Traditional clothes, jewels and accessories set the Kodavas apart 
Published: 30th October 2022 05:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th October 2022 05:37 AM   |  A+A-
MADIKERI : Rituals and culture narrate the history and ancestral beliefs of a community. Traditional attire binds a community and signifies their identity, while also promoting its culture. One such is the Kodava community, nestled in the picturesque district of Kodagu, and boasts of a unique culture and even more unique attire.

Anyone who has attended a Kodava wedding will be familiar with the traditional dress worn by Kodava men. A half-sleeved knee-length black wraparound coat, a silk sash girding the waist and headgear make up the attire, known as ‘Kuppya Chele’.
“In the Kodava language, ‘Kuip’ translates to heat, and ‘ya’ means absent. In simple words, the attire that protects one from heat is the ‘Kuppya’,” analysed Bacharaniyanda Appanna, a Kodava historian. To hold the ‘Kuppya’ in place, a cloth belt called the ‘chele’ is used. The ‘Kuppya Chele’ is accessorised with traditional weapons.
Kodavas are a native Dravidian race that settled amid the thick forests of the ‘Malayadri Sahyadri’ range and speak the original Dravidian language of Kodava. Ancestors wore ‘Kuppya’ made of indigenous plant fibre called ‘Bolakka Balli’.
“When clothes started coming in from Kerala through the barter system, the ‘Kuppya’ or knee-length coat was stitched in white cloth. However, when the British came to Kodagu in 1834, the priests of the Church had issues with this attire. Since the white ‘kuppya’ resembled the habit of Christian priests, the British passed an order to change the colour of the Kodava attire,” explained Apanna.
It is said that the elders voiced their resentment against the British for meddling with their culture. However, a mutual understanding was arrived at. “During this rift, serge fabric came to India from England. Black serge was imported in large quantities, and became more convenient as it rarely appeared dirty. The ‘kuppya’ was soon stitched in black serge, but to ensure the survival of ancestral culture, white ‘kuppya’ is mandated on special occasions. The bridegroom, temple head or priest, village head or ‘thakka mukyasta’ are mandated to wear white ‘kuppya’. Even a dead body is dressed in white ‘kuppya’,” explained Appanna.
The ‘chele’ also witnessed a touch of modernisation, and the 25-ft long strong multipurpose cloth has been replaced with fancy brightly-coloured silk cloth. “During war times, the ‘chele’ was used to tie enemies and for other purposes,” said Appanna.
The comfort sari
The women of the community also wear unique attire, and a mythological story is intertwined around it. The Kodava women wear a sari that is pleated at the back and the ‘pallu’ or loose end is wrapped around the front. “According to mythology, seer Agasthya and Cauvery had a rift, and Cauvery left Talacauvery discreetly. She showed up after ten days at Bhagamandala, and then left towards Balamuri, where villagers stopped her and requested her to stay. However, she flowed with great force, which caused the saris worn by the women to turn backwards. She was then calmed and promised to show herself every year during the Cauvery Sankramana celebrations,” narrated Appanna.
This sari also has scientific symbolism. Since Kodava women participated in agricultural activities, the back-pleat saris were more comfortable, and women could even climb trees easily. These saris hold great significance for the community and are paired with headgear called the ‘vasthra’. “Both Kodava men and women wear the head cloth. Our ancestors believed that the sun’s rays should never fall behind the neck and they covered it with ‘vasthra’. However, the headgear has been modernised to suit current trends and has intricate artwork, especially those worn by women,” he explained.
Traditional jewels
The traditional knife called the ‘peecha katthi’, which was used in self-defence during ancestral times, forms part of the men’s attire and symbolises the tribal and warrior culture of the community. The ‘peecha kathi’ or dagger, and ‘odi kathi’ or traditional sword, are accessories for men, while a variety of traditional jewels add a touch of cultural flavour to the women’s saris.
“‘Peecha kathi’ was fixed to the attire using the ‘chele’. Earlier, these daggers had handles of wood. Now, they are carved in silver and gold and shine brightly on the traditional attire,” Appanna said.
The women have seven types of jewels. “At Talacauvery, the seven seers or ‘sapta rishis’ meditated. One could also find seven ponds at the centre, which are now covered. As a sign of blessings from the seers, the Kodava tradition mentions seven types of adornments from head to toe. However, only a few jewels have stood the test of time,” he explained.
Among the jewels, ‘Pathak’ holds great significance for married women. “When a girl goes to her husband’s house, her parents pack ten essential items – mostly traditional brass items – to be sent with her. These items are given to help her lead an independent life in her husband’s house, and must not be brought back to the girl’s house unless the couple is separated. To protect these items, a jewel consisting of ‘Naga’ (snake) god’s incarnation is tied by the mother of the bride during the wedding ceremony, called the ‘Pathak’,” explained Appanna. This jewel holds symbolic significance and is similar to a ‘mangal sutra’, while other traditional jewels include the ‘joe maale’ and ‘kokke thaati’.
Primarily nature worshippers, the culture, traditions and rituals of Kodavas are unique and tribal in nature. While the size of the community has shrunk in the past, steps are now in place to revive the community’s rich culture.
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