Biography of the Place Named Kasaragod

Bounded by the Karnataka State in the north and east, Kannur district in the south and the Arabian Sea in the west, Kasaragod, also spelt as Kasaragod(e)/ *godu, is the northern-most district of Kerala. The district headquarters is also named Kasaragod. The land comprising undulating hills intercepted with twelve rivers rises from the densely populated coastal region in the west to the forest-covered Western Ghats range in the east. The 1.2 million strong population speaks mainly Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu followed by Tamil, Hindi and Konkani, spoken by a minority. Invisibility of Sanskrit is reflected in place names and local traditions, and archeological findings show its hegemony held in the distant past. From ancient times this place was famous as the port city in the west coast of India and many Arab travellers, who visited Kerala and Kasaragod between ninth and 14th centuries AD, called this area Harkwillia.

On the derivation of the place name Kasaragod there are several opinions. N.A. Seenappa Hegde Ploali says that the place name originates from kamgode, which means, the region with two forts. The place name is also attributed to a tribe known as Kasara. But other opinions concentrate on three words: Kasar, Kasara kasaara.

Some say that Kusirakood (Kasarakoottam) became Kasargod. It should be noted that some of the trees such as Borassus, Alstonia scholaris, Antiaris toxicaria, Hopea parviflora, Strychnos nux-vomica, Ficus religiosa etc are found in many sacred groves in Kerala and are worshipped from ancient times. Of this Strychnos nux-vomica is Kanjiram in Malayalam, Kasar in Karnataka and Karaskara in Sanskrit. This tree in Karnataka is also known as Kasim. Lord Siva is known as Kanjirottappan. The Siva temple at Karaskaravanam, also known as Kanjirangad is famous. The name of a river is Kanjirode, Kanjangad, Kanjiradukkam, Kanjirappoyil, Kanjiravayal, Kanjirode (Kanjirancode) are the place names in Kasaragod associated with Kanjiram. A remote village in South Travancore is known as Kanjirode. A sort of spear or lance is kasu.

The fact that the place had the pods of kasarka (Strychnos nux-vomica) tree in large number, might have offered the place, the name Kasar+ kadu ‘Kasarakadu’ Kasarkodu.

Sreedhara Kakkilyar in his Tenkunad says that the place name Kasaragod came from Kanjirode. From this one can understand that the original place name was Kanjiram Kaud. Under the influence of Canarese, they must have transliterated Kanjirode into Kasarkadu and during the hegemony of Sanskrit it became Kasaragod.

The place name Kanjangad is from the forest of Kanjiram.


Some others project Kasar, which means wild buffalo/ cattle and the suffix code, which means horn.

Kasarakodu thus means the horn of the buffalo. Code also means the peak of a mountain/ hill, bank of a river, cave etc. Balan has given the meaning to the word code as not a tall region, bank of a river (puzhangara/ vakk). Karyancode, Kadamcode, chaliyam code are the other place names apart from Kasaragod.
Having a cavity, hollow of a tree is Kodara(m).

Srikotarapuri is Cranganore.

To Bakel Ramanna, Kasaragod was a forest of wild buffaloes. For them Kasarakodu represents the horn of a buffalo. Like Pothancode, a place name in Trivandrum, Kasarakkaud rhymes with buffalo. Kasara is wild buffalo/ a buffalo bison. Kodanadi is male buffalo. Kasas is water. Kasaram is that one which
bathes in water, i.e. wild buffalo.

Kasaram, sairibham, mahisham are Sanskrit words for wild buffalo. The place name Mysore originated from Mahisasur. The species baffalo, belonging to genus Bos gaurus, is Indian in origin and are now found in most of the warmer countries of the eastern continent. They want abundance of coarse grasses, bamboo, shrubs and trees and are fond of marshy places and rivers. They inhabit tropical savannah woodlands, tropical monsoon and dry forests and lowland tropical rain forests. Gaurs need water for drinking but they do seldom bathe or wallow.


The buffalo race in Kasaragod marks the herald of the agricultural operations. Once a part of Tulunadu culture began, the race was confined to the ploughed paddy fields. With the passage of time, apart from permanent racecourses, it began to be held in extensive fields involving hundreds of especially bred fatty buffaloes, with their brutal strength and speed.

The dedication of several people for the race made it colorful. The race is conducted annually in large muddy fields, known as Kanbalam. This popular rural sport is held annually especially in Kumbala and Manjeswar. It attracted thousands of spectators.

