Know the Etymology: 4
Place Name of the Day: Friday, 03 March 2017

Cillālai, Pērālai, Cekkālai, Vaṅkālai

சில்லாலை, பேராலை, செக்காலை, வங்காலை
Cillālai, Pērālai, Cekkālai, Vaṅkālai

Vaṅka+kālai/ Vaṅka+ālai

The small hamlet/ village

The big hamlet/ village

The oil-mill; or the oil-mill hamlet/ village

The shipyard/ boatyard; or the village of ships/ boats

Ālai1 a term that comes as suffix in village names, probably meaning a hamlet or village (Eezham Tamil place names); a settlement-related term, as in Uḷlālai: Uḷ-ālai: the inner part of a village; as Uḷ means inside, the following word Ālai seems to be meaning a settlement (Tamil, inscription, 986 CE, SII, xix, 401); an affix or term added to the names of places, as in Kaccālai: = Kacci; the ancient city of Kāñci or a part of it (Tamil, Taṇṭiyalaṅkāram, Kathiraiverpillai); Ālai meaning a settlement may be related to Āl-iṭam: street, hamlet, "Vāṭai, Cirēṇi" (Tamil, Tivākaram, 5: 144; Piṅkalam, 4: 193; 4: 198); etymology probably related to Āla: (verb) to sound, make noise, rejoice, dance (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Kalittokai, 27: 13); Āli, Ālu: (verb) to sound, make noise, rejoice, dance (Tamil, DED 386); note the interchange of Āl/ Ār (to shout, roar, DED 367).
Ālai2 mechanical device to press sugarcane to get juice (Tamil, DED 387, Caṅkam diction, Malaipaṭukaṭām: 118-119); mill-shed making sugarcane products (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai, 261-262); Ālai-āṭṭutal, Ālai-ōṭṭutal: to work a sugarcane press (Tamil, MTL); any mechanical milling device was called Ālai as in Cekkālai: Cekku-ālai: oil-mill (Tamil, inscription, 911 CE, SII, xix, 92); Ālai: mill, factory; a place of work using machines to process raw material, as in Arici-ālai, Urukku-ālai etc., (Tamil, DCT, Cre-A); etymology may be related to Āla, Āli, Ālu: (verb) to sound, make noise (Tamil, see Ālai 1); or to Alai: (verb) to shake (Tamil, DED 240); Alamaru: to whirl (Tamil, DED 240)
Ālai3 stable, shed (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Puṟanāṉūṟu, 220: 2-4); hall, a simple structure as in Caturālai: Catura-ālai: hall of four pillars (Tamil, inscription, 1014 CE, SII, ii, 38); 1. Cālai: shed, stable (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Paṭṭiṉappālai, 52); Śāla: shed, stable, house (Sanskrit, Athava Vedic, CDIAL 12414); 2. Kālai: enclosure, cattle pen (Tamil, Kathiraiverpillai, MTL cites Jaffna Dictionary); carpentry workshop, sawmill (Eezham Tamil usage); Gāla: shed, enclosure (Sinhala, Codrington); enclosure for elephants or cattle (Sinhala, Clough). See column 488
Ālai4 in some cases, may be from Kāl: forest (Tamil, DED 1418); Gāla: thicket (Sinhala, Clough). See Iḷukkālai and column 488
Cil small (Tamil, DED 1571, Kuṟuntokai, 56: 2); Cillai: humbleness, meanness (Tamil, DED 1571, Cilappatikāram, 16: 147); note the Ṉ/ L/ R changes among Ciṉ (DED 2594), Ciṟu/ Ciṟṟu (DED 1594) and Cil meaning the same
Pēr great, large, big, (Tamil, DED 4411)
Cekku oil-mill, i.e., mechanical devise to extract oil; the process involves rotating a heavy pestle or shaft in a mortar (Tamil, Nālaṭiyār, 38: 4; inscription, 869 CE, EI, xi, 22a); tax on oil-mill (Tamil, inscription, 691 CE, SII, I, 151; EI, xvii, 22); Sekku: oil-mill, "Kopparā ādiyen tel mirikā gannā yantraya" (Sinhala, Sorata); Cakkaram: oil-mill (Tamil, Periyapurāṇam, 4031); Cakkara-entiram: oil-mill (Tamil, Periyapurāṇam, 4036); Caṅkarap-pāṭi: guild of oil merchants (Tamil, inscription, 922 CE, SII, vi, 295); Cakkiri: oil-miller (Tamil, Nampiyāṇṭār-nampi, 3: 54); potter (Tamil, Cūṭāmaṇi, 2: 27); Cakra: wheel, potter's wheel, oil-mill, circle (Sanskrit CDIAL 4538); Cakka: wheel (Pali, Prakrit, CDIAL 4538)
Cekkālai oil-mill, mechanical device to extract oil (Tamil, inscription, 911 CE, SII, xix, 92); Cekku+Ālai: two words of the same meaning are combined to make one word, usually when the words are from different languages (called "Iru-peyar-oṭṭup-paṇput-tokai" in Tamil grammar). See boxes on Cekku and Ālai 2.
Vaṅkam big ship sailing in deep seas (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Akanāṉūṟu 255: 1-2); boat (Tamil, Caṅkam diction, Puṟanāṉūṟu. 400: 20); Vaṅkūḻ: Vaṅka-ūḻ: wind that favourably moves a ship (Tamil, Akanāṉūṟu, 255); Vaṅka-nīr: sea (Tamil, Cūḷāmaṇi, 222); Vaṅkap-pāṇṭi: a boat-like cart (Tamil, Paripāṭal, 20: 17); Vaṅku: orifice, hollow, cave, cavern, hollow in a tree (Tamil, DED 5212); Vāṅku: (verb) to bend, sink (Tamil, DED 5335); Vaṅku: going crookedly (Sanskrit, CDIAL 11194); Vaṅka: bent, crooked (Sanskrit, 11194, probable non-Aryan origin or influence noted). See column 478

