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Dhoomappa Contractor: Remembering a Visionary Billava

Dhoomappa Contractor: Remembering a Visionary Billava

Mangalore Today News Network

By Srinivasan Nandagopal

Mangaluru, February 1, 2024: Mangalore, Mangaluru, Kudla, Kodial, Mykala or Mangalapuram as our city is called by multiple nomenclatures indicating the potpourri of culture, traditions, languages, communities and diverse occupations. It is a melting pot of sociocultural diversities that has rendered this region called Tulu Nadu, a very special place in the anthropological and sociological map of the southern Indian Peninsula.

While Mogeras, Malekudiyas and Billavas may be considered as aborigines of this blessed land with a predominantly Tulu Speaking populace, the advent and social evolution led to communities ranging from Bunts, Jains and many other sects along with the so-called upper castes claiming to be the Aryan descendants, have shaped the history of this land flanked by Arabian Sea on its west and the Western Ghats on the eastern borders.

Dhoomappa Contractor home

The history of Tulu Nadu and the evolution of Billavas go hand in hand. The Cheran Dynasty of the Villavans or the Billavas is a testimonial of the fact of the dominance of the Billava community over the region, establishing it as the original natives of the land along with other primitive communities. While some significant research has been done on the socioeconomic and occupational aspects of the Billava community with historical literature available, not much has been done in documenting and celebrating the leaders of this community which has evolved from one that was denied entry into temples to the consecration of Lord Shiva at Kudroli for the benefit of the lower castes in the early years of twentieth-century to evolve as a dominant community and a force to reckon with in all sphere of the society from being leading medical professionals, businessmen, hoteliers, bankers, philanthropists, sports to the political arena.

Dhoomappa Contractor

Dhoomappa Contractor

Only a few prominent names stand tall in the community in the pre-Independence era but those are only a handful. One such personality who enjoys his due recognition is Adhyaksha Koragappa, a socially proactive fish merchant and a visionary who led a group of community leaders to receive guidance from Revolutionary Saint Guru Narayana Swamy in Shivagiri to realize the dream of construction and consecration of the Gokharnanatheshwara temple at Kudroli. Along with him were a few more individuals of equal standing who despite their visionary contributions to society, have remained in oblivion as unsung heroes.

We do of course see a sizeable number of Billava leaders in the post-independence contemporary period standing out including Koragappa’s sons Somasundaram and Somashekar, in whose period the Kudroli temple was renovated, former union minister B Janardhan Poojary, Jaya C Suvarna from Mumbai, Damodhar Suvarna among other to the present-day community leaders and the aspiring ones.

Dhoomappa Contractor

Dhoomappa Contractor

While exploring and tracing the lives of leaders of the Billava community who faded away despite their illustrious past, the buck stopped at Devi Vilas, one of the very few bungalows to be constructed as a non-British residence in the Gandhinagar (previously known as Pentlandpet). The Bungalow dates back to 1924 and has been a mute spectator to the historical events that have unravelled in the area for the past 100 years. Interestingly, the Bungalow stands next to the local district headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) which also took shape in the same year.

While the Descendants of the Dhoomappa Contractor Family celebrate the centenary of the aesthetic home which has witnessed four generations now and is no less than a monument, it’s also time to celebrate the visionary Billava leader whose contribution to the city as a whole and the Billava community in particular, cannot be brushed aside. Thus, the family, in commemoration of the centenary year of the construction of the mansion, wishes to celebrate Dhoomappa Contractor, the force behind the establishment of Sri Venkatesha Shiva Bhakti Yoga Sangha which managed the first Hostel for Billava youth coming from outside Mangalore way back in the late 1920s.

A self-made man that he was, Dhoomappa who was well known as Dhoomappa Contractor had a humble beginning to the illustrious life that was to come, as a worker in the wood trade and later as a trader in the timber business. He then got into the construction trade when his fortunes turned. Taking up Government contracts, he was contracted with the construction of Government buildings that included part of the present University College (then the Government College), sections of the Deputy Commissioner’s Office (then the Collector’s Office), Philomena College and also the significant parts of the construction of breakwaters in the Nethravathi Estuary leading to the Old Mangalore Port also known as Bunder.

Dhoomappa Contractor


His impeccable works caught the eyes of the local British administration. This was a period in the early years of the 20th century during which, the South Kanara District was governed by District Collector C A Souter. Known as Souter Dore (King) to the common masses, he is said to have a flair for architecture and an appreciation for good workmanship. His recommendation led to Dhoomappa Contractor being awarded the prestigious Victoria Medal in 1925.

A grand party was thrown to celebrate the awarding of the Medal wherein, Collector Mr. Souter offered Dhoomappa Contractor a gift of the latter’s choice. Without asking anything for himself, the progressive and proactive person that he was, Dhoomappa Contractor requested grant a piece of land to construct a Hostel for the young students coming to Mangalore from outside the town who found it difficult to pay for accommodation elsewhere. Collector Mr Souter gladly agreed to the request and due procedure was followed to transfer the revenue land of three-fourths of an acre extent to Dhoomappa Contractor.

With the due process of handing over the revenue land completed, a group of like-minded community members led by Contractor Dhoomappa came together to form Shree Venkatesha Shivabhakti Yoga Sangha to manage the affairs of the proposed Hostel. Dedicated individuals led by Dhoomappa himself, took the onus to rotate the wardenship of the hostel beginning from Panduranga and subsequently the responsibility handled by Kasargod Krishnappa, Revenue Inspector Thimmappa, Sanjeeva M and Vishwanath respectively. Rao Bahadur Giriappa, a government official then and Guthedar Jarappa played an important role in getting documentation and other administrative sanctions for the completion of the hostel project.

