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Of Tigers and Men

The mustache is a symbol of valor and strength among the Kodavas

The mustache has been celebrated as a symbol of masculinity and courage for a long time. As a result, men with mustaches were given a special place in ancient societies.  


The mustache subtly signaled valour and virility. The adorning of the male mustache also revealed religious and cultural norms in many traditional societies.  Cultural ingenuity served to turn the mustache into a powerful signal of social status.  The thicker and bigger they were, the more awe and respect they commanded.

Traditional Indian societies had their fair share of mustachioed men. Needless to say, these were on top of the social order, belonging either to the warrior class or the nobility of the time.      


Closer to home, the Kodavas of Coorg were also renowned for their impressive mustaches – the gala mishi, or the grand mustache - representing martial prowess as well as social status.  


A ritual tale among the Kodavas is that of ‘Nari Mangala’, or marrying the tiger. Tigers have always been seen as being strong and ferocious, yet intelligent and graceful – qualities that every warrior and soldier would wish to embody. When a Kodava hunter happened to shoot a tiger in the jungles of Coorg in pre-independence times, it made big news in his community.

The man who killed a tiger was not an ordinary one. Indeed, the hunter had qualities akin to the hunted. To commemorate this, a ceremony was held where the hunter became the groom who wedded the soul of the departed tiger, symbolically incorporating its fierce spirit. The hunter would now be permitted to wear the ‘gala mishi’ in the manner of the Rajas of Coorg as a token of his skill and bravery.

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