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Kalians, but further enquiries have shown that it is the
name of a distinct caste, found chiefly in the Trichino-
poly district. The Ambalakkarans and Muttiriyans of a
village in Musiri taluk wrote a joint petition, protesting
against their being classified as Kalians, but neverthe-
less it is said that the Kalians of Madura will not eat
in Ambalakkaran's houses. There is some connection
between Ambalakkarans, Muttiriyans, Mutrachas, Uralis,
Vedans, Valaiyans, and Vettuvans. It seems likely that
all of them are descended from one common parent
stock. Ambalakkarans claim to be descended from Kan-
nappa Nayanar, one of the sixty-three Saivite saints,
who was a Vedan or hunter by caste. In Tanjore the
Valaiyans declare themselves to have a similar origin,
and in that district Ambalakkaran and Muttiriyan seem
to be synonymous with Valaiyan. [Some Valaiyans have
Ambalakkaran as a title.] Moreover, the statistics of
the distribution of the Valaiyans show that they are
numerous in the districts where Ambalakkarans are few,
and vice versa, which looks as though certain sections of
them had taken to calling themselves Ambalakkarans.
The upper section of the Ambalakkarans style them-
selves Pillai, which is a title properly belonging to
Vellalas, but the others are usually called MOppan in
Tanjore, and Ambalakkaran, Muttiriyan, and Servaiga-
ran in Trichinopoly. The headman of the caste pancha-
yat (council) is called the Kariyakkaran, and his office is
hereditary in particular families. Each headman has a
peon called the Kudi-pillai, whose duty it is to summon
the panchayat when necessary, and to carry messages.
For this he gets an annual fee of four annas from each
family of the caste in his village. The caste has certain


endogamous sections. Four of them are said to be
Muttiriyan or Mutracha, Kavalgar, Vanniyan, and Valai-
yan. A member of any one of these is usually prohi-
bited by the panchayats from marrying outside it on pain
of excommunication. Their customs are a mixture of
those peculiar to the higher castes and those followed by
the lower ones. Some of them employ Brahmans as
purohits (priests), and wear the sacred thread at funerals
and sraddhas (memorial services for the dead). Yet
they eat mutton, pork, and fowls, drink alcohol, and
allow the marriage of widows and divorced women."
Muttiriyan and Kavalgar both mean watchman. Vanni-
yan is certainly a separate caste, some members of which
take Ambalakkaran as a title. The Ambalakkarans are
apparently Valaiyans, who have separated themselves
from the main stock on account of their prosperity.

For the following note, I am indebted to Mr. F. R.
Hemingway. The Ambalakkarans or Muttiriyans are
more numerous in the Trichinopoly district and Puduk-
kottai than in any other part of the Presidency. Though
they have been treated as separate castes, they appear to
be one and the same in this district, generally calling
themselves Muttiriyan in the Trichinopoly taluk, and
Ambalakkaran elsewhere, and having no objection to
either name. They admit they are called Valaiyans, but
repudiate any connection with the caste of that name, and
explain the appellation by a story that, when Siva's ring
was swallowed by a fish in the Ganges, one of their
ancestors invented the first net (valai) made in the world.
As relics of their former greatness they point to the
thousand-pillared mantapam at Srirangam, which is called
muttarasan koradu, and a big matam at Palni, both of
which, they say, were built by their kings. To the
latter every household of the caste subscribes four annas


annually. They say that they were born of the sweat
(muttu, a pearl or bead of perspiration) of Parama-siva.
The caste is divided into a number of nadus, the names
and number of which are variously given. Some of these
are Ettarai, Koppu, Adavattur, Tlrampalaiyam, Vima-
nayakkanpalaiyam in the Trichinopoly taluk, and Amur,
Savindippatti, and Karungali in Musiri taluk. Widow
remarriage is allowed in some of these nadus, and not in
others. They use the titles Muttiriyan, Ambalakkaran,
Servaikaran, and Kavalkaran. They admit their social
inferiority to the Vellalans, Kalians, Nattamans, and
Reddis, from all of whom they will accept meals, but
consider themselves superior to Pallis, Uralis, Uppiliyans,
and Valaiyans. Their usual occupation is cultivation,
but they have also taken to petty trade, and some earn a
living as masons and kavalgars (watchmen). They wear
the sacred thread during their marriages and funerals.
They have panchayats for each village and for the nadu,
and have also a number of the Patnattu Chettis, who
are recognized as elders of the caste, and sit with the
head of the nadu to decide cases of adultery, etc.

