Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 23, 1997
Author: M. Gautham Machaiah
The origin of Kodavas (Coorgs), a martial race inhabiting Karnataka’s picturesque hill district Kodagu, has always been shrouded in mystery. But a book which has scientifically analysed their origin has come to one conclusion: They are not original inhabitants of India.While the book, A Study of The Origins of Coorgs, by Lt Col Kongetira Chinappa Ponnappa, has not succeeded in pinpointing the roots of Coorgs, it says that they could be descendants of either pre-Muslirn Kurds or pre-Christian Georgians.
“All available clues point to the strong possibility that the Coorgs came to India as part of the pre-Muslim forces of the Persian emperors or with the light troops of Alexander the Great, or as part of the troops during the time of pre-Christian Bactrian Greeks.”There is a great similarity between the Coorgs and pre-Muslim Kurds. Like the Coorgs, the kurds dwelt in mountain country for more than 2,000 years. Their dress, physical features, history in fighting various wars, bear a striking resemblance to Coorgs. However, after the Kurds embraced Islam, their cultural traits were overwhelmed by Islamic culture.
Stating that the Coorgs have no similarity to the Dravidian race, the book quotes Sir Erskine Perry who points out: “The Coorgs have no resemblance to any races of South India. By far they are the finest race I had seen in India in point of independent bearing, good looks and all outward signs of well-being.”Coorgs are a different kind of people as compared to others in the country. They do not celebrate any of the Hindu festivals or follow their customs. Unlike other communities, Brahmins have no role in any of their ceremonies, be it marriage, death or festivals, the book says. Drawing a parallel between the character of Greeks and Coorgs, the book adds, “Like the Greeks, the Coorgs have an instinctive hatred for servility or sycophancy. A Coorg will never show more than the obligatory respect to a man in the higher orders of officialdom unless he positively respects that man.”
The Coorgs’ strong foundation of Greek culture indicates that they directly descended from the pre-Christian Greeks or were in close intercommunication with the Greeks. It is also likely that the Coorgs originally dwelt in the mountains of northern Iran, Taurus, Asia Minor or Caucausus and came to India as part of the fighting troops.Their basic dress, ‘Kuppya’ and ‘Chele’, is suited to the cold climates and is similar to the attire in central Asia and Caucausus.
“Another possibility is that the Coorgs descended from pre-Muslim Kurds. There is no doubt that they were mercenaries in the Persian Army and probably in the armies of Alexander the Great Looking at the Kurds even today in Northern Iraq or Northern Iran, one is struck by their similarities in dress with the Coorgs."But until a final conclusion is drawn, the debate will continue: Where did the Coorgs really come from?
(Picture sourced from www.boloji.com/places/024e.htm)
These days there are enough books and theories on the origin and decendancy of the Coorgs. But why is no one from Coorg bothered to study the contribution of the dynasty that ruled the kingdom for almost three centuries. The palace is now housing government offices and the area around the tombs has been encroached. Is this the attitude one shows to monuments of historical importance? Are these not of any archaeological value?
-Manohar Yadawatti, Bangalore
Thanks Gautham. I just sent the Coorg story to a bunch of people. Do we have any more material for reading on this topic? Thanks!
-Sindhu M.C, New Jersey
Gosh ! Coorgs then are a totally mixed up race. Pre-Kurds, Pre-Georgian and what not ! And where does that leave me - a cross between a Coorg and a Tamil Brahmin ? A total Mocktail !!
-Kartik Krishnaswamy, Bangalore
I knew that our race had some Greek origin because apparently in Greece there are a few streets with Coorg names(not quite sure how far it is true).But this was something worth reading.. Thanks Gautham. It is time to do a little more research on my own race!
A really good post.