The component Ālai coming in Eezham Tamil place names has different meanings in different contexts.

In place names like, Pērālai, Cillālai and Iḻavālai in Jaffna, a settlement is the meaning that could be deduced for the suffix Ālai.

In a name like Cekkālai in Pūnakari, the whole term could mean an oil-mill. Ālai in this context means a mill. If split and explained, Ālai could also mean a settlement here.

In Vaṅkālai in Maṉṉār, the suffix could be either Ālai or Kālai, the former standing for yard, shed etc., besides meaning a settlement, and the latter meaning a yard, saw-mill or carpentry workshop. The village even in recent times was known for boatbuilding.

In some other names listed under related place names, there is a probability of the meaning being a jungle or thicket.

See boxes above for meanings and etymology.

* * *

Ālai meaning a settlement or part of a settlement is noticed in some inscriptional usages.

A related term found in the old Tamil lexicons is Āliṭam (Āl-iṭam), meaning a hamlet or street.

As Iṭam means place in general, Āl is the part that gives the hamlet/ street meaning. On etymology, the meaning may be related to Āl as a verb in Tamil/ Dravidian meaning to make noise, clamour etc.

* * *

Ālai meaning a settlement or part of a settlement:

"தஞ்சாவூர் உள்ளாலைச் சங்கரப்பாடியான் மகன்" (Tamil inscription, 986 CE, SII, xix, 401)

"Tañcāvūr uḷḷālaic caṅkarappāṭiyāṉ makaṉ" (Tamil inscription, 986 CE, SII, xix, 401)

A person belonging to the guild of oil merchants in the inner city of Tañcāvūr [Uḷ-ālai; Uḷ: inner, inside; Ālai: settlement]

* * *

Āl-iṭam meaning a hamlet or street:

"சேடியும் வாடையும் சிரேணி ஆகும், ஆலிடம் எனவும் அறையப்படுமே" (திவாகரம், 5: 143-144)

"Cēṭiyum vāṭaiyum cirēṇi ākum, āliṭam enavum aṟaiyappaṭumē" (Tivākaram, 5: 143-144)