Ambalavasi. This is summed up, in the Madras
Census Report, 1901, as "a generic name applied to all
classes of temple servants in Malabar. There are many
sub-divisions of the caste, such as Poduval, Chakkiyar,
Nambiyassan, Pidaran, Pisharodi, Variyan, Nambi,
Teyyambadi, etc., which are assigned different services
in the Hindu temples, such as the preparation of gar-
lands, the sweeping of the floor, the fetching of fire-
wood, the carrying of the idols in procession, singing,
dancing, and so on. Like most of the temple servant
classes, they are inferior to the lower Brahmans, such
as the MOssads, and food will not be taken from the
hands of most of them even by Nayars."


In the Travancore Census Report, 1901, it is noted
that " the term Ambalavasi (one who lives in a temple) is
a group-name, and is applied to castes, whose occupation
is temple service. The Keralamahatmya speaks of them
as Kshetravasinah, which means those who live in
temples. They are also known as Antaralas, from their
occupying an intermediate position between the Brahmans
and the Brahmanical Kshatriyas of Malabar on the one
hand, and the Sodras on the other. While according
to one view they are fallen Brahmans, others, such as
the writer of the Keralolpatti, would put them down as
an advance from the Sudras. The castes recognised as
included in the generic name of Ambalavasi are :

Brahmani or










" All these castes are not connected with pagodas,
nor do the Muttatus, who are mainly engaged in temple
service, come under this group, strictly speaking. The
rationale of their occupation seems to be that, in accept-
ing duty in temples and consecrating their lives to the
service of God, they hope to be absolved from the sins
inherited from their fathers. In the case of ascent from
lower castes, the object presumably is the acquisition
of additional religious merit . . . The delinquent
Brahman cannot be retained in the Brahmanic function
without lowering the standard of his caste. He had,
therefore, to be allotted other functions. Temple service
of various kinds, such as garland-making for the Pushpa-
kan, Variyar and others, and popular recitation of God's


works for the Chakkiyar, were found to hold an inter-
mediate place between the internal functions of the
Brahmans and the external functions of the other castes,
in the same sense in which the temples themselves are the
exoteric counterparts of an esoteric faith, and represent
a position between the inner and the outer economy of
nature. Hence arose probably an intermediate status
with intermediate functions for the Antaralas, the inter-
mediates of Hindu Society. The Kshatriyas, having
commensal privileges with the Brahmans, come next to
them in the order of social precedence. In the matter of
pollution periods, which seem to be in inverse ratio to the
position of the caste, the Brahmans observe lodays, the
Kshatriyas n days, and the Sudras of Malabar (Nayars)
1 6 days. The Ambalavasis generally observe pollution
for 12 days. In some cases, however, it is as short
as 10, and in others as long as 13 and even 14, but never
1 6 days."

It is further recorded, in the Cochin Census Report,
1901, that "Ambalavasis (literally temple residents) are
persons who have the privilege of doing service in
temples. Most of the castes have grown out of sexual
relations between members of the higher and lower
classes, and are therefore Anulomajas and Pratilomajas.*
They may be broadly divided into two classes, (i) those
that wear the sacred thread, and (2) those that do not
wear the same. Adikal, Chakkiyar, Nambiyar or Pushpa-
kan, and Tiyyattu Nambiyar belong to the threaded
class, while Chakkiyar, Nambiyar, Pisharoti, Variyar,
Puthuval, and Marar are non-threaded. Though all
Ambalavasis have to do service in temples, they have

* Anuloma, the product of the connection of a man with a woman of a
lower caste; Pratiloma, of the connection of a man with a woman of a higher


