Edgar Thurston.

Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 6) online

. (page 27 of 34)
Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 6) → online text (page 27 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

carry away dead cattle, and ordinary barbers will not


serve them, and food prepared by them will not be
accepted even by barbers or washermen. Somewhat
similar anomalies occur in the case of the Kammalas,
and the explanation may be that these two castes
belonged to the old left-hand faction, while the Pariyans,
and the barbers and washermen belonged to the right-
hand. Paraiyans similarly will not eat in the houses of
Beri Chettis, who were of the left-hand faction."

Senapati.- A title, denoting commander-in-chief,
said to be sold to Khoduras, and also occurring as a title
of other Oriya castes, e.g., Kurumo and Ronguni.
Among the Rongunis, the title is practically an exoga-
mous sept. Senapati is further a name for Sales (Telugu
weavers), the headman among whom is called Pedda
(big) Senapati. The headman of the Salapu weavers,
who do not intermarry with the Sales, is also styled
Senapati. It is also a title of the Raja of Sandur.

Sendalai (red-headed man). Returned as a sub-
division of Konga Vellalas at times of census.

Sengundam (red dagger). A synonym, connected
with a caste legend, of Kaikolan.

Seniga (Bengal gram : Cicer arietinum). An
exogamous sept of Medara and Pedakanti Kapu.

Seniyan. The name Seniyan is generally used to
denote the Kama Sale weavers, but at Conjeeveram it
is applied to Canarese Devangas. Elsewhere Canarese
Devangas belong to the left-hand section, but at Conjee-
veram they are classed with the right-hand section.
Like other Devangas, the Conjeeveram Seniyans have
exogamous house-names and gotras, which are interest-
ing inasmuch as new names have been, in recent
times, substituted for the original ones, e.g., Chandra-
sekhara rishi, Nilakanta rishi, Markandeya rishi. The
Devangas claim Markandeya as their ancestor. The


old house-name Picchi Kaya (water-melon : Citrullus
vulgaris) has been changed to Desimarada, and eating
the melon is tabu. A list of the house-names and gotras
is kept by the headman for reference. The Conjee-
veram Seniyans are Lingayats, but are not so strict as the
Canarese Lingayats. Jangams are respected, but rank
after their own stone lingams. In the observance of
death rites, a staunch Lingayat should not bathe, and
must partake of the food offered to the corpse. These
customs are not observed by the Seniyans. Until quite
recently, a man might tie a tali (marriage badge)
secretly on a girl's neck, with the consent of the head-
man and his relatives, and the girl could then be given
in marriage to no other man. This custom is said to
have been very common, especially in the case of a
man's maternal uncle's or paternal aunt's daughter. At
Conjeeveram it was extended to girls not so related, and
a caste council was held, at which an agreement was
drawn up that the secret tali-tying was forbidden, and,
if performed, was not to be regarded as binding. The
priest of the Conjeeveram Seniyans is a Vellala Panda-
ram, who is the head of the Tirugnana Sambanda Murti
mutt (religious institution) at Conjeeveram.

Servai. -Servai, meaning service, has been recorded
as the title of Agamudaiyans and Valaiyans. Servai-
karan or Servaigaran (captain or commander) is the
title of Agamudaiyan, Ambalakaran, Kalian, Maravan,
and Parivaram. It further occurs as the name for a
headman among the Vallambans, and it has been
adopted as a false caste name by some criminal Koravas
in the south.

Servegara. The Servegaras are a caste found in
South Canara, and to a small extent in Bellary. " They
are said to be a branch of the Konkan Marathis of Goa,


from whence they were invited by the Lingayat kings of
Nagara to serve as soldiers and to defend their forts
(kote), whence the alternative name of Koteyava (or
Kotegara). Another name for them is Ramakshatri.
The mother-tongue of the Servegaras of South Canara
is Canarese, while their brethren in the north speak
Konkani. They have now taken to cultivation, but
some are employed in the Revenue and Police depart-
ments as peons (orderlies) and constables, and a few
are shopkeepers. The name Servegara is derived from
the Canarese serve, an army. In religion they are
Hindus, and, like most West Coast castes, are equally
partial to the worship of Siva and Vishnu. They wear
the sacred thread. Karadi Brahmans are their priests,
and they owe allegiance to the head of the Sringeri
mutt. Their girls are married before puberty, and the
remarriage of widows is neither allowed nor practiced.
Divorce is permitted only on the ground of the unchastity
of the wife. The body of a child under three years is
buried, and that of any person exceeding that age is
cremated. They eat flesh, but do not drink. Their
titles are Nayak, Aiya, Rao, and Sheregar."* In the
Census Report, 1901, Bomman Valekara is returned as
a synonym, and Vilayakara as a sub-caste of Servegara.

