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The road to Mullaitivu or Mookalan Duva








Troops enter the liberated town of Mullaitivu few weeks ago. Pic courtesy Army Media Unit

Mullaitivu is on the narrow strip of land between the Nanthi Kadal and Indian Ocean to the east. In Tamil, ‘mullai’ means ‘forest tract’ (Sinhala ‘mookalana’) and ‘tivu’ land bordered by water on two sides (Sinhala Duva). In Sinhala the name is ‘Mookalan-duva’ giving the same meaning. Nanthi means "conch shell" (Sinhala Hak-bella) while ‘kadal’ meaning ‘sea’ in Tamil is used here to indicate the Sinhala word ‘kalapuva’ for ‘Lagoon’. Hence, Nanthikadal is Tamil for Sinhala ‘Hakbellan Kalapuva’.

The absence of a separate word for ‘lagoon’ in the Tamil language is perhaps because there are no lagoons in the Indian Peninsula, the southern portion of which is the rocky Deccan plateau where there are no lagoons for mangroves to thrive in. Tamils whose home territory is really South India, have not lived here long enough to develop a separate word for ‘lagoon’. A rare instance where the Sinhala word ‘kalapuva’ has been adapted for use in Tamil is in ‘Mattakalappu’ for Madakalapuva (Muddy Lagoon) in Sinhala. Elsewhere ‘kadal’ or ‘sea’ has been used for Sinhala kalapuva or lagoon.


Puthukudiyirippu should be pronounced with ‘th’ as in the English words ‘the’ or ‘that’. ‘Puthu’ means ‘new’ and ‘kudi’ is the same as Indian Prakrit ‘kuti’ or (S) ‘pael’ meaning huts or shanties and (T) ‘yirippu’ a residential area for (S) ‘wadiya’. Hence Puthukudiyirippu once meant ‘New Shanty Town’ (E) or ‘Alut Pael-wadiya’ in Sinhala. It has ceased to be what the original name meant. Now it has grown so big and prosperous as to give its name to the whole Administrative Division of that name.

The road to Mullaitivu along the narrow coastal belt between ‘Nallatannitoduvai’ (at the short isthmus joining the mainland to the Jaffna Peninsula) provides some interesting place names like Peparaputti, Koraimaddai, Chalai, Palamattalan, Putumattalan, Ambalavanapokkunai (or Ambalavanapokkanai), and Vaduvakallu etc. The first of these, ‘Nallatannitoduvai’, is the most interesting one for it gives us the origin of most probable meaning of the Sinhala name ‘Yapane’ for Jaffna Peninsula. Hence, we will discuss its meaning last, or perhaps, in another article like this.

The next name Peparaputti breaks down as ‘Pey-para-aar-putti’. Tamil ‘pey-paraaar’ means ‘bad’ or ‘trouble-some’ (pey), ‘interlopers’ or ‘outsiders’ (para-aar) while ‘putti’ is really a ‘land measure of sowing extent’ but in this instance used as a substitute for (S) ‘pitiya’ meaning ‘suburb’ or ‘outskirts’. Hence, ‘Peparaputti’ means the ‘Suburb of Trouble-some Outsiders’. The ‘trouble-some outsiders’ here would have consisted of seasonal migrants from other parts of the country to do fishing on the coastal seas here.

In Koraimoddai, "dd" is pronounced as "tt", where ‘mottai’ means ‘land bereft of trees’. It gives the same meaning in the Sinhala name Devamottava near Meegamuva. It means ‘Bare land’ where trees had been cut down for ‘daeva’ timber or firewood. ‘Land bereft of trees’ is soon covered by grasses, in this case "korai", which is Tamil for S. ‘kalanduru’, a kind of grass with fragrant root nodules that botanists call Cyperus rotundus tuberous.

The next place is Chalai, very much in recent news from the battlefront. A Tamil surveyor had mistakenly spelt the name as it is written in Tamil characters, while elsewhere it has been rendered it as pronounced in Tamil. As such, it should be pronounced as "Saalai" which means the fishery for the (T) Saalai, (S) Saalaya and (E) Sardine fish. This is the "good" Sardine fish characterized by an orange-red spot behind the gill covers. It has silvery sides contrasted with its greenish back, for which reason it is also called Kolamuru Saalaya by the Sinhala people in the south. The other saalaya is called Pey-saalaya or ‘bad’ saalaya, because it is too oily to taste good, and therefore called "Oil Sardine" in English. It does not have the orange red spot behind the gill covers or the greenish dorsal colour. The ‘Oil Sardine’ fishery is in the Mannar Island. It is appropriately named ‘Pesaalai’.

Ampalavanpokkanai (also spelt as ‘Ampalavanapokkunai’ is another name very much in the news, but almost always, mispronounced. It gets the latter part of its name pokkanai from a ‘Pond’ (which is pokuna in Sinhala) and marked as a ‘Waterhole’ in Survey Dept. maps. ‘Ambalavana’ is sometimes used as a proper name, perhaps derived from T. ‘ampalam’ S. ‘ambalama’ meaning a rest house for wayfarers. It is a place name where a Tamil proper name has been coupled with the Sinhala word ‘pokuna’ meaning a pond with lotus blooms (Pali pushkarani).

Discussing the meanings of the other names interesting places like Vaduvakallu and Nallatannitoduvai found on this road, can wait for another occasion.

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