Camanda Curumba Prabhu


The reference to Camanda Curumba Prabhu is found in Mackenzie manuscripts deposited in the Madras College Library


Today we launch ourselves on a practically clueless search. We know nothing more about Camanda Curumba Prabhu than a mere mention in some old texts like Mackenzie Papers and Madras District Manual; we are not even sure that the name is correct. But the little that these sources say about him is more than sufficient to whet our appetite to know more about the man and probe into our deep time ancestry.

Mackenzie Collection forms a part of “one of the most wide-ranging collections ever to reach the Library of the East India Company”. [Blake, 1991: Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary, in The British Library Journal, Volume 17, Number 2, 128]

It consists of manuscripts, translations, plans, and drawings collected by Colin Mackenzie during his 38 years in India, first as an officer of the Madras Engineers, and then as the Surveyor-General of India. According to a statement drawn up in 1822 by Horace Hayman Wilson the collection contains 1,568 literary manuscripts, a further 2,070 local tracts, 8,076 inscriptions, and 2,159 translations, plus seventy-nine plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, and 146 images and other antiquities. It is considered to be the most extensive and the most valuable collection of historical documents relative to India that ever was made by any individual in Europe or in Asia. For our good fortune, almost all the manuscripts are available somewhere or the other, except for his two-volume book on the war with Tipu Sultan. Many of the manuscripts are Mackenzie’s own notes on things he saw or heard or was told about; others could be texts in local languages he collected.

The reference to Camanda Curumba Prabhu is found in Mackenzie manuscripts deposited in the Madras College Library. Section 7 of Manuscript Book Number 14, Countermark 768, titled ‘Ancient History Of Tondamandalam, And Its Earlier Inhabitants, Called Vedars And Curumbars’, begins as follows: “After the deluge the country was a vast forest, inhabited by wild beasts. A wild race of men arose; and, destroying the wild beasts, dwelt in certain districts. There were then, according to tradition, no forts, only huts, no kings, no religion, no civilisation, no books; men were naked savages: no marriage institutions. Many years after, the Curumbars arose in the Carnata country: they had a certain kind of religion; they were murderers. They derived the name of Curumbar from their cruelty. Some of them spread into the Dravida Desam, as far as the Tondamandala country. They chose a man who had some knowledge of books, who was chief of the Dravida country, and was called Camanda Curumba Prabhu, and Pulal Raja; he built a fort in Puralur. He divided the Curumba land into twenty-four-parts, and constructed a fort in each district. Of these, the names of ten are Puralur, the royal fort, Callatur, Amur, Puliyur, Chembur, Uttrikadu, Kaliyam, Venguna, Icattukottai, Paduvur. While they were ruling, there was a commerce carried on by ships. As the merchants of Caveripumpatnam, sought trading intercourse with them, the Curumbars built the following forts (stations) for trade: Patti pulam, Salacupam, Salapakam, Meyur, Cadalur, Alampari, Maracanam; whence, by means of merchants from Caveripumpatnam and the Curumbar, a commercial intercourse by vessels was carried on.” [Taylor, 1838: Examination and Analysis of the Mackenzie Manuscripts Deposited In The Madras College Library, 81].The section continues with more

The text narrates the history of Tondamandalam from ‘after the deluge’, probably meaning ‘from the beginning’. Tondamandalam or Tondaimandalam or Tondai Nadu is a historical region located in the southern part of Andhra Pradesh and northernmost part of Tamil Nadu. Its boundaries, however, are rather ambiguous, lying somewhere between the Penna and Ponnayar rivers basins. Sathyanathayer calls it ‘the heart of the Pallava Empire’ that existed from 275 CE to 897 CE. [Sathyanathayer, 1944: Studies In The Ancient History Of Tondamandalam, 42]

It included the once prosperous Pallav port of Mamallapuram, now famous for its rock cut architecture. Incidentally the word ‘tondai’ means a creeper and the term ‘pallav’ conveys a similar meaning.

The introductory part of the text seems to be quite supportive of our own hypothesis concerning the peopling of Deccan. The ‘wild race of men … naked savages’ who ‘destroyed the wild beasts and dwelt at the place’ could be the vedar; the text seems to almost suggest that. The vedar were probably overrun and displaced by the kurumbar. According to Cox, the kurumbar were not of tamil origin, but of Kannada origin, and spoke a language that resembled ‘old Canarese’. [Cox, 1895: Madras District Manuals, North Arcot, Volume 1, 221]

Could then the vedar be the ancestors of the tamil and the kurumbar be the ancestors of what we have called the vadukar, who form the base ancestry in the entire Brhatkomkan? The Pallav established themselves on the east coast, in the Chola territory, and occupied the famous city of Kanchi or Conjeeveram around 350 CE. Rawlinson makes it very clear that the Pallav ‘appear to have been intruders, and to have formed no part of the original Tamil kingdoms’. [Rawlinson, 1937: India – A Short Cultural History, 194]

The ‘original tamil kingdoms’ were Chera, Ay, Pandya and the Chola; these defined

Kurumbar seem to have been better organised, more ‘civilised’ and seem to have had, or at least come up with, the concept of a leader, chief or king. Camanda Curumba Prabhu seems to have been their first chief. The word ‘Camanda’ is difficult to decipher. Curumba obviously refers to his ‘kurumbar’ ancestry, or implies his belonging to the kurumba community. Or perhaps, we need to read the last two words together as ‘curumba prabhu’, meaning the ‘prabhu’ or the lord or chief of the kurumbar. Though that interpretation appears a little anachronistic. Prabhu is a word of Samskrt etymology; and could not have possibly reached the southern tip of the Indian peninsula in the early centuries of the first millennium. Prabhu is a common surname among the bramhan in Komkan, probably referring to their position in the village community. But interestingly, it was also used as a part of royal titles, especially to address kings, in Indonesia, especially in Balinese, Javanese, and Sundanese culture. This was very likely connected with the Pallav expansion into the south-east Asia during the heyday of their empire. So the word is definitely of kurumbar etymology. We will need to explore the Pallav expansion into the south-east Asia to look for the early kurumbar culture and language.