The Mogaveeras (also spelt, ‘Mogavira’) represent the native fishing community of the Karavali Karnataka. In the Udupi area they are also known as Marakalas.To the south of Ullal they are known as Bovis. In the southern Karavali from Brahmavara southward they speak Tulu and in the north they speak Kannada or Konkani towards Karawar.
Edgar Thurston describes them as Mogers, the Tulu speaking fishermen of South Canara (Thurston & Rangachari, 2001, p.65). Buchanan(1807) reported that ‘these fishermen are called Mogeyar and are a caste of Tuluva origin.. The Mogeyar are boatmen, fishermen, porters and palanquin bearers … Some Mogers are… taken to agriculture, oil pressing and playing on musical instruments.’ “The ordinary caste title for Mogers is ‘Marakaleru’.. in Kundapura taluk, the title ‘Naicker’ is preferred.”(Buchanan, cited in Thurston & Rangachary, 2001).
In Uttara Kannada mostly Kannada or Konkani speaking fisher-folk are known as Harikantra, Kharvi and Bovi. In the interior Karnataka, they are Kannada speaking fisher-folks known variously as Ganga-mathastha, Besta, Ambiga or Koli. In Kerala fishing community is known as ‘Mukkuvan’. In Andhra fishing communities are known as Agnikula-kshatriya, Vadabalija, Suryavamsi, and Pallekaru etc. Fishing communities living in different areas may not be related owing to geographic and ethnologic separations.
I. A historical –evolutionary outline
Fish in Indus seals: It appears that a cult of Fish God worship existed during the Indus valley civilization. Seals recovered from the excavation of Indus valley (3000-1900 BC) contain pictograms of fish that have been variously explained. Asko Purpola proposed that these pictograms possibly represent the cult of Fish God. Later in the history (ca.500 BC) the Fish-God (Matsya) was adopted as the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Apart from the theological implications, the fish pictograms point to the familiarity of the fish in the Indus society. Fish catching as well as consumption of fish as a food appears to have been in vogue during the Indus period.
Migration of Tulu tribes: Presence of Tulu words in Rigveda point to the existence of Tulu tribes in Pirak region of Northwestern Indian subcontinent during ca.1900-1500 BC. Following adverse environmental conditions, ca. 800 BC, Tulu tribes along with many others migrated into Indian mainland. The Moolasthana concept originated or prevailed in the NW Indian subcontinent, as evidenced by existence of places like Multan (mool-taan >.Moolasthana).
Daasha Raja: During the composition of Mahabharata, ca.500BC, fisher-folks were conspicuous by their presence. The writer-composer of Mahabharata, Veda-Vyasa was the grandson of Daasha Raja, a fisherman who ferried people across the River Yamuna. (The surname ‘Dasa’ still exists among some of the Tulu Mogaveera.).
1. Early historical period
Moolasthanas: The Tulu tribes immigrated into Karavali ca.700-600 BC and settled along beaches and river banks. The initial places of settlements became their new Moolasthanas in Karavali. Thus many of the surnames of Tulu communities including Mogaveeras refer to location of their initial settlements (Moolasthanas) like Bangera (<. Bengare), Suvarna(<.River Swarna),etc.
Lineage surnames: There is common a saying that the major Tulu communities of Karavali-Bunts, Billawas and Mogaveeras- are the children of sisters of a single family. This notion is verified based on the fact that many of these communities originally shared common Moolasthanas and common lineage surnames like Bangera, Suvarna etc. Members of the same Moolasthana, with passage of time pursued divergent professions that led to formation of different communities in the course of time.
Mogaveeras follow the Moolasthana system of Tulu lineages (Bari system). The origin of Moolasthana notion dates back to some ca.800 BC or earlier corresponding with the migration of Tulu tribes in the Pirak region of NW Indian subcontinent. Mogaveera families have acquired lineage surnames based on Moolasthana or the place of their original settlement. The following lineages based surnames are commonly found among the Mogaveera group of communities (in alphabetical order):
Amin, Bangera, Chandan, Gujaran, Kanchan, Karkera, Kotian, Kunder, Maindan, Mendon, Naika, Pangal, Puthran, Rao, Salian, Sapaliga, Shriyan, Suvarna,Thingalaya, and Tholar
Some of Mogaveera of earlier generation had the word ‘Tulu’ in the name/surnames, suggestive of their ancient Tulu heritage that migrated from North.