many of them sufficiently distinct functions to perform.
They are all governed by the marumakkathayam law
of inheritance (through the female line) ; some castes
among them, however, follow the makkathayam system
(from father to son). A Nambiyar, Pisharoti, or Variyar
marries under special circumstances a woman of his own
caste, and brings home his wife into the family, and their
issue thus become members of the father's family, with
the right of inheriting the family property, and form
themselves into a fresh marumakkathayam stock. In the
matter of tali-kettu (tali-tying) marriage, and marriage
by union in sambandham (alliance), they follow customs
similar to those of Nayars. So far as the employment
of Brahman as priests, and the period of birth and death
pollution are concerned, there are slight differences.
The threaded classes have Gayatri (hymn). The purifi-
catory ceremony after birth or death pollution is per-
formed by Nambudris, but at all funeral ceremonies, such
as pinda, sradha, etc., their own caste men officiate as
priests. The Nambudris can take meals cooked by a
Brahman in the house of any of the Ambalavasis except
Marars. In fact, if the Nambudris have the right of
purification, they do not then impose any restrictions in
regard to this. All Ambalavasis are strict vegetarians
at public feasts. The Ambalavasis sit together at short
distances from one another, and take their meals. Their
females unite themselves in sambandham with their own
caste males, or with Brahmans or Kshatriyas. Brahmans,
Kshatriyas, or Nambidis cannot take water from them.
Though a great majority of the Ambalavasis still follow
their traditional occupations, many of them have entered
the public service, and taken to more lucrative pursuits."
The more important sections of the Ambalavasis are
dealt with in special articles.


Ambattan. For the following note I am indebted
to Mr. C. Hayavadana Rao. The Ambattans are the
Tamil barbers, or barber-surgeons. The word is usually
derived from the Sanskrit amba (near) and s'tha (to
stand), i.e., he who stands near to shave his clients,
or treat his patients. In like manner, the Kavutiyan
caste of Malayalam barbers is called Adutton, signi-
fying bystander. The Ambattan corresponds to the
Mangala of the Telugu country, the Vilakkatalavan of
Malabar, the Kshauraka of the Canarese Brahmans, and
the Hajam of Muhammadans. Not improbably the name
refers to the original occupation of medicine-man, to
which were added later the professions of village barber
and musician. This view seems to receive some support
from the current tradition that the Ambattans are the
descendants of the offspring of a Vaisya woman by a
Brahman, to whom the medical profession was allotted as
a means of livelihood. In this connection, it may be noted
that the Ambattan women are the recognised midwives
of the Hindu community in the Tamil country. It is
impossible to say how far the above tradition is based on
the verse of Manu, the ancient law-giver, who says that
" from a Brahmana with the daughter of a Vaisya is born
a son called an Ambashtha." In a succeeding verse, he
states that as children of a Brahmana by a woman of one
of the three lower castes, the Ambashthas are one of the
six base-born castes or apasada. He says further that
Brahmans may eat of a barber's food a permission which,
it is hardly necessary to say, they do not avail themselves
of. A single exception is, however, noteworthy. At
the temple of Jugganath, within the temple precincts,
neither the barber, nor the food which he prepares, and
is partaken of by the higher classes, including Brah-
mans, conveys pollution. The pujari, or officiating priest,


at this famous temple is a barber, and Brahmans, except
those of the extreme orthodox section, partake of his
preparations of rice, after they have been offered to the
presiding deity. This is, apparently, the only case in
which the rule laid down by Manu is followed in practice.
It is not known how far the text of Manu is answerable
for the popular Sanskrit saying, which calls the barber a
" good Sudra." There is an opinion entertained in cer-
tain quarters that originally the barber's touch did not
pollute, but that his shaving did. It is an interesting
fact that, though the Ambattans are one of Manu's base-
born castes, whose touch causes pollution which requires
the pouring of water over the head to remove it, they
are one of the most Brahmanised of the lower castes.
Nothing, perhaps, shows this so well as their marriage
ceremonies, throughout which a Brahman officiates. On
the first two days, homam or sacred fire, fed with ghi
(clarified butter) is kindled. On the third day, the tali
(marriage badge) is placed in a circular silver or brass
thattu (dish), and touched with the forefinger of the right
hand first by the presiding Brahman, followed by other
Brahmans, men of superior castes, and the caste-men
headed by the Perithanakkaran or head-man. It is then,
amid weird music, tied to the bride's neck before the
sacred fire. During this ceremony no widows may be
present. The relations of the bride and bridegroom
scatter rice on the floor in front of the bridal pair, after
the Brahman priest and head-man. This rice, which is
called sesham (remainder), is strictly the perquisite of the
local washerman. But it is generally purchased by the
headman of the family, in which the marriage is taking
place, and handed over, not to the washerman, but to
the Perithanakkaran. The Brahman receives as his fee
money and a pair of silk-bordered cloths ; and, till the


