Being Kodava – “No Thank you”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going against the theme of this blog by saying “no thanks” to being a Kodava. That’t not what this is about. Often I get asked where I’m from and more often than not people haven’t heard about Coorg. I also sometimes explain to people how and why the culture is so different from those that surround us.  There’s a lot of hype about our origins, including that we’re somehow connected with the Greeks of Alexander’s time. “Being Kodava” is my take on what it is to be a Kodava, and some of the things we should be proud of.

Someone once asked me how do you say thank you in your language. I told them in my language, we do not have words for “Thank you, Please, or Sorry”. We have never been taught it, and as far as I know, these words don’t exist. Did they once exist but were got rid of once the brits took  over our educational system? We’ll never know. But what I was told was the reason for this paucity of “Golden words” is because for kodava’s,  it’s our duties as family, community and friends to help each other out at all times, to always be there for anything, without having to ask please if you want something, say thank you when you have been helped, or say sorry if you have hurt.

kodava coorg traditional wedding jewelery men peeche odi kathi

This is quite deep if you think about it. Western education is steeped in the use of golden and kind words almost mechanically, sometimes without really meaning it. Making helping others a duty is really unique in our culture, and it really has to do  with the unique clan setups we have in Coorg: Clans typically helped each other with everything from planting crops, defending them against wild animals, celebrations, festivals, weddings, wars, etc. Every traditional wedding begins with the close family members getting together to cook for the entire wedding. It is our duty to help.

See there is more to being Kodava than coffee, Greeks and our weddings!

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Krishna Kamala or Passion of Christ… did I fall from heaven??  

While walking around Kukkanalli pond in Mysore, I saw these wild fruits hanging from the vine on a fence which looked like a small wild passion fruit but was hairy like ramubtan. I was very sure it’s the cousin of passion fruit as the flower & the leaves looked same but I was not sure if the fruit is edible & as usual my husband would not let me pluck it to avoid me eating it. Known as Kukkiballi in Kannada is also called clock flower, love-in-a-mist and stinking*.

I have seen & tasted passion fruit all my life & simply love the amazing taste &, flavour of the juice which is hard to find on shelves even though its presence is felt strongly in most the cocktail juices. It’s a popular fruit in Kodagu & every one, young & old alike loves it. The pulp is used in juices, wines, ice creams, cakes (my mouth is watering, honestly), etc. Some of my relatives make amazing concentrates. There are more than 400 species in passion flower family passifloraceae & the flower is usually white & purple or mauve. Depending upon the variety & climatic conditions, there are many types of passion fruits & comes in different sizes, shapes & colours like purple/maroon, green, yellow etc & the taste could be sweet to sour to somewhere in in-between. Usually the purple/maroon ones are sweeter!!

When we were young we also used to eat a wild variety just like the passion fruit but with slightly elongated fruit with supple outer cover & white flower (I think), which is hardly seen these days. It said to have possessed many medicinal properties.

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Those who have not seen or eaten a passion fruit, the globose fruit have a white sack (which resembles dressed goat tripe – the Turkish towel like stomach cover) inside the smooth, hard outer shell/cover. The sack is filled with numerous black seeds with a very thin coating of orangish-yellow, pulpy-juicy flesh. Even when the fruit is wrinkled outside with aging, the sack inside remains fresh for some time.

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Coming back to the flower, it also comes in exotic colours such as dark purple, red, fuchsia, etc. But they are mostly ornamental & do not seems to be bearing fruits. The flower stays for a day only but blooms practically every day & butterflies are attracted to these flowers. The wild, cultivated & the hybrid flower formation looks the same at the first glance. But if you look closely it differs from one another. It looks as if so many different parts from different flowers are put together to form an unusual master piece. Human globalization is happening now but this species seems to be far ahead of us. The flowers usually have pleasant smell (at least the ones which are known to me).

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The amazing thing is that the uniquely beautiful flower & the vine is linked to scriptures & believes in different religion. The name passion flower was given by the 15th century Spanish Christian missionaries who thought that the flower depicted the crucifixion (passion) of Christ (Crown of Thorns (corona), & other parts as the instrument – 3-nails, 5-wounds, sponge of Gall & vinegar, Pillar of scourging, sacrificing blood, Centurion’s spear (leaf), lashing (tendrils) & the fruit (as globe). Some people also link it to sexual passion, after all a man sees in the world what he/her carries in his/her heart….

