Edgar Thurston.

Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 5) online

. (page 1 of 36)
Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook














Superintendent, Madras Government Museum ; Correspondant Etranger,

Soci6t d'Anthropologie de Paris ; Socio Corrispondante,

Societa Romana di Anthropologia.



of the Madras Government Museum.






MTiARAKKAYAR. The Marakkayars are de-
scribed, in the Madras Census Report, 1901,
as " a Tamil-speaking Musalman tribe of
mixed Hindu and Musalman origin, the people of
which are usually traders. They seem to be distinct
from the Labbais (g.v.) in several respects, but the
statistics of the two have apparently been confused,
as the numbers of the Marakkayars are smaller than
they should be." Concerning the Marakkayars of the
South Arcot district, Mr. Francis writes as follows.*
" The Marakkayars are largely big traders with other
countries such as Ceylon and the Straits Settlements,
and own most of the native coasting craft. They are
particularly numerous in Porto Novo. The word Marak-
kayar is usually derived from the Arabic markab, a boat.
The story goes that, when the first immigrants of this
class (who, like the Labbais, were driven from their own
country by persecutions) landed on the Indian shore,
they were naturally asked who they were, and whence
they came. In answer they pointed to their boats, and
pronounced the word markab, and they became in
consequence known to the Hindus as Marakkayars, or

* Gazetteer of the South Arcot district.



the people of markab. The Musalmans of pure descent
hold themselves to be socially superior to the Marak-
kayars, and the Marakkayars consider themselves better
than the Labbais. There is, of course, no religious bar
to intermarriages between these different sub-divisions,
but such unions are rare, and are usually only brought
about by the offer of strong financial inducements to the
socially superior party. Generally speaking, the pure-
bred Musalmans differ from those of mixed descent by
dressing themselves and their women in the strict
Musalman fashion, and by speaking Hindustani at home
among themselves. Some of the Marakkayars are now
following their example in both these matters, but most
of them affect the high hat of plaited coloured grass and
the tartan (kambayam) waist-cloth. The Labbais also
very generally wear these, and so are not always readily
distinguishable from the Marakkayars, but some of them
use the Hindu turban and waist-cloth, and let their
womankind dress almost exactly like Hindu women.
In the same way, some Labbais insist on the use of
Hindustani in their houses, while others speak Tamil.
There seems to be a growing dislike to the introduction
of Hindu rites into domestic ceremonies, and the proces-
sions and music, which were once common at marriages,
are slowly giving place to a simpler ritual more in resem-
blance with the nikka ceremony of the Musalman faith."
Of 13,712 inhabitants of Porto Novo returned at the
census, 1901, as many as 3,805 were Muhammadans.
" The ordinary vernacular name of the town is Farangi-
pettai or European town, but the Musalmans call it
Muhammad Bandar (Port). The interest of the majority
of the inhabitants centres in matters connected with
the sea. A large proportion of them earn their living
either as owners of, or sailors in, the boats which ply


between the place and Ceylon and other parts, and it is
significant that the most popular of the unusually large
number of Musalman saints who are buried in the town
is one Malumiyar, who was apparently in his lifetime a
notable sea-captain. His fame as a sailor has been
magnified into the miraculous, and it is declared that
he owned ten or a dozen ships, and used to appear in
command of all of them simultaneously. He has now
the reputation of being able to deliver from danger
those who go down to the sea in ships, and sailors
setting out on a voyage or returning from one in safety
usually put an offering in the little box kept at his
darga, and these sums are expended in keeping that
building lighted and whitewashed. Another curious
darga in the town is that of Araikasu Nachiyar, or the
one pie lady. Offerings to her must on no account be
worth more than one pie (y^ of a rupee) ; tributes in
excess of that value are of no effect. If sugar for so
small an amount cannot be procured, the devotee spends
the money on chunam (lime) for her tomb, and this is
consequently covered with a superabundance of white-
wash. Stories are told of the way in which the valuable
offerings of rich men have altogether failed to obtain her
favour, and have had to be replaced by others of the
regulation diminutive dimensions. The chief mosque is
well kept. Behind it are two tombs, which stand at an
odd angle with one another, instead of being parallel as
usual. The legend goes that once upon a time there
was a great saint called Hafiz Mir Sahib, who had an
even more devout disciple called Saiyad Shah. The
latter died and was duly buried, and not long after the
saint died also. The disciple had always asked to be
buried at the feet of his master, and so the grave of this
latter was so placed that his feet were opposite the head



of his late pupil. But his spirit recognised that the
pupil was really greater than the master, and when men
came later to see the two graves they found that the
saint had turned his tomb round so that his feet no
longer pointed with such lack of respect towards the
head of his disciple." *

