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Deccan Herald » Open Sesame » Detailed Story
Land of milk and honey
You had your share of fun for Rajyotsava, now get ready to know more about your state. Rashmi Vasudeva recounts the rich and varied history of Karnataka

If you have been reading the newspapers and watching television, you would have heard of the phrase ‘Suvarna Karnataka’ several times in recent weeks. If you haven’t, it is time you did. Our state celebrated its birthday on November 1 and this year, it turned a nice and rounded 50!

Imagine, we all belong to Karnataka but very few of us know how our state got its name! Many of us don’t know what ‘Karnataka’ means either. Do you?

Actually, there are several fascinating tales about how the word came into being. One story says it is a combination of two Kannada words— Karu and nadu, which means ‘lofty or elevated land’. It might have been called elevated land as most of its parts are situated on the edge of the Deccan Plateau.

According to some etymologists, (people who study the origin and true meaning of words), ‘karu nadu’ may also refer to the black soil in the region. During the British rule, the word ‘karnatik’ or ‘carnatic’ was used to describe the entire region.

Do you know that the name of our state was mentioned in the Mahabharata? Amazingly, a reference to Karnataka has been found in the ‘Bhishma Parva’ in the Mahabharata.

The name is also mentioned, say historians, in old Sanskrit works such as Kathasaritsagara and Mrichchakatika. Inscriptions from the Rashtrakuta period refer to armies of this region as ‘Karnatakabala’ while a Tamil classic Sillapadikaram calls the people of present-day Karnataka region as ‘Karunatakars’! Would you still liked to be called a Karunatakar? I would be!

An ancient name

Much later, in the late 16th century, a Telugu work Vasucharitamu refers to a king, Tirumala Devaraya, as the one who revived the ‘Karnata empire’.

This makes the name of our state quite ancient. But what is more fascinating is that not only is the name of our state ancient, people have been living here from really, really ancient times.

Proof of Neolithic life has been found in North Karnataka. One story goes that there is enough evidence to prove that gold discovered on Harappan excavation sites were imported from mines in Karnataka!

If this is true, people of the Harappan civilisation and those living in the region of Karnataka might have been in touch with each other. (They had no snail mail, no emails and no phone... Don’t you wonder how they managed to contact each other?)

We know now that our state and its name, both are to be treasured. But did you know that Karnataka was not called Karnataka till 1973?

This was because, after Independence when states were reorganised in India, districts under Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras Presidency and Coorg were combined with the existing Mysore State. This was because the kingdom of Mysore was one of the three largest princely states in the British empire.

After Independence, the Mysore Maharaja merged his kingdom with the Indian Union. In 1956 when the states were reorganised based on the common spoken language, it so happened that a large portion of the Kannada-speaking state was under the erstwhile territory of Mysore. So the Kannada-speaking regions were united under the name ‘Mysore State’.

But as we all know, our State is not just about Mysore. It is about the flamboyance of Bangalore, the beauty of Kodagu, the serenity of the coastal regions, the spicy food of North Karnataka, the forts of Raichur— the list is endless. Hence, it was felt that the name ‘Mysore’ does not truly represent all parts of the State. And thus, the state was renamed ‘Karnataka’ in 1973.

So the next time, the phrase ‘Suvarna Karnataka’ pops up in a conversation, you make sure your friends know why and how our state got its name!

Some interesting name origins

This is an old one but is still a lovely story. Bangalore was Bendakalooru— the city of boiled beans! The hoysala king Veera Ballala apparently lost his way while on a hunting expedition near the Yelahanka region.

After wandering for many hours, he reached the hut of an old woman who offered him some boiled beans. The king, pleased with the hospitality, promised the woman that he would name the place where she resided as Bendakalooru! A popular story but no one knows how true it is.

Mysore: The name Mysore is the anglicised version of Mahishuru which is derived from Mahisha, the ferocious demon who was vanquished by the Goddess Chamundeshwari. According to Hindu mythology, the area around Mysore city was once the domain of the demon king Mahishasura.

Kodagu: The Puranas refer to this land as Krodadesa or the land of the people blessed by River Cauvery (kod, meaning bless, and avva for mother Cauvery). The Puranic name for Coorg was also Matsyadesa (matsya, meaning fish) as is recorded in the Kaveri Purana. Down the ages, it came to be known as ‘Kodagu’ and the people, ‘Kodavas’.

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