In India it is called both as Krishna Kamala (particularly the large purple one) & Paanch Paandav (Mahabharata). The unique formation of the perennial flower is supposed to symbolize or represent: The waxy-white Petals (5) alternating with sepals (5) with their green hook (awn) at the tip for ten Avtars of Vishnu, five 5 filaments with anther in the center for five well-armed Pandavas, the single ovary (bulb in the center) for Pandava queen Draupadi & the three styles with stigma for the holy trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. And the corona filaments are the Sudarshana-chakra of Lord Krishna. I was told that the filaments are hundred in number representing the Kauravas. I had to hire a pro-bono investigator to count the number… & luckily my husband’s niece who also has a degree in criminology fitted the bill & she reported back with a picture: I counted the filaments with a tweezers and there are exactly one hundred!!

To top it, the 3-lobed leaves which are alternately arranged along the stems & borne on stalks, shaped in trident (Lord Shiva’s weapon) form. Whatever one may perceive it as, one thing is certain that it is amazingly beautiful. Don’t believe me take a break & look in the neighborhood you might find one or go to a botanical garden!!

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I am sure besides being beautiful, there is something special about this flower as thousands of miles apart two different believers associated their belief in it!! After all the life spark/energy in me is the life spark/energy everywhere & everything comes from God almighty. If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder – Faith lies in the very being itself. When you are in love with God you can see God everywhere & in everything. This unusually beautiful flower looks out of this world… as if someone stole her from the heavenly garden & brought her to earth or perhaps she was so proud of herself & her significance, the weight of the pride brought her down to earth!!

The vine can be reproduced by seeds easily but it’s a very slow process. So commonly it is propagated by mature cuttings. This hardy long lasting vine loves sun but not scorching though & water, & unless groomed can grow uncontrollable yielding plenty of fruits under healthy conditions. So you have to provide a strong support. I vaguely remember seeing large bees & humming bird buzzing around. All the unopened buds from different species are light green in colour. The flower looks strong but it is delicate. The petals & sepals have the same finish & can be passed as petals. But if you look closely the sepals have green hook (awn) at the tip. It is said that each & every part of the flower has specific role which they play religiously!!

Among the flowers I have seen only the wild one on the bank of the pond had bracts, which are supposed to trap insects but if as merely as defensive mechanism to protect its flowers (think it was white) & fruits or is it carnivorous (digest & gain nourishment from its catch) is not known. Leaves & stems of this particular variety is said to be poisonous. Wondering if I should eat & test it??

The whole vine has medicinal properties & is used in treating digestive problems including dyspepsia & diarrhea, an astringent & expectorant for nervous conditions & spasms. Tea from the flower is an antioxidant & used to calm the mind (depressant) as well as sleeping aid, used to contain diarrhea/dysentery, neuralgia, etc.

Why Kodavas eat pork and not beef – Part 1/2

Coming back, all said & done I am sure the land was infested with Kadu-pandi (wild boars), the ancestors of present day domesticated pigs. Boars also known as suid, sus scrofa, wild swine & Eurasian wild pig, etc., are originated in Asia but where I have no idea!! Till the arrival & settling of Chandravama & Co., the land perhaps was filled with scores of free roaming wild animals. With no one to fear except the tigers and maybe leopards, & with plenty of water bodies/swamp, greens, roots & games, the highly adaptable hogs must have ruled the land with polle-pandi (female – sow). With the arrival of the humans & their farm lands & their domesticated animals it must have been a feast for the hogs.

