Havyaka Heritage

The word Havyaka was transcended from words Havyaga or Haveega  or Haiga, which means the one who performs Havana (Havya) and Homa (Gavya), since the very purpose of Havyaka Brahmins was to perform the royal rituals and the related functions of the empirical government. In fact, the name “Haiga” persists in Havyaka lexicon.

The word Havyaka might also be derived from the place named Haigunda (Honnavar Taluk, Uttara Kannada District). That region of Karnataka which has been inhabited by Havyakas from ancient times is also called Parashurama Kshethra, Gorastra Gesha, Gokarna Mandala.

The Havyakas are united by their unique language. They speak  dialect of Kannada known as Havyaka/haiga Kannada. It is 60-70% similar to mainstream Kannada but draws more words from ancient Kannada. However, most mainstream Kannada speakers find it difficult to understand Havyaka Kannada. The Havyaka dialect is supposed to be quite old. Its origins, like many other things in India, are shrouded in mystery.

Geographic distribution

Havyakas are mainly concentrated in the state of Karnataka. Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, Shivamogga, Chikkamangalur, Kodagu districts in Karnataka and Kasarogod in Kerala are the districts where Havyakas have lived for centuries. They are now spread all over India, especially in metropolitan cities of Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi and other industrial and business centers. Havyakas are also in large numbers in countries like United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Gulf Countries and other places outside India.

Population of Havyakas all around the world is estimated to be around 2 million.

Roots of Havyaka Brahmins

 It is beyond a doubt that each human group is biologically distinct and culturally unique, and we Havyakas are no exception to this rule. But our uniqueness lies in our historical and cultural distinctiveness from the other Brahmin sects of Karnataka. Fortunately for us, it has not entered the glass cases of museums, and even to this date we still carry that cultural legacy with us and feel that difference from the others. However, what most of us are not aware of is the root of this sect from our branching point. Of course, who is not interested in knowing one’s origin? But facts about our origin are hard to come by since there have been no serious efforts to think about it, let alone mine the treasure and wealth of information. This article is an effort to re-establish what we are and bring those little known facts about our roots to the readers. Because of the paucity of time and the unreachable distance for reference materials, we are only trying to recollect our earlier readings to make a short article on our unique sect, which for obvious reasons make the facts and figures reach only near the first approximation. However, if your short journey through this article carries you through that intangible pleasure of knowing one’s roots, which we ourselves have experienced, then we think our article will have served its purpose.

     As Dr. K. S. Singh puts it, every community in India recalls its migration in its history and folklore and thus an Indian is a migrant par excellence. Historically, we Havyakas are the first of the Brahmin kind to descend to the present day Karnataka around 3rd century A.D., followed by other sects like Shivalli, Smarthas etc., who arrived much later, around 7th century A.D. However, the scientific school of thought places the date of our immigration back to about 1300 years ago. The Brahmin king Raja Mayooravarma was instrumental in bringing the first 30 or so families. It is believed that the Kadamba kingdom had many Kshatriyas and we were brought in to perform the royal rituals and the related functions of the empirical government. Thus the first few families were settled in Banavasi, the beautiful capital of the Kadambas and the place so adored by Pampa. Since the very purpose of bringing these Brahmin families was to perform Havana (Havya) and Homa (Gavya), they were aptly named as Havyaga or Haveega, which has transcended to the present day “Havika” or “Havyaka.” In fact, the name “Haiga” persists in our lexicon. This functionality of naming even extended to the specific role played by families in the whole gamut of rituals. Thus originated the seven family names given to us by Raja Mayooravarma. The Havyakas are the only Brahmins who derive their surnames from the job they perform rather than by their origin (e.g., Kota, Shivalli) or by the preacher (e.g., Madhva) or by God they worship (e.g., Shivite, Vaishnavite). Thus came the names “Hegade (Hegde)” for the head of the village who sponsors the ritualistic activities, “Dixit” for one who is the head of the Yajna, “Bhat”, who actually performs the rituals and so on (please refer to the book Havyakara Ithihasa for a detailed account). Raja Mayooravarma’s act of bringing us into Banavasi has been inscribed on a stone stab (one of the so called “Shilashasanas”) from the period of the Kadambas, which now lies near the village of Varadahalli in Sagar Taluk of Shimoga district.

     It might be purely coincidental that the first Havyaka migrants were asked to settle in the beautiful habitat of woods, hills and rivers of the Malnad valleys. But we cannot resist the thought that this first encounter of the early settlers with the beautiful and enchanting nature pervaded into their culture and transmitted to all their future generations. One can find the evidence for this if one tries to look at their current geographical distribution in the districts of Chikkamagalur, Dakshina Kannada, Shimoga and Uttara Kannada. It is therefore no wonder that, in general, we are so hospitable, friendly and soft-spoken. Nature surrounding us has molded much of our behavior, but unfortunately, most of us are unaware of this priceless and invaluable gift. Beyond all this, there are some unique features that we have as Brahmins. We are the only sect that worships all gods and goddesses irrespective of the individual family deity, while many Brahmin sects have limitations about whom they worship (e.g., Shivites, Vaishnavites). We are the only ones (at least most of us) who plough the land and cultivate crops by ourselves, and we do not have subordinates do it for us (like landlords). We are also the only Brahmins who derive our names from the jobs that we perform (see above).

     Since the beginning of civilized human society, people have learned and benefited much from historical mistakes. History says that the so-called “Aryan race” invaded the Northern part of India before the Christian era. But lately reasonable doubts have been expressed by many Indian historians about the Aryan invasion theory, as this story originated with European authors without any tangible evidence. However, the truth remains that the Northern and the Southern parts of India were inhabited by people of different skin color, which is evident even to this date, and that the Dravidians existed before a foreign invasion. To quote an American historian, “this is the only country in the world where one can still see the history alive and vivid, and cultures and customs practiced more than 2000 years ago are still intact in everyday life.” Therefore we find it reasonable to accept the fact that at least two major human groups inhabited the Indian subcontinent, and further that we are probably the descendants of the group of lighter skin color from the Northern part of the country, if what is written in the following paragraph is true.

