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Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 1) online

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by Pandarams (Oduvar) at Siva temples. In a typical
temple there are usually two id,ols, one of stone (mula
vigraha) and the other of metal (utsava vigraha). The
mula vigraha is permanently fixed within the inner
shrine or garbagraha, and the utsava vigraha is intended
to be carried in procession. The mula vigrahas of
Vishnu temples are generally in human form, either in a
standing posture, or, as in the case of Ranganatha,
Padmanabha, and Govindarajaswami, in a reclining pos-
ture, on Adisesha. Ordinarily, three idols constitute the
mula vigraha. These are Vishnu, Sridevi (Lakshmi),
and Bhudevi (earth goddess). In temples dedicated to
Sri Rama, Lakshmana is found instead of Bhudevi.
Sridevi and Bhudevi are also associated with Vishnu
in the utsava vigraha. In all the larger temples, there
is a separate building in the temple precincts dedicated
to Lakshmi, and within the garbagraha thereof, called
thayar or nachiyar sannadhi, is a mula vigraha of
Lakshmi. There may also be one or more shrines dedi-
cated to the Alvars (Vaishnava saints) and the Acharyas
Desikar and Manavala Mahamunigal. The sect mark
is put on the faces of the mula and utsava vigrahas.
The mula vigraha in Siva temples is a lingam (phallic
emblem). In Siva temples, there is within the garba-
graha only one lamp burning, which emits a very feeble
light. Hence arise the common sayings " As dim as
the light burning in Siva's temple," or " Like the lamp


in Siva's temple." The utsava vigraha is in the human
forms of Siva and Parvathi. In all important Saivite
temples, Parvathi is housed in a separate building, as
Lakshmi is in Vishnu temples. Vigneswara, Subra-
manya, and the important Nayanmars also have separate
shrines in the temple precincts.

So far as ordinary daily worship is concerned, there
is not much difference in the mode of worship between
temple and domestic worship. Every item is done on a
large scale, and certain special Agamic or Tantric rites
are added to the sixteen Upacharas already mentioned.
At the present time, there are, especially in the case of
Vishnu temples, two forms of temple worship, called
Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa. In the former, which
is like domestic worship in all essential points, any
Brahman may officiate as temple priest. In the latter,
only Vaikhanasa Archakas may officiate.

All big temples are generally well endowed, and
some temples receive from Government annual grants of
money, called tasdik. The management of the temple
affairs rests with the Dharmakarthas (trustees), who
practically have absolute control over the temple funds.
All the temple servants, such as Archakas, Parchara-
kas, and Adhyapakas, and the non- Brahman servants
(sweepers, flower-gatherers, musicians and dancing-girls)
are subject to the authority of the Dharmakartha. For
their services in the temple, these people are paid partly
in money, and partly in kind. The cooked food, which
is offered daily to the god, is distributed among the
temple servants. On ordinary days, the offerings of
cooked food made by the Archakas, and the fruits
brought by those who come to worship, are offered only
to the mula vigraha, whereas, on festival days, they are
offered to the utsava vigrahas.


For worship in Vishnu temples, flowers and tulsi
(Ocimum sanctum) are used. In Siva temples, bilva
(bael : sEgle Mar me I os) leaves are substituted for tulsi.
At the close of the worship, the Archaka gives to those
present thirtham (holy water), tulsi or bilva leaves, and
vibhuthi (sacred ashes) according to the nature of the
temple. At Vishnu temples, immediately after the
giving of thirtham, an inverted bowl, bearing on it the
feet of Vishnu (satari or sadagopam), is placed by the
Archaka first on the head, and then on the right
shoulder, and again on the head, in the case of grown
up and married males, and only on the head in the case
of females and young people. The bowl is always
kept near the mula vigraha, and, on festival days, when
the god is taken in procession through the streets,
it is carried along with the utsava vigraha. On festival
days, such as Dhipavali, Vaikunta Ekadasi, Dwadasi,
etc., the god of the temple is taken in procession
through the main streets of the town or village. The
idol, thus borne in procession, is not the stone figure,
but the portable one made of metal (utsava vigraha),
which is usually kept in the temple in front of the
Mula idol. At almost every important temple, an
annual festival called Brahmotsavam, which usually lasts
ten days, is celebrated. Every night during this festival,
the god is seated on the clay, wooden or metal figure of
some animal as a vehicle, e.g., Garuda, horse, elephant,
bull, Hanuman, peacock, yali, etc., and taken in proces-
sion, accompanied by a crowd of Brahmans chanting the
Vedas and Tamil Nalayara Prapandhams, if the temple
is an important one. Of the vehicles or vahanams,
Hanuman and Garuda are special to Vishnu, and the
bull (Nandi) and tiger to Siva. The others are common
to both deities. During the month of May, the festival