Cēṭi and Vāṭai are Cirēṇi (street, hamlet). They are also called Āliṭam

"சிரேணியும் தெருவே" (பிங்கலம், 4: 194)

"Cirēṇiyum teruvē" (Piṅkalam, 4: 194)

Cirēṇi [equated to Āliṭam] means Teru (street)

"வாடையும் முறியும் சேரி என்ப, சிரேணியும் அதற்கே" (பிங்கலம், 4: 198)

"Vāṭaiyum muṟiyum cēri enpa, cirēṇiyum ataṟkē" (Piṅkalam, 4: 198)

Vāṭai [equated to Āliṭam] and Muṟi are Cēri (hamlet). Cirēṇi [equated to Āliṭam] also means that [hamlet]

* * *

Meaning of Ālutal from the verbs Āl, Āli, Ālu:

"ஆலுதல் ஆடல் ஒலித்தல் ஆகும்" (திவாகரம், 11: 29)

"Ālutal āṭal olittalum ākum" (Tivākaram, 11: 29)

Ālutal means dancing and sounding

* * *

Chillālai (Chil-ālai) when viewed in the light of another place name like Pērālai (Pēr-Ālai) seems to be meaning a small village. Note another place name like Iḻavālai (Iḻa-ālai) meaning the same (see column 167).

Cil meaning small in Tamil (DED 1571) is parallel to the other terms Ciṉ and Ciṟ/ Ciṟu meaning the same in Tamil (DED 2594, 1594, L/ Ṉ/ Ṟ changes). In a combination like Ciṟu+ūr, the word form is Ciṟṟūr/ Cīṟūr. In this case, it is Cil+ālai: Cillālai

Usage examples of Cil:

"சில் நீர்" (குறுந்தொகை, 56: 2)

"Cil nīr" (Kuṟuntokai, 56: 2)

Small amount of water

"சில் அதர்" (பெருங்கதை, 77: 194)

"Cil atar" (Peruṅkatai, 77: 194)

Small path

"என் சில்லைச் சிறு குடில்" (சிலப்பதிகாரம் 16: 147)

"Eṉ cillaic ciṟu kuṭil" (Cilappatikāram 16: 147)

My humble little hut

* * *

Ālai meaning a mechanical device to get juice from sugarcane is listed as Dravidian (DED 387). The word in Caṅkam diction also meant a shed where the juice is extracted and processed. Later, Ālai was used to mean all mechanical devises and mills processing raw material and also to mean the workshops or factories.

The etymology may be related to Āl, Āli and Ālu as verbs meaning to make loud sound, or to the verb Alai related to shake or to whirl as in Alamaru (see usage example below)

* * *

Ālai meaning sugarcane mill:

"ஆலைக்கு அலமரும் தீங் கழைக் கரும்பே (மலைபடுகடாம், 118-119)

"Ālaikku alamarum tīṅ kaḻaik karumpē" (Malaipaṭukaṭām, 118-119)

(The straight-grown) sweet-stemmed sugarcane would whirl to the machine (Ālai)

Ālai meaning the mill-shed processing sugarcane juice:

"விசயம் அடூ-உம் புகை சூழ் ஆலை" (பெரும்பாணாற்றுப்படை, 261-262)

"Vicayam aṭū-um pukai cūḻ ālai" (Perumpāṇāṟṟuppaṭai, 261-262)

The smoky mill-shed where sugarcane juice is boiled

* * *

Cekku, commonly meaning an oil-mill in Tamil, is of Indo-Aryan etymology corresponding to Cakra in Sanskrit and Cakka in Prakrit, basically meaning a wheel.

The early usages of Cekku in Tamil could be seen in the post-Caṅkam literature Nālaṭiyār and in inscriptions dating from 7th century CE.

The word-form is related to Prakrit than to Sanskrit. The Sanskrit-related form, Cakkara-entiram, is seen only in later literatures in Tamil.

Cekku is one example that shows Tamil-Prakrit interaction preceding Tamil-Sanskrit interaction.

