Attempts have been made to trace the origin of Idiga community to history and mythology. There are references in Mahabharata, Ramayana, Skanda Purana and Matsya Purana. We are also said to be ancient community, historically. The history dating back to Chandragupta, Pratapa Rudra, Vijayanagara empire, Aurangazeb, Basaveshwara, Adi Shankaracharya and others records the existence of the Idiga (Gowda Vamshasta) community. History and mythology project Idigas to be of Gowda Vamshasta origin. The community has now its presence across the globe under varied names. There are more than 26 sub-sects of Idigas with diverse language, culture and tradition in Karnataka alone. However, they have a common avocation. Idigas are estimated to be in the fourth place in terms of their numbers. The government has included all the 26 sub-sects in the list of Backward Classes.
The community’s name - Gowdaru, Gowlaru or Idigaru – can be traced to the birth of its progenitor. Mythology says the progenitor took birth under the influence of ‘Gowda Mantra’ of Atri Maharshi, a sage. Varunidevi (the heavenly elixir), the daughter of Varuna (the God of Wind) is their deity. Atri Maharishi embodied Kaundinya through Gowda Mantra. Sage Kaundinya, with his powers created fruit-yielding trees, herbs and the concoction of ‘Somarasa’ to help mankind get rid of all the disease. Thus Kaundinya became the progenitor of Idiga community and Idigas derive their Gotra, (Kaundinya Gotra) from this sage. Further, the sage, through his ‘tapas’ obtained a promise from Lord Eshwara that those consuming the elixir shall have no rebirth.
‘Rudrabharata’ has a legend relating to the Idiga community. Lord Eshwara and his consort Parvathi were once on a jolly ride to Bhooloka (the abode of human beings). It was a hot summer day and Parvathi felt thirsty. The couple from Devaloka (the abode of Gods) found a cluster of toddy and wild date trees. Parvathi suggested she could quench her thirst with the juice from the stems of these trees. Meanwhile, Lord Eshwara found a bangle seller coming on the way. He asked the seller to extract the juice from the stems of the trees and gave him a sharp weapon for the task. The bangle seller complied. Satisfied with the service, the couple blessed him to continue the profession of extracting juice from the trees and that his future generation would prosper in the profession. Idiga community came into existence from that day. There is a reference in the book, Castes and Tribes of Southern India that this incident occurred in Goruru (place of Goravas) in Hassan district.
“Brahmanotpatti Marthanda” has one more legend relating to the origin of Idiga community. The king Jananamejya performs a yajna by inviting sage Vateshwara. The king gifts a village to each of 1,444 disciples of the sage. They all came to live in Aryavartha and became Adigowda. The legend says the same people later became progenitors of Gowda Vamsha. There are also references in some puranas that Idigas were Brahmins earlier and ostracized by the Brahmins, who had deviated from their dharma.
Gopavashwa and Kalyani couple, who were the descendants of sage Kaundinya got a son by name Gopalagowda. He married a girl by name Veeramambe and the couple begot a son, Katamagowda. This Katamagowda was an ardent devotee of Lord Eshwara and is the Guru for the Idiga community. He is also known as Kantamaya, Katamaya, Katamagowda and Katamaheshwara (Shivatatvasara – Shivanandeeshwara dialogue). Gopalagowda ruled Vidarbha and renounced the world in his old age. He went to Himalaya for tapas. Katamagowda took over the reins of Vidarbha. With his divine powers, Katamagowda made toddy and other trees touch the earth’s surface and thus became responsible for the profession of people tapping the juice from their stems.
With the intention of immortalize his progenitor sage Kaundinya, Katamagowda installed a linga brought from the Himalayas in Muktapura ( a village now in Ananthpur district) and constructed a temple with 18 enclsoures. He also set up a ashrama and named it Kaundinya ashrama. Katamagowda later started to reside at the ashrama and came to be known as Katama Maheshwara and Katama Rusheeshwara. He penned Shivaleela Mahatme, Shivatatava Saara and other works there. In his old age, Katamagowda entrusted the responsibility of the kingdom to his relative Veerabhoja and left for the Himalayas to secure Moksha, leaving his 3,000 disciples in the ashram. (Few books opine Katamagowda’s period to be the initial years of Kaliyuga, after the completion of the Great War of Mahabharata)
Idigas are referred to as Devagowdas in Krutayuga, Adigowdas in Tretayuga, Shivagowdas in Dwaparayuga and Satyagowdas in the beginning of Kaliyuga. There is also an anecdote saying that Adi Shankaracharya, before entering the house of Mandanamishra, obtained the upadesha of Gowda Mantra from a Idiga. However, all these facts are mythological and not based on any scientific inquiry. They have to be considered only for the sake of a mythological background for the community.
