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 Language and Culture of Mudugas
Department of Linguistics University of Kerala

By Dr. N.Rajendran

A section of the people was notified as Scheduled Tribes in India under the President’s Order 1950.  Before declaring a group as a tribe it is necessary that we should consider their physical features, area of settlement, social distance from the advanced groups, marriage systems, taboos, religious conventions, material culture, language etc.  Luiz opines that ‘the existence of discrimination, culture and customs combined with the fact that they are nomadic, primitive and still observe taboos and conventions likely to be described by modern society as derogatory and antisocial is proof to confirm a group as a tribe.  If habitations are far from civilization and if the external features of a tribe are present, these will certainly strengthen the decision.  According to the 1971 Census report the tribal population in India is 380.15 lakhs, i.e., 6.94% of the total population of the country. 

Though the need for a clear classification of the tribes of Kerala has been pointed out by some scholars, it has not been attempted so far successfully.  The list published by the Government of Kerala consists the names of 41 tribes, whereas Luiz describes about 48 tribes3.  Based on these two lists, Somasekharan Nair opines that the total number of tribes in Kerala is inbetween 41 and 54.  The main tribal concentrations in Kerala are in the Cannanore, Wynad, Calicut and Palghat districts.  The tribal population of these four districts constitute 74.6% of the total tribal population of the State.  According to the 1971 Census, Kerala State has a total population of 213.47 lakhs of which the tribal communities constitute 2.69 lakhs, i.e., 1.26% of the total population.

 In the present paper I would like to do three things:

(1)  To describe Muduga

(2)  To explain some important features of the Muduga language in the phonological, grammatical and lexical level to show that it is a new member of the Dravidian family of languages.

(3)  To give a few interesting aspects of the Muduga culture. 

The hill tribe Mudugas live in the remote forest settlements of the Attappady tribal area.  Attappady, one of the prominent forest regions of Kerala is situated in the north-eastern part of the Palghat district of Kerala, in South India.  This 763 square Kilometers of area is bounded on the east by the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, north by the Nilgiris, south by the Palghat taluk and on the west by the Karimba, Pottassery and Mannarghat revenew villages of the Mannarghat Taluk of the Palghat district and the Ernad Taluk of the Malappuram district.  Also, there are a few Muduga families in the Nilgiris and Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu.  There are 18 Muduga hamlets in Attappady.  They are (1)Chundakki (2) Thazhachundakki (3) Veeranuru (4) Karuvare (5) Ommale (6) Kallamale (7) Kottamale (8) Chitturu (9) Chandakulam (10) Koravanpady (11) Ummathupadiga (12) Molakambi (13) Thekkumpanna (14)Abbannuru(15) Kottiyuru (16) Pettikkallu (17) Kakkuppady and (18) Mukkali.  According to the 1961  Census their population was 1881 which increased to 2370 in 1971. 

As a tribe Mudugas are shy and do not like the company of the non-tribal people in the plains.  They consider themselves as superior to the Irulas and Kurumbas, the other two tribes of the Attappady tribal area.  But they help each other in agricultural operations, hunting, fishing, etc.  Mudugas have not changed much by contact with the civilized people or by any of the welfare schemes which the Government has implemented for the development of the tribes.  They have a limited culture of their own which they maintain in isolation.  Regarding their language the Anthropologists and Sociologists who have conducted field work in the tribal areas of Kerala, pointed out that the language of Mudugas is unintelligible to Malayalam speakers and it is a dialect of Tamil with many Tulu words and phrases.  A descriptive analysis of the Muduga speech shows that eventhough it has got some similiarities with Tamil in the area of grammatical structure, it cannot be treated as a dialect of Tamil.  The influence of Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu can also be observed in the vocabulary. 

