A Knife for all Seasons
An enduring symbol of valor and communal identity
Communities worldwide who have a distinctive martial history tend to display this in some form or other. Mostly these cultural markers show up in family coat of arms or characteristic attire that sets them apart.
The Kodavas of Coorg occupy a special place in the annals of Karnataka’s history going long back to pre-colonial times. They have distinguished themselves as a valorous people with their own tales of courage and confrontation with animals and oppressors.
Over the course of time, they came to accumulate certain symbols of martial mettle that conferred upon them a singular identity. The knives are two of these.
On ceremonial occasions the Kodavas of Coorg exhibit their history for all to see.
The men wear a coat (kupya) with a sash (chale) in maroon and gold around the middle, inserted into which are two knives – the large odi kathi at the back and the smaller dagger like pecche kathi in front.
In the past the primary role of these were as weapons of self-defense and martial prowess. Today, however, they are symbols of status and carriers of a communal legacy that come to prominence during important social occasions, such as weddings, sporting events, harvests and funerals.
The Peeche Kathi is an ornately fashioned dagger with silver and precious stones that serves as a marker of social standing and wealth among individual Kodava families.
In wedding ceremonies, it is used to scoop out the soft flesh of a coconut that is offered to guests as a symbolic ritual.
The Peeche Kathi also figures prominently among the weapons that are consecrated in a special pooja every year called Kailpoldhu , a tradition that celebrates and reinforces the bonds between the Kodava community and their Kshatriya heritage.