In the Madras Census Report, 1901, the Jonagans
are separated from the Marakkayars, and are described
as Musalman traders of partly H indu parentage. And,
in the Gazetteer of South Arcot, Mr. Francis says that
"the term Jonagan or Sonagan, meaning a native of
Sonagan or Arabia, is applied by Hindus to both Labbais
and Marakkayars, but it is usually held to have a contemp-
tuous flavour about it." There is some little confusion
concerning the exact application of the name Jonagan,
but I gather that it is applied to sea-fishermen and
boatmen, while the more prosperous traders are called
Marakkayars. A point, in which the Labbais are said
to differ from the Marakkayars, is that the former are
Hanafis, and the latter Shafis.

The Marakkayars are said to admit converts from
various Hindu classes, who are called Pulukkais, and
may not intermarry with the Marakkayars for several
generations, or until they have become prosperous.

In one form of the marriage rites, the ceremonial
extends over four days. The most important items
on the first day are fixing the mehr (bride-price) in the
presence of the vakils (representatives), and the per-
formance of the nikka rite by the Kazi. The nikka
kudbha is read, and the hands of the contracting couple
are united by male elders, the bride standing within a
screen. During the reading of the kudbha, a sister of

* Gazetteer of the South Arcot district.


the bridegroom ties a string of black-heads round the
bride's neck. All the women present set up a roar,
called kulavi-idal. On the following day, the couple sit
among women, and the bridegroom ties a golden tali
on the bride's neck. On the third or fourth day a
ceremony called paparakkolam, or Brahman disguise, is
performed. The bride is dressed like a Brahman woman,
and holds a brass vessel in one hand, and a stick in the
other. Approaching the bridegroom, she strikes him
gently, and says " Did not I give you buttermilk and
curds ? Pay me for them." The bridegroom then places
a few tamarind seeds in the brass vessel, but the bride
objects to this, and demands money, accompanying the
demand with strokes of the stick. The man then places
copper, silver, and gold coins in the vessel, and the bride
retires in triumph to her chamber.

Like the Labbais, the Marakkayars write Tamil in
Arabic characters, and speak a language called Arab-
Tamil, in which the Kuran and other books have been
published. (See Labbai.)

Maralu (sand). A gotra of Kurni.

Maran or Marayan. The Malayans are summed
up, in the Madras Census Report, 1901, as being
" temple servants and drummers in Malabar. Like
many of the Malabar castes, they must have come from
the east coast, as their name frequently occurs in the
Tanjore inscriptions of 1013 A.D. They followed then
the same occupation as that by which they live to-day,
and appear to have held a tolerably high social position.
In parts of North Malabar they are called Oc'chan."

"The development of this caste," Mr. H. A.
Stuart writes,* " is interesting. In Chirakkal, the

* Madras Census Report, 1891.


northernmost taluk of the Malabar district, and in the
adjoining Kasargod taluk of South Canara, Marayans
are barbers, serving Nayars and higher castes ; in the
Kottayam and Kurumbranad taluks they are barbers and
drummers, and also officiate as purohits (priests) at the
funeral ceremonies of Nayars. In the latter capacity
they are known in those parts also as Attikurissi Marayan.
Going still further south, we find the Nayar purohit
called simply Attikurissi, omitting the Marayan, and
he considers it beneath his dignity to shave. Neverthe-
less, he betrays his kinship with the Marayan of the
north by the privilege which he claims of cutting the first
hair when a Nayar is shaved after funeral obsequies.
On the other hand, the drummer, who is called Marayan,
or honorifically Marar, poses as a temple servant, and
would be insulted if it were said that he was akin to the
shaving Marayan of the north. He is considered next in
rank only to Brahmans, and would be polluted by the
touch of Nayars. He loses caste by eating the food of
Nayars, but the Nayars also lose caste by eating his food.
A proverb says that a Marayan has four privileges :