Twenty six segmental phonemes are identified in this language.  They are five vowel phonemes (/I,e,a,o,u/),  twenty consonant phonemes (/p,b,t,d,r,t,d,c,j,k,g,m,n,n,l,l,r,v,y,s/) and one phoneme of length ( /:/).  Except /o/, all the vowels occur with or without length in the initial, medial and final position. /o/ occurs with or without length in the initial and medial position, and only with length in the final position.  The front vowels /i/ and /e/ and the back vowels /o/ and /u/ have the onglides of [y] and [w] respectively when they occur in the word initial position.  All the consonants other than /d/, /n/, /i/ and /y/ occur in the initial position.  All the twenty consonants occur medially. However, no consonant occur in the word final position.  Dipthongs are not found in this language.  Only two consonant and three consonant clusters occur.  Three consonant clusters occur only in the medial position while two consonant clusters occur initially and medially. 

     /-R-/and/-uR-/ are the present tense markers and /-v-/ and /-uv-/ are the future tense markers present in this language.  (e.g. va +R+a>vaRa ‘(she) comes’, po:+R+e>po:Re’(he)goes’, col+R+a> colRa ‘(she)says’;vila:t +uR+a>vila:tu Ra’(she)plays’, und+uR+e> undu Re’ (he) pushes’ po: +v+a>po:va (she)will go, cey+v+e> ceyve (he)will do, no:t +uv+a>no:tuva’(she) will look) There are nine past tense markers.  They are /-R:-/ (> to:R:a’(she)failed’), /-t-/ (e.g.cey + t+ e> ceyte ‘(he) did). /-d-/ (e.g.tin +d+a> tinda (she) ate)./-t:-/ (e.g.o/e+t):+a> o/et:a> (she) called’), /-t-/ (e.g. cut + t + a > cut:a (she)roasted’) /-d-/ (e.g.veran + d+a> verenda (she) frightened) /-n-/(e.g.po:+n+a> po:na (she) went’) /-nd-/ (e.g.kuk:a:+ nd + a>kuk :a:nda’(she)sat’) and /-in-/ (e.g.e/cut + in + a > elutina ‘(she) wrote’). 

The negative markers are /-a:t:-/, /-at-/, /-a-, /-ale/ and /ma:t:-/. /-a:t:-/ and /-at-/ occur before the relative participle marker /-a/ and the verbal participle marker /-e/ respectively.  (e.g. ninek: + a:t: + a > ninek:a:t:a ‘that which will not think;ka:n + at+ e > ka:nate ‘without seeing).  /-a/ occurs after the verb stem /ve:t-/ (e.g. ve:ta ‘do not need’) /-ale/ gives that past negative meaning while /-ma:t:-/ gives the emphatic negation in future tense (e.g. varale ‘did not come’, no:tale ‘did not see’; vara ma:t:a ‘(she) will not come’ col:ama:t:a ‘(she) will not say’). 

As is found in other major South Dravidian languages personal markers are present in the Muduga also.  The person marker /-e/ is used to denote the first person singular, second person singular and the third person masculine singular (e.g. vande ‘(I, you (Sg.), he came) /-a:mu/ is used for the first person exclusive plural where as /-e:Ru/ is for both the first person inclusive plural and for the second person plural(e.g. vanda:mu’we(Excl) came’; vande:Ru ‘we (Incl), you (Pl.) came’). The third person feminine singular marker is /-a/ (e.g. va + nd + a>vanda ‘(she) came’) and the third person plural marker is /-a:Ru/ (e.g.var + uv + a:Ru>varuva:Ru ‘(they) will came’). 

      There are six cases other than the nominative and vocative, viz.  Accusative, Sociative, Dative, Genitive, Locative and Instrumental.  The case markers with their examples are given below:

 1.  Accusative (Acc.)

(a)  –ana

      e.g.   en + ana>en:ana ‘to me (Acc.)’

          em + ana>em:ana ‘we (Excl.) (Acc.)’

          nam + ana>nam:ana ‘we (Incl) (Acc.)’

          nin + ana>nin:ana ‘you (sg) (Acc)’

          nim + ana>nim:ana ‘you (Pl.) (Acc.)’

-a e.g. aval + in a>avalina ‘to them (Acc.)’

          avaR + in + a>avaRina ‘to them (Acc.)’

-e e.g. avan + e>avane ‘to him (Acc.)

          mara + t: + e>marat:e ‘to the tree (Acc.)’