Prior Natives: While projecting the immigrant nature of Tulu tribes (ca. 750-500 BC), it should be clarified that a component of the present Mogaveera community is made up original inhabitants of the Karavali. Some of the ancient surnames may have vanished with time, yet surviving Mogaveera surnames like Tholar, suggest derivation from one of the Early Munda tribes, who were natives to the Karavali since ca.3000BC. Assimilation of native and immigrant fishing tribes occurred in the historical past.
2.Early Alupa period
Barakur: Barakur region appears to be one of the early settlements of immigrant Tulu tribes and Mogaveeras in particular. Many of the Moolasthanas are located on the sea coast of Barkur, around Hoogde and Bengare. The island of Benne-Kuduru, near Barakur, formed one of the centres of Mogaveeras. The temple of chief deity of Mogaveera community Kula Mastree Amma is located at Benne-Kuduru.
Barakur was a center of royal administration since remote historical dates. Some of the Kings/chieftains that ruled from Barakur could have been from Mogaveera community. Rich Mogaveera merchants owned merchant boats/ships in the earlier days. The ‘pandi’ was the usual word that referred to large boats used for carrying goods in the sea. The owner of a pandi is likely to have been called a ‘Pandia’ or ‘Pandya’. Several ‘Pandya’ chieftains ruled Barakur and Mangalore during the period 2nd to 14th century CE.
Alupe Kings: One of the questions frequently posed is whether the Alupe (Alupa) Kings were fishermen in origin. What is known about these kings is scanty. Earlier the word Alupa was analysed in a number possibilities. Now, it is deduced that they belonged to and ruled from Alupe, a cosy suburb near Kankanady in the Eastern Mangalore. Community background of these chieftains is not known. However, it has been deduced that the surname Alva (now a part of Bunt-Nadava community) has been derived from the word Alupa.
Mogera: It appears that the fisher-folks of the Karavali Tulunadu were originally known as ’Mogera’. Manjeswara Govinda Pai had suggested that the word ‘mogera’ was derived from the word ‘mudgara’. Conversely, it also may be true that mudgara is a subsequently Sanskritized version of the original word ‘moger’ or ‘mogera’, (since the Sanskrit was introduced into the region during Kadamba period after 4th century CE.)
Francis Buchanan (1807) has used the term ‘Mogeyar’ in his description of castes of south India.. The word was used in the literature of British period to represent the fisher-folks of Canara (Karavali) and Malabar (Kerala). Buchanan reported that Mogeyar people worship Shiva, Vishnu or Mastriamma (<.Maha Stree Amma).
The Tulu word ‘moger’ represents the low lying flood plains by the side of rivers. Possibly, the term was applied to people who initially inhabited in riverbanks and side plain lands and pursued professions of fishing and boating. Most of the original settlements or the ‘Moolasthanas’ of ‘Mogaveera and other related Tulu people, are located on the river banks, estuaries or beaches. Alternately, the word may be related to the verb ‘mogepu’ that means to swish or paddle in water.
‘Mogeyar’ is essentially a Kannada word possibly coined during the Vijayanagar reign of Barkur a region of Tulunadu. There is a view that the northern part of Karavali were originally Tulu speaking areas that became Kannada areas partly during the regime of Kadamba kings(Uttara Kannada) and later during Vijayanagar kings(Udupi to Kundapur area). The word ‘Mogeyar’ represents those who swish or paddle in the water. Incidentally, the Malayalam equivalent word for the community, ‘Murukkan’ also has the similar meaning.
Now, consequent upon socio-political changes over the years, the Mogaveera of Dakshina Kannada speak Tulu, whereas those in areas North of Kalyanpur and Brahmavar speak Kannada.
Sapaliga: During 4th century CE, a new Kannada dynasty was established based on Banavasi (now part of Uttara Kannada) by Kadamba King Mayura Varma. He established new temples in Tulunadu dedicated to Shiva, Ganesha etc within his territory that included Tulunadu. At that time the culture of temples was new to Tulunadu and only different forms of spirit worship and the cult of Buddhism prevailed until then. The Alupe Kings who ruled Tulunadu, were chieftains under the Kadamba king.