Setti. See Chetti.

Settukkaran. A castle title, meaning economical
people, sometimes used by Devangas instead of Setti
or Chetti.

Sevagha Vritti. A sub-division of Kaikolan.

Sevala (service). An exogamous sept of Golla.

Shanan. The great toddy-drawing caste of the
Tamil country, which, a few years ago, came into special

* Manual of the South Canara district.


prominence owing to the Tinnevelly riots in 1899.
" These were," the Inspector-General of Police writes,*
" due to the pretensions of the Shanans to a much higher
position in the religio-social scale than the other castes
are willing to allow. Among other things, they claimed
admission to Hindu temples, and the manager of the
Visvanatheswara temple at Sivakasi decided to close it.
This partial victory of the Shanans was keenly resented
by their opponents, of whom the most active were the
Maravans. Organised attacks were made on a number
of the Shanan villages ; the inhabitants were assailed ;
houses were burnt ; and property was looted. The most
serious occurrence was the attack on Sivakasi by a body
of over five thousand Maravans. Twenty-three murders,
102 dacoities, and many cases of arson were registered
in connection with the riots in Sivakasi, Chinniapuram,
and other places. Of 1,958 persons arrested, 552 were
convicted, 7 being sentenced to death. One of the

ring-leaders hurried by train to distant Madras, and


made a clever attempt to prove an alibi by signing his
name in the Museum visitor's book. During the dis-
turbance some of the Shanans are said to have gone
into the Muhammadan fold. The men shaved their
heads, and grew beards ; and the women had to make
sundry changes in their dress. And, in the case of
boys, the operation of circumcision was performed."

The immediate bone of contention at the time of
the Tinnevelly riots was, the Census Superintendent,
1901, writes, " the claim of the Shanans to enter the
Hindu temples, in spite of the rules in the Agama
Shastras that toddy-drawers are not to be allowed into
them ; but the pretensions of the community date back

* Administration Report, 1899.


from 1858, when a riot occurred in Travancore, because
female Christian converts belonging to it gave up the
caste practice of going about without an upper cloth."
On this point Mr. G. T. Mackenzie informs us * that
" in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the
female converts to Christianity in the extreme south
ventured, contrary to the old rules for the lower castes,
to clothe themselves above the waist. This innovation
was made the occasion for threats, violence, and series
of disturbances. Similar disturbances arose from the
same cause nearly thirty years later, and, in 1859,
Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, interfered,
and granted permission to the women of the lower castes
to wear a cloth over the breasts and shoulders. The
following proclamation was issued by the Maharaja of
Travancore : We hereby proclaim that there is no
objection tQ Shanan women either putting on a jacket
like the Christian Shanan women, or to Shanan women
of all creeds dressing in coarse cloth, and tying them-
selves round with it as the Mukkavattigal (fisherwomen)
do, or to their covering their bosoms in any manner
whatever, but not like women of high castes." " Shortly
after 1858, pamphlets began to be written and published
by people of the caste, setting out their claims to be
Kshatriyas. In 1874 they endeavoured to establish a
right to enter the great Minakshi temple at Madura,
but failed, and they have since claimed to be allowed to
wear the sacred thread, and to have palanquins at their
weddings. They say they are descended from the Chera,
Chola and Pandya kings ; they have styled themselves
Kshatriyas in legal papers ; labelled their schools
Kshatriya academy ; got Brahmans of the less particular

* Christianity in Travancore, 1901.


kind to do purohit's work for them ; had poems composed
on their kingly origin ; gone through a sort of incom-
plete parody of the ceremony of investiture with the
sacred thread ; talked much but ignorantly of their
gotras ; and induced needy persons to sign documents
agreeing to carry them in palanquins on festive occa-
sions." [During my stay at Nazareth in Tinnevelly, for
the purpose of taking measurements of the Shanans, I
received a visit from some elders of the community from
Kuttam, who arrived in palanquins, and bearing weapons
of old device.] Their boldest stroke was to aver that
the coins commonly known as Shanans' cash were struck
by sovereign ancestors of the caste. The author of a
pamphlet entitled ' Bishop Caldwell and the Tinnevelly
Shanars ' states that he had met with men of all castes
who say that they have seen the true Shanar coin with
their own eyes, and that a Eurasian gentleman from
Bangalore testified to his having seen a true Shanar
coin at Bangalore forty years ago. The coin referred
to is the gold Venetian sequin, which is still found in
considerable numbers in the south, and bears the names
of the Doges (Paul Rainer, Aloy Mocen, Ludov Manin,
etc.) and a cross, which the Natives mistake for a toddy
palm. " If," Mr. Fawcett writes,* " one asks the
ordinary Malayali (native of Malabar) what persons are
represented on the sequin, one gets for answer that they
are Rama and Sita : between them a cocoanut tree.
Every Malayali knows what an Amada is ; it is a real
or imitation Venetian sequin. I have never heard any
explanation of the word Amada in Malabar. The
following comes from Tinnevelly. Amada was the con-
sort of Bhagavati, and he suddenly appeared one day

