Lore of the Bean

The body of traditional popular knowledge about a particular subject is lore. How Bangalore came to be known by its present name is an interesting story that unfolded in the year 1120 AD, during the regime of the King Veera Ballala II of the Hoysala dynasty. The Lord of the land knocking the doors of the tenant/ subject mercifully, are aplenty in the folk ballads. It was such an instance when King Ballala on a hunting spree lost his way in the jungle during a hunting expedition. The exhausted king met an old woman in the deep forest, who offered him shelter and served him baked beans and water, as was the custom in rural areas, for dinner. The king, so pleased with her hospitality founded gratefully in her honor a town and named it as 'bele-benda-kalu-ooru' which in Kannada means, the place of boiled beans. It was like a bread and butter letter from the King.

Later, a local chieftain, Kempe Gowda helped to modernize the city. The ceremony of furrowing the main streets by Kempe Gowda I in 1537 A.D marked the origin of Bangalore and this has assumed as the commencement of its political history says K. Chandramouli.[1] According to popular perception, Bengaluru is the colloquial translation of the name Benda Kalooru, literally meaning the town of boiled beans.[2] In the course of time, the name 'Bengalooru' has been shortened and anglicised and has come to be called Bangalore.

It is not ruling Lords alone who begged for alms from their subjects. In ancient times begging was considered as Dharma. In the pages of the Puranas we find Sages and Gods begging in the streets with begging bowls.

The Skanda-Purana [3] narrates one such story that when the Vedic sages begged food during a drought, they were given food, only after Vasishsta, the chief among the sages present there, wedded Akshamala, the daughter of a low caste Chandala. Leading a life of austerity thereafter she attained brilliance that her lustre obstructed the sun (arkabimbam arundhata). This earned her the name Arundhati and she became popular for her fidelity. 

We see Arundhati again as the eighth daughter of Kardama son of God Brahma, in Devahuti. Here also, Rishi Vasishtha was her husband. As the Saptarshis- Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaja, Vishwamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasishtha- felt a privation of food especially rice, they set forward to the Himalayas to bring fruit and rice, leaving Arundhati alone in the forest. The unexpected visitation of great famine, compelled the rishis to build an ashram in the Himalayas and stay back till the end of the twelve year long famine. As Arundhati too had nothing to eat, she started doing tapas. Lord Siva came in the attire of an old Brahmin and asked her to give him something to eat. Since Arundhati had no rice left, she offeredbadari seeds. In this context, Lord Siva asked her to cook the seeds, which Arundhati did. While frying the seeds she began to tell stories on dharma and continued to talk, abandoning sleep. At last the famine was over and the rishis returned with fruit and rice. Pleased at the tapas of Arundhati, Lord Siva took his real form and acclaimed that Arundhati's tapas was greater than the rishi's, on the Himalayas. Lord  Siva left after making very holy, the place where Arundhati lived.

In the Akshamala and Arundhathi episodes we get a glimpse of life during famine. From the ice capped Himalayas we shall now go to the land of the confluence of three seas.

King Marthanda Varma (1706-1758), the modernizer of Travancore, had to live disguised in his own land during early period of his regime, in fear of ettuveettil pillamar, his rivals for the kingdom. On one such occasion, he sought asylum to an isolated house in a desolate village in Thiru Nayinaarkurichi, near Kanyakumari. At that time, an old lady and her young grand daughter were alone in the house. They provided space for the Lord to hide, in the corner of the house, where palmyra leaves were piled up. In this state of affairs, as dusk was advancing, the lady of the house made the occasion to declare her culinary skill. The grandmother and grand daughter prepared dinner and offered the Lord a sumptuous meal. There were ten curries of different taste, including the thorny rind of a jackfruit. When Lord's hunger was satisfied from the hut of the humble and lowly, he enquired about the dishes. The old lady then revealed that it was from a single jackfruit tree from the courtyard, plucked at the nick of time. An inspired Lord declares, 'Let this place be known as chakkappathu' [4](chakka is jack fruit+ pathu is ten) and the place name remains as a folk etymology.