The newly established temples were manned by Brahmins brought from Ahicchatra. The location of Ahicchatra has been disputed; it may be either on the banks of Godavari or near Bareily, in Uttar Pradesh. The temple proceedings demanded musical artists to orchestrate the pooja and other ceremonies. A set of Mogaveera youth were trained, in parts of ancient temple towns of ancient Tamilnadu like Kanchi and Madhurai, to play instruments like Nadaswara, drums and other musical instruments, now vogue in the temples. These musical artists were later designated ‘Sapaliga’ or ‘Sapalya’. The word ‘sappala’ means sound. The families of these musical artists were settled around agrahars around the temples and these with time became a sub-community known as Sapaliga-s.
Early Brahmins: Kadamba King imported male Brahmin Priests from Ahicchatra to conduct Pooja rituals in the newly built temples of Karavali Tulunadu. Some of the immigrants were uncomfortable in the new environs and wanted to return. Therefore, the King allowed them to marry with the Tulu tribes and settle in the agraharas around temples. Oral anecdotes among the Mogaveera people, suggest that the young Brahmin priests were married to girls of fisher-folk community.(Shriyan,2005; Ramachandra Baikampadi,2006). Sturrock (1894) has reported this event in his manual of Madras District. Dr Gururaja Bhat, (reprinted in Tulu Sahitya Charitre, 2007), while reviewing castes cited in the manual of Sturrock, opined that girls for marriage were drawn from the Bunt community. Consequent on the event, the descendants of earlier generation of Tulu Brahmins acquired lineage surnames characteristic of native Tulu communities. The event may be of relevance to human genetic haplotype studies and interpretations.
Ganiga: (pronounced gaaNiga). The Karavali being a region replete with coconut palms, the extraction of coconut oil was a special profession, some of the Mogaveeras ventured into since early history. The oil extraction unit was known as gaaNa; hence those worked with gaaNa became Ganiga-s. These have become an independent sub-community but maintain equivalent relations with Sapalya sub-community.
Bovi: During the regime of ancient Kings and chieftains, one of the menial professions was carrying palanquins of royal persons. Fishermen adapted to this job were known as Bovis. Now the members of Bovi sub-community are concentrated in the Ullal to Manjeswar region in the southern part of Karavali.
Similarly, in Uttara Kannada, there are Konkani speaking members of Bovi sub-community under Harikantra and Kharvi fisher folks.
Marakala: A sub-community of Mogaveera, especially around Udupi area is known as Marakala. Origin of the word ‘Marakala’, the caste name used for a subgroup of Mogaveera people in the Udupi area has an interesting history.
During the time of ancient regal wars, the Mogaveera youth were employed as soldiers in the advance force in the Vijayanagar army. These were specialized in the art of breaking fortified wooden main doors of the enemy forts. They were called marakala The origin of the word is ‘mara’ (=wood, ~wooden fort door) and ‘kalapuni’ (=removing; Tulu usage special to Udupi sector). Thus, the experts in the art of ‘mara-kalapuni’ were designated as ‘Marakala’. The word mara-keela (‘keeL’, means to remove, in Kannada) was also in some usage in earlier days. (Narayana A Bangera, Mitrapatna, 2007). The special professional word was said to have prevailed during the period of Vijayanagar reign over Tulunadu (14 Century AD). It is also possible that the profession existed before the Vijayanagar rule, during the reign of Alupa chieftains.
Matti Brahmins: During the fourteenth Century CE, it is said that Vadiraja Acharya of Udupi Mutt converted Mogaveera families of Mattu village into Brahmins (Buchanan, 1807). The descendants of the community continued to follow some of the marriage practices native to Mogaveera heritage. Buchanan reports that these Matti Brahmins have a Bobbariya gunda in their village like other Mogaveeras.
5.Abbakka to British Period
Abbakka’s army: During the 14th Century CE, Queen Abbakka was ruling at Ullal. Once she was at Surathkal beach to worship at Sadashiva temple. After pooja at the temple she visited the nearby beach. The sea was ferocious and she was almost about to be drowned in the sea. Local Mogaveera youths saved her in time. She applauded their bravery and took some of the youths with their families to Ullal, where she employed them in her navy and army. Mogaveera youth were known for their bravery. Queen Abbakka could confront Portuguese army because of her faithful navy and army.