2.  Sociative (Soc.)

(a)  –o:te

e.g.    avan + o:te > avano:te ‘with him (Soc.)’

          mara + t:+ o:te > marat:o:te ‘with the tree (Soc.)

3.  Dative (Dat.)

(a)  –a:k:u

e.g.    en + a:k:u > ena:k:u ‘to me4 (Dat.)’

          nin + a:k:u > nina:k:u ‘you (Sg.) (Dat.)’

          nim + a:k:u > nima:k:u ‘you (Pl.) (Dat.)’

(b)  –uk:u

e.g.    avan + uk:u > avanuk:u ‘to him (Dat.)’

          aval + uk:u > avaluk:u ‘to her (Dat.)’

(c)  –k:u

e.g.    ma:mi + k:u > ma:mik:u ‘to the aunt (Dat.)’

          co:le + k:u > co:lek:u ‘to the forest’ (Dat.)’

4.  Genitive (Gen.)

(a)  –it:a

e.g.    ond + it:a > ondit:a ‘of one (Gen.)’

(b)  –tu

e.g.    aval + tu > avaltu ‘of her (Gen.)’

          male + tu > maletu ‘of hill (Gen.)’

(c)  –u

e.g.    en + u > en:u ‘my (Gen.)’

          nin + u > nin:u ‘you (Sg.) (Gen.)’

5.  Locative (Loc)

(a)  –ilu

e.g.    mara + t: + ilu > marat:ilu ‘on the tree (Loc.)’

(b)  –lu

e.g.    ku:re + lu > ku:relu ‘ in the hut (Loc.)’

6.  Instrumental (Instr.)

(a)  –a:le

e.g.    avan + aale > avana:le ‘by him (Instr.)’

          aval + a:le > avala:le ‘by her (Instr.)’

The following chart illustrates the pronouns in the Muduga and other major south Dravidian languages    










































































     In the third person pronouns Muduga has four types of distinctions viz. masculine singular, feminine singular, epicene plural and neuter singular.  The neuter singular has no separate plural forms.  Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada have a five types of distinctions viz. masculine singular, feminine singular, epicene plural, neuter singular and neuter plural. Telugu has four types of distinctions viz. masculine singular, non-masculine singular, epicene plural and neuter plural. Muduga language stands out from other South Dravidian languages in the case of neuter plural.  I have checked very carefully whether the Muduga has got the neuter plural form and found that this form is not available.  Except the non-existence of neuter plural, all other classifications are similar to Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada.


     Some interesting vocabulary items in the Muduga language are the following:

agu-             ‘to cry’                 ad:e                ‘necklace’

agra             ‘sweat’                 an:de              ‘bamboo bucket’

ac:a             ‘grand father’         an:uve            ‘(he) will touch’                 

ac:i              ‘grand mother’        an:i                 ‘squirrel’

atiyamat:u     ‘lower lip’              at:ye              ‘husband’s sister’

at:a              ‘ceiling’                 anga               ‘moustache’

at:e              ‘leech’                  an:a                ‘flour of grains’

am:a             ‘Goddess’              kap:e              ‘frog’

arime            ‘mosquito’             karuve             ‘blacvksmith’

arya             ‘anger’                  kal:I                ‘granary’

ava              ‘she’                     ka:tu               ‘agriculture’

ave              ‘he’                                            ‘jungle’

av:e             ‘mother’                ka:t:I              ‘bison ‘

ale               ‘cave’                   ka:nu              ‘groove, gutter’

a:nalu           ‘if so’                    ku:re               ‘hut’

a:ngu            ‘there’                  kop:e              ‘burial ground’

a:vli              ‘yawn’                  gare                ‘border of clothe’

itlu               ‘narrow’                gu:me             ‘owl’

inup:u           ‘sweet’                 gelime             ‘cold’

in Ru             ‘today’                  gem:u             ‘petal’

iy:a              ‘lead’                    goRK:u            ‘sneeze’

irumalu          ‘coigh’                  can:I               ‘buttock’

i:p:I:            ‘house fly’             cali                 ‘dew’

uc:e             ‘urine’                   ci:                  ‘pus’

undika           ‘oblation’               ci:la                ‘hinge’

ula:vu           ‘taboo’                  cu:ndi             ‘mouse’