* Madras Museum Bull., Ill, 3, 1901.


before a Shanar, and demanded food. The Shanar said
he was a poor man with nothing to offer but toddy,
which he gave in a palmyra leaf. Amada drank the
toddy, and performing a mantram (consecrated formula)
over the leaf, it turned into gold coins, which bore on
one side the pictures of Amada, the Shanar, and the
tree, and these he gave to the Shanar as a reward for
his willingness to assist him."

In a petition to myself from certain Shanans of
Nazareth, signed by a very large number of the com-
munity, and bearing the title " Short account of the
Cantras or Tamil Xatras, the original but down-trodden
royal race of Southern India," they write as follows.
" We humbly beg to say that we are the descendants of
the Pandya or Dravida Xatra race, who, shortly after
the universal deluge of Noah, first disafforested and
colonized this land of South India under the guidance
of Agastya Muni. The whole world was destroyed by
flood about B.C. 3100 (Dr. Hale's calculation), when
Noah, otherwise called Vaivasvata-manu or Satyavrata,
was saved with his family of seven persons in an ark or
covered ship, which rested upon the highest mountain
of the Aryavarta country. Hence the whole earth was
rapidly replenished by his descendants. One of his
grandsons (nine great Prajapatis) was Atri, whose son
Candra was the ancestor of the noblest class of the
Xatras ranked above the Brahmans, and the first
illustrious monarch of the post-diluvian world."

" Apparently," the Census Superintendent continues,
"judging from the Shanan's own published statements
of their case, they rest their claims chiefly upon etymo-
logical derivations of their caste name Shanan, and of
Nadan and Gramani, their two usual titles. Caste titles
and names are, however, of recent origin, and little


can be inferred from them, whatever their meaning may
be shown to be. Brahmans, for example, appear to
have borne the titles of Pillai and Mudali, which are
now only used by Sudras, and the Nayak kings, on
the other hand, called themselves Aiyar, which is now
exclusively the title of Saivite Brahmans. To this day
the cultivating Vellalas, the weaving Kaikolars, and the
semi-civilised hill tribe of the Jatapus use equally the
title of Mudali, and the Balijas and Telagas call them-
selves Rao, which is properly the title of Mahratta
Brahmans. Regarding the derivation of the words
Shanan, Nadan and Gramani, much ingenuity has been
exercised. Shanan is not found in the earlier Tamil
literature at all. In the inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola
(A.D. 984-1013) toddy-drawers are referred to as Iluvans.
According to Pingalandai, a dictionary of the loth or
nth century, the names of the toddy-drawer castes are
Palaiyar, Tuvasar, and Paduvar. To these the Chuda-
mani Nikandu, a Tamil dictionary of the i6th century,
adds Saundigar. Apparently, therefore, the Sanskrit
word Saundigar must have been introduced (probably by
the Brahmans) between the nth and i6th centuries, and
is a Sanskrit rendering of the word Iluvan. From
Saundigar to Shanan is nqt a long step in the corruption
of words. The Shanans say that Shanan is derived
from the Tamil word Sanrar or Sanror, which means the
learned or the noble. But it does not appear that
the Shanans were ever called Sanrar or Sanror in any of
the Tamil works. The two words Nadan and Gramani
mean the same thing, namely, ruler of a country or of
a village, the former being a Tamil, and the latter a
Sanskrit word. Nadan, on the other hand, means a
man who lives in the country, as opposed to Uran, the
man who resides in a village. The title of the caste is


Nadan, and it seems most probable that it refers to the
fact that the Iluvan ancestors of the caste lived outside
the villages. (South Indian Inscriptions, vol. II, part
i.) But, even if Nadan and Gramani both mean rulers,
it does not give those who bear these titles any claim
to be Kshatriyas. If it did, all the descendants of the
many South Indian Poligars, or petty chiefs, would be