The word Mogaveera: Hoige-bazar Mohanappa Tingalaya, a freedom fighter, is credited with. Coining the new word ‘Mogaveera’, in the early years of twentieth century, to replace the old fashioned ‘Mogera’ or ‘Mogeyar’.(Ramachandra Baikampadi, 2006). Accordingly, the Mumbai Sangha was named as Mogaveera Vyavasthapaka Mandali (MVM), registered in the year 1929. The first Kannada monthly published from Mumbai, from the house of MVM was named ‘Mogaveera’. Now the name Mogaveera has almost completely replaced the old words Mogera and Mogeyar.
II. The community institutions
Oral traditions describe that the early Tuluvas could be found as navigators on all the seven seas (‘Sapta Sagaras’) or literally all over the world. The traditional marine fishing is a valiant profession that demands energy, skill, perseverance and above all boldness. In the earlier days when shipping technology were in nascent stage, marine fishing on country boats entailed exceptional bravery. The adversities of the profession made Mogaveera community a well knit and organized society that respected brotherhood and community feelings.
Pattana: Mogaveera fishing communities traditionally lived in coastal habitations called ‘Pattana’ (=town). The self governed fishery townships or Pattana may be an ancient feature of common to Dravida culture, since even the coasts of Tamilnadu have similar historically old habitations called Pattanas.
Ibn Battuta, a traveler from Morocco (ca. 1343 CE) mentions, alighting at a port called Pattana, for some time, while returning from Honavar, along the west coast of India. Ibn Battuta possibly was referring to Bokkapatna, the fishing village and port in Mangalore during the Vijayanagar regime of 14th Century.
Grama-sabha: The fishing communities at Pattana level are well organized into ‘Grama-sabha’ (village council) with a group leader called ‘Gurikara’. The Gurikara was a hereditary leader and traditionally wore a steel or gold bangle around his wrist and a single ring on his ear, as insignia of the leadership. The role and authority of Gurikaras is diminishing with rise of democratically elected bodies. The group leader of a fishing team is called ‘Tandela’. Under the masthead of Dakshina Kannada Mogaveera Mahasabha (established in 1923), there are 146 Gramasabhas that have been federated into ten Samyukta sabha-s. Earlier the three traditional centers of Karavali Mogaveeras were Bagwadi, Barkur and Mangalore. Subsequently, Gramasabhas of Mangalore and Udupi from Uppal to Kota joined to form the Dakshina Kannada Mogaveera Mahasabha. The Kannada speaking Mogveeras of Bagwadi formed a separate federation (Mogaveera Mahajana Sabha).
Kulaguru: Mogaveera had a Kulaguru or Mangala Poojari drawn from the Mogaveera community since antiquity. He was traditional chief priest of Benne-Kudur Kula Mastree Amma temple. In recent years, several leaders are advocating for the revival of Kula Guru Tradition.
Other Trivia: Buchanan reports that ordinary barber (Kelasi) does not shave Mogaveeras and they have their own community barber called ‘Melantavam,’ who is entitled to have a share in the catch of fish.
III. Religious faiths
The nature of the religious faiths has changed among the Mogaveeras during the evolutionary period of past 2700 years in the Karavali Tulunadu. In the beginning Mogaveeras worshipped exclusively spirit deities like Bermer, Panjurli etc. Subsequently, several spirits were added to the list like Bobbariya, Korathi, and Haiguli etc.
Spirit worship: Mogaveera worship a number of spirits like Bermer, Panjurli, Bobbariya, Korathi and Haiguli. Some of the places of worship, interestingly also contain idols of Vedavyasa and Atharva Muni.
Bobbariya: Bobbariya spirit was a benevolent Muslim merchant who was amicable with fishermen. Folk-lores suggest that Bobber was an influential trader married to a Tulu Shetty lady. He commissioned merchant boats and conducted sea-trade in the ports of West Coast. He was popular in the Mogaveera Pattana of Kapu. Folklores suggest that died fighting with pirates at the Sea.
Most of the Mogaveera Pattanas have Bobbariya gunda in them. Mogaveera traditionally believe that the benevolent Bobbariya spirit brings them good luck and ensures safety in a wild Sea.
