There are only a handful of Kodava families in Chennai; at any point in time, their numbers were between 150 and 200 families. With a diverse culture and beliefs that bear little resemblance to any other community in India, the Kodavas of Chennai have made their mark in every possible field right from government services to sports.
P M Belliappa IAS (Retd), MBE says, “You could trace the beginning of the shift from Coorg to Madras in the 1930s. Many came here to study at Madras Christian College and since the city was also a centre for administration, they eventually got jobs here and settled down,” he says.
Belliappa, who has lived in many cities across India during his service in the Indian Administration Service, zeroed in on Chennai to settle down post-retirement. “The city has always been hospitable to everyone,” he adds.
Kodavas or Coorgs as they are referred to are Hindu-Kshatriyas (the warrior clan). However, they are known for being non-ritualistic and believe in ancestor worship.
Pravin Aiana, the president of Coorg Association of Madras and an architect by profession, explains, “Every Coorg name consists of a family name followed by the father’s name and the person’s name. The language we speak (Coorgi) is a mix of South Indian languages including Kannada, Malayalam and a little bit of Tamil. Coorgi is a dialect and we use the Kannada script for writing.”
With a dominant presence in government services, armed forces and sports, especially hockey among others, there has been a significant art connect as well. Rani Pooviah, one of the prominent names in the world of art, taught at the Government College of Fine Arts in the 50s.
Pooviah made a huge contribution to the Madras Movement spearheaded by KCS Panicker, who founded the Cholamandal Artists’ Village in the 60s. Noticing the absence of any of her works in Panicker museum, Belliappa and the Coorg Association of Madras donated one of her works to the museum last month.
It is a fact that Coorgs and hockey are inseparable. Aiana says, “Yes, of course. We are in the book of records for producing the largest number of hockey teams. Back in Coorg, every year there is a tournament between families who compete against each other in hockey matches. The winner gets to host the next year’s event.” There has been a Coorg and cricket connect in Chennai, much before Robin Uthappa wrote history in the annals of Coorg, after being selected for the Indian cricket team in 2006. P K Belliappa led the Tamil Nadu cricket team in the 60s.
In the recent times, another name that has made a mark in sports (squash) is city-based Joshna Chinappa. She says that she owes her sport achievements to her family. “I guess it runs in my family and I cannot imagine being anything else but a sports person,” she adds. Ask her if she has had a stint with hockey too, she laughs, “Yes, I have held the hockey stick and tried playing, but it is way too intense a game.”
People like Pratika Appaiah have had the best of the both worlds, as they put it. “I have lived in Chennai all my life and it is very dear to me, but I will always be a Coorg at heart! If it wasn’t for studying in Chennai, I wouldn’t have had the drive to pursue my studies,” she says.
Another highlight of the Coorg culture is their cuisine that is replete with dishes made of pork, bamboo shoots and rice. “The variety in Coorg food even for vegetarians is amazing. There are so many dishes with rice as base and probably this is one of the few Indian cuisines that uses bamboo shoots. Our love for pork is a known fact. But, personally, we here in Chennai love the dosas and idlis so much that we can even have them for lunch,” says Priya Aiana, an architect.
Vilma Appaiah, who has been in the city for the last 30 years, sums up, “When in Rome be a Roman is the belief we follow. Through the association we meet quite often and connect with things related to our culture,” she says. Vilma is all set to attend the Hockey tournament in Coorg this month.