latter are given to him, he usually refuses to pronounce
the necessary mantras (prayers). He also receives the
first pan-supari (betel leaves and areca nuts), plantains,
and cocoanuts. Each day he has to get rid of the pollu-
tion caused by entering a barber's house by bathing.
During the fourth and fifth days, homam is burnt, and
shadangu, or merry-making between the bride and
bridegroom before the assembled spectators, takes place,
during which the bride sings songs, in which she has
been coached from infancy. On the fifth day the removal
of the kankanam, or threads which have been tied round
the wrists of the bride and bridegroom, is performed,
after the priest's account has been settled.

Among the Konga Vellalas of the Salem district, it is
the Ambattan who officiates at the marriage rites, and
ties the tali, after formally proclaiming to those present
that he is about to do so. Brahmans are invited to the
wedding, and are treated with due respect, and presented
with money, rice, and betel. It would appear that, in
this case, the Brahman has been ousted, in recent times,
from his priestly functions by the Ambattan. The
barber, when he ties the tali, mutters something about
Brahman and Vedas in a respectful manner. The story
goes that, during the days of the Chera, Chola, and
Pandya Kings, a Brahman and an Ambattan were both
invited to a marriage feast. But the Brahman, on his
arrival, died, and the folk, believing his death to be an
evil omen, ruled that, as the Brahman was missing, they
would have an Ambattan ; and it has ever since been
the custom for the Ambattan to officiate at weddings.

A girl, when she reaches puberty, has to observe
pollution for eleven days, during which she bathes daily,
and is presented with a new cloth, and adorned by a girl
who is said to have " touched " her. This girl has to


bathe before she can take her meals, or touch others.
Every morning, a dose of pure gingelly (Sesamum indi-
cum) oil, mixed with white of egg, is administered. The
dietary must be strictly vegetarian. On the twelfth day,
the girl who has been through the ceremonial has a
final bath, and enters the house after it has been purified

The rule, once a widow always a widow, is as true of
Ambattans as of high-class Brahmans. And, if asked
whether the remarriage of widows is permitted, they
promptly reply that they are not washermen.

The dead are cremated, with the exception of young
children, who arc buried. The death ceremonies are
conducted by a Brahman priest, who is remunerated for
his services with money and a cloth. Gifts of money
and cloths are also made to other Brahmans, when the
days of pollution are over. Annual memorial cere-
monies (sradh) are performed, as by Brahmans. It is a
privilege (they consider it as such) of the Ambattans to
cremate the bodies of village paupers other than Brah-
mans. And, on ordinary occasions of death, they lead
the son or person who is entitled to light the funeral
pyre, with a brass pot in their hands, round the corpse,
and indicate with a burning cinder the place to which
the light must be applied.

As a community the Ambattans are divided into
Saivites and Vaishnavites. Members of the latter sec-
tion, who have been branded by their Brahman guru
with the chank and chakram, abstain from animal food,
and intoxicating drinks. Intermarriage between the two
sections is allowed, and commonly practised. They
belong to the right-hand faction, and will not eat with
Komatis, who belong to the left. They have, however,
no objection to shaving Komatis. The Ambattans of


the Chingleput district are divided into four sections,
each of which is controlled by a Perithanakkaran. One
of these resides in Madras, and the other three live re-
spectively at Poonamallee, Chingleput, and Karunguzhi
in the Madurantakam taluk of the Chingleput district.
Ambattans are now-a-days found over the whole Tamil
area of the Madras Presidency. Originally, free move-
ment into the various parts of the Presidency was far
from easy, and every Ambattan, wherever he might
migrate to, retained his subjection to the chief or head-
man of his native village. Thus, perhaps, what was at
first a tribal division gradually developed into a terri-
torial one. Each Perithanakkaran has under him six
hundred, or even a thousand Kudithalakkarans, or heads
of families. His office being hereditary, he is, if only a
minor, treated with respect and dignity. All the pre-
liminaries of marriage are arranged by him. On impor-
tant occasions, such as settling disputes, he is assisted
by a panchayat, or council of elders. In this way are
settled quarrels, questions arising out of adultery, or
non-payment of fines, which it is his duty to collect. He
is further responsible for the marriage rice-money, which
is added to a communal tax of 2\ annas per family,
which is imposed annually for charitable purposes. The
charities take the form of the maintenance of chattrams,
or places where pilgrims are fed free of charge at holy
places. Two such institutions are maintained in the
Chingleput district, the centre of the Ambattan commu-
nity, one at Tirupporur, the other at Tirukalikundram.
At these places Brahmans are given free meals, and to
other caste Hindus sadabath, or things necessary for
meals, are presented. Sometimes the money is spent
in building adjuncts to holy shrines. At Srirangam, for
example, the Ambattans, in days gone by, built a fine