Vedavyasa and Atharvamuni : Some of the Mogaveera worship centres, contain idols of Vedavyasa and Atharva Muni. It is an historically interesting feature since Vedavyasa, born to Matsyagandhi or Satyavathi, was a product of the fishing community.
The exact character of Atharva Muni is not clear, since it is believed that the Atharva Veda was compiled by sage Bhrughu and his clan, with inputs from sages of the Angirasa clan.
The fact that Mogavirs hold these ancient sages (ca.700-.500BC) in esteem suggests that they were connected in some way in the remote historical past. This may also be suggestive of the migration of Mogaveeras from northwestern India.
Vishnu and Shiva:.With advent of mainstream Hindu Gods into Tulunadu during (4th century CE) and after Kadamba period, Mogaveeras adapted to the worship of Shiva, Vishnu.
Mogaveeras have a caste priest known as Mangala Poojari.(Uchila,2004) The Mogaveera families pay prescribed amount to Mangala Poojari to maintain the temple of Ammanor or Mastiamma.(Buchanan,1807). The designation of Mogaveera Kulaguru, or the caste priest ‘Mangala Poojari’ helps us to understand the evolution through the ages. The designation ‘Poojari’(=priest) was imported along with the Tulu immigrants. Earlier Poojaris were the priests for Spirit worship. Later on, Poojaris separated and formed a component of Billawa Group, while Mogaveeras retained a few Poojaris exclusively for Pooja purposes within the community.
Mangala is a word commonly used in Buddhist Pali literature and the adoption of the designation ‘Mangala Poojari’ for the community priest of the temple, implies the broad temporal relationship to the Buddhist period ca. 2nd to 8th Century CE.
Kula Maha Stree Amma
During the early centuries of CE, when Buddhism prevailed in Tulunadu, worship ofTara Bhagavathi was in vogue. Several locally prominent ladies were deified and worshipped during the period. Mogaveeras built a temple for a deified lady known as Kula Maha Stree Amma at Benne Kuduru near Barkur and worshipped her. The temple, recently renovated, is an important centre of worship for the Mogaveeras. Buchanan states that according to some Mastiamma is the Maari, the Godess of small pox and others say that she is Mohini, a spirit (Buchanan has used the word ‘female devil’ for spirit).
Mahisha-mardini & Mahalaxmi
Shankara Acharya revived Hinduism along the Karavali and most of the former Tara-Bhagavthi temples were converted to temples of Shakti worship. Under the influence of regional Shakti worship in the Karavali , Mahisha-mardini (Kundapura) and Mahalaxmi temples (Ucchila) were constructed and consecreted.
Association with Kadri
Kadri temple at Mangalore represents fusion of Buddhism into Shaiva Natha cult, founded by Macchendra Natha. Macchendra Natha has been considered to be from a fisher community of Bengal.
Mogaveera community has associated with the Kadri temple festivities during the past thousand years. They actively participate in the flag hoisting ceremony (dwaja-arohana) of the temple. On the initial day of marine fishing season, every year, Mogaveeras invite the Natha chief of Kadri Mutt to conduct the Samudra pooja and pray for their welfare.
The post is written in collaboration with Hosabettu Viswanath, Pune.
Buchanan, Francis (1807) A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar . T. Cadell and W. Davies, London.
Gururaja Bhat.P. Reprinted in ‘Tulu Sahitya Charitre’, Kannada University, Vidyaranya, Hampe.2007.
Gururaja Budhya and SolomonBenjamin(2000 )The politics of sustainable cities: The case of Bengare, Mangalore,in coastal India. Environment and Urbanization, vol.12, No2.www.bvsde.paho.org/bvsacd/cd26/enurb/v12n2/27.pdf
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Thurston, Edgar and K. Rangachari (2001) Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Asian Educational Services. p.3366. Original Edition published in 1909.
Venkataraja Punimchattaya.(1993)“Mogaveerara Sanskriti”. Karnataka Sahitya Academy, Bangalore, 157p
Uchila, S.K (2004) ‘Mogaveera Kulaguru’. Mogaveera. Mumbai, November, 2004. pp.17-43.
Uchila, S.K (2005) ‘Mogaveera Institutions’. Mogaveera. Mumbai, December, 2004.pp.37.
by Ravi Mundkur