The Census Superintendent, 1891, states that the
" Shanans are in social position usually placed only a
little above the Pallas and the Paraiyans, and are consi-
dered to be one of the polluting castes, but of late many
of them have put forward a claim to be considered
Kshatriyas, and at least 24,000 of them appear as
Kshatriyas in the caste tables. This is, of course,
absurd, as there is no such thing as a Dravidian Kshat-
riya. But it is by no means certain that the Shanans
were not at one time a warlike tribe, for we find traces
of a military occupation among several toddy-drawing
castes of the south, such as the Billavas (bowmen),
Halepaik (old foot soldiers), Kumarapaik (junior foot).
Even the Kadamba kings of Mysore are said to have
been toddy-drawers. ' The Kadamba tree appears to be
one of the palms, from which toddy is extracted. Toddy-
drawing is the special occupation of the several primitive
tribes spread over the south-west of India, and bearing
different names in various parts. They were employed
by former rulers as foot-soldiers and bodyguards, being
noted for their fidelity.* ' The word Shanan is ordinarily
derived from Tamil saru, meaning toddy ; but a learned
missionary derives it from san (a span) and nar (fibre
or string), that is the noose, one span in length, used

* Rice. Mysore Inscriptions, p. 33.


by the Shanans in climbing palm-trees." The latter
derivation is also given by Vellalas.

It is worthy of note that the Tiyans, or Malabar
toddy-drawers, addressione another, and are addressed
by the lower classes as Shener, which is probably another
form of Shanar.*

The whole story of the claims and pretensions of the
Shanans is set out at length in the judgment in the
Kamudi temple case (1898) which was heard on appeal
before the High Court of Madras. And I may appro-
priately quote from the judgment. " There is no sort
of proof, nothing, we may say, that even suggests a
probability that the Shanars are descendants from the
Kshatriya or warrior castes of Hindus, or from the
Pandiya, Chola or Chera race of kings. Nor is there
any distinction to be drawn between the Nadars and the
Shanars. Shanar is the general name of the caste, just
as Vellala and Maravar designate castes. ' Nadar ' is a
mere title, more or less honorific, assumed by certain
members or families of the caste, just as Brahmins are
called Aiyars, Aiyangars, and Raos. All ' Nadars ' are
Shanars by caste, unless indeed they have abandoned
caste, as many of them have by becoming Christians.
The Shanars have, as a class, from time immemorial,
been devoted to the cultivation of the palmyra palm, and
to the collection of the juice, and manufacture of liquor
from it. There are no grounds whatever for regarding
them as of Aryan origin. Their worship was a form of
demonology, and their position in general social estima-
tion appears to have been just above that of Pallas,
Pariahs, and Chucklies (Chakkiliyans), who are on all
hands regarded as unclean, and prohibited from the use

* Madras Census Report, 1901.


of the Hindu temples, and below that of Vellalas, Mara-
vans, and other classes admittedly free to worship in
the Hindu temples. In process of time, many of the
Shanars took to cultivating, trade, and money-lending,
and to-day there is a numerous and prosperous body
of Shanars, who have no immediate concern with the
immemorial calling of their caste. In many villages
they own much of the land, and monopolise the bulk of
the trade and wealth. With the increase of wealth they
have, not unnaturally, sought for social recognition, and
to be treated on a footing of equality in religious matters.
The conclusion of the Sub-Judge is that, according to
the A^ama Shastras which are received as authoritative


by worshippers of Siva in the Madura district, entry into
a temple, where the ritual prescribed by these Shastras
is observed, is prohibited to all those whose profession
is the manufacture of intoxicating liquor, and the climb-
ing of palmyra and cocoanut trees. No argument was
addressed to us to show that this finding is incorrect, and
we see no reason to think that it is so . . . . No
doubt many of the Shanars have abandoned their heredi-
tary occupation, and have won for themselves by educa-
tion, industry and frugality, respectable positions as
traders and merchants, and even as vakils (law pleaders)
and clerks ; and it is natural to feel sympathy for their
efforts to obtain social recognition, and to rise to what is
regarded as a higher form of religious worship ; but such
sympathy will not be increased by unreasonable and
unfounded pretensions, and, in the effort to rise, the
Shanars must not invade the established rights of other
castes. They have temples of their own, and are numer-
ous enough, and strong enough in wealth and education,
to rise along their own lines, and without appropriating
the institutions or infringing the rights of others, and in

VI-24 B


so doing they will have the sympathy of all right-minded
men, and, if necessary, the protection of the Courts."

