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Castes and tribes of southern India (Volume 5) online

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of Dioscorea] and roots, which are dug up with a
digging-stick, and forest fruits. They implicitly obey
the contractor, and it was mainly through his influence
that I was enabled to interview them, and measure their
bodies, in return for a banquet, whereof they partook
seated on the grass in two semicircles, the men in front
and women in the rear, and eating off teak leaf plates
piled high with rice and vegetables. Though the
prodigious mass of food provided was greedily devoured
till considerable abdominal distension was visible, dis-
satisfaction was expressed because it included no meat
(mutton), and I had not brought new loin-cloths for them.
They laughed, however, when I expressed a hope that
they would abandon their dirty cloths, turkey-red turbans
and European bead necklaces, and revert to the primitive
leafy garment of their forbears. A struggle ensued for


the limited supply of sandal paste, with which a group
of men smeared their bodies, in imitation of the higher
classes, before they were photographed. A feast given
to the Paliyans by some missionaries was marred at the
outset by the unfortunate circumstance that betel and
tobacco were placed by the side of the food, these
articles being of evil omen as they are placed in the
grave with the dead. A question whether they eat beef
produced marked displeasure, and even roused an
apathetic old woman to grunt " Your other questions are
fair. You have no right to ask that." If a Paliyan
happens to come across the carcase of a cow or buffalo
near a stream, it is abandoned, and not approached for a
long time. Leather they absolutely refuse to touch, and
one of them declined to carry my camera box, because he
detected that it had a leather strap.

They make fire with a quartz strike-a-light and steel
and the floss of the silk-cotton tree (Bombax mala-
baricuni). They have no means of catching or killing
animals, birds, or fish with nets, traps, or weapons, but,
if they come across the carcase of a goat or deer in the
forest, they will roast and eat it. They catch " vermin "
(presumably field rats) by smoking them out of their
holes, or digging them out with their digging-sticks.
Crabs are caught for eating by children, by letting a
string with a piece of cloth tied to the end down the
hole, and lifting it out thereof when the crab seizes hold
of the cloth with its claws. Of wild beasts they are not
afraid, and scare them away by screaming, clapping the
hands, and rolling down stones into the valleys. I saw
one man, who had been badly mauled by a tiger on
the buttock and thigh when he was asleep with his wife
and child in a cave. During the dry season they live
in natural caves and crevices in rocks, but, if these leak


during the rains, they erect a rough shed with the floor
raised on poles off the ground, and sloping grass roof,
beneath which a fire is kept burning at night, not only for
warmth, but also to keep off wild beasts. They are
expert at making rapidly improvised shelters at the base
of hollow trees by cutting away the wood on one side with
a bill-hook. Thus protected, they were quite snug and
happy during a heavy shower, while we were miserable
amid the drippings from an umbrella and a mango tree.

Savari is a common name among the Tinnevelly
Paliyans as among other Tamils. It is said to be a
corruption of Xavier, but Savari or Sabari are recog-
nised names of Siva and Parvati. There is a temple called
Savarimalayan on the Travancore boundary, whereat the
festival takes place at the same time as the festival in
honour of St. Xavier among Roman Catholics. The
women are very timid in the presence of Europeans, and
suffer further from hippophobia ; the sight of a horse,
which they say is as tall as a mountain, like an elephant,
producing a regular stampede into the depths of the
jungle. They carry their babies slung in a cloth on the
back, and not astride the hips according to the common
practice of the plains. The position, in confinement, is
to sit on a rock with legs dependent. Many of these
Paliyans suffer from jungle fever, as a protection against
which they wear a piece of turmeric tied round the neck.
The dead are buried, and a stone is placed on the grave,
which is never re-visited.

Like other primitive tribes, the Paliyans are short of
stature and dolichocephalic, and the archaic type of nose
persists in some individuals.

Average height 150*9 cm. Nasal index 83 (max. 100).

Pallan. The Pallans are " a class of agricultural
labourers found chiefly in Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madura



and Tinnevelly. They are also fairly numerous in parts
of Salem and Coimbatore, but in the remaining Tamil
districts they are found only in very small numbers." *