of the god Varadaraja takes place annually. On one of
the ten days of this festival, the idol, which has gone
through a regular marriage ceremony, is placed on an
elaborately decorated car (ratha), and dragged through
the main streets. The car frequently bears a number of
carved images of a very obscene nature, the object of
which, it is said, is to avert the evil eye. Various castes,
besides Brahmans, take part in temple worship, at which
the saints of both Siva and Vishnu Nayanmar and
Alvars are worshipped. The Brahmans do not entirely
ignore the worship of the lower deities, such as Mariamma,
Muneswara, Kodamanitaya, etc. At Udipi in South
Canara, the centre of the Madhva cult, where Madhva
preached his Dvaitic philosophy, and where there are
several mutts presided over by celibate priests, the
Brahmans often make a vow to the Bhuthas (devils)
of the Paravas and Nalkes. Quite recently, we saw an
orthodox Shivalli Brahman, employed under the priest
of one of the Udipi mutts, celebrating the nema (festival)
of a bhutha named Panjurli, in fulfilment of a vow made
when his son was ill. The Nalke devil-dancers were
sent for, and the dance took place in the courtyard of the
Brahman's house. During the leaf festival at Periya-
palayam near Madras, Brahman males and females
may be seen wearing leafy twigs of margosa (Melia
Azadirachta), and going round the Mariamma shrine.

I pass on to a detailed consideration of the various
classes of Brahmans met with in Southern India. Of
these, the Tamil Brahmans, or Dravidas proper, are most
numerous in the southern districts. They are divided
into the following sections :

/. Smartha.

(a) Vadama.

(b) Kesigal.

(c) Brahacharnam.

(d) Vathima or Madhema.



/. Smartha cont.

(e) Ashtasahasram.
(/) Dlkshitar.
(g) Sholiar.
(ti) Mukkani.

(z) Kaniyalai.
(/) Sankethi.
(k) Prathamasaki.

(/) Gurukkal.

//. Vaishnava.

A. Vadagalai (northerners).

(a) Sri Vaishnava.

(b) Vaikhanasa.

(c) Pancharatra.

(d) Hebbar.

B. Thengalai (southerners).
(a) Sri Vaishnava.
(/;) Vaikhanasa.

(c) Pancharatra.

(d) Hebbar.

(e) Mandya.

/. Smartha (a] Vadama. The Vadamas claim to
be superior to the other classes, but will dine with all
the sections, except Gurukkals and Prathamasakis, and,
in some places, will even eat with Prathamasakis. The
sub-divisions among the Vadamas are :

1. Choladesa (Chola country).

2. Vadadesa (north country).

3. Savayar or Sabhayar.

4. Inji.

5. Thummagunta Dravida.

All these are Smarthas, who use as their sect mark
either the urdhvapundram (straight mark made with
sandal paste) or the circular mark, and rarely the cross
lines. They worship both Siva and Vishnu, and
generally read Puranas about Vishnu. Some Vadamas
use the Vaishnava namam as their sect mark, and are
called Kiththunamakkarar. They follow the Smartha
customs in every way. There is a common saying
" Vadamam muththi Vaishnavam," i.e., a Vadama ripens
into a Vaishnava. This is literally true. Some Vadama
families, who put on the urdhvapundram mark, and follow
the Smartha customs, observe pollution whenever a
death occurs in certain Sri Vaishnava families. This


is because the Sri Vaishnavas are Vadamas recently
converted into Vaishnava families.

(b) Kesigal. The Kesigals, or Hiranyakesikal
(men of the silvery hair), as they are sometimes called,
closely resemble the Vadamas, but are an exclusive
endogamous unit, and highly conservative and orthodox.
They are called Hiranyakesikal or Hiranyakesis because
they follow the Grihya Sutras of Hiranyakesi. It is
noted, in the Gazetteer of the Tanjore district, that they
" are peculiar in all having one common Sutram called
the Sathyashada after a common ancestor."