It is said that the tapping and sale of arrack was streamlined during the rule of Chandragupta. The responsibility was entrusted to three Idigas by name Narayanagowda, Shankaragowda and Vinayakagowda. The three were most influential, rich and religious people of the time. History also says that Sri Krishnadevaraya had gifted (inam) a village by name Halepyka. (There is also a mention that it happened during the rule of Rajagopla Krishnaraya). There was a separate section of Idigas in the state army during the rule of Proudhadevaraya. They were called as Dandu Idigas and their duty was to supply toddy to the soldiers, both during peace and war times. When necessary, they used to fight also. Several Idigas occupied top posts in the army.
During the twelfth century reformation movement heralded by Basavanna, an Idiga by name Maraiah is said to have become a close associate of Basavanna, preaching his principles. Sarvayi Papanna, an Idiga born in Belgaum organized youth of the community, acquired war skills and attacked a Muslim kingdom. He was bestowed the title Sardar Papareya.
It is said that Moghul emperor Aurangazeb (1628 AD) invited the leaders of Idiga community from Andhra Pradesh to his court and learnt the technique of preparing quality toddy.
Thus, considering the mythological and historical background of Idigas, Halepaika, Billava, Namadhari communities, it is evident that our ancestors imbibed the characteristics of the four varnas (castes) – philosophical attitude of Brahamans, Kshayatriya sprit of fighting, Vysya character of trade through toddy business and the Shudra symbol of service, up to 12th century. However, the later period turned out to be a catastrophe for the Idigas. The community, bogged down in illiteracy and blindfaith, became subject of exploitation of upper classes.
Efforts of awareness
Narayana Guru was born into an Ezhava family in Chempazhanthi near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, in the year 1854. His social reformations with spiritual foundation ushered in an era of progress for the Billava community. The Guru laid the foundation for a Shiva temple at Kudroli in Mangalore in 1908 exclusively for Idiga, Billava, Namadhari and other communities which had no entry to other temples. He installed a Shivalinga in 1912. It became the first temple in Karnataka with access to all the ‘untouchables.’ It is now famous as Kudroli Sri Gokarnanatheshwara temple.
While the seeds of reformation of the Idiga community were sown in 1908 in the coastal area, the measures were launched in Bellary in the northern part of Karnataka in the year 1910. A hostel for the benefit of Idiga students was set up in 1910-11 under the able leadership of Rau Saheb Sri Kanekal Nettakallappa. The strengthening of the community gained momentum with the convention of Karnataka-Andhra Idigas in the near 1927 under the leadership of P N Gowda. The organization of the community was further bolstered with the efforts of K N Guruswamy in 1944-45. A hostel was started in Chikkamavalli of Bangalore. Guruswamy, who was a wealthy person was instrumental in setting up a hostel at Seshadripuram in Banglore, together with Sri K Venkataswamy, a native of Chikkajogihalli, residing in Arasikere.
A massive convention of Idigas was held in Bangalore on November 9, 10 in 1958. The then Rajpramukh, Sri Jaychamarajendra Wodeyar inaugurated the convention. The historic convention witnessed the declaration that Idiga Sangha would be the central association of people spread over Idiga, Billava, Namadhari, Deevaru, Eliga communities. The Sangha was renamed as Mysore Pradesha Arya Idiga Sangha. Later, the then chief minister of Kerala and a disciple of Sri Narayana Guru, R Shankar took part as the chief guest in the convention held at Mysore in 1961.
The third convention was held at Bangalore Palace Grounds in 1995 under the chairmanship of H R Basavaraju.