The phrase Cekkālai, used in the meaning of an oil-mill in Tamil inscriptions, is a combination of the two words, Cekku and Ālai, both meaning the same. Phrases are coined like this when words of two different linguistic streams overlap in common usage. Tamil grammar notes this feature as "iru-peyar-oṭṭup-paṇput-tokai."

The Sinhala word-form Sekku for oil-mill is closer to Tamil in adopting the Prakrit word-form Cakka.

* * *

Cekku meaning oil-mill:

"இவ்வூர்ச் செக்குள்ளன எல்லாம் நட்டுத் திருவிளக்குக்கேய்வாய எண்ணை" (Tamil inscription, 869 CE, EI, xi, 22a)

"Ivvūrc cekkuḷḷaṉa ellām natṭut tiruviḷakkukkēyvāya eṇṇai" (Tamil inscription, 869 CE, EI, xi, 22a)

Let the oil suitable for the sacred lamps be obtained by milling in every oil-mill in this village

Cekkālai meaning oil-mill:

"செக்காலைச் சேரி" (Tamil inscription, 911 CE, SII, xix, 92)

"Cekkālaic cēri" (Tamil inscription, 911 CE, SII, xix, 92)

The oil-mill hamlet

Cakkara-entiram meaning oil-mill:

"சக்கர எந்திரம் புரியும் களனில்" (12th century CE, பெரியபுராணம், 4036)

"Cakkara entiram puriyum kaḷanil" (12th century CE, Periyapurāṇam, 4036)

In the field where the oil-mill functions

Cakkarap-pāṭi as guild of oil-millers:

"தயில வினைத் தொழில் மரபில் சக்கரப் பாடித் தெருவு" (12th century CE, பெரியபுராணம், 4031)

"Tayila viṉait toḻil marapil cakkarap pāṭit teruvu" (12th century CE, Periyapurāṇam, 4031)

The street of the guild of Cakkarp-pāṭi the professional tradition of which is oil-milling

* * *

Ālai meaning a stable, hall, hall-like structure etc., finds usage in Caṅkam diction. This word is a cognate of Śāla in Sanskrit meaning the same.

Kālai meaning a cattle-pen, enclosure, carpentry workshop, sawmill etc., in Eezham Tamil and Gāla meaning shed or enclosure in Sinhala, may be related to Śāla (Ś/ K/ G change) or it may be of a different etymology (see column 488).

The usage of Ālai in the meaning of stable:

"பெருங் களிறு இழந்த பைதற் பாகன் அது சேர்ந்து அல்கிய ஆலை வெளில் பாழாகக் கண்டு கலுழ்ந்தாங்கு" (புறநானூறு, 220: 2-4)

"Peruṅ kaḷiṟu iḻanta paitaṟ pākaṉ atu cērntu alkiya aḻuṅkal ālai veḷil pāḻākak kaṇṭu kaluḻntāṅku" (Puṟanāṉūṟu: 220: 2-4)

Ālai as a hall:

"நம்மூர் ப்₃ரஹ்மஸ்தானத்து சதுராலை" (Tamil inscription, 1011 CE, SII, vii, 412)

"Nammūr Brahmastāṉattu caturālai" (Tamil inscription, 1011 CE, SII, vii, 412)

The four-pillared hall at the centre of our city [catur-ālai]

* * *

Vaṅkam meaning ship or boat in Tamil is related to Vaṅku meaning hollow and Vāṅku as verb meaning to bend in Tamil/ Dravidian (DED 5212, 5335).

Vaṅkam as big ship and Vaṅkūḻ as navigation wind:

"உலகு கிளர்ந்தன்ன உரு கெழு வங்கம்
புலர்வுத்திரைப் பெருங்கடல் நீர் இடைப் போழ
இரவும் எல்லையும் அசைவு இன்று ஆகி
விரை செலல் இயற்கை வங்கூழ் ஆட்ட
கோடு உயர் திணி மணல் அகன் துறை நீகான்
மாட ஒள் எரி மருங்கு அறிந்து ஒய்ய
ஆள்வினைப் பிரிந்த காதலர்" (அகநானூறு, 255: 1-7)