1. Pani, or drum, beaten with the hand.

2. Koni, or bier, i.e., the making of the bier.

3. Natumittam, or shaving.

4. Tirumittam, or sweeping the temple courts.

" In North Malabar a Marayan performs all the above
duties even now. In the south there appears to have been
a division of labour, and there a Marayan is in these days
only a drummer and temple servant. Funeral rites are
conducted by an Attikurissi Marayan, otherwise known
as simply Attikurissi, and shaving is the duty of the
Velakattalavan. This appears to have been the case for
many generations, but I have not attempted to distin-
guish between the two sections, and have classed all as


barbers. Moreover, it is only in parts of South Malabar
that the caste has entirely given up the profession of
barber ; and, curiously enough, these are the localities
where Nambudiri influence is supreme. The Marayans
there appear to have confined themselves to officiating
as drummers in temples, and to have obtained the title
of Ambalavasi ; and, in course of time, they were even
honoured with sambandham of Nambudiris. In some
places an attempt is made to draw a distinction between
Marayan and Marayar, the former denoting the barber,
and the latter, which is merely the honorific plural, the
temple servant. There can, however, be little doubt
that this is merely an ex post facto argument in support
of the alleged superiority of those Marayans who have
abandoned the barber's brush. It may be here noted
that it is common to find barbers acting as musicians
throughout the Madras Presidency, and that there are
several other castes in Malabar, such as the Tiyyans,
Mukkuvans, etc., who employ barbers as purohits at
their funeral ceremonies."

In the Cochin Census Report, 1901, Mr. M. Sankara
Menon writes that the Marars are " Sudras, and, properly
speaking, they ought to be classed along with Nayars.
Owing, however, to their close connection with ser-
vices in temples, and the absence of free interdining or
intermarriage with Nayars, they are classed along
with Ambalavasis. They are drummers, musicians, and
storekeepers in temples. Like Tiyattu Nambiyars, some
sections among them also draw figures of the goddess in
Bhagavati temples, and chant songs. In some places
they are also known as Kuruppus. Some sub-castes
among them do not dine, or intermarry. As they have
generally to serve in temples, they bathe if they touch
Nayars. In the matter of marriage (tali-kettu and


sambandham), inheritance, period of pollution, etc., they
follow customs exactly like those of Nayars. In the
southern taluks Elayads officiate as purohits, but, in the
northern taluks, their own castemen take the part of the
Elayads in their sradha ceremonies. The tali-kettu is
likewise performed by Tirumalpads in the southern
taluks, but by their own castemen, called Enangan, in
the northern taluks. Their castemen or Brahmans unite
themselves with their women in sambandham. As
among Nayars, purificatory ceremonies after funerals,
etc., are performed by Cheethiyans or Nayar priests."

For the following detailed note on the Marans of
Travancore I am indebted to Mr. N. Subramani Iyer.
The name Maran has nothing to do with maranam or
death, as has been supposed, but is derived from the
Tamil root mar, to beat. In the Tanjore inscriptions of
the eleventh century, the caste on the Coromandel coast
appears to have been known by this name. The Marans
correspond to the Occhans of the Tamil country, and
a class of Marans in North Malabar are sometimes called
by this designation. In the old revenue records of the
Travancore State, Mangalyam appears to be the term
made use of. The two well-known titles of the caste
are Kuruppu and Panikkar, both conveying the idea of
a person who has some allotted work to perform. In
modern days, English-educated men appear to have
given these up for Pillai, the titular affix added to the
name of the Sudra population generally.

