Ain Manes – The Foundation of Kodava identity

Ain manæs, 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 manæ was a complex of typical built structures that consisted of a fortified dwelling place, reflecting the turbulent history and martial past of the people. The main house was protected by kaḍangas—defensive trenches; bakka poræ—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 kaimaḍa—a small shrine. A plain, roofed structure, it housed wooden, terracotta or sometimes metal images of ancestors of the family. Here was an immediate reminder to a member of the clan of what the ain manæ 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 led across a narrow path, roughly paved with large stones, kallë ōṇi, to an open courtyard—paṭṭi, with a kallë bōṭi—a symbolic stone pillar which was the focus of rituals related to rice cultivation. This was surrounded by several additional structures, including the pattāya—granary; additional living spaces; cowsheds and outhouses. At some distance was the tūṭangālā, or burial ground. The entrance to the house, through the kaiyalæ or verandah, led past fixed wooden seats, aimara— with dedicated seating hierarchies. Inside was the first of the sacrosanct spaces, the nellakki naḍubādæ, the inner hall, where a lamp was lit twice a day, reaffirming a connection with guru kāraṇā, the founding ancestor, or kāraṇchi, founding ancestress, of the clan. Other sacred spaces included the pillar located at the south west of the inner hall, the kanni kamba, and the small, womb like enclosure, kanni kō̌mbaræ, where offerings of food and alcohol were made to ancestors. The gejjæ tanḍë, an ebony staff belonging to an ancestor, a symbol of rank, was 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 manæ. The okka was the source of security, material prosperity and spiritual life. Strong bonds of kinship and mutual obligation were built within the ain manæ, and leadership provided by the koruvaka̅ra, the senior most member of the family.

Each ain manæ played a pivotal role in local community affairs, both religious and secular. Accoutrements like mo̅ga, masks, or swords used in village festivals, and the banḍarā poṭṭi, 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 manæ. 

The Kodava identity, which had existed since antiquity, was refined and strengthened into one focussed 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 aruva̅s. 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. Ba̅ḷo pāṭë, 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 manæs 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.