Heap of dirt, sweepings, refuse etc are termed as kuppa in Malayalam. In speaking to Lords the tenant describes his house as kuppamaadam. Describing President Abraham Lincoln one will say from 'kuppamaadam to white house'. When Bangalore became a Silicon Valley, chakkappathu remained as a remote village forever. But the very names remind everyone, every time about the culinary skill of the ladies of the traditional houses of the bygone days, who cooked delicacies from rubbish. Mushroom, kuppachheera (Amaranthus polystachys), Kuppakkandi kizhangu (large yam), Kuppaimeni  (Acalypha indica Linn), Kuppa veli (Vinca pariflora) etc are found grown wild in the heap of sweeping and refuse at one's courtyard, waiting for their turn to reach the frying pan.

In the episodes of Lord Siva and King Bellala, we see the pinch of scarcity of rice. Marthanda Varma's episode that occurred two centuries ago, was at a place known as the granary of Travancore. These episodes commemorate the fortitude overcoming of difficulties by women at times of famine or scarcity in the midst of plenty. The place names are epitome of such events and add flavour to the intelligentsia to signalize their memory.

The bean seed was instrumental in converting a forest into a small town, later into a concrete forest. Now we will see how bean flower became a cynosure to be emulated, while coining words. Unknowingly they changed shape with change of tongues and became undecipherable. Here the words boat and pattanam are related to the shape of the bean flower. So far no one has attributed its relationship to the shape of the bean flower.


Thengapattanam, Kadiapattinam, Kaveripattinam, Vizhagapattinam, Masulipatnam, Nagapattinam, Kalingapatanam, Valiapatam and Musiri Pattanam are all wellknown towns (Pattanam) on the east and west coast of India. A place where a river falls into the sea is pathanam/ ghat. A river harbour, an estuary, a seaport isazhimugham. There are 18 river harbours in Kerala, says Keralolppathi. An opening into the sea is azhimugham. The place where the lagoon joins the sea, river is azhi- the river mouth. Azhivikkural is the exact river mouth. We have so many such river mouths. But all pathanams are not pattanams. What makes apathanam, a pattanam is the presence of a port.

Potham means boat. A raft, ferry, ship etc are also potha(ka)mYuddhapotham is battle ship. A shipper engaged in trade is PothavanikkVanikpotham is merchant ship. Pothaplavan is a sailor. Pothadhaari is the most important person of the ship,kappithan. Captain (Portuguese capitao) is the Pothadhari, the leader of a ship.Pothavaahan is the person who observes the movements of the enemy from his seat near the flagpole. Pothabhangam is loss/ damage of ship. Pothya is a group of ships. Pothasamooham is an assemblage of ships. Potharaksham is an implement (chukkan) by which a ship is steered, comprising rudder, tiller, wheel, etc. A port is Pothaasrayam. Perhaps the presence of a Pothaasrayam added to the prosperity of a pathanam and helped it to develop into a Pattanam. A town (Pattanam) included both Pothaasrayam and pathanam is evident from the many aforesaid places.

All these indicate that they were prominent ports on the olden days when man utilized coastal tidal waves to navigate with the help of small-scale, country made ferries that hugged the shore. Pothabhaandam is cargo of the ship. The young of any animal is potham. It includes a baby deer, ten-year-old elephant (kari potha(ka)m). It seems that Potham is a continuation of the journey of aPothabhaandam from a beast of burden in the land path to a Potham (boat /ship/ ferry) to a Kollayi (ridge) at a distant place. Ports invariably connect these two distant places. Exchange of goods in the ports helped develop an urban area, which also bore the sound Potham and became Pattanam. But we can see that not only the seed of the bean but also its flowers helped mankind build cities. Bangalore and Chakkappathu comes under folk etymology. But how the wordpattanam came into currency is by way of etymology. The cluster of words under the caption pattanam owes its origin to the key word pothaka dalam, which denotes the keel petal (keezh dalam) that forms the beeja rakshaka talam of the flower. 

Before entangling on the shape of the flower and its relations with the boat a flash back is needed to fix the background.


The Legume Family (Fabaceae) is found throughout the world, in the form of herbs, shrubs, trees and vines especially in the tropical rain forest. Many legumes yield important fodders, green manures and forages, e.g. Lupinus (Lupin), Medicago (Alfalfa) and Trifolium (Clover). The plant's properties to fix nitrogen are note worthy. Large amounts of nitrogen that the legumes take from the air, is converted to protein in the seeds. The nitrogen they store in their nodules return to the ground as an organic fertilizer with the decay of the plant. Legumes are found used for timber, medicine, tannins and gums. Various species of Lonchocarpus and Derris are the source of rotenone, which is used as an insecticide, fish poison or molluscicide. Some Legume trees yield valuable resins, used in varnishes, paints and lacquers, e.g. Copaifera and others are the source of dyes, e.g. Indigofera that is cultivated for a blue dye.

