Coorg or Kodagu popularly known as the Scotland of India in the southernmost part lives up to its name with its enticing blend of history, traditions, adventure, and mouth-watering cuisines. Located amidst the mighty and misty western ghats, this famous coffee-producing hill station is well-known for its gorgeous scenery and diversity. The people of Coorg are racially and culturally quite diverse people. However, ethnically, and racially, they still stand apart for their unique culture, traditions and their style of dressing which is quite royal and warrior.

Earlier each family lived under one single roof called, “Ainmane or Ballyamane” which they called their home and was made of thatched roof contrasting the present-day nuclear families and modern dwellings. The oldest male member in the family is the head of the Okka and is called as the “Pattedhara” and it is the hierarchy that is passed on to the eldest member by right.

The identity of Coorg’s is through their family name. Each family group are called “Okka” and each “Okka” share a unique family name which is called “Manepeda”, and the introduction begins with this identity. As per history, the identity was given as early as the 15th century by the Haleri kings.

Ainmanes in Coorg are generally located in the rural landscape and forms a focal meeting point couple of times in a year. It could during the main festivals of Coorg’s or family meetings or discussions or an impromptu family get-together. What is quite unique about Ainmane is prayers are offered at the shrine which is called as Kaimada. Kaimada is the place of worship where prayers are offered to Guru karana ie; the clan’s first ancestor, though there is no physical representation. Every Ainmane has a “Nellakki Bade” which is in the central or the main hall of Ainmane and the lamp is lit every morning and evening in honour of Guru Karana.

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A Kaimada – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

A ‘traditional’ Ainmane is characterised by a kayyale (veranda) in front with carved, square, tapered, wooden pillars, aimaras (wooden bench-seats) between the pillars, ornately carved wooden windows and door frames, and specific areas within the Ainmane for the performance of rituals. A ‘functional’ one is where all the members of the okka gather to celebrate important festivals, ceremonies, and rituals such as Karanang Kodpa (ritual offerings to ancestors), or Puthari (harvest festival).

However, The Ainmane’ s of many Okka is no longer there: some are in a state of disrepair or are in a dilapidated condition.

This Ainmane is of Puttichanda family, the family I was born to, my great grandparents lived here. This Ainmane is more than 130 years old, was a thatched house, built before 1876 and was renovated in 2009 reducing the number of rooms from 24.

Wide stone-paved lane walled on both sides from the main road leading up to the stone-paved yard takes you to my ancestral home and is one of the beautiful and well maintained Ainmane’s in Kodagu. This house was also featured during one of the flower exhibitions where the model house was crafted using different variety of flowers.

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Window details from a Ballyamane – Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

 

The veranda has wood-panelled walls with beautiful carvings of lotuses, birds, and animals on top and geometrical designs at the bottom of each panel and a window with a beautiful carved wooden screen.

As per the stories I heard from my grandparents, there were 50 families in our Ainmane, and the granaries were filled with stocks of rice to last a year. Firewood was chopped and stocked to see them through the long monsoon. The Ain house resonated with the shouts of grandchildren, the clatter of horse carriages, bullocks, pigs, chickens, and the barking of hunting dogs.

Overall, there is a broad similarity in the physical features of the Ainmane’s all over Kodagu, and in the traditions, customs and rituals followed in them.