The boars are opportunistic omnivores with voracious appetite (hence the term eat like a hog) & will eat anything that they can lay their hand sorry mouth on. I wonder how strong their long nose & lip must be as they plough anywhere & everywhere including under the bamboo bush which is hard surface to access. They are habitual rooters along with their strong nose in a constant search for food. With snouts to the ground, they eagerly push away the soil in search of tasty morsels including mushrooms. With their acute sense of smell acting as a guide, the dig-up gaily any rooted crops like colacasia, sweet potato, ginger, turmeric, etc. In the quite of the night months of work destroyed overnight. They affect agronomic crops as well as pasturelands, staying in an area long enough to devour its resources before moving on & crops like cardamom bushes are destroyed overnight. Vegetable patches, paddy fields, sugar cane plantation, you name it they attack it. They not only eat but also destroy everything beyond repair. I have seen their power of destruction with my own eyes when I was young. As a little girl I remember my father going wild-boar Bote (hunting) & it was/is considered a delicacy. Once killed it is usually shared among the hunters, neighbors & relatives, & at times dried for later use.

The boars are widest ranging mammals in the world as well as the most widely spread & their adaptability is the secret of their survival. They attack when they fancy, mostly moving in packs. Boars will mate with any sow in season, often battling for the opportunity but just does not perform any familial duties. The species lives in matriarchal societies, a sow herd consisting of young males, inter related females & their kutty (piglets – young ones). The groups known as drifts or sounder travel together as well as back each other against danger. Piglets likes to play, running around in circles & chaseing each other, barking & grunting in delight. Like most mothers sow is a superb protectoress & fearless when it comes to the protection of her young & they can form cooperative groups, & in danger they sound shrieking squeal & are smart enough to place their piglets in the center of their vicious circle of snapping, foaming jaws. However fully grown strong robust males are usually solitary outside of the breeding season. The matured ones with their powerful fangs are very ferocious & are capable of attacking humans & other mammals.

The law of jungle, the survival of the fittest & a hunger game of the yore.. Showcases the naked truth: Either you eat them or they will let you starve to death!! Or even you might become the victim… So the wise men/women seem to have come up with the indigenous idea. Instead of killing them outright why not make them the food? Against the back drop of mass killing of scores of foxes in New World by the newly arrived immigrant just because they linked the fox to witch craft back home or killing of tigers & elephants for fun.. or for that matter the recent killing spree of the over populated wild camels in Australia. But controlling the menace & making use of it is really ingenious!! Seems one of the most practical & smart idea from every angle. Everyone has to pay a price during the process of the cycle of evolution, why not make it advantageous? That’s what I would call the Art of Resource Management!!

Thus began the pork culture of Kodagu & became part & parcel of their culture. To go further they invented the perfect masala & vinegar which is laudable. I bet with you that no one can prepare pandi-curry like the Kodavas do!! The ruby red meat cooked with kartha (black) masala & kachumpuli is exceptional!! Kachumpuli also acts against the tape worms* & also reduces fat from the body. They also have chillie pork another specialty & of course the famous pandi chudukuva & the dry pork preparation. (I will post the recipe some time later). They also found a perfect combination kadambutt (round steamed rice balls) with the locally grown rice to go with it. So now it is the most famous combination not only with the Kodavas but also with the visitors, which strangely could be enjoyed any part of the day. Pandi-curry also goes well with otti (rice roti), taliyaput (cousin of idli), etc.

Kodavas made the boar hunting part of their sport activity too by organizing the group hunting trips. Annual Kailpodu (equivalent to Aayuda pooja) is the first festival of the year for Kodavas, just after they finish their transplantation work as an antidote for both the tired body as well as the pallet. Moreover they have to guard their future paddy crop & ensure the family is well fed throughout the year. So all the weapons, like guns, swords etc., resting in the Kanni Kombare (the prayer room) comes out, well cleaned & polished. Kodavas could keep the guns at home without license until a decade ago. Now we Kodavas can still keep the gun but with a license. The bravery & the necessity & of course the wise usage of gun had prompted the Britishers not to withdraw the guns from Kodavas also. Guess Kodavas were the only privileged ones in that respect in whole of India, like kukri for Ghurkas & kripan for Sikhs.

It is noteworthy that Kodavas don’t kill or eat piglings/piglet or the mothers in consideration to Mother Nature (obey the law of nature) & also to ensure both the supply as well as not to push them towards extinction. I remember my father telling me that no one on earth has the right to take the life of a (any) baby or deprive the baby of its mother. What a lesson passed on & included in our culture by our forefathers. Hats off to their forethoughts & it shows how advanced thinker they were. No wonder Kodava culture treats their children as poo-kunjis (child delicate as a flower) irrespective of the sex without gender bias.

