"Curry" and its origins?

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Feb 6 07:05:56 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-02-05 12:23:20 EST, geeta at LIFE.BIO.SUNYSB.EDU writes:

<< On Wed, 4 Feb 1998, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan wrote:

 > miLaku occurs in Classical Tamil. "kaRi" in CT also refers to biting as
 > as the pepper plant/pepper. The word "miriyal" is also used in CT for
 > kuzampu must have been of very ancient usage. According to Burrow and
 > Southworth, Vedic karambha is said to be derived from kuzampu.

 Does the difference in consistency/coninuity of usage imply anything about
 which word was the "original" one for pepper? I find it fascinating that
 miLaku should still be in use as the word for pepper, while connotations
 for kaRi should have been so variable over time (not to speak of its
 mutation into curry powder, etc in modern times and in other languages). >>

There is one line in Classical Tamil work malaipaTukaTAm (521) where both
words are used.

karuGkoTi miLakin2 kAyttuNarp pacuGkaRi

which means "the green bunches of unripe kaRi of the black creeper miLaku".

There is a Classical Tamil poem puRanAn2URu 14 with the following lines:

pulavu nARRatta paintaTi
pUnARRatta pukai koLIi Un2tuvai
kaRicORu uNTu........                      (puR.14.12-14)

Here kaRi can be taken to mean a mashed meat dish.

On the other hand, in perumpANARRuppaTai, in a brahmin neighborhood (I
referred to this in the posting on Cats), vegetarian dishes are described:

cuTarkkaTaip paRavaip peyarppaTu vattam
cEtA naRumOr veNNeyin2 mAtuLattu
uruppuRu pacuGkAyp pOzoTu kaRi kalantu
kaJcaka naRumuRi aLaiip paintuNar
neTumarak kokkin2 naRuvaTi vitirtta
takaimAN kAtiyin2 vakaipaTap peRukuvir        (per.305-310)

Here flavorful vaTu (naRuvaTi) mango pickle is described as being made with
pepper (kaRi kalantu) and curry leaves (kaJcaka naRumuRi aLaii). This is among
the various items the bards (pANar) can expect to be fed by the woman of the
brahmin household. (Some difference between this and the story of

Thus we have here kaRi used to mean seasoning, as well as a mashed dish. So,
the extended meaning of kaRi must be very old. But even today, we have the
term kaRimiLaku.

Another poem talks about Greek/Roman (yavan2ar) ships coming to the cEra port
of muciRi with gold and returning with pepper (akam. 149.10). So it may be
worth looking into Latin/Greek/Arabic words for pepper. The west had an
interest in kaRi long before the Portuguese. After all, is the discovery of
the Americas not  attributed to the west's need for kaRi and other spices?


S. Palaniappan

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