Evidently, for his efforts to realize the dream, Dhoomappa Contractor was unanimously chosen as the first President of the Sangha which was registered in 1925. History of sorts was written in the annals of pre-independence Mangalore as the first Hostel for the youth of the Billawa community bustled with the flow of inmates since its inception in 1926. In honour and as a gratitude to the District Collector who generously donated the land, the hostel was named Sooter Hostel and continued to don the name till the very end of its functioning.

sooter hostel

Meanwhile, during the early years of the 20th century, a revolution of sorts was brewing Billawa leaders under the leadership of Adhyaksha Koragappa contemplated building a Shiva temple for the backward castes who were forbidden entry into temples. Contractor Dhoomappa was among the leaders who visited Shivagiri, the abode of revolutionary saint Sri Narayana Guru in 1908. Having sought guidance from the saint and the visit of Narayana Guru to Mangalore in the consequent year finally led to the consecration of Gokharnanatheshwara Temple at Kudroli in the year 1912 through the hands of Saint Narayana Guru himself.

Guruji had proclaimed, challenging the social structure that this temple will be called that of Shudra Shiva and would symbolize the elevation of the backward castes and the downtrodden. Sowkar Dhoomappa (as he was also called) took the responsibility to undertake the electrification of the entire temple premise and gave it a facelift with the grand chandeliers and other wall-mounted electrical accessories.  During this visit to the consecration of the temple, Guruji, pleased with the work of Contractor Dhoomappa in the social arena and his forethoughts to serve the community, handed over the pair of wooden sandals that he was wearing as a present much to the amazement of Dhoomappa who humbly accepted the gift with all its sanctity and placed in his place of worship at his home in Kudroli.

In the same year before the consecration of Kudroli Gokharnanatheshwara temple, Dhoomappa also built the Badhrakali temple on the nearby land that he had bought for his business purposes. The establishment of the temple is also an interesting tale as the statue of the presiding deity was found in the land while the earthwork was undertaken. The temple is now being managed by his grandchildren.

These were the times of dramatic turn of events in the socio-economic and political scenario of the country and Mangalore was no exception.

Having established the Sri Venkatesha Shiva Bhakti Yoga Sangha and as its founder President, Dhoomappa Contractor administered the functioning of the Souter Hostel with the support of the committee members and well-wishers. A beautiful Mantap was installed at the prayer hall to place the Sacred Wooden Sandals of Narayana Guru Swamiji, which is present even to this day.
The 40-capacity hostel served its objective and purpose to its fullest as young college students and some employees from as far as Kundapura to the north and Kasargod to the south benefitted from the facility. Post Independence, as Dhoomappa felt his aging, he opted to hand over the reins of the management of the Souter Hostel to the Committee members and it was agreed that each of the nine members would manage the affairs of the hostel for a specific period in rotation which was followed. Dhoomappa’s close aides S Chandrashekar who served as his accountant and Narsappa played his lieutenants and sincerely worked as per his instructions.

As the Hostel was abuzz with activities, in the late 1940s, yet another illustrious son of Mangalore, a freedom fighter and a socialist leader who served the Indian National Congress in Assam, Mr. B R Karkera came back to his home-town to settle down. It was during this time he met Contractor Dhoomappa and expressed his desire to build another hostel block in the Sooter Hostel premises which was readily agreed to. He built the Chandramma Memorial Block and donated it to the Hostel.

Dhoomappa Contractor

Contractor Dhoomappa enjoyed his retired life at his Sri Devi Nilaya which is exactly opposite to the Sooter Hostel. He breathed his last on First of February 1956.

The hostel was ably administered by the Committee until the inflow of inmates dwindled due to varied reasons in the mid-sixties. The better connectivity with places, a greater number of institutions and other factors led to the closure of the hostel in the late 60s. The structure was rented out to Canara High School Association for some years to run some of their classes of Canara School, Urva and later for some time it housed a Kindergarten and playschool initiated by Mr Damodhar Suvarna who later established the Narayana Guru Institutions at Kudroli. Shree Gokharnanatheshwara College was later established in the premises managed by the Sri Venkatesha Shiva Bhakti Yoga Sangha even to this day.

The name “Sooter Hostel” however has faded into oblivion though the structure remains and a small signage reads “Contractor Dhoomappa Library”. It is also rumoured that the whole Sooter Hostel Block will be demolished and an auditorium will take shape. Incidentally, the college administration is now managed under the leadership of Mr. Jayavikram, son of Dhoomappa Contractor’s aide S Chadrashekar.

The surviving family members of the legendary Billawa leader and visionary intend to celebrate Contractor Dhoomappa in a befitting manner as his home dates back a century now. His biography is planned to be published later in the year. Dhomappa’s Grandson K Narendra Kumar, himself an illustrious personality who was awarded the World Health Organisation (WHO) Fellowship way back in 1975 to study specialized subjects like Bio-Medical Engineering, Prosthetics and Orthotics in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and granddaughter Vani J Bhavishi, have taken the lead to convince the management of Gokharnanatheshwara College to render due respect to the founder of the Trust which runs the educational institution if they intend to demolish the Sooter Hostel which has been a part of an educational revolution in this coastal town.

The article is written by Senior Journalist Srinivasan Nandagopal and is a first-hand account by Dhoomappa Contractor’s grandson K Narendra Kumar.

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