     While the inscription near Varadahalli is a definite proof that we were brought in from a place by name “Ahichchathra,” it is a controversy as to where this place is. The author of Havyakara Ithihasa places it at three points: (1) at Gokarna in Kumta taluk of Uttara Kannada district, (2) in Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, and (3) in Bareilly district of Uttara Pradesh. Incidentally, all these points have or had a place by the name of Ahichchathra. The author feels that it is probably the third by a process of elimination rather than by facts, which have not been discovered. Thus, the argument goes that Gokarna came to existence after Banavasi and the district of Godavari did not have any Brahmins living in its bounds today. Thus it is deduced that we came from some place in the state of Uttara Pradesh. It is, however, interesting to note here that some sects of people in Uttara Pradesh do have certain cultural similarities to those of Havyakas including tilling and cultivating the land by themselves. Whether this is a coincidental residue of some original race (Aryan?) or a related fact is controversial and remains to be uncovered. Therefore it is only an educated guess that we are rooted in Uttara Pradesh. We would like to state here that some people also think that our ancestors came from somewhere in Kashmir.

     There is no doubt that our sect is a small, unique, endogamous group. We also seem to have a high average intelligence. Of course, there are many such groups in India with high intelligence quotient, but we feel that our sect is rationally different in many worldly affairs. We are not bound to ritualistic fanaticism, but we respect all communities including those of other castes. Likewise, Brahmins were not supposed to till the land, but we took a more practical approach and outlook towards life and indulged in cultivation. These and many other things clearly point to the critical rational thinking of our forbearers. Howard Gardner lists seven forms of intelligence: spatial, musical, logical, mathematical, linguistic etc. This classification has been widely accepted since the first edition (1983) of his book and is slowly replacing the earlier verbal and pencil-paper mathematical intelligence, which is still practiced throughout the world. Though any of the aspects relating to our sect have not been quantified, just a casual observation shows that we excelled in verbal and mathematical logic as seen in our educational excellence. We also excelled in musical and bodily kinesthetic intelligence (dance or Yakshagana). More prominently, we are extremely good at personal intelligence (interpersonal relationship is a part of this), which probably made us so hospitable and tolerant. This gift cannot be explained fully by good sets of genes of our ancestors, as majority of genetics experiments show that, on an average, inheritance of intelligence is only around 30%. Therefore, just imagine the influence of the environment, both physical and cultural, on this sect. We are not glorifying one sect over another here, but simply wonder about the evolutionary secret behind our success from our roots. If we got so much from that place, people and culture, maybe it is our moral duty to respect our genealogy in some way or another.

     In conclusion to this short article, everything seems to point to the fact that we migrated to our present day habitat from somewhere else. The multi-series volume on the People of India was dedicated to the scientific community and for people who are interested, it might even be available somewhere on CD-ROMs of FTP sites (the information generated has been stored in 128 diskettes). While the current population of our community is believed to stand at around 100,000 individuals, there is a clear dearth of comprehensive anthropological study about the origin and the subsequent migration of Havyakas. Since all the facts are neither known nor available to us here, we have written this article from a skeptical point of view. It is therefore imminent that such a study is very much warranted, by someone among us or somebody else. If someone earnestly wants to do this, the Havyaka community should come forward to sponsor him/her for scientific and anthropological cause. Searching our roots is really a field worth studying, not only for our sake, but also for the sake of the scientific community. In the age when atoms and molecules and chips and computers are ruling the world, such studies will also be monumental!


     Much of our thoughts in this article was shaped by our readings of the book, Havyakara Ithihasa written by Shri H.M. Timmappa from the Sagar taluk of Shimoga district. We suggest interested readers go through this and the references thereof, as well as the following reference sources for more details about our heritage.


  1. Havyakara Ithihasa, 1992. This book has been aptly named for its content. The book has several facts about social, economical, religious and other lifestyles of Havyakas. The author has made an attempt to dig out our roots, complete with some references.
  2. TSS (Totigara Sahakari Sangha or Totagar’s Society, Sirsi, Uttara Kannada) Silver/Golden jubilee publication.
  3. People of India: An Introduction, 1992. This is a 120-volume series by the Anthropological Survey of India, published by Seagull Books, Calcutta. This work delves deeply into the ethnographic bio-diversity and anthropological profile of 2753 communities of India and entwines 776 characters (like customs, occupation, language etc.) on each sect. The project was a brainchild of Dr. K. S. Singh, Director-General of the Anthropological Society of India, New Delhi. For more details on this publication, see Current Science 64(1): 3-10, 10th January 1993. The series was incomplete until 1995 and only the first few volumes had come out at that time.
  4. Mountain, Gadgil, Bhattacharya and others. “Demographic history of India and mtDNA sequence diversity,” American Journal of Human Genetics, April 1995. This article compares the mitochondrial DNA of Havyakas of Uttara Kannada with those of Mukris (Scheduled Caste) and Kadars (a tribe).
  5. Gadgil and Prasad, 1993/1994. “Peopling of India.” Paper presented at History conference, Mysore. In this, the authors speculate about the origin of Havyakas.
  6. Howard Gardner, 1993. Frames of mind: Theory of multiple intelligence.

For further comments and/or discussions, please contact the authors of this article (originally published in July1995 in the book entitled Havyaka Association of the Americas) below by:

Subraya G. Hegde Nagendra R. Hegde