Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins
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|First languages – Kannada|
Origin of name and Tradition
The first part of the name, Hoysala is derived from the Hoysala empire of Karnataka. The Hoysala dynasty was the ruling dynasty of Karnataka for over three centuries, beginning in 950 AD. Karnataka is derived from the fact that the mother tongue of the community, and the region where the community resides are called Kannada and Karnataka.
Hoysala Karnataka Brahmins are followers of Advaita theology (Smarta Sampradhaya).
The Hoysala Karnatakas are a well known subject of Smarta Brahmins, which has produced many eminent scholars, musicians, philosophers, generals and religious pontiffs, over the centuries. Of the two parts of the name of this subject viz. Hoysala and Karnataka, the second part i.e., Karnataka is easily explained, as the mother tongue of this community is and has been Kannada, and as they have been the inhabitants of the Karnataka region. But what is the significance of the first part of the name viz., Hoysala ? We know that the Hoysalas were a ruling dynasty of Karnataka for over three centuries from about 101 A.D. The earliest mention of the name Hoysala occurs in an inscription of the middle of the tenth century, and the origin of the family name is given for the first time in an inscription of 1117 A.D as follows: "In the lineage of Yadu there was born a certain Sala. In company with a Jaina ascetic, who was versed in all the science of incantation, he was worshiping the goddess Padmavati of Sasakapura with a view to bringing her into their power and so acquiring sovereignty for Sala. A tiger sprang out threatening to interrupt and spoil the efficacy of their rites. On the appeal of the ascetic who cried our `Poy-Sala-`slay, oh Sala`, Sala slew the tiger. And from this exclamation and the slaughter of the tiger he and his descendants acquired the name of Poysala". But as in the case of the Chalukyas who were supposed to have been born out of a water pot (Chuluka) of Hariti-Panchasikha ( a mythical person descended from Manu), when he was pouring out a libation to the gods, the account of the origin of the name Hoysala appears to be a later fictitious intention in order to give a respectability to the dynasty when the real origin of the family name had been forgotten. It has been noted above that the family was in existence for nearly two centuries before the first mention of this legendary account. We know, however, that the name, Ballala, was borne by many members of this family and it is very probable that this name Ballala is the Kannada equivalent of the Tamil Vellala. The Vellalars are referred to in ancient Tamil literature as the chief land owning gentry and they are divided into two classes: those who cultivated the land themselves, and those who got their lands cultivated by others. The latter, besides owning land, rose to very prominent positions like ministers, governors and generals. Of these the Hoysalas were only one family. Evidently the Hoysalas were a set of local land holders, who became prominent when conditions were favourable for their rise. Now let us consider why the name Hoysala is associated with the Hoysala-Karnataka. The Hoysalas rose to power as feudatories of the Chalukyas, and as their subordinates began to rule over a small tract of territory, with their capital first at Sosevur (now Angadi in Mudagere Taluk), then at Belur, and finally at Dorasamudra (now Halebid) . Soon they acquired control over the Talekad region. The Chalukya empire which was very extensive included in it Karnataka, Maharashtra, and part of Andhra-desha, and in the time of the greatest of the Chalukyas, Vikramaditya VI, it extended even up to Nagpur. On account of the liberal patronage of this monarch to learned men and others, many non- Kannada people had settled down in his dominions e.g.Bilhana, who wrote the biographical poem Vikramanka Charita about his patron was a Kashmiri Brahmin. The Hoysalas as their political successors (and the Vijayanagara Kings after them) continued this tradition of patronage to men of letters etc. On account of the liberality and broad mindedness of these rulers, the area comprised in the former Mysore State became the home of many non-Kannada Brahmins, such as the Velandus, Mulakanadus, and the Aravelu Niyogis of the Andhra Country, the Karahadis, Konkanansthas and Desasthas of the Maharashtra Country and the Vadamas of the Tamil Country . Of course there were many sub-sects among the Kannada speaking Brahmins such as the Badaganadu Karnatakas, the Seeranadu Karnatakas, and Hoysala Karnatakas and on the West coast the Havyakas, the Kotas and the Sivalli. It will be readily seen that all these indicate the geographical divisions from which these people hailed. In order to maintain own customs, rituals, language (dialectal peculiarities), traditions, and individuality each sub-sect called itself by a distinctive name, usually a town or geographical division of their origin. (This tendency which might not have been marked and rigid after the Muslim invasion of the South). Thus the Badagandu Karnatakas came from the northern parts of former Mysore State. Bellary and Anantapur districts; the seeranadu Karnatakas from the region, round about Sira in Tumkur district. As noted above the sphere of authority of the Hoysalas when they rise to power was in the region round about Sosevur, which was also their birthplace Belur, Dorasamudra and Talekad i.e. the modern district of Kadur, Hassan and Mysore . This tract of Karnataka was the home province of the Hoysalas and the Brahmins who were residing in this area were therefore called Hoysala Karnatakas just as the Brahmins living around Sira were known as Seeranadu Karnatakas and those living in the northern parts were known as Badaganadu Karnatakas. (Even to-day this sub-sect is mostly concentrated in this area.) It may be noted here that all the Brahmins before the advent of Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya were Smartas.
However, it may be observed, that there is practically no reference to this sub-sect by the name Hoysala-Karnataka either in literature or in inscriptions till we come to the seventeenth century. In fact the only reference that I know of is in an inscription of 1687 A.D. and I shall deal with it later on. So we must rely only on traditional accounts. And according to tradition the great Madhava-Vidyaranya, who was the pontiff at Sringeri and who was instrumental in the founding of the great Vijayanagara Kingdom belonged to this sub-sect. This tradition is in a way borne out by a contemporary inscription, which says that Singambika (Singale) was the sister of Madhava and Sayana and her son was the Minister Lakshmidhara who is described as "kannadiga kulake ranndha kannadi" Evidently therefore Madhavacharya, Sayanacharya and Bhoganatha, who were the brothers of Singambika were also "Kannadiga's". As stated above, since the nomenclature, Hoysala Karnataka was not applied in literary or other records of this period to this sub-sect, the tradition that they were Hoysala Karnataka gains support. It is well known that Madhava Vidyaranya lived through the reigns of three successive monarchs, viz., Harihara I, Bukka I and Harihara II and guided them in not only administering their vast territory but also wrote a treatise on Law and procedure Parasara-Madhaviya for the benefit of these rulers. Besides this, his works on Advaita philosophy are too well known; and he was also the author of a work on music entitled Sangitasara.