TULU CULTURE—in coastal region–Karnataka—
The coast is not just about beaches, fish curry and shrines. Thanks to historian Tukaram Poojary, this agrarian town houses a museum showcasing Tulu culture and attracting the attention of experts worldwide.
The Rani Abbakka Tuluva Baduku Adhyayana Kendra (Centre for Research on Tuluva Life and Culture) has on display more than 3,000 objects.
Tukaram Poojary, who teaches history at of SVS College here, is our own Indiana Jones. When he is not teaching, he travels to remote places, looking for objects relating to the history of Tulu life and culture.
“It is not just the objects that interest me but also the historical and social conditions that produce it,” he says.
Ward off Tigers
The museum exhibits a tiger-chasing instrument, perhaps the last in the world. It is meant to drive away tigers, and not to kill them. “It symbolises ahimsa. This region was ruled by Jain chieftains who believed in non-violence,” Poojary says.
The instrument vanished sometime in the 19th century when the British came hunting. They saw tigers as game, and had no qualms about shooting them down.
Another object from the 19th century is a cradle made of five types of wood. “The infant is flanked by two woods, and the head and foot get two other varieties. The bottom, holding the weight of the infant, is made from the wood of the jackfruit tree,” he says.
The wood, interestingly, is used in funeral pyres. Since it is freshly cut, it does not fully burn during the cremation. “Relatives save it to make a cradle,” he explains, hinting at a philosophical cycle of death followed by life.
The centre is named after the first Tuluva queen Abbakka. Building an army of fishermen, she destroyed the first Portuguese flotilla that arrived on Indian soil.
She is famous for using the flaming arrow for the first time in this part of the country. History talks about three Abbakkas between 1530 and 1599, but the one who defeated the Portuguese at Ullal lived around 1556.
“I have no doubt Rani Abbakka was the first woman general of the Indian struggle against imperialist forces,” says Poojary, comparing her in greatness to Chand Bibi of the Adil Shah lineage and Razia Sultana of Delhi’s lineage of slave rulers.
Some historians say Abbakka is like William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter who led an army against the tyranny of Edward Longshanks, a 13th century English king.
“Though they belonged to different hemispheres, they fought alienation and tyranny. Abbakka’s spirit makes her legacy worthy of a national museum in the land where she lived and fought,” says Poojary.
In 1555, the Portuguese sent Admiral Don Alvaro da Silvereira to fight Abbakka Devi Chowta, queen of Ullal, after she refused to pay them a tribute.
She defied the invaders’ first command. With her army, she set fire to the Portuguese flotilla of galleons with burning arrows.
Arab, Jewish Links
British linguist and historian Elizabeth Lambarn found three objects in the museum sharing their Tulu names with Arabic and Hebrew.
“Petari is a chest for valuables, pataya a place to store grains and spices, and tali a large platter which the Muslims use to eat food together,” historian Tukaram Poojary says.
This shows that the Tuluvas of the Karnataka coast had socio-cultural exchanges with Arabic and Hebrew-speaking countries, he explains.
Poojary’s field trips into the interior parts of the coastal districts are yielding more and more objects. A library of books on Tulu culture, with research papers and anthologies, is also getting bigger.