            Eighteen kinds of corn are known as ashtadasadhanya. It includes two kinds of bean/ pulse, known in Tamil as avarai (field-bean, Dolichus lablab)[5] in Malayalam am(v)ara, am(v)arakka. Humans utilized several leguminous plants, or their seeds, for long as food/ livestock.

Edible bean

Aside from beans, the family Leguminosae (legume) includes peas and lentils. The edible kidney-shaped seeds of plants belonging to the pea family, especially those of the runner bean are generally known as beans. It includes any plant belonging to the pea family that bears such seeds for example broad bean, haricot bean.

The fruit of the plant is a pod containing seeds, called Legume, which are edible. The fruit of the Leguminosae, the most important family in the Dicotyledonae[6]technically called a legume or pod, is composed of a single seed-bearing carpel that splits open along two seams and comes in an enormous variety of shapes and sizes, including indehiscent pods that do not split open. A dehiscent pod of a legume opens along the dorsal and ventral sutures. It is composed of a single folded carpel. A seed attached to ventral suture is avarasamini in Malayalam.


Leguminoseae is one of the 220 families of plants in Southeast Asia and the food products commonly known as legumes include a wide variety of beans, the smaller group of peas, and the peanuts. The seed (bean) is generally consumed as food. The starch obtained from the root of the kudzu (pueraria) is important in Japanese cuisine. 'Most of the legume seeds are valued as sources of protein and constitute one of the main non-animal proteins in the diet. Some legume seeds are used as sources of oil, such as soyabean oil and peanut oil.'

The major staple foods such as beans, Soya, lentils, peas and chickpeas are rich in high quality protein and are all legumes. But they come only next to the grasses (cereals) in providing man with a highly nutritional food resource.

Beans are easy to grow, cheaper to produce. They are high in protein and are less costly to produce than high protein meat products. Many different varieties are grown all over the world, in gardens and commercially for food; both for human consumption and for livestock. 

Beans have been recognized for their high nutritional content, for normal growth and for the building of body tissues. The lean years of the Great Depression, beans proved to be a "poor man's meat." Especially rich in iron, complex carbohydrates (including soluble fiber) and B group vitamins, beans also contain Calcium, Phosphorus, Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin and folic acid fiber and many other nutrients as well. Potassium in the beans helps the normal functioning of nerves and muscles. The fact that they have twice as rich in proteins as grains, made it an ideal source of protein for vegetarian communities.

Lack of Vitamin C in diet causes scurvy. While the British Royal Navy had learned to combat scurvy with rations of limejuice on long sea voyages, the Chinese solved that problem with ordinary dried beans. The knowledge that moistened bean sprouts, is a repository of a rich source of vitamin C was a lore inherited from 'traditional Chinese culture and was not a new innovation designed specifically to combat a debilitating problem.'[7]

One cup of cooked beans provides 25% of the daily requirement for the amino acids and contains more potassium than a banana. In fact, beans have more calcium and iron per cup than three ounces of cooked meat and aid in reducing cholesterol; improve digestion an aid in cancer prevention.

Cooking Beans

Beans, a versatile kitchen ingredient, can be eaten even raw or sprouted. From powdered beans soup can be made in two or three minutes. From its juice, milk and milk products can be prepared. Vermicelli made out of beans tastes great.

In the traditional houses in Travancore there were granaries to store peas calledpayattu pathaayam. Payattunir, is a special dish for the occasion served to those who attend the funeral. Such houses also possessed karuppatti pathaayam to store candy/ jaggery prepared from juice extracted from the palmyra tree (Borassus flabellifer). Mixing the black sugar with the broken peas after frying, a kind of sweet cake is made known as modakam. In olden days, when joint family system was prevalent, cartload of modakam was carried while visiting houses of relatives. Peas were used to prepare curries and delicacies such as payasam.

Navy Bean

Some 14 genera of the legume family contain species producing seeds termed beans for human consumption. Twenty-eight species in 7 genera produce beans of commercial importance, implying that the bean can be found in trade at the village level or up to and including transoceanic commerce.'[8]

The great storage ability of the beans made it a primary food for sailors earning it the name the Navy bean. On those days when there was no refrigeration, bread room in the ship stored a lot of beans and rice. The sailors ate pasta, fish, chicken and turkey in addition. Beans have fed the armies of the world from ancient times to the wars of recent history. There were treasure fleets consisting of hundreds of ships. As many as twenty-eight thousand sailors manned a fleet, each fleet, as long as four hundred feet.