Now we will examine the origin of the word Kanbalam. The day suitable for transplanting (paddy) seedlings is nattuvela. In Kasaragod, buffalo race is held prior to the commencement of nattuvela. A herd of buffaloes is karimpattam. A woolen cloth or blanket is karimpatam in Sanskrit. Karimpatam, made out of goat’s hair, is used to ward off cold climate, is black in color. In Malayalam, kari denotes black color. Patam, a Sanskrit word, means cloth. Ploughed field appears deep black, similar to woolen (karimpatam). This similarity has offered the origins of the word kampalam/ kampili. This reveals that it has a Dravidian beginning and Sanskrit recognition. A furrow, a trench by plough is kampalam. Kampalam is water. Kampili is black cloth. Kambali is bullock. The due lap of bullock is Kampalam. Bullock cart is kampali vahyakam.

It should be noted that while everywhere else bull race is held, in Kumbala it is buffalo race. The use of buffalo for ploughing and its availability in this region are the reason for that. Not only that the region afforded extensive pastureland, as to evident from place names. A resort or track of wild animals is kadavu. In Kasaragod there are many such cattle (buffalo both male and female, cow and bull) tracks such as kalikkadav, karaikkav is the grove in which cows are housed. Kattippoyil is a place name where buffaloes are found in plenty. Such extensive pastures for grazing cattle can also be seen in Kasaragod.

Kottiyur denotes a village after kottiyam, which means a bull. It is a cattle-rearing centre. Pullur is the name of place, which indicates the availability of grass in plenty. The god of the cowherds is known as Kalichan. Kalichan trees and Kalichan kavus are related with tree worship. Maniyani are the cowherds engaged in rearing cattles. On the pattern followed by the ancient Tamil in dividing the land into five tinais known as Ainthinai based on productivity, the hillocks represent Mullai and their valleys represent Marutham. Mullaicheri, Padimaruthu, Maruthom, are place names related to mullai and marutham.

He lives in the land between (idanad), Kurinchi and marutham. That is mullai. Hence he is known as idayan. His hereditary occupation is cattle breeding. His caste name is idayan. Their early god is kalichhan. Even after he entered into agricultural life, he continued the worship of Kalichan and retained worship of kanjiram tree. Even today this tree is planted in traditional houses near the family temple. It is used only for building temples or granary. In Thrikarippur and Cheruvathoor the vannan caste people staged Kalichan teyyam. This tree is also known as Kalichan Kanjiram When the villagers missed their cattle they prayed at the foot of these trees to regain their cattle. Such trees are marked with a heap of stones. These trees are inhabited by Imen¨m³ god and hence worshipped.

Ayurvedic texts accept two classifications of water - atmospheric and terrestrial. The former includes -- dharam (rain), karam (hail), tausharam (snow), haimam (ice). The latter are -- nadeyam (of the river), sarasam (lake), tadagam (tank), nairjharam (stream), palvalam (pond), vikiram (shallow excavated pit), kaupam (deep well), vapyam (stepped well), kaidaram (irrigated water).

Two to three thousand years ago, the life of the common people was not based on caste distinctions and prejudices. There was a broad division of the population on the basis of occupation, which was again based on the nature of the land they occupied.

Kurinchi (mountain land), Palai (arid land), mullai (pastures), marutam and neytal (coastal land) were the five divisions based on the nature of the land. The Kuravar (hunters) of Kurinchi, the Maravar (fighting men) of Palai, the Idayas (cowherds and shepherds) of Mullai, the Uzhavas (agriculturists) of Marutam and the Paravas (fishermen) of the Neytal were all from the same race.

Kumbla, situated about 14 km northwest of Kasaragod, is a lagoon separated from the sea by a sand pit connected by a narrow channel. The few caves discovered from this place are said to belong to the Vedic days. This shows the Aryan connection with Karnataka.


The third argument for the derivation of the place name Kasaragod is centered on the words kasaram and crodam Crodam is cave, a cavity in the tree trunk. The interior of anything is crodam. It also means middle territory. Kudanad is the country on the eastern side of the Tamilnad. Kudaku is its Dravidian name and in Sanskrit it is known as Crodadesam.

Kasaram and Crodam when combined make the meaning the land of lakes. 
In Sanskrit Kasaram means the land of a group of ponds and pools. ‘vapikakupa kasarangal’. Vapika in this citation is a pond, pool or tank. It also means a well. ‘Vapi tu deerkkika’ vapi in this citation from Amarakosam means a long and large reservoir of water, also called nedunkeni,. Ka in the word vapika is a post-fix that changes the meaning of the word. Hole, hollow, cave is kupam. It also means a rock or tree in the midst of a river. Kasaram is lake. It can be a pond with plenty of lotus and the bronze-winged jacana (metopidius Indicus). Water birds like velir, vandaram are also found in the lotus pond, which are broadly defined as birds ecologically dependent on wetlands.