"Ulaku kiḷarntaṉṉa uru keḻu vaṅkam
Pularvuttiraip peruṅkaṭal nīr iṭaip pōḻa,
Iravum ellaiyum acaivu iṉṟu āki
Virai celal iyaṟkai vaṅkūḻ āṭta
Kōṭu uyar tiṇi maṇal akaṉ tuṟai nīkāṉ
Māṭa oḷ eri maruṅku aṟintu oyya
Āḷviṉaip pirinta kātalar…" (Akanāṉūṟu, 255: 1-7)

The huge ship (Vaṅkam), looking like a world rising up, would not stop for nights and days in piercing the wavy waters of the great sea. It will be moved by the favourable navigation wind (Vaṅkūḻ) that is fast-blowing by nature. The captain would sail the ship, guided by bright light lit on towers (lighthouses) in the shores of peaking sand dunes. This was the ship in which my lover left on an enterprise seeking prosperity.

Vaṅkam as boat:

"இருங் கழி இழி தரும் ஆர் கலி வங்கம்" (புறநானூறு, 400: 20)

"Iruṅ kaḻi iḻi tarum ār kali vaṅkam" (Puṟanāṉūṟu, 400: 20)

The (fishing) boats of clamorous people that come into the big backwaters (for beaching)

Vaṅkam in the seas of Maṉṉār:

"வங்கம் மலிகின்ற கடல் மாதோட்ட நன்நகர்" (சுந்தரர் தேவாரம் 7: 80: 5)

"Vaṅkam malikiṉṟa kaṭal mātōṭṭa naṉnakar" (Cuntarar Tēvāram, 7: 80: 5)

The good city of Mātōṭṭam (Māntai in Maṉṉār), situated by the sea that is abounding with ships

* * *

Cillālai is a coastal village in Valikamam Southwest division of Jaffna district.

Pērālai is in Tarmakkēṇi in Pachchilaippalli division of Kilinochchi district.

Cekkālai is a place in Paḷḷikkuṭā in Poonakari division of Kilinochchi district.

Vaṅkālai is a coastal place in Nanaddan division of Mannar district.

* * *

Some related place names:

Ālai: (suffix)

Iḷavālai: Valikamam North, Jaffna. Iḷa: small, new, junior; from Iḷa meaning young (Tamil, DED 513). See column 167

Paṉṉālai: Valikamam North, Jaffna

Kaḷakālai: Vacāviḷāṉ, Valikamam North, Jaffna (Balasundaram, p. 354)

Poṉṉālai: Valikamam West, Jaffna. The form Poṉṉālai is noticed in the 18th century literature, Paṟāḷai Vināyakar Paḷḷu, verse 79. Legends associate the place with a golden temple that existed here in pre-colonial times. But Puṉṉālai is the form commonly seen in local usage. If Poṉṉālai is the original form coming from a golden temple, then Ālai here means a hall (Ālai 3)

Puṉṉālai: Valikamam West, Jaffna. See Poṉṉālai

Puṉṉālaik-kaṭṭuvaṉ: Valikamam South, Jaffna. This place name may be strengthening the case for the spelling Puṉṉālai

Ēḻālai: Valikamam South, Jaffna. 1. Ēḻu: seven (Tamil, DED 910); 2. Eḻu: a component coming in Jaffna place names, probably meaning an enclosure built of irregular stones, commonly seen in Jaffna; related to Eḻu: (verb) to raise or build as a wall (Tamil, DED 851); Aḻu: high wall of irregular stones around an orchard (Malayalam, DED 286); 3: Eṭār: plain or open field (Tamil, DED 781, Ṭ/ Ḻ interchange). See column 225

Tampālai: Valikamam East, Jaffna. Note place names such as Tampa-ciṭṭi, Tampa-kāmam, Pokkaḷan-tampai etc., in Jaffna. Tampa may be related to Tampal meaning mud or a type of muddy paddy field; or may be related to Daṁba meaning a burnt and cleared field

Irupālai: Valikamam East, Jaffna. May or may not be related to Ālai

Tuṉṉālai: Vadamaratchi Southwest, Jaffna

Puttālai: Vadamaratchi Southwest, Jaffna (Balasundaram, p. 336)