In a note on the Shanans, the Rev. J. Sharrock
writes * that they " have risen enormously in the social
scale by their eagerness for education, by their large
adoption of the freedom of Christianity, and by their
thrifty habits. Many of them have forced themselves
ahead of the Maravars by sheer force of character.
They have still to learn that the progress of a nation, or
a caste, does not depend upon the interpretation of words,
or the assumption of a title, but on the character of the'
individuals that compose it. Evolutions are hindered
rather than advanced by such unwise pretensions result-
ing in violence ; but evolutions resulting from intellectual
and social development are quite irresistible, if any caste
will continue to advance by its own efforts in the path
of freedom and progress."

Writing in 1875, Bishop Cal dwell remarks f that
" the great majority of the Shanars who remain heathen
wear their hair long ; and, if they are not allowed to
enter the temples, the restriction to which they are
subject is not owing to their long hair, but to their caste,
for those few members of the caste, continuing heathens,
who have adopted the kudumi generally the wealthiest
of the caste are as much precluded from entering the
temples as those who retain their long hairs. A large
majority of the Christian Shanars have adopted the
kudumi together with Christianity."

By Regulation XI, 1816, it was enacted that heads
of villages have, in cases of a trivial nature, such as
abusive language and inconsiderable assaults or affrays,
power to confine the offending members in the village

* Madras Mail, 1901. f I nd A nt -> IV l8 ?5-


choultry (lock-up) for a time not exceeding twelve
hours ; or, if the offending parties are of the lower castes
of the people, on whom it may not be improper to inflict
so degrading a punishment, to order them to be put
in the stocks for a time not exceeding six hours. In a
case which came before the High Court it was ruled
that by " lower castes " were probably intended those
castes which, prior to the introduction of British rule,
were regarded as servile. In a case which came up on
appeal before the High Court in 1903, it was ruled that
the Shanars belong to the lower classes, who may be
punished by confinement in the stocks.

With the physique of the Shanans, whom I examined
at Nazareth and Sawyerpuram in Tinnevelly, and their
skill in physical exercises I was very much impressed.
The programme of sports, which were organised in my
honour, included the following events :

Fencing and figure exercises with long sticks of
iron-wood (Mesua ferrea).

Figure exercises with sticks bearing flaming rags
at each end.

Various acrobatic tricks.

Feats with heavy weights, rice-pounders, and
pounding stones.

Long jump.

Breaking cocoanuts with the thrust of a knife or
the closed fist.

Crunching whiskey-bottle glass with the teeth.

Running up, and butting against the chest, back,
and shoulders.

Swallowing a long silver chain.

Cutting a cucumber balanced on a man's neck in
two with a sword.



One of the good qualities of Sir Thomas Munro,
formerly Governor of Madras, was that, like Rama and
Rob Roy, his arms reached to his knees, or, in other
words, he possessed the kingly quality of an Ajanubahu,
which is the heritage of kings, or those who have blue
blood in them. This particular anatomical character
I have met with myself only once, in a Shanan, whose
height was 173 cm. and span of the arms 194 cm.
(-{- 21 cm.). Rob Roy, it will be remembered, could,
without stooping, tie his garters, which were placed two
inches below the knee.

For a detailed account of demonolatry among the
Shanans, I would refer the reader to the Rev. R.
(afterwards Bishop) Caldwell's now scarce ' Tinnevelly
Shanans ' (1849), written when he was a young and impul-
sive missionary, and the publication of which I believe
that the learned and kind-hearted divine lived to regret.

Those Shanans who are engaged in the palmyra
(Borassus flabellifer) forests in extracting the juice
of the palm-tree climb with marvellous activity and
dexterity. There is a proverb that, if you desire to
climb trees, you must be born a Shanan. A palmyra
climber will, it has been calculated, go up from forty to
fifty trees, each forty to fifty feet high, three times a day.
The story is told by Bishop Caldwell of a man who was
sitting upon a leaf-stalk at the top of a palmyra palm in a
high wind, when the stalk gave way, and he came down
to the ground safely and quietly, sitting on the leaf, which
served the purpose of a natural parachute. Wood-
peckers are called Shanara kurivi by birdcatchers,
because they climb trees like Shanars. " The Hindus,"
the Rev. (afterwards Canon) A. Margoschis writes,*

* Christianity and Caste, 1893.


" observe a special day at the commencement of the pal-

Online LibraryEdgar ThurstonCastes and tribes of southern India (Volume 6) → online text (page 27 of 34)