u:t:u            ‘house’                 cundu              ‘fema;e genital organ’

u:t:a            ‘anaemia                                             

u:ralu            ‘filasria’                 cul:a               twig’

ec:e             ‘how’                    cu:ru               ‘smell’

eta               ‘place’                  cet:u              ‘baldness’

e:t:I             ‘bank of river’         jandu              ‘trash’ 

ey:a             ‘porcupine’            cok:ana           ‘good’

elep:ap:u       ‘spleen’                 cot:I               ‘baldness’

e:t:I             bank of river          jandu              ‘trash’

e:me             ‘tortoise                tat:u               ‘seive’

ot:e              ‘caryota urens’       tat:I               ‘egg of fish’

ob:e             ‘eye brow’             taRi                 ‘stem of tapioca plant

oli                ‘current’               

o:ri               ‘ox’                      ta:va              ‘thirst’

kata             ‘debt’                   tuR:I               ‘flute’

kateva:yi       corner of mouth’     tu:vi               ‘feather’

                                              toR:I               ‘beak of birds’

kane             ‘bamboo spoon’      nagu-              ‘to laugh’

kane:k:a        ‘ankle’                  a:ti                 ‘barber’

kan:I            ‘thread, rope’         na:sve             ‘sister-in-law’

nure             ‘foam’                   bik:u               ‘kidney’

net”I             ‘fore-head’            bey:a              ‘sunshine’

ne:ra            ‘sun’                     bod:e              ‘blunt arrow’

pakitu           ‘cheek’                 mage               ‘rain’

pak:a            ‘near’                   mad:e:na         ‘noon’

pan:e            ‘thin’                    ma:Ru             ‘broom’

parya            ‘brideprice’            mu:nga            ‘bamboo’

pal:a             ‘pond’                   ret:a               ‘blood’

pa:ni             ‘crockery’              van:e              ‘washerman’

pit:u             ‘food’                   va:ni               ‘river’

pi:                ‘excrement’           vi:ni                ‘virgin’

pe:ramaka     ‘grand daugter’       vel:I                ‘star’

bande           ‘a fish’                  sondu              ‘dandruff’

ba:ge            ‘plantain’              


                   In spite of the similarities with Tamil Malayalam and Kannada in some aspects, there are many difference which make the Muduga language a separate Dravidian language.  The first person exclusive plural pronoun ‘em:a’, the second person plural pronoun ‘nim:a’, the negative marker’-at-‘, the accusative case marker ‘-ana’, the genitive case marker ‘-u’, the pronominal suffixes of the first person exclusive plural ‘-a:mu;, first person inclusive plural and second person plural ‘-e:Ru’, etc., and many vocabulary items are some of the features which make this speech form a distinct language from other South Dravidian Languages. 

                   In this paper I can make only a few observation about the culture o Mudugas.  Mudugas are believed to be earliest immigrants of this region.  They are of  Tamil origin and are believed to be immigrants from the Coimbatore District of Tamil Nadu.  The purpose of their immigration was an ambitious plan to extensive agricultural activities in the fertile virgin soil of Attappady forests.  The history of their immigration dates back to 15th century or even prior to that.  The religion of this tribe is akin to Hinduism.  They were during the past, subjects of the Vijayanagar Hindu Empire.  The Mudugas are worshippers of Lord Siva.  Saivism (Worship of Lord Siva) is considered to be older than Vaishnavism (Worship of Lord Vishnu).  As the Mudugas are still worshippers of Lord Siva and are oblivious to any influence of Vaishnavism, it can be reasonably presumed that they had emigrated from the plains even prior to the propagation of Vaishnavism. 

                   The Mudugas live in clusters with twelve or so households in each settlement.  The Muduga hamlets are referred to as ‘u:ru’ and the huts as ‘ku:re’.  The small squatter huts are low ceilinged with the ceilings not exceeding five feet  from the floor level.  The huts are very sparsely furnished and consists only of mats made of grass and bamboo splinters.  Mats are spread out to sleep and offered for the guests to sit.  While these tribesmen are quite dexterous in producing household utendils from bamboo and canes they depend on the markets for the earthenware.  The apparel of the men are sober and consists only of a handloom towel round the  waist reaching upto the knee and the upper portion of the body is wrapped in a dhoti slung from the shoulders.  The women’s apparel consists of a brightly coloured strip of cloth five feet long and four feet wide referred to by them ‘ce:la’.  The ‘ce:la’ wraps this tribal women folk from the upper part of the breast to the knee.