Marans may be divided into two main divisions, viz.,
Marans who called themselves Marars in North Travan-
core, and who now hesitate to assist other castes in the
performance of their funeral rites ; and Marans who do
not convert their caste designation into an honorific
plural, and act as priests for other castes. This distinction


is most clearly marked in North Travancore, while to
the south of Alleppey the boundary line may be said to
remain only dim. In this part of the country, therefore,
a fourfold division of the caste is the one best known to
the people, namely Orunul, Irunul, Cheppat, and Kulanji.
The Orunuls look upon themselves as higher than the
Irunuls, basing their superiority on the custom obtaining
among them of marrying only once in their lifetime, and
contracting no second alliance after the first husband's
death. Living, however, with a Brahman, or one of
a distinctly higher caste, is tolerated among them in the
event of that calamity. The word Orunul means one
string, and signifies the absence of widow marriage.
Among the Irunuls (two strings) the tali-tier is not
necessarily the husband, nor is a second husband for-
bidden after the death of the first. Cheppat and Kulanji
were once mere local varieties, but have now become
separate sub-divisions. The males of the four sections,
but not the females, interdine. With what rapidity
castes sub-divide and ramify in Travancore may be seen
from the fact of the existence of a local variety of Ma-
rans called Muttal, meaning substitute or emergency
employee, in the Kalkulam taluk, who are believed to
represent an elevation from a lower to a higher class of
Marans, rendered necessary by a temple exigency.
The Marans are also known as Asupanis, as they alone
are entitled to sound the two characteristic musical
instruments, of Malabar temples, called asu and pani.
In the south they are called Chitikans, a corruption
of the Sanskrit chaitika, meaning one whose occupation
relates to the funeral pile, and in the north Asthikkurichis
(asthi, a bone), as they help the relations of the dead
in the collection of the bones after cremation. The
Marans are, further, in some places known as Potuvans,


as their services are engaged at the funerals of many

Before the days of Sankaracharya, the sole occupation
of the Marans is said to have been beating the drum in
Brahmanical temples. When Sankaracharya was refused
assistance in the cremation of his dead mother by the
Nambutiri Brahmans, he is believed to have sought in
despair the help of one of these temple servants, with
whose aid the corpse was divided into eight parts, and
deposited in the pit. For undertaking this duty, which
the Nambutiris repudiated from a sense of offended
religious feeling, the particular Maran was thrown out
of his caste by the general community, and a compromise
had to be effected by the sage with the rest of the caste,
who returned in a body on the day of purification along
with the excommunicated man, and helped Sankaracharya
to bring to a close his mother's death ceremonies. In
recognition of this timely help, Sankara is believed to
have declared the Maran to be an indispensable func-
tionary at the death ceremonies of Nambutiris and
Ambalavasis. It has even been suggested that the
original form of Maran was Muran, derived from mur
(to chop off), in reference to the manner in which the
remains of Sankara's mother were disposed of.

The traditional occupation of the Marans is sounding
or playing on the panchavadya or five musical instru-
ments used in temples. These are the sankh or
conch-shell, timila, chendu, kaimani, and maddalam.
The conch, which is necessary in every Hindu temple,
is loudly sounded in the early morning, primarily to wake
the deity, and secondarily to rouse the villagers. Again,
when the temple service commences, and when the
nivedya or offering is carried, the music of the conch is
heard from the northern side of the temple. On this


account, many Marans call themselves Vadakkupurattu,
or belonging to the northern side. The asu and pani
are sounded by the highest dignitaries among them.
The beating of the pani is the accompaniment of expiatory
offerings to the Saptamata, or seven mothers of Hindu
religious writings, viz., Brahmi, Mahesvari, Kaumari,
Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, and Chamunda. Offerings
are made to these divine mothers during the daily sribali
procession, and in important temples also during the
sribhutabali hours, and on the occasion of the utsavabali
at the annual utsava of the temple. There are certain
well-established rules prescribing the hymns to be recited,
and the music to be played. So religiously have these
rules to be observed during the utsavabali, that the
priest who makes the offering, the Variyar who carries
the light before him and the Marans who perform the
music all have to fast, and to dress themselves in orthodox
Brahmanical fashion, with the uttariya or upper garment
worn in the manner of the sacred thread. It is sincerely
believed that the smallest violation of the rules would be
visited with dire consequences to the delinquents before
the next utsava ceremony.

In connection with the musical instrument called
the timila, the following legend is current. There was a
timila in the Sri Padmanabha temple made of kuruntotti,
and there was a Maran attached to the temple, who
was such an expert musician that the priest was unable
to adjust his hymn recitation to the music of the Maran's
drum, and was in consequence the recipient of the divine
wrath. It was contrived to get a Brahman youth to
officiate as priest, and, as he could not recite the hymns
in consonance with the sounds produced by the drum, a
hungry spirit lifted him up from the ground to a height
of ten feet. The father of the youth, hearing what had


occurred, hastened to the temple, and cut one of his
fingers, the blood of which he offered to the spirit. The
boy was then set free, and the old man, who was more
than a match for the Maran, began to recite the hymns.
The spirits, raising the Maran on high, sucked away his
blood, and vanished. The particular timila has since
this event never been used by any Maran.