In olden days, a day before the wedding the family used to organize boar hunting to throw banquet to their guests along with other mouthwatering delicacies. With the increasing population of people pouring into Kodagu, the boars have dwindled & hunting boar is prohibited which makes it a tradition of the past. However, the pork still stayed on as delicacy in their pallets along with scores of their dishes.

Basically boars (pigs) are clean & does not urinate of defecate in their sleeping quarters. With their thick skin, Boars are extremely heat sensitive & to cool themselves they roll in mud or wade in water. Pigs like to scratch & rub against trees, fencing & anything they deem fit. This also help them rid of parasites. It’s widely accepted fact that any animal that are allowed to roam & forage freely will be healthier & richer tasting than the farm fed as the muscle-enhancing movement generates a deeper, more flavorful meat. Logically the feral hog meat should be healthier than we give credit for as they are free roaming souls & eats loads of different roots & vegetables. It is said that hogs also eat small insects, birds & mammals if & when they can lay their mouth on.

I remember reading in many Southern parts of USA they are facing the problems with hogs especially the Texan… may be they can take lessons from our forefather’s Art of using Resources to their advantage than wiping out like the fox population… It can be used as a closed-loop system for sustainable meat: landowners can recover costs by selling their trapped pigs, & consumer can have the opportunity to eat some truly exceptional meat at a cheaper rate.

* Because of their constant contact with the soil, the boars are susceptible to tape worm infestation which could be passed on to humans unless the meat is cooked well. This is also applies to leafy vegetables grown in the infested soil so its wiser to wash the leaves especially the ones consumed raw such as coriander, lettuce, etc., in salt water. interesting winery incident on it later.

Our ephemeral memories on monuments

On June 6th 2014, the world witnessed the 70th celebrations commemorating the D-Day landing of allied forces on the shores of Normandy. An event commercially romanticized by the Hollywood & the media. Anything for publicity & cash in! The who & who of the big nations were present & news coverage went on & on. Old habits die hard…. Some avoided the hostile encounter so the host president got to eat many meals lunches/dinners in separate quarters. But I guess the French never complain about eating food!

Every time I hear of WWII three different persons comes to mind. First one is my late father who told me that India would never have got independence but for the Second WW, a tide which positively hastened the process for Indians. Otherwise the British would never let go a golden goose… & would still be sponging India of its riches. In a cruel twist, Indians owe thanks to Mr. Hitler, at least we are free from Gulamgiri! Born in free India I did not share much of his sentiments THEN but when I think of it NOW, it makes so much sense to me. Hitler certainly boosted the Cause of the Liberation by shaking the rock & creating financial crisis helping us free from the clutches of imperialism & a win against the racial inequality, & to help the sun to finally set in the British Empire. Something good comes out of everything that happens is true after all at least to few Asian & African countries!!

Second one is my late dear cousin whom I was very fond of, for a different reason. Celebrating the dead. She was the youngest among the seven siblings. Her mother lost 2 of her children when they were in their twenties. From then on the drama started. Every time there was any kind of function or festivities or any gathering, big or small, even at weddings, the mother would conjure her dead children. She would either cry nonstop or keep on praising the dead children. In the beginning it was ok but then it became an irritating affair. Every one misses the loved one & they have the right to be remembered but the ones living needs a life too. Any function among family was a doldrums & all the five remaining dreaded any celebrations, big or small. My cousin once told me I am afraid to die because I hate the thought of my mother crying & making my living siblings more miserable. It is not their mistake that they are alive!

Finally my cousin’s sister-in-law, whose husband suffers from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), once a lovely young couple, now they are divorced as his depression & night mares led him to substance abuse, violence & abusive combined with paranoia. The gap between his life of defense & the civilian society had a big dent. He lost two of his best friends in the war & he felt guilty because he survived them. She tried her best to help him but his both biological as well as psychological changes were too much for her to handle. They had no children & she realized that she could not baby sit or wet nurse her husband all her life.