‘Kasyasabde kasaradi’ Saras in this citation is lake where one hears the cooing of the birds like Saurus, a kind of bird found in a lotus pond. Lotus, water Lilly is also known as sarasam. Kanjangad is said to be the natural habitat of white lotus.
Mayilatty, Kiliyalam are place names in Kasaragod where the songs of parrots and peacocks were reverberated.

Sarus Crane

To understand the word sarasam we have to study the cranes in general, and Sarus crane in particular, Barrs is right when he said that crane is a bird with which all the ancient writers are familiar. In describing it, they have not failed to mix fable with mystery (Barr’s Buffar, Natural History of Birds, Fishes, Insects and Reptiles, vol. II, Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, p.294). Sarus crane in particular. They are the most amazing amongst birds. Their large stature, loud resounding calls, behavior, social relations, graceful movements and stately appearance have evoked human appreciation since antiquity. Panchatantra, the world’s oldest collection of Indian stories for children, have in it the crafty crane and the craftier crab. Ancient tombs of Egyptians have images of Demoiselle cranes. The prehistoric cave paintings in Africa, Australia, and Europe bear testimonies to the reverence of the early man for cranes. Human art, artifacts, mythology, legend, in cultures around the world, have been enriched with the emotional response of the people from time to time. This unfolds the status of these birds in the world from antiquity. The ancient Indians had gregarious association with Sarus cranes.

The Red-crowned Crane has been long symbolized for longevity, happiness, good luck and marital bliss. Often they appeared in artworks carrying the spiritual and symbolic associations in China, Korea and Japan. Crane-associated dances have been recorded in the Mediterranean, Siberia, Australia and China.

Sarus crane (Grus Antigone Antigone) of Southern Asia, is a resident breeding bird. They are non-migratory and are rarely found in large congregations. Apart from India, they exist in Nepal, Southeast Asia, Queens land and Australia. They are discernible from their partly red head, long neck, pale grey body and long pinkish legs. Their height, about 1.5 mtrs, has won them the position of the world’s tallest flying birds (see Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp, Birds of India: ISBN 0-691-04910-6). The most favorable habitat of the omnivorous Sarus cranes includes a combination of freshwater marshes, ponds, fallow lands, open grasslands and cultivated fields as well as the regions where traditional land and water management practices are maintained (P. Gole pers. comm). While walking in shallow water or in fields, they forage.

They eat insects, mice, aquatic plants, animals, crustaceans, seeds, berries, small vertebrates as well as invertebrates, items abundantly found near paddy fields. In fact they controlled the ecosystem in favor of rice cultivation. No wonder, they are regarded as an omen for good crops.

Once paired, they mate for life. This conjugal devotion has won the species popular reverence and protection, which in turn helped its survival in India. This great respect for the bird can be discerned in the wish of the Brahmins to a newly married couple to be like a pair of Sarus. Sighting Sarus pairs is considered as a symbol of marital bliss and eternal romance on earth. The coat of arms of the former Princely State of Gujarat has a pair of the Sarus as a part.

Before the mating season, these long-legged birds engage in a series of complex and extended series of calls, in specific postures usually with their heads thrown back and beaks skyward to win over a partner.

In courtship the mates bow, prancing with outspread wings and leaping round each other to the accompaniment of far-reaching, trumpeting, enchanting call. 
The story of their loyalty is a story retold over and over in India. If one of them dies, its partner goes with a broken heart. In the classics such as Laila and Majnu, Romeo and Juliet we see the same sentiments in human form. Usually they are found to exist in pairs, occasionally accompanied by one or two young ones and are scattered over a large area. Crane species are known to pair off life. This is the opening scene of the epic Ramayana. For shooting down a Sarus crane, its mate cursed King Dasaratha to eternal separation from his loved ones. We can see in it how the tenderness, grace, joy and love’s ecstasy of the Sarus crane captured the heart of the poet. It is an eye opener to understand the quality of bonding which for them extends even beyond life on earth.

In the wake of the industrial revolution where the commercial airlines soared high to the blue sky, several airliners selected them as the corporate logo.

The beauty of the crane in flight has thus won the credit. Likewise, India also named her first indigenous civil aircraft after Sarus, recognition at the national level for the gracefulness of the bird.

