Beluur and Belgaum

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Tue May 5 03:50:00 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 02 May 98: indology at (S Krishna)

About "Belgaum":

 mC> I believe that the derivation may more historically
 mC> inconsistent if the kannaDa equivalent of "vEL" were used. I
 mC> have been told( I'm not sure) that the name "bELagAum" comes
 mC> from the fact that the local jasmines( marAThI "bELA") were
 mC> famous in that area and the name of the village( i.e. marATHI
 mC> "gAum")therefore became "bELAgAum". While this may seem a
 mC> case of "folk-etymology", I must point out that from a
 mC> history point of view, this derivation makes sense because
 mC> 1. The town is next door to MahArASTra, the local population
 mC> is more maRATHI than kannaDa; infact the "mAhArASTra
 mC> ekIkaraNa samiti" has been trying to get "bELagaum" to join
 mC> mahArASTra.
 mC> 2. bELagaum seems to have come into prominence
 mC> only after the 15th-16th century when there was a lot of
 mC> marATHI influence here, but no tamil influence.

"Belgaum" is written, in Kannada script, as "be.lagaavi". In this case, unlike "Belur", the labial is retroflex. But what must be noted here is that the vowel is _short_. This may be completely lost on Marathi speakers, in whose language the Devanagari script is now commonly used, in which the short e "doesn't exist" (I do not know whether there is a spoken short e in modern Marathi, and if so, whether it has a phonemic significance; but in any case there is no Devanagari sign to represent it -- and this may also be lost on others who have not seen how the name is written in Karnataka). If a word / name contains an e, and if it is of Indo-Aryan origin, it is always represented in Kannada as a _long_ e (i.e., its original prosodic quantity is preserved; though this may differ in the case of tadbhava words).

Although "Belgaum" looks linguistically a bit ugly as a name (it looks somewhat like an arisamaasa), some real arisamaasas are in everyday use in modern Kannada; and if the Aryan component is not Sanskritic but a later derivative from something Sanskrit, there is less resistance against forming compounds with Dravidian elements. Krishna is right in pointing out Kannada "" = white (in fact this gains noteworthiness if we consider that it is not "", as he wrote, but "" - short): there are in fact a few other placenames in Karnataka containing, among them three Be.lago.las ( = white, < = lake, tank): I know of two Be.lago.las (Mysore and Chikmagalur districts) and one ; (Hassan district).

We would have to see whether a name meaning 'white town' makes sense in view of local history, and also whether there are other towns in that area which have arisamaasa-names. Unfortunately I do not have with me at the moment my better dictionaries for looking up more information about -gaavi.

Robert Zydenbos
zydenbos at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list