My cousin’s mother & her life is a drop in the ocean; imagine the fate of thousands of soldiers returning home after fighting a proxy war. In the grand scheme of warfare who really gains is a trillion dollar question? Colour red seems to be the universal colour these days. It is said that at least every one in five returning from war front suffers from PTSD. How many comes out from it is no one knows. People are always connected by slices of the event. And sadly either bad or sad experiences are securely stored than the happy ones in human psyche. Unfortunately when one individual suffers the effected is on the entire family. Moreover the mental wound just does not end there!!

There are so many monument built in so many countries & spent millions on celebration of commemoration. Sadly, more concentration on the cement & brick than on the flesh & blood still standing & walking. Ironically no one seems to learn any lesson from the past either & history keeps repeating itself. The concrete cannot teach & the warm blood does not have any face or mouth to speak. Perhaps the money could be utilized for the welfare of the survivors & their families. May be every country which prefers sending their soldiers should spend on establishing sizable acreage of land and resources as a cradle for recovery for PTSD soldiers. An open place with peace, tranquility, fresh air, beautiful flowers &, knowing & sharing that there are more people with the same problem combined with yoga & meditation could do wonders for them.

During the WW I, large number of Indian soldiers were forced to fight the war which was not their own. Almost 130,000 Indian either lost or wounded in that time. Compared to the world population of that time it’s a big number. British government built (designed & constructed by Lutyens) the 42-meter high India Gate (originally called the All India War Memorial) to remember bearing the names 90,000 who laid their life, located astride the Rajpath (formerly called Kingsway), on the eastern edge of the ceremonial axis of New Delhi. It’s all conveniently forgotten in the sand of time. Ironically this monument has become a place for relaxation area during summer & a picnic spot during winter & I wonder many of them even knew what monument stood for? I agree that protecting the boarders as well as the interest of the nation is everyone’s duty but Wars mostly happens because of some rabies infected rulers. Hope some vaccine will be invented to cure such disease in the future.

Indians had paid heavy prices for the part of code of conduct “athithi devobava” meaning guest is like god & has to be treated well along with some greedy rulers seeking expansion through outside help had made Indians the victims of outside oppression in the past. A lesson to be remembered… leant… contained!!

Note: PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares & flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, & feel detached or estranged, & these symptoms can be severe enough & last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

Coorg Warrior 1837

The following article is a contribution from my Son:

I’m a big history buff, and have spent hundreds of hours pouring over facts and figures from Cahokia to Dwaraka, Alexander to Xerces and Hannibal to Rommel. I’ve replayed alternative histories, imagined ancient battles, and often found myself dreaming about discovering new civilizations or lost Incan gold!

But what recently blew my mind was my own piece of investigative history during my trip to India last December (2012). With all the excitement of an old Tintin story, spanning two cities, learning something new about Coorg (Kodava) History, to finding lost gold (yes GOLD), all in a span of 36 hours! Here’s my story….

During my cousin’s wedding, I overheard someone talking about how Coorgs have stopped sporting the once famous “Coorg Wildlife Society”* stickers on their vehicles, and were now moving towards what’s called the “Coorg Warrior” sticker. Apparently the Coorg wildlife society sticker was so widely available that everyone and anyone were sticking it on their cars and bikes. Additionally, you no longer had to join the society to get the sticker, so this also led to a slight drop in its use by actual Kodavas.

My Dad was gifted one of the warrior stickers by a cousin of mine, and when I was in Mysore, I got a chance to take a look at it as I was cleaning out my Dad’s car. The sticker depicted a common poise of a Kodava Warrior, taken from an old French or British picture of an ancient Kodava warrior brandishing an Odi Kathi (Fighting sword) above his head, and a musket/flintlock on his other hand. I say ancient because of the particular way in which he wears his traditional attire: Coorgs today wear their traditional black woolen Kupiya, tailored to a modern fit, with a white and gold turban, a red and gold ornate silk sash (Chaele) that wraps tightly around their waists, and a ceremonial dagger, the Peche Kathi tucked into the sash. The kupiya is worn over either a modern shirt/pant/tie combination or over a kurtha pyjama.

However, if you look at the Warrior’s attire,  you’ll notice how it’s fitting to his martial needs. He wears a cloth around his head, his kupiya is free flowing, and not rigid like the woolen ones of today, and he wears nothing on this legs and feet. His Cheale appears to merely be a cloth wrapped around his waist. Even the peeche kathi appears to be purpose built as a weapon and less of a ceremonial blade.

