic evidence to prove. The reason being rationing of food grains by British who where ruling India then and spread of communicable diseases . The next wave of emigration was during World War II , now they settled in interior parts of Karnataka, coastal Andhra Pradesh and also to far off cities like Mumbai and Chennai.They mostly did business of running restaurants serving Udupi cuisine. Mumbai and Thane in Maharastra state has a sizable population of Tuluvas. Even Today Tulu is widely spoken in the Dakshina Kannada,Udupi district and Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka state.and Kasargod of kerala Efforts are also being made to include Tulu in the list of Official languages of India.[16]


Tulu script was originally adapted from the Grantha Script, from which the present day Malayalam script is also adapted, It was used by Tulu Brahmin to translate Sanskrit text. 19th century missionaries used the Kannada script to transcribe Tulu works and to translate the Bible into Tulu. During the Tulu literature renaissance of the 1900s, the practice of writing Tulu in Kannada script became increasingly common; today, the original script is rarely used.[11] Attempts are being made by Tuluva linguists to revive the original script.[17]

The relationship between Tulunadu and Kerala were very harmonious even in ancient times as Tulunadu was considered as a part of Ancient Kerala according to the Puranas. Nairs of kerala were originally migrants from Tulunadu to kerala.The Nairs have disappeared as an entity from Tulu Nadu but the inscriptions found in Barkur from the medieval period as well as the Grama Padathi, which gives the history of Brahmin families in Tulu Nadu, have made several references to the Nairs. Nairs perhaps never spoke Tamil but Prakrit or Tulu or some other Aryan tongue. Nairs did mix with few Dravidian clans including Vellalas. The arrival of Nairs led to the mixture of Tamil with Prakrit Sanskrit and Tulu words converting the language to Malayalam.[citation required] Tulu Brahmins were also traveling and settling in Kerala for further studies in agama shastras or for conducting rituals in temples. The Tulu Brahmins used to write down the slokas on palmyra leaves (taalegari), which were used then for writing, in a curvy, floral style of script. Earlier it was considered as a variant of Malayalam script. But recent studies showed that this was the original script of tulu used by the Brahmin scholars and later was adopted by the Kerala kings which is the present Malayalam script.(This has been proved in detail by P V Puninchathaya in his book 'Tulu -Nadu-Nudi').


Tulu language has namely four dialects.These dialects show slight variations and are more or less similar to each other.

The four dialects are as follows,

  • 3.Jain Dialect[19] : spoken by the Tulu Jains. It is a dialect where the initial letter 'T' and 'S' have been replaced by letter 'H'. for example, the word Tare is pronounced as Hare, Saadi is pronouced as Haadi.
  • 4.Harijan Dialect[20] spoken by the Mera, Mansa, Harijan and Tribal classes

[edit]Written Literature

Victorian linguist Robert Caldwell's observation on Tulu language[21]

Tulu is one of the most highly-developed languages of the Dravidian family, its equivalent in Germanic languages being Spanish, which more or less has the same level of usage and diction.

Though Tulu is a highly developed language,the written literature of tulu isn't as vast when compared to literature of other literary dravidian languages like Tamil[22] Nevertheless Tulu is one among the only Five literary Dravidian languages,the other four being Tamil,Telugu,Kannada and Malayalam.The earliest available tulu literature that survives to this date is the Tulu version of the great hindu epic of Mahabharata written by Arunabja,a poet who lived in Moodabidri near Mangalore around 15 century A.D. The other important literary works in Tulu are as follows

Many of Madhvacharya's philosophy written in Tulu are preserved By Ashta Mathas of Udupi,Though these manuscripts are written by his disciples since his philosophy was originally passed down through generations orally.Also certain sanskrit works By Tulu brahmins are written using the Tulu script,the original script of the language.Even Today the official script of The eight Tulu monastries founded by madhvacharya in Udupi is that of Tulu.The pontiff of the monastries write their names using this script when they are appointed. Modern day Tulu literature is written using the Kannada script.Mandara Ramayana is the most notable piece of modern tulu literature.written by mandara keshava was awarded with the Sahitya Academy award for best poetry.[23] Madipu,Mogaveera,Saphala and Samparka are popular Tulu periodicals published from mangalore. Tulu Sahitya Academy established by the state government of Karnataka,India in 1994 as also the Kerala Tulu academy established by the Indian State Government of Kerala in Manjeshwaram in the year 2007 are important Governmental organisations that promote Tulu literature.Nevertheless there are numerous organisations spread all over the world with significant tulu migrated populations that contribute to tulu literature.Some notable contributors of Tulu literature are Kayyara Kinyanna Rai, Amruta Someshwara, B. A.Viveka Rai, Kedambadi Jattappa Rai, Venkataraja Puninchattaya, Paltadi Ramakrishna Achar Dr.Sunitha M. Shetty, Dr.Vamana Nandavara, Sri.Balakrishna Shetty Polali.