(c) Brakacharnam (the great sect). The Braha-
charnams are more Saivite, and more orthodox than the
Vadamas. They put on vibhuti (sacred ashes) and
sandal paste horizontal lines as their sect mark. The
sub-division Sathyamangalam Brahacharnam 'seems,
however, to be an exception, as some members thereot
put on the Vaishnavite sect mark at all times, or at least
during the month of Purattasi, which is considered
sacred to the god Venkataramana of Tirupati. The
more orthodox Brahacharnams wear a single rudraksha
bead, or a necklace of beads, and some make lingams
out of these beads, which they put on the head during
worship. They generally worship five gods, viz., Siva
in the form of a lingam, spatika (crystal) lingam, Vishnu,
Gancsa, and Iswara. It is said that Brahacharnam
women can be distinguished by the mode of tying the
cloth, which is not worn so as to reach to the feet, but
reaches only to just below the knees. The Brahachar-
nams are sub-divided into the following sections :

1. Kandramanicka. 5. Musanadu.

2. Milaganur. 6. Kolaththur.

3. Mangudi. 7. Mamthancheri.

4. Palavaneri or Pazhama- 8. Sathyamangalam.

neri. 9. Puthur Dravida,


It is recorded, in the Gazetteer of the Tanjore district,
that " one ceremony peculiar to the MiJaganur Braha-
charnams is that, before the principal marriage ceremonies
of the first day, a feast is given to four married women,
a widow, and a bachelor. This is called the adrisya
pendugal (invisible women) ceremony. It is intended to
propitiate four wives belonging to this sub-division, who
are said to have been cruelly treated by their mother-in-
law, and cursed the class. They are represented to have
feasted a widow, and to have then disappeared."

(d) Vathima. The Vathimas, or Madhimas, are
most numerous in the Tanjore district, and are thus
described in the Gazetteer : " The Vattimas are grouped
into three smaller sub-sections, of which one is called
'the eighteen village Vattimas,' from the fact that they
profess (apparently with truth) to have lived till recently
in only eighteen villages, all of them in this district.
They have a marked character of their own, which may
be briefly described. They are generally money-lenders,
and consequently are unpopular with their neighbours,
who are often blind to their virtues and unkind to their
failings. [There is a proverb that the Vadamas are
always economical, and the Vathimas always unite
together.] It is a common reproach against them that
they are severe to those who are in their debt, and parsi-
monious in their household expenditure. To this latter
characteristic is attributed their general abstinence from
dholl (the usual accompaniment of a Brahman meal), and
their preference for a cold supper instead of a hot meal.
The women work as hard as the men, making mats,
selling buttermilk, and lending money on their own
account, and are declared to be as keen in money-making
and usury as their brothers. They, however, possess
many amiable traits. They are well known for a


generous hospitality on all great occasions, and no poor
guest or Brahman mendicant has ever had reason to
complain in their houses that he is being served worse
than his richer or more influential fellows. Indeed, if
anything, he fares the better for his poverty. Again,
tjiey are unusually lavish in their entertainments at
marriages ; but their marriage feasts have the peculiarity
that, whatever the total amount expended, a fixed pro-
portion is always paid for the various items so much per
cent, for the pandal, so much per cent, for food, and so on.
Indeed it is asserted that a beggar who sees the size of
the marriage pandal will be able to guess to a nicety the
size of the present he will get. Nor, again, at their
marriages, do they haggle about the marriage settlement,
since they have a scale, more or less fixed and generally
recognised, which determines these matters. There is
less keen competition for husbands among them, since
their young men marry at an earlier age more invariably
than among the other sub-divisions. The Vattimas are
clannish. If a man fails to pay his dues to one of them,
the word is passed round, and no other man of the sub-
division will ever lend his money. They sometimes
unite to light their villages by private subscription, and
to see to its sanitation, and, in a number of ways, they
exhibit a corporate unity. Till quite recently they were
little touched by English education ; but a notable
exception to this general statement existed in the late
Sir A. Seshayya Sastri, who was of Vattima extraction."
The sub-divisions of the Vattimas are :

1. Pathinettu Gramaththu (eighteen villages).

2. Udayalur.

3. Nannilam.

4. Rathamangalam. According to some, this is not a separate

section, but comes under the eighteen village section.



(e] Ashtasahasram (eight thousand). This class
is considered to be inferior to the Brahacharnams and
Vadamas. The members thereof are, like the Braha-
charnams, more Saivite than the Vadamas. The females
are said to wear their cloth very elegantly, and with the
lower border reaching so low as to cover the ankles.
The sub-divisions of the Ashtasahasrams are :

1. Aththiyur.

2. Arivarpade.

3. Nandivadi.

4. Shatkulam (six families).

As their numbers are few, though the sub-divisions
are endogamous, intermarriage is not entirely prohibited.