The sticker also had the following words on the bottom, “Coorg Warrior 1839”. Now that year really got me hooked and my mom suggested I find out what the significance of that date is. That night, a bit of wordsmithing and googling later, this is what I found:

a)      There was no particular significance of the date 1839 in Coorg history pertaining to that medal. Let me know if you know otherwise**

b)      There was however, significance to 1837, when it is recorded in multiple publications and sites that a Coorg Medal was issued by the British Government to some Kodavas for their loyalty to the British during an uprising in Canara, Karnataka in April of 1837.

c)       The reverse of the medal is the Coorg coat of arms (sans the rifle that is in the coat of arms used today). This coat of arms contains the Odi and Peeche Kathi, and also included the “thodanga”, which is girdle used to hold the Odi Kathi at the back of the warriors waist. A laurel wreath surrounds all of them, and an English inscription surrounds the wreath “For distinguished conduct and loyalty to the British Government. Coorg, April 1837

d)      On the front of the medal, I found what I was looking for: The Coorg Warrior. The medal, unlike the sticker, afforded the opportunity to build depth the warrior, and so I could clearly make out the warriors face, well defined calf and pectoral muscles, his rifle, the free flowing Kupiya, the dagger in his Chale.

I was quite stumped: mainly because of my own (and I suspect most Coorgs) lack of knowledge in the origins of the Coorg warrior pose. Here I had found we were not only citing the date wrong, but more so, we were using a something that the British created as a symbol of our warrior history!

Now, I’m not going to get into the obvious arguments of our allegiances, what were we doing helping the British when we should have been fighting to keep them out, etc etc etc. India in 1839 did not exist as a country, and we were really 500 states (or countries even) that either paid tribute to or were ruled over by the British Crown. The concept of the entire region being a country is quite debatable, so let’s save that for another time or offline. For now, treat this as a story of what happened: pure facts.

Anyway, the next morning, off we went to Coorg for my final trip there before I had to come back to the US. That afternoon, I found myself sitting with my close uncle and aunt (I them Papa and Mama) and the conversation obviously drifted into this exciting story that I told them. How we were using a British sign of loyalty to depict our warrior backgrounds, etc. The whole time I told the story, I noticed a growing gleam in my Papa’s eyes, his lips and manner itching to butt into my story, until finally; he said “no you’re wrong; the medal was given by the Maharaja of Coorg, to certain people for their bravery. We have one of those medals, and I can show it to you!”He instructs his daughter to get the special medal from the safe, and I thought he was kidding. But lo and behold, she appears with this:

Front-lightroom British Coorg History india indian Knowlegde Martial medal Warrior Kodagu kodava wealth hindu  medal 1837 Back-lightroom British Coorg History india indian Knowlegde Martial medal Warrior Kodagu kodava wealth hindu medal 1837

Goosebumps, flashbacks, everything came pouring out as I took the medal in my hands. I just couldn’t believe I was holding a piece of history so close to my people, right in my hands, a mere 24 hours after I first began my search for an answer! After much observation and translating, we confirmed that it was indeed given by the British and not the Maharaja, and we spent the next hour or so refreshing our memories and getting our history right!

References

*Coorgs, traditionally bound by geography and family ties to Coorg, have spread out of their homeland over the last few decades, moving into Mysore, Bangalore and beyond. Fiercely connected to their identity, we would look for ways to identify ourselves when we were out driving around in these cities. Now, wearing a Kupiya and riding your motorcycle is not for everyone, but most of us would stick the Coorg Wildlife sticker our Motorcycles and Cars. I had one on my bike’s petrol tank, and most cars have it at the rear windshields or on the boot(trunk) of the car.

** It’s possible that strict British industrial age policy of making goods in the British homeland necessitated the medal being produced and shipped from the UK. This could mean that they were probably distributed in 1839 for the actions of 1837.  However, that’s my interpretation. The real person to know for sure is the one who printed the sticker for the first time:-D

Reference:

1880-British-Military-and-Naval-Medals-and-Decorations (pg 26, Coorg)

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100191148/1880-British-Military-and-Naval-Medals-and-Decorations