[edit]Oral Traditions

Oral Traditions of Tulu are very strong and have greatly contibuted to the preservation of this ancient language even in modern times.Since the language functions as a powerful medium of folk expression in the Tulu Nadu region, oral literature in Tulu is abundant and varied. Tulu oral tradition comprises many genres namely folk ,religious ritual,epic poetry and legends. Traditional Tuluva culture still a living tradition, is structured mainly on the ideology of the agriculture of the region. Tulu oral literature is thus mainly focused on paddy cultivation, the major form of agriculture, and other types of cultivation like arecanut, coconut, plantain, and green vegetables. In fact,traditional Tuluva culture as a whole is centered around the production of paddy, coconut, and areca, and the methods and tools of such production.In this respect, the oral literature based on this kind of work culture is the predominant manifestation of Oral taditions.Another important oral tradition centres on the predominant religion of Hinduism especially the worship of spirit dieties which are of both puranic and local origins during Bhuta Kolaand Nagaradhane.Paddanas a higly stylized form of poetry is sung narating the legends and generosity of the spirit deities.Tulu Bhajans sung in temples is another form of oral traditions connected to religion. Riddles in Tulu have been studied by scholars and about 10,000 riddles have been collected and published. The contents of this smaller genre of riddles mainly is realted to agriculture, kinship, and the family system, the caste system based on different professions, and the flora and fauna of the Tuluva land.Folktales in Tulu have also been collected to a certain extent and classified according to the international type and motif indices. The practice of telling folktales is diminishing and at present genres like folktales, s, and riddles are not as vital a part of the living tradition as they were before. In addition to paddanas, there is an important genre of Tulu oral poetry that functions as worksong. These kabitas are sung as group songs in the paddy fields, normally by women while planting seedlings (neji).As a generic term, kabita is not pan-Tuluvan by nature, though the people in some regions use it in that sense. In many places people either intone the chorus line of each kabita independently or sing obele songs. Obele is the most popular kind of kabita and is pan-Tuluvan in distribution.The singing of kabita is controlled by one woman who is well versed in performance and who also has a rich repertoire. She sings each line of the song, while the rest join in the chorus. This process continues with different texts, depending upon the amount of work to be done in the paddy fields.Kabitas vary thematically, but most of them are not complete narratives; in comparison to paddanas, they are shorter and looser in structure, a function of the context in which they are sung. The message conveyed can be understood by considering the context that working in the field is a relaxed,non-ritualistic pursuit.

[edit]Theatre and Films

A Yakshagana Artist
A female character inYakshagana

Theatre in form of the Traditional Yakshagana,prevalent in coastal Karnataka and northern kerala has greatly preserved the finer aspects of the Tulu language.Yakshagana which is conducted in both Tulu and kannada is pretty popular among the Tuluva people.It can also been seen as a form of temple art as there are many yakshagana groups that are attached to temples namely that of Kateel Durga Parameshwari Temple as also the Udupi Krishna Temple.At present eight professional Yakshagana troups perform only Tulu Yakshagana not only during the Yakshagana season but also during the off season in various places of Karnataka and outside.In Mumbai Tulu Yakshagana is very popular among the tulu people there. More than 2000 Yakshagana artists take part in the performance in various places in Mumbai anually.Notable performers of Tulu yakshagana include Kalladi Koraga Shetty Pundur Venkatraja Puninchathaya,Guru Bannanje Sanjiva Suvarna and Pathala Venkatramana Bhat.Tulu plays are one among the major entertainment for admirers of art and culture originating and flourishing in the Tulu Nadu.Tulu plays are generally centered on the comic genre are very popular in Mumbai and Bangalore outside Tulu Nadu[24] Tulu Film industry is pretty produces 2 to 3 films anually. The first fim being Enna Thangadi released in 1971.Usually these films are released in theatres across the Tulu Nadu region and on D.V.D.[25] The critically acclaimed Tulu Film Suddha,won the award for the best Indian Film at the Osian film festival held at New Delhi in the year 2006.[26][27][28][29][30][31]

[edit]Centres of Tulu Study and Research

Tulu as a language continues to thrive in coastal Karnataka and Kasargod in Kerala. It has mainly survived due to the love of the Tuluvas towards their language. Tulu Sahitya Academy, an institute established by the state government of Karnataka has introduced Tulu as a language in schools around coastal Karnataka. Some names are Alva's High School, Moodbidri; Dattanjaneya High School, Odiyoor; Ramakunjeshwara English-medium High School, Ramakunja; and Vani Composite Pre-University College, Belthangady. The Academy is planning to add more schools and is awaiting government permission for the same. Tulu is also thought as a study language in post graduate level in Mangalore University and there is also a dedicated department for Tulu studies, Translation and research at Dravidian University[32] in Kuppam Andhra Pradesh.The Government Degree College at Kasaragod in Kerala has also introduced a certificate course in Tulu from the academic year 2009-2010. It has introduced Tulu as an optional subject in its Kannada post-graduation course also. It has adopted syllabi from the books published by the Tulu Sahitya Academy.

The Govinda Pai Research Centre at MGM College, Udupi started an 18-year Tulu lexicon project in the year 1979.[33] Different dialects, special vocabularies used for different occupational activities, rituals, and folk literature in the forms of Paād-danāas were included in this project. The Centre has also released a six-volume, trilingual, modestly priced Tulu-Kannada-Englishlexicon. The Tulu lexicon was awarded the Gundert Award for the best dictionary in the country in 1996.

[edit]Language Tree

The languages recognized as Official languages of India are in boldface.


Tamil languages (incl. Tamil)


Kodagu (Kodava)



























Ollari (Gadaba)



Kurukh (Oraon)


Kumarbhag Paharia

Sauria Paharia


Language tree of South India Languages showing, Tulu branched out at a very early stage, proving Tulu as the oldest Dravidian Language

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