Iyaṟṟālai: Thenmaratchi, Jaffna

Caracālai: Thenmaratchi, Jaffna

Mīcālai: Thenmaratchi, Jaffna

Ariyālai: Nallur, Jaffna

Kariyālai: Poonakari, Kilinochchi. Kari: 1. Kari-nilam, Karu-nilam: wasteland where crops failed (Tamil, DED 1285); note place names like Kariyal-vayal and Kariyal-veḷi in Vanni; 2. Kari: a term meaning land in general, "Kiraṅ kaṭampaṉār kari", meaning the landed property of a person called Kīraṅ-kaṭampam (Tamil, inscription, 844 CE, TAS, ii, p. 13-14); 3. Karicālai: a plant, "Karicalāṅkaṇṇi, Kaiyān-takarai," Eclipta alba (Tamil, MTL).

Pēcālai: Mannar Town, Mannar. In this case the place name may be from Pēyc-cāḷaik-kuṯā; from Pēyc-cāḷai: a species of sardine fish

Vaṅkālaip-pāṭu: Pesalai, Mannar Town, Mannar. Pāṭu: beach for seine fishing. The people of Vaṅkālai established a fishing settlement at this place.

Iḷukkālai: Koralaippattu, Batticaloa. Iḷukku: a grass; Kālai/ Ālai in this case seems to be related to Kālai/ Gāla meaning cattle pen or thicket. See column 488

Ēttālai: Nāvitaṉ-veḷi, Amparai; Kalpitti, Puttalam (the latter in One Inch Sheet). Ēttālai: mid-term cultivation (Batticaloa dialect, Kanthaiya. V. C., p. 118); Ẹttala: elephant stable (Sinhala, Clough, App.).

* * *

Ālai: (prefix)

Ālaiyaṭi-veṭṭai: Eravur Pattu, Batticaloa. Veṭṭai: open land

Ālaiyaṭi-vempu: Amparai, Amparai. Vempu: arid land

* * *


Pērāṟu: Pēr-āṟu: Kantalai, Trincomalee; Puthukkudiyiruppu, Mullaiththeevu. Āṟu: river, stream

* * *


Cekkaṭip-pulavu: The cultivation field near the oil-mill; Vaviniya, Vavuniya

Cekkaṭik-kuḷam: The tank near the oil-mill; Madu, Mannar

* * *


Eḻu-vaṅka-nāccimār-kōyil: Aṉalai-tīvu, Kayts division, Jaffna (HAM temple records). The worship of Seven Maidens in this case is associated with a myth that they had come in seven ships

* * *



Vaṅkālai was strategically located at the southern entrance of the ancient passage for boats and ships plying between the Gulf of Mannār and Palk Strait.

This narrow passage, hemmed between Mannār and Māntai, was the only facilitation for the sailing ships of ancient and medieval times to cross the Adam's Bridge reef on the side of the island. It was parallel to the Pāmpaṉ channel on the Indian side. The Vaṅkālai channel got blocked by silt and growth of reef in the recent centuries.

There was a time when the Old World trade from the Roman Empire to China and vice versa, was passing through these waters. The channel was conducive for the development of a transit point of exchange. The pearl diving in the Gulf of Mannār was an added attraction to the trade.

The ancient emporium Māntai or Mātōaṭṭam, which flourished due to this trans-oceanic trade, was located a few kilometers north of Vaṅkālai, at the northern entrance of the passage. Archaeological remains are found in Vaṅkālai too.
* * *
The location of Vangkaalai and Maanthai in the route of ancient navigation
The location of Chillalai: Note the meeting of the three waters and the accumulating sandbanks blocking one of the entrances of the Jaffna Lagoon. [Satellite Image courtesy: Google Maps]
The Chillam area at the tip of Mannaar island. Note the sandbanks, Adams Bridge and the Channel between the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannaar. [Satellite Image courtesy: Google Maps]

Revised: Friday, 03 March 2017, 19:23

First published: Saturday, 16 June 2007, 01:00

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