Origin and meaning of the word Tulu has been disputed in literary circles since pre-Independance days. Dr. Palthadi Ramakrishna Achar(1999) has compiled the available historical information on the word ‘Tulu’ in his book ‘TuLu naaDu- nuDi’. Most of the appraisals, as remarked by Dr Achar, have been made considering Tulu as a character of the territory or the people rather than the language.
source: Tulu Research
- In ‘Rajatha Peethapura Mahatme’(1913) it is described that a chieftain of Udupi called Ramabhoja offered Tulābhāra to the deity, to amend for the sin of killing a serpent. Tulābhāra is the offering of gold or other material (according to the status of the worshipper) equivalent to ones body weight. Thus the word Tulu has been suggested to have been derived from the Tulābhāra. The theory has not been accepted by experts since Rama bhoja appears to be an imaginary ruler unsubstantiated in the actual history of the land.
- Another similar legend in ‘Keralotpatti’(16th century work), an ancient work that originated from Kerala, describes the rule of one ‘Tuluban Perumal’ from Koteswara, Kundapaura area, who gave the name Tulunad for the area.This is again a figment of fertile imagination since there is documented evidence of any Tuluban Perumal ruling Tulunad.
- Dr B. A. Salettur derived the word ‘Tulu’ from the Kannada root ‘tooL’ which means to attack. Dr. Gururaja Bhat had discounted this suggestion since Tulu people were never attacked anyone nor had any expansionist ideals.
- Manjeswara Govinda Pai proposed that the word Tulu has been considered to have derived from the proto dravidian word ‘Tulai’ which means to row or play with water.
- Kudkadi Viswanatha Rai (cited in Dr Achar,1999) suggested that the Tulu has been derived from the phrase ‘Tullal naadu’, wherein ‘tullal’ means to wriggle or to dance. Native Mera or Muger tribes describe their marriage ceremony as 'tullal'. Yakshaghana dances.
- Dr. Gururaja Bhat proposed that the word Tulu is modified form of the term ‘turu’ that refers to cattle. Cattle herding and grazing is considered to be one of the earliest known professions in India. Cow-herders of Gujarat, also known as Yadavas are considered to be one of the early settlers in Tulunad. Haritha of Yadava clan was said to have ruled in Tulunad according to Harivamsha. However there are no solid evidences in favour of turu>tulu word conversion .
- ‘Tolahars’ were a royal clan that ruled a part of Tulunad. Tola>Tulu conversion has been thought of by some workers.
- J.Sturrock in his South Canara Manual ( Vol.I ) inferred that word Tulu possibly refers to the ‘soft’ nature of the local people, since the adjective “tuluve” is applied to the soft pulpy variety of jack fruit. However, this argument has not been accepted by experts like Dr. Gururaja Bhat.
- Sediyapu Krishna Bhat has pointed out that the word ‘Tulu’ is connected with water. ‘Tuluve’(jack fruit) also means ‘watery’ and that should be considered instead of the ‘soft’ implication. The other water related words in Tulu are talipu, teli, teLi, teLpu, tuLipu, tulavu, tamel and additionally in Kannada are tuLuku and toLe. In Tamil tuli means water drop and tulli means the same in Malayalam.Thus it can be concluded that the word Tulu implies ‘related to water’.
- The term ‘Tulu’ was also used as a clan name, as recorded in the Honnali inscription of Shimoga district, dated 1203AD. Dr. Gururaja Bhat has cited several personal names with Tulu as affixes like Tuluveswara, Tuluva Chandiga, Tulu Senabova, Tuluvi Setti, Tuluvakka Heggadati,Tulu Alva, Tulai Amma etc. as have been recorded in the inscriptions. In the Basrur (in Kundapur taluk) inscription dated 1401 AD, mentions a Tuluvi Setti donating land to maintain the routine expenditures of the Tuluveswara temple of Basrur. Besides, Krishnadevaraya, the famous emperor of Vijayanagar was said to be hailing from the ‘Tuluva’ dynasty.Thus we can conclude that the word ‘Tulu’ means ‘that connected with water’ and it is also name of a clan or group.
source: Tulu Research