Back to Belgaum

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Jan 22 20:39:12 EST 1999

The beNDigEri plates of the Yadava king Krishna  dated to be from 1249-50 AD,
reveal some interesting information about the name of Belgaum. In "A Copper-
Plate Grant of the Yadava King Krishna" K. B. Pathak says, "And the chief
object of it is to record that MalliseTTi, the minister of kRiSNa, bestowed
the village of tAmbrapurI, in the district of vENugrAma or Belgaum, upon a
number of brAhmaNs
" (The transliteration 'vENugrAma' follows that of K. B.

In light of the findings of kumArila bhaTTa regarding the Sanskritic tendency
to treat Dravidian words as IA words, one can see how  vEL with an enunciative
vowel can become vENu in Sanskrit provided we allow for the alternation of vEL
with vEN in the local area. In fact, the alternation of -L- and -N- in an
etymological group in Dravidian has been recognized by linguists as in
koL-/koN-. (Emeneau, 1994, p. 363). The presence of *v- inferred from
Dravidian linguistics is also confirmed by the Sanskrit name.

We are fortunate to have the form vEN occurring in a Tamil-Brahmi inscription
tentaively dated by T. V. Mahalingam to be from 3rd to 2nd Century B.C. The
inscription is found in a cavern in Marugaltalai near Tirunelveli. It reads,
"vEN kOsipan kuTupita kal kAJcaNam". (See "Early South Indian Paleography",
p.221) Here vEN stands for vEL.

Robert Zydenbos wrote:
<< "Belgaum" is written, in Kannada script, as "be.lagaavi". 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" 
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).>>

The -a in beLagAvi could have been an enunciative -a as in kUDal/kUDala. As
for the variation in vowel length,  Vasundhara Filliozat said "e" and "E"
could not be differentiated before the 16th century in Kannada orthography. So
is it not possible that the variation in the vowel length could have been
influenced by orthography, and we would have the form beLa- instead of bELa-.
(A parallel situation in Tamil is the vowel length variation in "vEGkaTakiri"
in Tamil KantapurANam vs. "veGKaTakiri" of today's usage.) Could this not have
led to the  re-interpretation that the name "beLagAvi" is from Ka. beLa-
meaning "white"?

Any comments from Kannada scholars is appreciated.

S. Palaniappan

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