Beans, a part of human diet from antiquity, formed the second most important plant family used in the human diet, the first being the grasses. Both are considered as the first to be domesticated just over 10,000 years ago and dates back to the Bronze Age.

To the ancient Egyptians, beans were an emblem of life and had temples dedicated to them. Beans have been discovered in the tombs of the Pharaohs and Aztecs. Seeds found in Egyptian tombs date back to 2400 B.C. The Greeks and Romans used beans in festivals to worship their gods. Four prominent ancient Roman families were named after each of the four major legumes seeds such as Fabius (fava bean), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea), and Cicero (chickpea). This shows the impact of beans on the life of the people in the ancient times.

It is assumed that Indians scattered all over the Americas cultivated and consumed beans of all kinds. Beans were carried and planted by the nomads who wandered the earth in ancient times. They sailed with sailors and the explorers traded them. 

In the Middle Ages when beans were one of the primary foods of the European peasants, the poor man's breadbasket was made of many grains and beans. Barley, oats, and millet that comprised the greatest portion of the medieval diet are but grain products.[9]

            The seeds, believed to be native to South Western Asia and Northern Syria, spread to Greece and Bulgaria during the Neolithic period. During the Bronze Age, they spread to Near East and the Mediterranean. The ancient Egyptians considered seeds to be essential to support life. Archaeological evidence dates back the cultivation to 6,000 B.C.

The bible has mentioned about Lentils.[10] India, where the consumption of pulses far exceeds the production, is the world's largest producer and consumer.

Proverbial Beans

Sayings of sages and great thinkers never die. They contain ideas in few and continue to live in the minds for generations. From nursery rhymes to phrases and usages beans became a part of daily life and culture. A children's song, "Beans Beans the Magical Fruit..." is about the capacity for beans to cause flatulence. An English proverb says: "A bean in liberty is better than a comfit in prison.

Bean'o is a bean feast or jollification. An annual dinner given by an employer for his employees is Bean-feast. It is a feast, a celebration. On such, a party or social gathering, beans may perhaps be considered the staple dish. There was a custom of a feast on Twelfth Night, in France, and afterwards in Germany and England, at which a cake with a bean buried in it was a great feature. He who had the slice of cake with bean was the bean-king. The shades or spirits of the dead, ghosts, specters are considered in Roman religion as Lemuria. On the 9, 11, 13 of May an enchanting festival was held to appease these departed spirits. During this annual Lemuria festival, they offered beans as a food for the dead. This was formerly a common Christmas diversion at the English and Scottish courts, and in both English universities in olden days. This monarch was master of the revels like his congener the Lord of Misrule.

Informally a small coin, a tiny amount of money, is bean money. Not have a bean (British & Australian) is to have no money. 'Know how many beans make five', means to be fully alert and clued-up; to know   what's what.  Does 'doesn't know beans', means know nothing at all.   The usage 'a person's head' is slang. 'I don't know beans about investing.' Here a bean is a small amount.

Am(v)ara (Bean flowers)

Bean is a general name applied to the edible kidney-shaped seeds of plants belonging to the pea family, especially those of the runner bean. Any plant belonging to the pea family that bears such seeds is considered as bean.

Based on flower structures, the Leguminoseae family of plants has been divided into three subfamilies, of which the Papilionoideae is by far the largest source of medicinal plants. All beans, members of the Leguminosae family of plants formed, the third largest family of flowering plants after orchids and daisies. They are found extensively propagated in the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. With its more than 18,000 described species, it is surpassed in size, only to the orchid family (about 20,000 species and the sunflower family (about 24,000 species).


Calyx is the outer whorl of flowering parts. It is the collective term for all the sepals of a flower. Corolla is the inner circle of flower leaves. Usually colored they serve mainly to attract insects. The five-petal flowers of the beans are bilaterally symmetrical so that they have tops, bottoms, as well as a pair of side petals like the wings of the butterfly. Hence it is called as papilionaceous. The way the two lowest petals of the corolla of the green-bean flower, joined along one side are conspicuous. It is a bit narrow but deep scoop. Any small utensil used for bailing water from an open boat, a bowl shaped cavity, is a scoop. This concave shaped, hollow excavation can be a shovel, a bucket of dredge, a backhoe and a large ladle.