People in the vanguard
Rau Saheb Kanekal Nettakallappa, Kanekal Hanumanthappa, P N Gowda, K N Guruswamy, K Venkataswamy, M Veerappa Murari Venkataswamy, Moola Venkataswamy, T V Venkataswamy, Gaadi Ganapathiyappa, H R Gaviyappa, Chikkaguruvaiah, E Hanumanthaiah, H Ajjappa, Smt. Kadiramma, Smt. Lakshmamma, Moola Rangappa, Mogenahalli Kenchegowda, Mogenahalli K Thammana Gowda, Nidaghatta A Annegowda, M K Narayanaswamy of Hassan, M K Srinivas of Mysore, M K Pani from Harihar, H R Basavaraj Hirehal, K Dhoomappa Kankanadi, M Rangamanipura, Daddo Master Kapu, Sahukar Koragappa of Mangalore, Ashok Shindhe, Mallappa L Shindhe, Dayananda Kalle, Karkal, Rao Bahaddur, N N Suvarna, Gangadhardas, Damodar R Suvarna of Mangalore, K Balaiah of Gulbarga, K Anantharama Gowda, Gosayi Thimmayya of Hiriyur, K A Nettakallappa, T Shivaram, K S Dattatreya and H G Sriramulu
Idiga community, in fourth position in terms of population of the State has achieved political, financial, social, educational and religious progress. However, the community has not grown as a collective force. Despite a declaration that the community known by various names is one and the same, we are yet to bring it into effect. While the political personalities of the community have come together whenever necessary, the community is yet to organize itself socially. Karnataka Rajya Arya Idiga Sangha is now (2010) led by enthusiastic persons like J P Narayanaswamy, D Dasappa, M Thimmegowda and G K Obaiah. As a mark of unity of the Idiga community, the Sangha, in consultation with the leaders of all the sects, has set up a Gurupeeta, a temple of presiding deity Renuka Yallamma Devi and educational institutions, hostel at Soluru, 40 km from Bangalore.
The Billavas of coastal Karnataka and Ezhavas of Kerala are said to be followers of Buddhism in early times. The word ‘ool’ has now transformed into ‘Eel.” The word implies readying the land for cultivation. As the name suggests, Ezhavas were primarily farmers. However, they were also involved in subsidiary occupation like tapping toddy from coconut and toddy trees. They were also into weaving and were said to be experts in medicine. Astrology and weaving are their principal occupations. They were also in army service as well. The community is known by different names – Teeya, Vaidya, Ezhava, Kurup etc, and there are several sects as well. They are known as Billavas in coastal Karnataka, Naika in North Karnataka, Namadhari, Halepaika, Nadavas and Shaanaar of Tamil Nadu, Idiga in Central Karnataka and Divaru of Malenad. Ullavaru, mentioned in the Tamil Sangam literature dating back to second-third century, were considered as Ezavas by ninth century.
The word Ezhava with a caste connotation appears in the Tharisappali inscription of the ninth century. According to Edgar Thorston, the Ulava farmers referred to in Tamil Sangam literature and Ezhavas of today’s Kerala are one and the same. Ezavas were wealthy and influential landlords.
However, the historical origin of Ezavas has still remained an enigma. A ‘Veera Geethe’ (war song), of Ezhavas, titled ‘Aromal Sevakar’, traced to 12th century says that the ancestors hailed from Simhala (present day Sri Lanka). This folktale also tells about Ezhavas bringing coconut saplings from Sri Lanka and thus indicating that Ezhavas of Kerala originally hailed from Sri Lanka. Botanists opine that coconut is not indigenous to India. According to them, the produce has come to the country either from Indonesia or Sri Lanka. Since Ezhavas were tapping the coconut trees, the folk might have been related to them.
Ezhavas worship Naga and Bhadrakali. The Bhadrakali idol, usually worshipped by Ezhavas has a Naga crow on its head. There is also a possibility that Ezhhavas could be Naga community. The sculptures at Canary Caves in Mumbai dating back to first-second century stand testimony to the fact that Nagas supported Buddhism.
There is sparse reference to Ezhavas in history till the advent of Dutch in India during the 17th century. Ezhavas were spread from North Cannanore up to Thiruvananthapuram at that time. As the folklore tells, Ezhavas came to Kerala as soldiers. There are no any other materials supporting this fact.
Historians opine that Buddhism was predominant in Kerala during the eighth century. The four varnas and the Brahminism was not that much widespread at that time. The Varna system came into existence in Kerala after Shankaracharya. The rulers embraced Hindu Varna system. Later, the Vedic religion stamped its interpretation to Buddhist principles and assimilated Buddhism.
Ezhavas were kept out of the Varna system once the Brahmincal forces became dominant. Ezhavas were denied literacy through the State’s power. Over the course of time the community became victim of exploitation and drifted away from its glorious past. The community members engaged themselves in Bhoota worship, and were denied of educational, financial, social, political and religious equality.