The higher classes of Marans claim six privileges,
called pano, koni, tirumuttam, natumuttam, velichchor,
and puchchor. Koni means literally a ladder, and refers
to the stretcher, made of bamboo and kusa grass or
straw, on which the corpses of high caste Hindus are
laid. Tirumuttam is sweeping the temple courtyard,
and natumuttam the erection of a small pandal (booth)
in the courtyard of a Nambutiri's house, where oblations
are offered to the departed spirit on the tenth day after
death. Velichchor, or sacrificial rice, is the right to
retain the remains of the food offered to the manes, and
puchchor the offering made to the deity, on whom the
priest throws a few flowers as part of the consecration

A large portion of the time of a Maran is spent
within the temple, and all through the night some watch
over it. Many functions are attended to by them in the
houses of Nambutiris. Not only at the tonsure ceremony,
and samavartana or closing of the Brahmacharya stage,
but also on the occasion of sacrificial rites, the Maran
acts as the barber. At the funeral ceremony, the pre-
paration of the last bed, and handing the til (Sesamum)
seeds, have to be done by him. The Chitikkans perform
only the functions of shaving and attendance at funerals,
and, though they may beat drums in temples, they are
not privileged to touch the asu and pani. At Vechur
there is a class of potters called Kusa Maran, who should


be distinguished from the Marans proper, with whom
they have absolutely nothing in common.

Many families of the higher division of the Marans
regard themselves as Ambalavasis, though of the lowest
type, and abstain from flesh and liquor. Some Marans
are engaged in the practice of sorcery, while others are
agriculturists. Drinking is a common vice, sanctioned
by popular opinion owing to the notion that it is good
for persons with overworked lungs.

In their ceremonies the Marans resemble the Nayars,
as they do also in their caste government and religious
worship. The annaprasana, or first food-giving cere-
mony, is the only important one before marriage, and
the child is taken to the temple, where it partakes of the
consecrated food. The Nayars, on the contrary, gener-
ally perform the ceremony at home. Purification by a
Brahman is necessary to release the Maran from death
pollution, which is not the case with the Nayars. In
Travancore, at any rate, the Nayars are considered to
be higher in the social scale than the Marans.

In connection with asu and pani, which have been
referred to in this note, I gather that, in Malabar, the
instruments called maram (wood), timila, shanku, chen-
gulam, and chenda, if played together, constitute pani
kottugu, or playing pani. Asu and maram are the
names of an instrument, which is included in pani
kottugu. Among the occasions when this is indispensa-
ble, are the dedication of the idol at a newly built temple,
the udsavam puram and Sriveli festivals, and the carrying
of the tadambu, or shield-like structure, on which a
miniature idol (vigraham) is borne outside the temple.

Marasari. Marasari or Marapanikkan, meaning
carpenter or worker in wood, is an occupational sub-
division of Malayalam Kammalas.


Maratha. Marathas are found in every district
of the Madras Presidency, but are, according to the
latest census returns, most numerous in the following
districts :

South Canara .. .. _-. .. 31,351

Salem . . . . . . . . . . 7,314

Tajrjore .. .. .. .. ..7,156

Bellary .. ., 6,311

It is recorded, in the Madras Census Report, 1891,
that "the term Marathi denotes the various Marathi
non- Brahman castes, who came to the south either as
soldiers or camp followers in the armies of the Marathi
invaders ; but in South Canara, in which district the
caste is most numerous, it appears to be the same as
Are, a class of Marathi cultivators. Of the total number
of 65,961, as many as 40,871 have returned Marathi
as both caste and sub-division. The number of sub-
divisions returned by the rest is no less than 305, of
which the majority are the names of other castes. Some
of these castes are purely Dravidian, and the names
have evidently been used in their occupational sense.
For example, we have Bogam, Gandla, Mangala, etc."

Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 36)