In spite of this reverence for the crane, we see them on the path of extinction. 
India was the largest house of Sarus cranes in the world, where its population counted in several thousands and was seen throughout the sub-continent till the early decades of the 20th century. The Sarus crane needs an environment comprising forests, marshes, wetlands etc for survival. But in India they are being wiped out and only a miniscule space is provided generally for wildlife. Apart from that, agricultural practices involving use of chemical fertilizers have degraded the Sarus crane’s preferred wetland habitats in India. No wonder, their numbers are reducing. The Wildlife Institute of India records their number to be only 2,468. The only way to protect them is to protect marshes, which are a type of wetland.

The search for the meaning of the word Kasarcode has taken us back in time to a land of lakes where the layers of Dravidian as well as Sanskrit languages have made their first imprints. Kanjiram is associated with rice cultivation as the plough is made of this wood and its leaves are given importance in many a rice-based ritual. Then the rice cultivation received momentum, with the domestication of buffalo as a drawing animal. Entry of Sanskrit marks the third stage. But the inclusion of Saurus in the meaning of kasaram is not practical in the Kerala context, because the Sarus is a common permanent resident throughout Rajputana, Gujarat and very rarely in Sind.

They do not occur in the Deccan. All these verbal exercises land us in a place where the Sarus dances to attract / win over a mate as well as to engage in courtship. These are possible only when the environment is harmonious and needed to make the word kasaram meaningful. Kasaragod is a wetland where its water can be fresh, brackish, or saline. Critically important wildlife habitat as they are, marshes serve as breeding grounds for a mosaic of animal life.

But the bird species reported from wetlands of Kerala are purple moorhen, Bronze-winged jacana and Pheasant- tailed jacana. Jacana fills the gap. During the peak of the breeding season, unattached males make a mating call of clear, resonant tones that may carry for more than 1.6 kilometers. A whistling snort as an alarm call of the Gaurs is noteworthy.

The buffalo is also losing its association with the word. With the take over of mechanized farming the gulf returnees as well as rich migrants from the south are engaging in development. Ponds are levelled with the earth from the hillocks. In the place of cooing of birds and billowing of buffaloes, we now hear the sound of bulldozers and the blowing of the death knell of the environment.

But the fact that kasargod began to be associated with kasaram, as a place reverberating with the cooing of a bird like Sarus needs explanation. The emergence of conservation movement, invested cranes with added symbolic value as emblems of humanity’s changing relationship with nature (Leopold 1949, McNulty 1966).

Despite the long history of crane veneration, the advent of industrial revolution unfortunately found mankind drawn away from nature and religion. This increased their ability to kill wildlife and destroy natural habitats. It is apt to recall the words of Jennifer Ackerman, “Symbols of luck and majesty, cranes have been called “wildness incarnate.” But with wildness disappearing and their luck running out, the great birds are getting some help from scientists and self-described “craniacs.”

To ornithologists, each bird has a particular ecological niche that defines the role that it plays.

As there exists no welfare state to support them, once their niche is lost they die. Like the Sarus pairs, the Sarus and wetland are paired for life. Modern man in the name of development is aiming at the wetlands.

Tampering the symbiotic relations is tantamount to the destruction of the wetlands.

The jacanas, group of wetland birds, found worldwide within the tropical zone, are identifiable by their huge feet and claws, with which they walk on floating vegetation in the shallow lakes that are their preferred habitat. The females are larger than the males. In the wetlands of Kerala the two species of jacana, the bronze-winged jacana (Metopidius indicus) and the pheasant-tailed jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus, are popularly known as “lily-trotters”.

Their Polyandrous Breeding System and the sex-role reversal are fascinating and extraordinary. The females mated polyandrously with several males and the males carried out all the incubation of the eggs, guarding of the chicks.

Kasaragod: An Epithet of Wetland

The laterite cave called Thiyyathimalika (Aechilamvayal Kunnu) is a remnant of Megalithic culture. Other rock caves found in several other places and umbrella stones (aduppoottikallu) show that they were cradles of human settlement begun in the midland of North Kerala. They are relics as funeral centres. The tradition of keeping Menhirs and alignments is still followed by the Koragas of Kasaragod district. Burial places of the Sangham period like Kunhimangalam, umbrella stones, symbols of hero worship like Veerakallu and the like are testimony of the worship offered by the ancestors to their ancestors. Hillocks are considered as sacred places. Engravings on rocks, various kinds of figures such as Thrisoolam, footprints, symbolic wells and tanks are found in Kunhimangalam, Madayi, and Kuttoor.

