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What's in a name? Mangalore, Mangaluru, Kudla...

A short comment on the difficulties in choosing what to call a city, the accretion of naming practices and effacement of diversity.

By Ian M. Cook

The door of a laundrette in Mangalore

What us anthropologists call the places in which we research is of course crucially important. This is especially so in post-colonial settings when colonial authorities renamed places to make them easier to pronounce in English. However, in the city where I spent 18 months researching the culture of urban expectancy and the rhythms of everyday life in south India, naming the city was complicated. On the face of it the city officially changing its name from Mangalore to Mangaluru should have been welcome and straight forward, but as many Mangalureans told me, the change elides the linguistic plurality of the city.

Nine years back Karnataka proposed changing the name of 12 cities. This renaming finally took place on November the 1st 2014, 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.

Whilst this might seem like a long overdue redressing bad colonial-era naming, things are slightly more complex 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.
Districts and Regions

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.

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, 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 signaled out for a name change quite early after independence, but rather than give new administrative district 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.

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).

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 and even the first Kannada-English dictionary was produced here (by a German colonial-era missionary no less). 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 buried 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 a 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.

 

 

 

 

SPRING2016

Bronislaw #01

Ian M. Cook

I am an anthropologist who works in one of India's many smaller cities. I previously organised projects that crossed academic and culture spheres, worked for an NGO and wrote for numerous publications and platforms. Likes: rhythms, public anthropology and research outputs beyond the textual. Dislikes: needless abstraction, conservative peer-reviewers and the current job market.

Author's blog

thecityasariver.net

 

 

   

BronislawMagazine of provocative open-ended anthropological debate

Who are we? Bronislaw is an online magazine of new anthropological thought and debate. Our main purpose is in one hand to help disseminating anthropological research to a broader public, but in so doing, also to create a space where anthropologists can go beyond the limited frames of academic publishing and allow themselves to develop thoughts and questions that have arisen during research, to broaden fieldwork-based reflections, to expose developing ideas to community debate, or even to join into other contemporary anthropological debates by replying to essays published here or elsewhere.

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