Kodavas abroad: A journey down memory lane by Nadikerianda Rana Nanjappa
The Kodava passage out of India took off during the middle of the 20th century – driven by prospects for higher education and career opportunities. The path was the same as for all other Indians – graduate studies, job, green card/work permit; and then marriage. Children were educated in the host country, and the cycle continued.
Early on, in the United States, Kodavas maintained contact mostly by mail or phone. The festivals of Kailpolud, Puthari, etc., were celebrated in individual households or in local community gatherings. Food was brought from participating households and always included Kodava specialties. There was no national network for the community. However, starting around the 1960’s, with the spread of the community, Kodava weddings began to be celebrated in the U.S. The network grew, bringing the community closer.
Weddings abroad exemplify the extent of adaptation of traditions and customs to new and foreign cultures. A lot of improvisation was needed to recreate the ambience of a Kodava wedding. Men and women wore their Kodava dress and jewellery. The customs were followed as closely as possible, with copies of the Pattole Palame (cover picture of the book above) being in high demand. If a Kodava was marrying a non-Kodava, the non-Kodava family enthusiastically joined the rituals; especially the Sammanda Kodupa. English translations of rituals were made available and modified to suit the norms of a new time and place. Food was catered, but home-cooked Kadambuttu and Pandi curry were always served. Even the ceremony of Bale Birudu (cutting of banana stumps) was followed; at times, the stalks were flown out from the Caribbean countries, if not from Florida or California. Local touches such as toasts and cake-cutting were added. Kodava paat (music) and aat (dance) were a must while also accommodating the Bhangra and Salsa!
In 1988 the first attempt to have an annual Kodava gathering was made in Washington DC. The occasion was a rousing success. From there on the baton was passed to a new city every year. Since 1988 there have been 23 such conventions in various cities around USA and Canada. These conventions, held around the Fourth of July weekend, are two-day affairs – the first day is for sight seeing and an informal do; the second is a formal occasion. The attendance is usually around two hundred, including guests from India and elsewhere. Other countries like UK, Australia, UAE, and Singapore also have annual conventions. Interestingly enough, in the UK there have been annual meetings of British coffee planters who lived in Coorg and their descendants.
The advent of the Internet drew the community even closer. During the 1997 US-Canada convention in New Jersey, the conveners launched www.kodava.org. The website has addresses of Kodavas in USA and Canada accessible by location or family name, a lively chat room, a forum and many links. Of interest in this website is the Kodava Address Book and Statistics. According to this compilation, there are Kodavas living in 41 countries. Sadly, this website is no longer active.
Kodavas abroad are actively converting nostalgia into reality. Yet, wherever they are, Kodavas always come home to Kodagu! Be it for a wedding or to the Balyamane to celebrate festivals. Age-old traditions are passed on from one generation to the next. The bond between Kodavas and Kodagu is always there. And as they move to distant lands, it seems to grow stronger. May it always be so!
Nadikerianda Rana Nanjappa, the author of the above article, moved permanently to the USA in 1970. Now retired from AT&T, he spends his time between homes in India and the USA.