Ain Mane – The Foundation of Kodava identity
- Kaveri Ponnapa
Ain manes, the ancestral homes of Kodagu, house the spirit of the founding ancestor of each individual descent group and were the focus for a way of living that provided uncounted generations of the house identity through genealogy and connection to the land. Surrounded by farmed and forested land, the ain mane is a complex of typical built structures that consisted of a fortified dwelling place, reflecting the turbulent history and frequent wars and battles that colored the past of the people. The main house was protected by kadangas, (defensive trenches); bakka pore (look-out posts); pierced windows and sometimes, escape routes, leaving no doubt about the constant state of conflict in which people lived. The rice fields; multiple forms of land holdings; nearby sacred groves with shrines and networks of social co-operation around its location created a specific social, economic and political base, rooted in the landscape of Kodagu.
The traditional approach to the ancestral house cut across paddy fields, lush green in season, and brought you directly to the kaimada ( a small shrine to ancestors).
A plain, roofed structure, it housed wooden, terracotta or sometimes metal images of ancestors of the family. Here is an immediate reminder to a member of the clan of what the ain mane represented—lineage: a personal link to the founder of the house and ancestors; heritage: the collective history of the house represented by the ancestors; identity: a place within this history and heritage. The next level leads across a narrow path, roughly paved with large stones, kall oni, to an open courtyard—patti, with a kall boti—a symbolic stone pillar which is the focus of rituals related to rice cultivation. This was surrounded by several additional structures, including the pattaya—granary; additional living spaces; cowsheds and outhouses. At some distance is the tutangala, or burial ground. The entrance to the house, through the kaiyale (verandah), leads past fixed wooden seats, aimara— with dedicated seating hierarchies. Inside is the first of the sacrosanct spaces, the nellakki nadubade, the inner hall, where a lamp is lit twice a day, reaffirming a connection with guru karana, the founding ancestor, or karanchi, founding ancestress, of the clan. Other sacred spaces include the pillar located at the south west of the inner hall, the kanni kamba, and the small, womb like enclosure, kanni kombare, where offerings of food and alcohol are made to the spirit of the founding ancestor. The gejje thande, an ebony staff belonging to an ancestor, a symbol of rank, is stored here. Each of these named architectural elements carry a deep emotional significance for members of the clan even today. Every Kodava was born, usually lived, and died as a member of an okka, a patrilineal descent group which had its basis in an ain mane. The okka was the source of social security, material prosperity and spiritual life. Strong bonds of kinship and mutual obligation were built within the ain mane, and leadership provided by the koruvakara, the senior most member of the family.
Each ain mane played a pivotal role in local community affairs, both religious and secular. Accoutrements like masks, or swords used in village festivals, and the bandara potti, collection box from the local shrine, were stored here. Important announcements, such as the beginning of local festivals were made, as also formal agreements, and settlements of disputes before the sacred lamp, affirming the moral and social authority invested in the ain mane. The Kodava identity, which had existed since antiquity, was refined and strengthened into one focused around these ancestral houses and mode of living. There was strong emphasis on shared responsibilities towards the wider social and geographical environment through links with neighbouring clans, worship at nearby shrines and sacred groves. Even the building of these houses was a shared, community activity, with material and manpower provided on a reciprocal basis led by community representatives such as aruvas.
The Kodava identity, which had existed since antiquity, was refined and strengthened into one focused around these ancestral houses and mode of living. There was strong emphasis on shared responsibilities towards the wider social and geographical environment through links with neighbouring clans, worship at nearby shrines and sacred groves. Even the building of these houses was a shared community activity, with material and manpower provided on a reciprocal basis led by community representatives such as aruvas.
Most importantly, the oral transmission of social knowledge: traditions; values; norms; genealogies; history, and what it meant to be a Kodava or Kodavathi, was made in these houses. Balo pat, the traditional narrative songs of war and peace, victory and defeat of the clan, of love and loss, myth and legend were sung and taught here. Ain manes are physical as well as abstract entities. They encompass all the social structures that grounded an individual in society and continue to remain the source of Kodava identity, and a people’s connection to the land.