The beak, a prolonged, usually narrowed tip of a thicker structure, as in some fruits and petals, is also a pointed projection. Ending in a beak is beaked.


A boat-shaped structure formed by fusion of the two anterior petals of a flower is the keel.[11] That part of a papilionaceous flower consisting of two petals, commonly united, which encloses the organs of fructification, is a keel.[12] Both are a longitudinal ridge or projection like the keel of a boat.

The keel in Kudzu (pueraria), flowers is so deep and narrow and its margins so close together. It's like a pouch with a slit along its top. The flowers' stamens arch downward inside the almost-shut keel. It should be noted that the keels of nearly all other butterfly-like flowers are straight.

The keel or keel shaped formations, in certain plants, like the petals of the pea[13] is carina in Latin and pothakam in Malayalam.[14] Ridged like the keel of a boat, having a keel shaped ridge[15] is carina.  The boat-shaped structure formed by fusion of the two anterior petals of a flower in Fabaceae is carina. The two lower petals of most pea flowers, united or partially joined to form a structure similar to the keel of a boat. Of leaves, petals or bracts, folded and ridged along the midrib is known as keeled.

Keel means, a structure such as[16] a pair of lower united petals of a papilionaceous corolla. Carina is any of various keel-shaped structures or ridges such as that[17] formed by the fused petals of a pea blossom. Both Keel and Carina are same in meaning. 


The longitudinal timber or series of timbers scarfed together, running lengthwise along the centerline from the bow to the stern is the principal structural member of a ship, to which the rest of the hull of a ship is built.[18] This lowest, lengthwise member of the framework serves as the foundation of the structure of a vessel, providing the major source of structural strength of the hull. This is the keel of the ship and a keel is the ship. As the keel is the first part to be constructed, laying the keel of a ship has assumed importance and the beginning of any significant undertaking came to be termed as laying the keel. The hole, which receives the mast, is Paandikkuzhi. Keel of a ship is kole ottha paandi.[19] Paandikku mazhuvittu is destroyed. Paandi is a raft, keel.

Deodar is known as Keel maram. Keelam is nail, pin, pillar, style of flowers, wooden spear and Keela is posteriors, buttocks, female genital organ, seat, nail.Keela is nail, a barrel (drum) made of metal, and wood is keela. Keelam is nail, wedge, plug, pillar. Keelam is water. The seat of water is keelala(la)dhi is ocean. Fixed, nailed pinned down is keelitha.  All these words can be found applied in one place or the other in the making of a keel of the boat. Moreover keel is the part of the boat that always touches the water.

Chundan vallam, a type of boat used in boat race, also called snake boat, is an odi vallam, whose amaram is situated in an elevated position. Back end is amaram.

Stern/ helm of a boat is toppithati.[20] The calyx of a coconut, arecanut etc is toppiin southern Malayalam. Cranium is toppi. The skull of a vertebrate, the portion of the skull enclosing the brain; the braincase is Cranium. Amarppu is a joint, connection, and junction. Prow of a ship or boat is aniyam and stem is amaram.Decoration ornament is also aniyam.  The act of decorating ornamenting sculpture is amaram aniyal/ alamkaram aniyal. An adornment of the stern (toppittadi) of a pleasure boat is amaraccharttu.

Some scholars say that amara is the opposite of avara, which means later, posterior, western. Stern of a ship/ boat, helm is amaram. Rudder, helm used to indicate an oar or paddle is chukkan/ Chukkayam(nam).[21] To steer a boat direct, lead, control is amaram pidikkuka/ chukkan pidikkuka. We have seen thatam(v)ara is the name of a bean and the shape of the boat is in the shape of the petal of the bean flower. In these circumstances the origin of the Malayalam wordamaram denoting the helm of the ship can be traced to the Malayalam word amara(bean).

The impact of bean on the life of man is so much that he conceived utensils of daily use in the shape of the calyx of bean flower like shovel, bucket of dredge, back hoe, large ladle etc scooped out of wood. With the march of time a large kind of scooped shovel was made use of as a water vessel, and called its keel asamaram. With Sanskrit taking over the helmsman of the affairs of this region the word pothakam came into vogue and the words like boat, port and the like came into prominence as a sequel. 


More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

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