                    Each hamlet is presided over by a headman (mu:p:e) and he is assisted in his administrative responsibilities by three men ‘kuRutale’, ‘vanda:ri’ and ‘man:uk:a:re’.  The headman is kept informed of all the happenings in the hamlet.  All the ceremonies are presided over by the headman, these include deaths, births, marriages, etc.  All members are under the force of threat made to submit to the laws and morals of the tribal society. Non-observance of these laws will be counteracted with a fine of not less than Rupees 5/-.  Without the sanction of the headman intercaste marriages are a taboo and is met with ostracism from the tribal society and also they forfeit the right to stay in the hamlet. 

                   For the purpose of marriage alliances the Mudugas are divided into four exogamous groups.  They are (1) kaRut:iga (2) vel:e:ga (3) kup:uniga and (4) a:Ru:ra.  The ‘kaRut:iga’ can take brides or give brides only to the member of the ‘vel:e:ga’

Group.  They cannot have any marriage alliance with any other group.  Likewise the members of the ‘kup:uniga’ group can have marriage relationship only with the ‘a:Ru:ra’ group.  These people encourage cross cousin marriages ie., marrying maternal uncle’s or paternal aunt’s daughter.  Polyandry is prohibited, but polygamy is practiced in a restricted way, i.e., when the first wife does not bear children or becomes unhealthy.  Divorce and widow marriages are allowed.  Marriages by exchange, by service and by elopment are also rarely seen among this tribe.  Any death is considered to be the  departed soul by beating drum and playing pipes.  All members of the hamlet including the headman should have to attend the death ceremonies.  The corpse will be buried only on the third day of the death.  The members in the hut observe pollution for 40 days.  The pollution is dissipated by giving a feast to the members who took part in the death ceremonies.  Generally Mudugas do not have any other ceremonies by which the dead are remembered. 


Caldwell Robert, Rt.Rev. 1974.  A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 

Grierson G. A. 1968 Linguistic Survey of India, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas. 

Luis, A.A.D, 1962.  Tribes of  Kerala, New Delhi: Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh, 

Panikkar, G.K. 1973.  Description of the Ernad Dialect of Malayalam, Trivandrum: Dravidian Linguistic Association. 

Rajendran, N. 1976. “Phonemic Outline of the Muduga Language” Studies in Dialectology, Vol. I No. 1. Trivandrum: Departments of Linguistics, University of Kerala.

Rajendran, N.1977.” Personal Pronouns in Muduga Language” Bangalore, Seventh All India Conference of Dravidian Linguistics.

 Rajendran, N 1978, “Tribal Education –Problems and Possibilities” Journal of Kerala Studies Vol. V. Nos. III & IV Trivandrum: Department  of History, University of Kerala

Rajendran N. 1978.  Description of the Language of Mudugas, Trivandrum: ph.  D.Thesis (Unpublished) Trivandrum: University of Kerala. 

Rajendran, N. 1979.  “Cultural Description of Mudugas-A hill tribe of Attappady”  Journal of Kerala Studies Vol.VI, parts III & IV Department of History, University of Kerala. 

Somasekharan Nair P. 1976 Paniyar (Malayalam) Kottayam: National Book Stall, Kerala.

 Somasekharan Nair, P. 1977 Paniyabhasha (Malayalam) Kottayam: National Book Stall.

 Thurston Edgar, 1975 Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Vol. V. New Delhi Cosmo Publications.

 For more details about the Muduga Language see Description of the Language of Mudugas, Rajendran, N. (1978).

 For more details about the Cultural of Mudugas see the article “Cultural Description of Mudugas” Rajendran, N. (1979).

 “Census of India 1961 Vol. VII, part VI, G, Village Survey Monographs Tribal Areas.  



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