The midland region of Kavvayi river basin has 68 sacred groves (Jayarajan et.al, 2003). Of these, kammadam kavu is an extensive grove of 50 acres. There are serpent groves of a few cents also. The Nakravanam, Soolapkavu, Theyyottukavu, Konginichalkavu are sacred groves found in these hillocks. Kammadam kavu, mappaticheri kavu (kodakkad), karakkakkau (Kalikkadavu), mannampurathu kavu (Neeleswaram), Ayyankavu (Kodo Belur), Kammadathu kavu (Bheemanadi), Dharmasastham kavu (Cheemeni), all these groves in Kasargod together cover an area of 500 acres. These hillocks provided flowers and leaves for cultural activities such as Theyyam and Pooram.

Apart from increasing the water holding capacity of the hills, the sacred groves added to the biodiversity of the hills with various species of macro flora, of butterflies, spiders, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Hillocks are storehouses of many species of grasses, medicinal plants, butterflies and birds (Jaffrey, 1998). They offered fodder for cattle, green manure for paddy field. The system, enriched by this ecological diversity of the midland, hillocks, valleys, paddy fields and streams, sets the backdrop of the ancient settlements (Padmanabhan et.al, 2002). These factors protected the hillock from human interference. Sangham Literature too supports these contentions.

Early Cradles of Civilization

Marine estuarine lagoon salt lake constitutes salt water wetlands. Riverine lacustronine Paulstrine constitutes fresh water wetlands. Apart from these natural systems aquaculture, agriculture and water storage most important ecosystem of the earth providing habitats for a variety of flora and fauna.

Several kinds of wetlands such as marshes, swamps, lagoons, bogs, fens and mangroves were the habitats of the old world and were considered as the cradles of civilization. Wetlands cover about 6% of the earth’s land surface and are home to some of the richest, most diverse and fragile of natural resources. As they support a variety of plant and animal life, biologically they are one of the most productive ecosystems.

The flood plains of the Indus, the Nile Delta and the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were the earliest of them all. Wetlands in India have been broadly classified into Himalayan Gangetic and coastal wetlands. India has a wealth of wetland ecosystems comprising a total of 27, 403 wetlands-
23,444 are inland wetlands and 3,959 are coastal wetlands linked with major river systems. According to the Directory of Asian Wetlands (1989), wetlands in India occupy 18.4% of the country’s area (excluding rivers), of which 70 % are under paddy cultivation. In India, out of an estimated 4.1 mha (excluding irrigated agricultural lands, rivers, and streams) of wetlands, 1.5 mha are natural, while 2.6 mha are manmade.

The coastal wetlands occupy an estimated 6,750 sq km, and are largely dominated by mangrove vegetation, including Kerala. They provide water for various human needs, besides serving as nesting, feeding, and breeding sites for a large variety of bird species.

Among the differentiated categories of wetlands in India (Scott, 1989) are included the reservoirs of the Deccan Plateau in the south. Backwater or estuarine system of Kerala found in coastal areas includes Valiapatam and Kavvai. They are found to be cradles of civilization as they helped shape human activities from time immemorial.

Watershed areas of Kasaragod

This environment was bounteous enough to offer to its inhabitants a great variety of food items like rice, tubers, fruits, green leafy vegetables, pepper, ginger, turmeric, medicinal plants etc. Above all, the springs originating from the hills, or in the mid-land, offered them security of food. The Kavvayi River is typical of the midland- originated rivers.

Its watershed, spread over Kannur and Kasaragod has a total area of 164.76 sq. km. Hillocks are situated along its basin up to the western boundary of the midland. Wetland covers wide land areas that are seasonally or permanently waterlogged, including lakes, rivers, and estuaries, freshwater marshes of low-lying land, submerged or inundated periodically by fresh or saline water. Such lands are common in Kerala. Wetland systems directly and indirectly support lakhs of people, providing goods and services to them. Moreover, significant socio-economic values like constant water supply, fisheries, fuel wood, medicinal plants; livestock grazing, agriculture, energy resource, wildlife resource and transport are noteworthy. 


More by :  Dr. V. Sankaran Nair

Top | History

Views: 3607      Comments: 2

Comment Good article indeed.
I wish local myths, history of Kings, traditional devotion to Devas & Daivas was covered.
We Moya community own 11 Daivasthanas from Trikarapura to Adka, Someshwara, S.K.
& Are ardent devotees of Bhagavathis.

Vasant Uchil
28-May-2020 03:54 AM

Comment Good article which throws some light on the inhabitants and bio diversity of the place. Though reached this site when searched for history of the place,delighted to see a 'biography' instead which is more informative in fact.Still the search for history of Kasaragod, with reference to rule of different Kings,invaders,religions and culture continues.

09-Jul-2016 06:16 AM

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