stone mantapam for the local temple. If the Perithanak-
karan cannot satisfactorily dispose of a case with the
assistance of the usual panchayat (council), it is referred
to the higher authority of the Kavarai or Desai Setti, or
even to British Courts as a last resource.

The barber has been summed up by a district official *
as " one of the most useful of the village servants.
He leads an industrious life, his services being in demand
on all occasions of marriages, feasts, and funerals. He
often combines in himself the three useful vocations of
hair-dresser, surgeon, and musician. In the early hours
of the morning, he may be seen going his rounds to his
employers' houses in his capacity of shaver and hair-
cutter. Later on, he will be leading the village band
of musicians before a wedding procession, or playing at
a temple ceremony. Yet again he may be observed pay-
ing his professional visits as Vythian or physician, with
his knapsack of surgical instruments and cutaneous drugs
tucked under his arm. By long practice the barber
becomes a fairly skilful operator with the knife, which
he uses in a rough and ready manner. He lances
ulcers and carbuncles, and even essays his hand in affec-
tions of the eye, often with the most disastrous results.
It is the barber who takes away cricks and sprains,
procures leeches for those wishing to be bled, and
otherwise relieves the physical ills of his patients. The
barber woman, on the other hand, is the accoucheuse and
midwife of the village matrons. It may be said without
exaggeration that many of the uterine ailments which
furnish patients to the maternity wards of the various
hospitals in this country are attributable to the rude
treatment of the village midwife."

* Madras Mail, 1906.


The Ambattan will cut the nails, and shave not only
the head and face, but other parts of the body, whereas
the Telugu barber will shave only down to the waist.
The depilatory operations on women are performed by
female hair-dressers. Barbers' sons are taught to shave
by taking the bottom of an old well-burnt clay cooking-
pot, and, with a blunt knife, scraping off the collected
carbon. They then commence to operate on pubescent
youths. The barber who shaves Europeans must not
be a caste barber, but is either a Muhammadan or a non-
caste man. Quite recently, a youthful Ambattan had to
undergo ceremonial purification for having unconsciously
shaved a Paraiyan. Paraiyans, Malas, and other classes
of the lower orders, have their own barbers and washer-
men. Razors are, however, sometime lent to them by
the Ambattans for a small consideration, and cleansed
in water when they are returned. Parasitic skin diseases
are said to originate from the application of a razor,
which has been used on a number of miscellaneous
individuals. And well-to-do Hindus now keep their own
razor, which the barber uses when he comes to shave
them. In the southern districts, it is not usual for the
Ambattans to go to the houses of their customers, but
they have sheds at the backs of their own houses, where
they attend to them from daybreak till about mid-day.
Occasionally, when sent for, they will wait on Brahmans
and high-class non- Brahmans at their houses. Numbers
of them, besides, wait for customers near the riverside.
Like the English hair-cutter, the Ambattan is a chatter-
box, retails the petty gossip of the station, and is always
posted in the latest local news and scandal. The barbers
attached to British regiments are migratory, and, it is
said, have friends and connections in all military canton-
ments, with whom they exchange news, and hold social


intercourse. The Ambattan fills the role of negotiator
and go-between in the arrangement of marriages, feasts,
and funeral. He is, moreover, the village physician and
surgeon, and, in the days when blood-letting was still in
vogue, the operation of phlebotomy was part of his busi-
ness. In modern times, his nose has, like that of the
village potter, been put out of joint by civil hospitals and
dispensaries. His medicines consist of pills made from
indigenous drugs, the nature of which he does not reveal.
His surgical instrument is the razor which he uses for
shaving, and he does not resort to it until local applica-
tions, e.g., in a case of carbuncle, have failed.

In return for his multifarious services to the villagers,
the Ambattan was given a free grant of land, for which
he has even now to pay only a nominal tax. But, in the

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