(f) Dlkshitar. Another name for this section is
Thillai Muvayiravar, i.e., the three thousand of Thillai
(now Chidambaram). There is a tradition that three
thousand people started from Benares, and, when they
reached Chidambaram, they were one short. This
confused them, but they were pacified when Siva
explained that he was the missing individual. The
Dlkshitars form a limited community of only several
hundred families. The men, like Nayars and Nambutiri
Brahmans of the west coast, wear the hair tuft on the
front of the head. They do not give their girls in
marriage to other sections of Brahmans, and they do not
allow their women to leave Chidambaram. Hence arises
the proverb "A Thillai girl never crosses the boundary
line." The Dlkshitars are priests of the temple of
Nataraja at Chidambaram, whereat they serve by turns.
Males marry very early in life, and it is very difficult to
secure a girl for marriage above the age of five. The
tendency to marry when very young is due to the fact that
only married persons have a voice in the management of


the affairs of the temple, and an individual must be
married before he can get a share of the temple income.
The chief sources of income are the pavadam and kattalai
(heaps of cooked rice piled up or spread on a board),
which are offered to the god. Every Dlkshitar will do
his best to secure clients, of whom the best are Nattu-
kottai Chettis. The clients are housed and looked
after by the Dlkshitar s. Concerning the Dlkshitars,
Mr. W. Francis writes as follows*: "An interesting
feature about the Chidambaram temple is its system of
management. It has no landed or other endowments,
nor any tasdik allowance, and is the property of a class
of Brahmans peculiar to the town, who are held in far
more respect than the generality of the temple-priest
Brahmans, are called Dlkshitars (those who make
oblations), marry only among themselves, and in ap-
pearance somewhat resemble the Nayars or Tiyans of
Malabar, bringing their topknot round to the front of
their foreheads. Their ritual in the temple more
resembles that of a domestic worship than the forms
commonly followed in other large shrines. Theoretically,
all the married males of the Dlkshitars have a voice in
the management of the temple, and a share in its
perquisites ; and at present there are some 250 of such
shares. They go round the southern districts soliciting
alms and offerings for themselves. Each one has his
own particular clie'ntele, and, in return for the alms
received, he makes, on his return, offerings at the shrine
in the name of his benefactors, and sends them now and
again some holy ashes, or an invitation to a festival.
Twenty of the Dlkshitars are always on duty in the

* Gazetteer of the South Arcot district.


temple, all the males of the community (except boys and
widowers) doing the work by turns lasting twenty days
each, until each one has been the round of all the different
shrines. The twenty divide themselves into five parties
of four each, each of which is on duty for four days at
one of the five shrines at which daily puja is made, sleeps
there at night, and becomes the owner of the routine
offerings of food made at it. Large presents of food
made to the temple as a whole are divided among all
the Dikshitars. The right to the other oblations is sold
by auction every twenty days to one of the Dikshitars at
a meeting of the community. These periodical meetings
take place in the Deva Sabha. A lamp from Nataraja's
shrine is brought, and placed there by a Pandaram, and
(to avoid even the appearance of any deviation from the
principle of the absolute equality of all Dikshitars in the
management of the temple) this man acts as president
of the meeting, and proposals are made impersonally
through him." As a class the Dikshitars are haughty,
and refuse to acknowledge any of the Sankarachariars
as their priests, because they are almost equal to the god
Siva, who is one of them. If a Sankarachariar comes to
the temple, he is not allowed to take sacred ashes
direct from the cup, as is done at other temples to
show respect to the Sanyasi. The Dikshitars are
mostly Yejur Vedis, though a few are followers of the
Rig Veda. When a girl attains puberty, she goes in
procession, after the purificatory bath, to every Dlkshitar's
house, and receives presents.

\ / (g) S ho liar. The Sholiars are divided into the
following sections :

(1) Thirukattiur.

(2) Madalur.

(3) Visalur.

(4) Puthalur.

(5) Senganur.

(6) Avadayar Kovil.



