Thursday, 16 June 2011

Bunts Origin and Antiquity

Several inscriptions mention Buntas in various connections, earliest perhaps in the 9th century in the Udyavara inscription.  Here a mention of Shivalli Brahmins and the Bantas of Chokipali (current day Chokkadi, near Udupi) is clearly made.  Whether the Nadavas, the Kannada speaking people mostly found in the northern Tulu nadu are the same as the Bunts cannot be established with certainty.  However, in the 20th century there was so much of intermingling of blood through marriage between the two groups that now they have become indistinguishable from each other.  These two communities could have separate origins but with passage of time the two cultures certainly seemed to have merged.  There are no records of the origin of the Bunt or Nadava community of Tulu nadu.  It is strongly felt that they first made their appearance very early in the history of Tulu nadu, and they migrated from Northern regions. 
It is almost certain that “in the early centuries of the Christian era, there were kings, some independent and some under the suzerain of overlords like Kadambas, Chalukyas and Hoysalas.  There were constant skirmishes and fighting, and the ‘Buntaru’ or warriors were important stabilizing segments of the population.  In due course the Bunts succeeded in becoming owners of lands that did not fall into the hands of the priestly class, namely Brahmins.” – South Kanara Mannual, Vol I.
Another group of people with similar culture was the Nayars of Tulu nadu.  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 Nayars.  They seemed to have intimate connections with the Brahmins and acted as their protectors, perhaps 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 Nayars in Tulu nadu.  Yet, there is no written proof for this occurrence and the only mention of the Nayars in the inscriptions comes after the Alupa period (early part of 14th century.)  It is postulated that the Nayars were later absorbed into the social stratum of the Nadava community.
It is also postulated that the Nayars 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 Nayars 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.  In Malabar and south of Kanara as far as Kasargod, they are called Nayars and their language is Malayalam.  From Kasargod to Brahmavar, they are termed as Bunts and speak Tulu.  To the north of Brahmavar, they are called Nadavars, and they speak Kanarese.”
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.
During the rule of Vijayanagara Tulu nadu was administered in two parts – Manaluru rajya and Barakuru rajya.  The people of the community to the north of River Kalyanapur (closer to Barakuru) called themselves Nadavas and spoke Kannada and people south of the river (closer to Mangaluru) came to be known as Bunts.  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 standing were said to have converted to Jainism, though it is not clear when this conversion predominantly occurred.
After the fall of Vijayanagara Empire, during the rule of the Nayaks, in the 16th century, the Jains of Tulu nadu suffered a cultural recession.  The glory of Jain period was abruptly curbed during the confusion of the take over 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).  It is possible that during this period many of the Jains converted to Hinduism.
Professor P. Gururaja Bhatt proposes three hypotheses as to the vocation and the origin of the Bunt community.
They were the builders of nadus (land), and as warriors whose main occupation and chief obligation was to protect the land.
They may have been mainly agricultural people, living in families known as okkalus, thus earning the name okkelme in Tulu (an okkaliga, meaning farmer).
The term Nadava meaning those who reside in the nadu as farmers.  Nadu also means ‘to plant’, and Bunts could have been primarily farmers who later took up arms and thus were associated with the military class.
The administration of the land (nadu) was with the help of divisions called guttu.  The guttedara was the administrator in charge of the guttu and this power was passed on to members of his family.

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