Know the Etymology: 39
Place Name of the Day: Saturday, 03 June 2017




The Javanese settlement

Cēri town, village, hamlet, street, quarters of the Paṟaiyar community (Tamil, DED 2007); assemblage, village street (Malayalam, DED 2007, cognates in 7 Dravidian languages); street having many houses (Tamil, Kuṟuntokai, 231: 1); cluster of houses (Tamil, Naṟṟiṇai, 63: 3); village (Tamil, Tivākaram, 5: 97); part of village, as western part, eastern part etc., "Mēṟ-cēri, Kīḻc-cēri" (Tamil, Brahmi inscriptions, ETE, 112, 113); quarters of a caste or community within a large village (Tamil, Kalittokai 117: 6); Cēr: (verb) to gather, assemble, admit to one's society, be collected, aggregated (Tamil, DED 2814, cognates in 17 Dravidian languages)
Cāvakar Javanese; from Cāvakam: Jāvā (Tamil, Maṇimākalai, 14: 74); Yāvaka, Jāvaka: of Jāvā country (Sinhala, Sorata); Yāva-dvīpa: (Sanskrit, Rāmāyaṇa, Hobson-Jobson, Coedes, p. 53); Yava-koṭi: (Sanskrit, c. 5th century CE, Aryabhaṭa, IV, v. 13; Hobson-Jobson); Zābaj: (Arab, 943 CE, Maṣūdi; Hobson Jobson); Java: (1298 CE, Marco Polo; Hobson Jobson); etymology uncertain (Hobson Jobson, Coedes, p. 53)

Cēri meaning a town, village, hamlet, enclave, community quarters, cluster of houses, street etc. in Tamil (DED 2007) comes from the verb Cēr in Tamil (DED 2814), meaning to gather, admit to one's society, be collected etc.

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Cēri meaning a village:

"யானும் நின் சேரியேனே" (அகநானூறு, 386: 10)

"Yāṉum niṉ cēriyēṉē" (Akanāṉūṟu, 386: 10)

I also belong to your village

Cēri meaning cluster of houses or hamlet:

"கல்லென் சேரி" (நற்றிணை, 63: 3)

"Kalleṉ cēri" (Naṟṟiṇai, 63: 3)

The noisy Cēri [a fishing hamlet in this context]

Cēri meaning an enclave or street in a large settlement:

"ஓர் ஊர் வாழினும் சேரி வாரார்" (குறுந்தொகை, 231: 1)

"Ōr ūr vāḻiṉum cēri vārār" (Kuṟuntokai, 231: 1)

Even if he lives in the same village, he doesn't come to my street or enclave

Cēri meaning a halve or division of a large village or town:

"முகையுரு மேற்[சே]ரி[கு] யாடிக் கருகிய கோழி"

"Mukaiyuru mēṟc[ē]ri[ku] yāṭik karukiya kōḻi" (Tamil Brahmi inscription, ETE 112)

The cock that fought on behalf of the Mēṟ-cēri (western halve) of the village Mukaiyūru and perished [The inscription with an engraving of a cock is found on a memorial stone erected for it after it perished in a cock fight probably held between two halves of the same village]

Cēri meaning quarters of a community within a large village:

"சேரிக் கிழவன் மகளேன் யான்" (கலித்தொகை, 117:6)

"Cērik kiḻavaṉ makaḷēṉ yāṉ" (Kalittokai, 117: 6)

I am the daughter of the man of the Cēri [a cattle-herders enclave in this context]

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The terms Cāvakam for a country and Cāvakar for its people in Tamil come from the geographical identity Jāvā in today's Indonesia. In old usages of certain times, the term was generally covering the entire Malay world or maritime Southeast Asia.

Jaffna was under Javanese rule for nearly three decades in the 13th century. Cāvakaccēri is considered as a surviving toponymic memory of this legacy.

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Usage of the term Cāvakam in old Tamil:

"சாவக நல் நாட்டுத் தண் பெயல் மறுத்தலின்" (மணிமேகலை, 14: 74)

"Cāvaka nal nāṭṭut taṇ peyal maṟuttaliṉ" (Maṇimēkalai, 14: 74)

As rain fails in the good country of Cāvakam

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Cāvakaccēri is the headquarters of Thenmaradchi division of Jaffna district.

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Some related place names:


Mā-cēri: Thenmaradchi, Jaffna

Vaṭa-cēri: a locality in Periya-viḷāṉ, Valikamam North, Jaffna (V. almanac)

Pulaic-ceri: a settlement in the northern part of the island noted in Chola inscriptions (EI, xxii, 14)

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Cāvāṅ-kōṭṭai: located near Nāvaṟ-kuḻi, Jaffna. This is a Javanese fort or settlement in Jaffna noted in Yāḻpāṇa Vaipava Mālai. Kōṭṭai: fort

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Notes on Cāvakar in Jaffna

Around mid 13th century CE, Chandrabhanu, a Cāvaka (Javanese) ruler of the kingdom of Tambralinga, invaded Ilaṅkai twice. According to historiographical chronicles of the island, his armies wielding blowpipes and poisonous arrows landed at Trincomalee and attacked Polonnaruva.

Tambralinga is identified with Ligor, which is in the Isthmus part of today's Thailand, close to Kedah (Kaṭāram) of today's Malaysia. The capital was Paṭṭaṇi.

It is often pointed out that Chandrabhanu invaded Ilaṅkai from a Southeast Asian kingdom, which at that time was Javanese, but heavily influenced by Tamils.

He succeeded in occupying Northern Ilaṅkai and ruling it from Jaffna. The Cāvaka rule of Jaffna probably lasted for three decades. 

Note the strategic importance of Jaffna to a ruler of the Isthmus of Kra for the control of the 10 Degree Channel navigation route. It is exactly for the same reason the Dutch, who had their colonial empire in the East Indies, paid a special attention to Jaffna and maintained their colony at Nākappaṭṭiṉam on the opposite coast for a long time, even after losing Ceylon to the British. 

The Cāvaka rule was brought to an end by the defeat of the son of Chandrabhanu by the Pandyas of Maturai, which paved way for the beginning of the rule of Arya Cakravartis as kings of Jaffna. 

Cāvakac-cēri and Cāvāṅ-kōṭṭai (the fort of Javanese) at nearby Nāvatkuḻi are considered as remnants of the Javanese/ Malay legacy in Jaffna.

The advent was prior to Javanese/ Malays becoming Muslims and they were probably absorbed into the local population. But even later, Javanese/ Malays came to the island through colonial connections, participating in the expeditions of the Portuguese and the Dutch. They played an important role in the capture of Jaffna and Maṉṉār by the Dutch from the Portuguese in 1657.

From 1706 on wards, a large number Javanese/ Malay nobility and their families was brought to the island as war prisoners by the Dutch, as the Dutch were expanding their colonial empire in the Dutch East Indies. This group, settled mostly in the Southern Province maintained its identity as Malays, which now make 5 per cent of the Muslims in the island. 

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South Asia and Southeast Asia: Navigation Routes [Image outline courtesy: Google Earth]

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Revised: Saturday, 03 June 2017, 18:30

First published: Monday, 23 July 2007, 01:00

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