C. P. Belliappa's Column

How Coorg towns got their names? C.P. Belliappa finds out!


(By: C.P. Belliappa)

There was a time in Coorg history when Ammathi was known as Colepet. This was sometime in 1860s. The present day Ammathi was part of Ammathinad, and this area was slowly developing from a ‘vonti-angadi’ to a ‘multi-angadi’. The name Colepet was given in honour of one of the British Superintendents of Coorg – Captain Robert A. Cole. Somewhere along the line, Colepet got renamed as Ammathi.

At the time of British take-over of Coorg, there was a busy little hamlet in southern part of Coorg known as Balelesanthe. Banana-leaf was an important commodity those days and Balelesanthe was the centre of this trade. In 1866, Chepudira Madaiah used his influence and renamed Balelesanthe as Ponnampet in honour of his illustrious father Dewan Chepudira Ponnappa. Ponnampet is now a busy hub of commerce and higher education.

Santhe, or the weekly market-day was very important those days. Quite a few places in Coorg got their name after the weekly ‘shandy-day’. So, we have Shanivarasanthe and Somwarpet. There existed a Shukravarsanthe, which was the present day market place in Mercara. This name is no longer in vogue, but Mercara continues to have its shandy-day on Fridays.

The ruling family of the Lingayat Rajas named a few of the places. Virajpet, as we all know is the town founded by Dodda Veerarajendra in 1792. He also named Mahadevpet in Mercara after one of his favourite queens – Mahadevamma. Nanjarayapatna is another place named after a member of the ruling family. It’s well-known that Bhagamandala got its name after Bhagandeswara. The southernmost town, Kutta, got its name from the forest goddess Kuttadamma. The closest settlement to Siddeshwara betta got the name Siddapur, a bustling town now.

Present day Kushalnagar was apparently named by Hyder Ali. It was while he camped here that he received news of his son Tipu’s first military victory in another battle zone. However, Kushalnagar was renamed as Frazerpet in honour of Lt. Col. J.A. Frazer who successfully secured Coorg for the British in 1834. Stewart Hill near Raja’s Seat in Madikeri is named after Col. Stewart, one of the leading British officers who took part in the annexation of Coorg.

Murnad got its name from being the meeting place of three nads, and Nalknad is a conglomerate of four nads. Likewise, Nalkeri is the centre of four villages. Murkal has a landmark of three boulders. And, Arvathokkalu is a hamlet of sixty okkas or families. Likewise there is Nalvathokkalu and Napoklu.

Sometime during 1870s, the British administration opened a new housing colony near the rapidly growing town of Mercara and called it Ranipet. The name Ranipet was in honour of Queen Victoria.

Quite a few places in Coorg derived their name after the commodities they were famous for. We thus have Sunti-coppal (Ginger village), Goni-coppal (Goni is woven hessian used for making sacks), Balele (Banana leaf), Chettalli (village famous for beans), and Meenpet (fish market near Virajpet). Incidentally, Chettali used to be popularly known as ‘Tenth Mile’ during British days. However, I am not sure if the place Kurchi is known for making chairs!

Then we have Bavali, which probably had a large rookery of bats! The place Kadanga is named after the famous kadangas dug by the nayakas who ruled Kodagu before the Haleri dynasty. And then, if one had an axe to grind, I guess they went to Kodlipet!

We all know how the name Coorg and Mercara came about. However, how the original name Kodagu originated is not very clear. It is said that Kodagu is a derivative of the ancient name Krodadesha. It could well be that the name Kodagu came from the word ‘Kodi’ denoting its high perch on the Western Ghats. Madikeri, which was founded by Mudduraja in 1681, was named after the founder as Madurajakeri. We are also told that Madikeri is derived from the word ‘Madi’ which means clean. The place was once known for being neat and clean.

During Tipu Sultan’s occupation of Madikeri, he rebuilt the Fort and renamed the area as Jaffarabad. Dodda Veerarajendra recaptured the town in 1790, and mercifully, the fair name of Madikeri was restored.

I wish the town closest to where I live – Gonicoppal – had a better name. Several years ago a young nephew of mine who was visiting us for the first time thought the name was Gopigopal! Now, Gopigopal would be a much better sounding name for a swaggering town which has the euphemistic moniker – Texas of Coorg!