Concerning the Sholiars, Mr. C. Ramachendrier
writes as follows*: "The Sholiars of Thiruvanakaval
(in the Tanjore district) belong to the first sub-division,
and they form a separate community, devoting their
time to service in the temple. Those who make puja to
the idol are Pradhamasakis, and are called Archakas.
Those who serve as cooks, and attend to other inferior
services, are .called Arya Nambi, and those who decorate
the idols taken in procession on festive occasions are
termed Therunabuttan. Archakas alone are entitled to
decorate stone images in the chief shrines of the temple,
and they are also called Pandits. According to custom,
Sholia Brahmans should wear front locks, but some of
them have adopted the custom of other Brahmans, while
the orthodox section of the community, and the Archakas
of Thiruvanakaval, speak a very low Tamil with a peculiar
intonation, and they do not send their children to English
schools. Young boys are trained by their parents in the
temple service, which entitles them, even when young,
to some emoluments. There are amongst them none
who have received either Sanskrit or Tamil education.
The Archakas perform pujas by turn, and, as the Archaka-
ship is to be conferred at a certain age by anointment
by a guru, infant marriage does not obtain among
them to such an extent as among the Dikshitars of
Chidambaram. They eat with the other Smartha
Brahmans, but do not intermarry. They count about
300 in number, including women and children. There
is no intermarriage between them and the other Sholia
Brahmans. Those of Avadayarcovil are also engaged
in the service of the temple of that name. Sholiars of

* Collection of the Decisions of High Courts and the Privy Council on the
Hindu Law of Marriage and the Effect of Apostacy after marriage. Madras,


other classes are to be found in Vasishtakudy in the
taluk of Vriddachallam, Vemmaniathur in the taluk of
Villupuram, and Visalur in the taluk of Kumbaconam."
In an article on the Sholiars, * it is recorded that " they
are a very intelligent people, and at the same time very
vindictive if disturbed. Chanakya, the Indian Machia-
velli and the Minister of Chandragupta, is supposed to
have belonged to this caste. His hatred of the Nanda
family, and the way in which he uprooted each and
every member of that race, has been depicted in the
famous Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa, which belongs
to the 7th century A.D. Whether on account of his
character, and under the belief that he originated from
this caste, or for some reason which is unaccountable,
the Soliyas of modern days are held as very vindictive
people, as the following proverb will show : ' We do
not want to meet with a Soliya even in a picture.' "
Another proverb is to the effect that "the kudumi (hair
tuft) on the head of a Sholiar does not shake without
sufficient reason," i.e., it is a sign that he is bent upon
doing some mischief.

(k) Mukkdni. The Mukkanis are Smarthas con-
fined to the Cochin and Travancore States.

(i) Kdniydlar. Concerning the Kaniyalars, Mr.
Ramachendrier writes as follows : " Kanialars form a
separate class of Smartha Brahmins, and they live in the
district of Tinnevelly and some parts of Trichinopoly.
They do not intermarry with any other class of Smartha
Brahmins, but eat with them. A large number of them,
though Smarthas by birth, wear a mark on their forehead
like Vyshnava Brahmins, and serve as cooks and
menial servants in the big temple at Srirangam. Their

* Madras Mail, 1904.


women adopt the Vyshnava women's style of wearing
cloths, and to all appearance they would pass for
Vyshnava women. The Vyshnava Brahmins would not
allow them to mess in their houses, though they treat
rice and cakes prepared by them in temples and offered
to god as pure and holy, and partake of them."

(/) Sankethi. The Sankethis are confined to the
Mysore Province. They speak a very corrupt form
of Tamil, mixed with Canarese. The following account
of them is given in the Mysore Census Report, 1891.
" They are found chiefly in the Mysore and Hassan
districts. Their colonies are also found in Kadur and
Shimoga. Their number seems to have been somewhat
understated ; many of them have probably returned
themselves as Dravidas. So far as language is an
indication of race, the Sanketis are Tamilians, although
their dialect is more diluted with Kanarese than that of
any other Kannada ridden Tamil body. Theirs seems to
have been among the earliest immigrations into Mysore
from the neighbouring Tamil country. It is said that
some 700 years ago, about 1,000 families of Smartha
Brahmans emigrated from the vicinity of Kanchi (Con-
jeeveram), induced doubtless by contemporary politics.
They set out in two batches towards Mysore. They
were attacked by robbers on the road, but the larger
party of about 700 families persevered in the march
notwithstanding, and settled near the village of Kausika
near Hassan, whence they are distinguished as Kausika
Sanketis. Some twelve years afterwards, the other party
of 300 families found a resting place at Bettadapura in
the Hunsur taluk. This branch has been called Bettada-
pura Sanketi. Their religious and social customs are
the same. The Kausika Sanketis occasionally take
wives from the Bettadapura section, but, when the married


girl joins her husband, her connection with her parents
and relatives ceases altogether even in regard to meals.
During the Coorg disturbances about the end of the last
(eighteenth) century, many young women of the Sanketis
were captured by the Kodagas (Coorgs), and some of the
captives were subsequently recovered. Their descend-
ants are to this day known as Sanketis of the West, or

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