KARNATAKA – ETYMOLOGY
The etymology of the words ‘karnATaka’ and ‘kannaDa’ are steeped in speculations and arguments presented with lots of fervour but with scant evidence. Early references to the word ‘karnATaka’ in Sanskrit, Prakrit and other Indian languages are plenty, even though they do not provide much factual evidence regarding the etymology of the word. These references ranging from the ‘CAndOgya upanishath’ in Sanskrit to ‘silappadikaram’ a tamil epic are found in a separate entry on the antiquity of Karnataka. Silappadikaram contains the word ‘karunADar’ and the VELvikuDi copper inscription has the word ‘karunADagan’.
Sanskrit scholars have provided quite a few fancy explanations and all of them are based on the presumption that Karnataka is a word in Sanskrit. (One such derivation is like this: 'Karna' means ear, and 'aTati' means wander. Together, giving a meaning for 'KarnATa', as a ‘placewhere ones ears would want to wander) Rajavade and sham. ba. Joshi have contended that ‘karnATaka’ is a combination of two terms ‘karaNa’ and ‘naTa’ denoting two ethnic groups. R.Narasimhachar felt that the fragrance of the sandal trees and spices was responsible for this particular term. (kammitu nADu) These arguments have not found favour with the modern scholars who are inclined to believe that ‘karnATaka’ is essentially a Dravidian word. Obviously it contains two parts. ‘nADu’ a Kannada word meaning ‘land’ (region) has a Tamil cognate ‘nATTu’. The Tamil word is much more ancient. The voiceless retroflex consonant ‘T’ undergoes a change and becomes ‘voiced retroflex consonant’ in Kannada as proved by examples such as
It stands to reason, to assume that ‘nATTu’ has become ‘nADu’ at a later point of time and the word ‘karnATaka’ retains the earlier form. Tamil literary texts have spoken about ‘karunADagar’ which is a reference to the people rather than the land. People belonging to ‘karunADu’ were called ‘karunADagar’. (karnATakar.)
The noun-root ‘karu’ or ‘kar’ has yielded itself to more than one interpretation. It is explained by different scholars as meaning black, high and big (extensive). Scholars such as Gundert, Caldwel, Barnett, and B.M. Srikataiah have favoured the first etymology. HaTTiyangaDi Narayana Rao prefers the second etymology. B.A. Saletore, Govinda Pai etc support the last contention. These explanations tend to notice some specific feature of the land then known as Karnataka. Some parts of Karnataka do have very rich black soil. It is placed at a plateau relative to the coastal areas. Of course, the words ‘big’ or ‘extensive’ are too vague and relative to be taken seriously.
T.V. Venkatachala Shastry notices the fact that the word ’karu nADu’ does not exist in any ancient literary texts other than Tamil classics. He is of the opinion that ‘karunADu’ could be the corrupted form of the word ‘karnATaka’ in Sanskrit, which itself derives from the word ‘kannaDa’ meaning land with black soil. However he does not give any Sanskrit etymology and sticks to ‘karnADu’ as the original.
It is also possible that the word ‘karnATaka’ was used to denote only a part of the state called by that name as of now. Other parts were referred to by different words. ‘erumai nADu’ (The land of buffaloes) finds its Sanskritised version in ‘mahiSamanDala’. Many other regions are called by names such as ‘vaDaga’, ‘kOShara’, ‘punnATa’, ‘kalabhra’, ALuvakheDa, in ancient texts. Hence, the etymology need not hold good to the entire area of present day Karnataka. Some scholars have argued long and laboriously about the fact whether it should be ‘karnATaka’ or ‘karNATaka’. This dispute is now settled in favour of ‘karnATaka’ after the naming of the state.
All this goes to prove that the issue is contentious and a solution is not in offing.
1. ನಮ್ಮ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ, ಟಿ.ವಿ. ವೆಂಕಟಾಚಲಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀ, 1983, ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯಪರಿಷತ್ತು, ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು.