Thursday, 16 June 2011

History of Bunts

The Bunts are a usually Tulu or Kannada speaking community mostly found in Udupi, Mangalore and Bombay. They are originally from region of Tulu Nadu in which includes the districts of Udupi and Mangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka, they are also found in Kasaragod of Kerala. According to the system of Varna Bunts belong to the Serpent Lineage (Nagavanshi) of Kshatriyas. Bunts traditionally follow the matrilineal system of descent and kinship like their related communities of Samanta Kshatriya, Tulu Jains and Nairs.

The word Bunt is derived from the San-skrit word 'Bhata' meaning powerful man or a soldier, the Tulu equivalent is 'Bunte' or 'Bunter' (plural) which means protector. Bunts are also referred to as 'Nayaka', 'Shetray' and 'Nādava' which means leader, nobility and landlord respectively in Tulu. The word 'Shetray' anglicised as Shetty is the most common of all Bunt surnames followed by Rai. In fact in certain parts where the community has migrated like Mumbai, the community is simply referred to as the Shettys.

Historian Edgar Thurston in his book “Caste and tribes of south India” described the Bunts as follows “Men and women of the Bunt community belong to a beautiful race of Asia. Men have a broad forehead and a parrot nose. Mostly they are of fair complexion. Even today they are of independent nature, short tempered, self respecting and have a muscular body, which tells about the history of belonging to warrior families”

Krishna Devaraya (1509-1529)

There are different studies done regarding the origin of Bunts, Prof S. Shivaram Shetty’s research shows that a tribe called ‘Kosars’ wandered into Tulu Nadu after the Aryan invasion. Mercenaries by nature, they first settled in Deccan and established the Shatavahana kingdom in Andhra Pradesh. In Tulu Nadu they founded the Alupa kingdom. According to one of the various theories regarding the origin of Kadamba Kings, they are connected to the Bunts since one inscription states the kadambas belonging to the Nāga or the serpent lineage to which Bunts also belong and many Bunt families hold the surnames of Kadamba and Varma which were the titles of the Kadambas

As a warrior class, the Bunts attained their greatest glory during the rule of Vijayanagara Emperors belonging to the Tuluva Dynasty which was founded by a chieftain Bunt called Tuluva Narasa Nayaka. The glory was further enhanced by Krishnadevaraya by extending the kingdom to whole south India. During the rule of Vijayanagara Tulu Nadu was administered in two parts – Mangalore State and Barkur State. We can still see the glory of Vijayanagar kingdom in Barkur by the beautiful temples they built during that period. After the fall of the dynasty the Bunts again concentrated themselves in Tulu Nadu where they took to large scale agriculture in the vast area of land they still possessed and also served as ad-ministrators and warriors in the various minor Hindu and Jain kingdoms that controlled various parts of the region from time to time.

The people of the community to the north of River Kalyanapur (closer to Barakuru) speak Kannada and people south of the river (closer to Mangaluru) speak tulu. There seems to have been a close relationship between the Bunts and Jains in Tulu Nadu. Not only are their last names similar in many instances (Ajila, Ballala, Hegde, Banga, Chowta etc.) but they also have similar customs. Aliya santana is followed by both Bunts and Jains in Tulu Nadu, perhaps the only Jain community in India to follow this matriarchal system of inheritance. Bunts of higher social staus were said to have converted to Jainism, though it is not clear when this conversion predominantly occurred.

The Jains of Tulu Nadu suffered a cultural recession. The glory of Jain period was abruptly curbed during the confusion of the takeover of Tulu Nadu by the Nayaks of Ikkeri. It is evidenced also by the lack of building great monuments and the bastis (like in Mudubidri).

Another group of people with similar cul-ture was the Nairs in Kerala. They have disappeared as an entity from Tulu Nadu, but the inscriptions found in Barkur from the medieval period as well as the Grama Paddathi, which gives the history of Brahmin families in Tulu Nadu, have made several references to the Nairs. They acted as their protectors of Brahmins, brought to Tulu Nadu by the Kadamba kings in the 8th century. Kadamba king Mayuravarma, who is credited with bringing Brahmins from Ahichatra (from the North), also settled Nairs in Tulu Nadu. Yet, there is no written proof for this occurrence and the only mention of the Nairs in the inscriptions comes after the Alupa period (early part of 14th century.) It is postulated that the Nairs were later absorbed into the social stratum of the Nadava community.

It is also postulated that the Nairs of Malabar originally migrated from the Tulu Nadu as noted here: Manual of Madras Administration Vol II (printed in 1885) notes that the Nadavas are the same people as the Nairs of Malabar and the Bunts of Southern Tulu Nadu. “They appear to have entered Malabar from the North rather than the South and to have peopled first the Tulu, and then the Malayalam country. They were probably the off-shoot of some colony in the Konkan or the Deccan.” There are different social status among Nairs, and the people came from Tulu Nadu are identified as Uarli Nairs.

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