The name is said to be derived from pallam, a pit, as
they were standing on low ground when the castes were
originally formed. It is further suggested that the name
may be connected with the wet cultivation, at which they
are experts, and which is always carried out on low
ground. In the Manual of the Madura district (1868),
the Pallans are described as " a very numerous, but a
most abject and despised race, little, if indeed at all,
superior to the Paraiyas. Their principal occupation
is ploughing the lands of more fortunate Tamils, and,
though nominally free, they are usually slaves in almost
every sense of the word, earning by the ceaseless sweat
of their brow a bare handful of grain to stay the pangs of
hunger, and a rag with which to partly cover their
nakedness. They are to be found in almost every village,
toiling and moiling for the benefit of Vellalans and
others, and with the Paraiyas doing patiently nearly all
the hard and dirty work that has to be done. Personal
contact with them is avoided by all respectable men, and
they are never permitted to dwell within the limits of a
village nattam. Their huts form a small detached hamlet,
the Pallacheri, removed from a considerable distance
from the houses of the respectable inhabitants, and barely
separated from that of the Paraiyas, the Parei-cheri.
The Pallans are said by some to have sprung from the
intercourse of a Sudra and a Brahman woman. Others
say Devendra created them for the purpose of labouring
in behalf of Vellalans. Whatever may have been their
origin, it seems to be tolerably certain that in ancient

* Madras Census Report, 1891.
v- 3 i


times they were the slaves of the Vellalans, and regarded
by them merely as chattels, and that they were brought
by the Vellalans into the Pandya-mandala." Some
Pallans say that they are, like the Kalians, of the lineage
of Indra, and that their brides wear a wreath of flowers
in token thereof. They consider themselves superior to
Paraiyans and Chakkiliyans, as they do not eat beef.

It is stated in the Manual of Tanjore (1883) that the
" Pallan and Paraiya are rival castes, each claiming
superiority over the other ; and a deadly and never-ending
conflict in the matter of caste privileges exists between
them. They are prsedial labourers, and are employed
exclusively in the cultivation of paddy (rice) lands.
Their women are considered to be particularly skilled in
planting and weeding, and, in most parts of the delta,
they alone are employed in those operations. The Palla
women expose their body above the waist a distinctive
mark of their primitive condition of slavery, of which,
however, no trace now exists." It is noted by Mr. G. T.
Mackenzie * 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 a 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
lower caste to wear a cloth over the breasts and

In connection with disputes between the right-hand
and left-hand factions, it is stated t that " whatever the

* Christianity in Travancore, 1901.

t Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly district.


origin of the factions, feeling still runs very high, espe-
cially between the Pallans and the Paraiyans. The
violent scenes which occurred in days gone by * no longer
occur, but quarrels occur when questions of precedence
arise (as when holy food is distributed at festivals to
the village goddesses), or if a man of one faction takes a
procession down a street inhabited chiefly by members
of the other. In former times, members of the opposite
faction would not live in the same street, and traces of
this feeling are still observable. Formerly also the
members of one faction would not salute those of the
other, however much their superiors in station ; and the
menials employed at funerals (Paraiyans, etc.) would not
salute the funeral party if it belonged to the rival faction."

In the Coimbatore Manual it is noted that " the
Pallan has in all times been a serf, labouring in the low
wet lands (pal lam) for his masters, the Brahmans and
Goundans. The Pallan is a stout, shortish black man,
sturdy, a meat-eater, and not over clean in person or
habit ; very industrious in his favourite wet lands. He
is no longer a serf." The occupations of the Pallans,
whom I examined at Coimbatore, were cultivator,
gardener, cooly, blacksmith, railway porter, tandal (tax-
collector, etc.), and masalchi (office peon, who looks
after lamps, ink-bottles, etc.). Some Pallans are mani-
yagarans (village munsifs or magistrates).

In some places a Pallan family is attached to a
land-holder, for whom they work, and, under ordinary
conditions, they do not change masters. The attach-
ment of the Pallan to a particular individual is maintained
by the master paying a sum of money as an advance,
which the Pallan is unable to repay.

* See Nelson, the Madura Country, II, 47, and Coimbatore District
Manual, 477.

V-3I B


The Pallans are the Jati Pillais of the Pandya Karn-
malans, or Kammalans of the Madura country. The
story goes that a long while ago the headman of the
Pallans came begging to the Kollan section of the
Pandya Kammalans, which was employed in the manu-
facture of ploughs and other agricultural implements, and
said " Worshipful sirs, we are destitute to the last degree.
If you would but take pity on us, we would become
your slaves. Give us ploughs and other implements,
and we shall ever afterwards obey you." The Kollans,
taking pity on them, gave them the implements and
they commenced an agricultural life. When the harvest
was over, they brought the best portion of the crop, and
gave it to the Kollans. From that time, the Pallans
became the "sons "of the Pandya Kammalans, to whom
even now they make offerings in gratitude for a bumper

At times of census the Pallans return a number of
sub-divisions, and there is a proverb that one can count
the number of varieties of rice, but it is impossible to
count the divisions of the Pallans. As examples of the
sub-divisions, the following may be quoted :

Aiya, father.

Amma, mother.

Anja, father.

Atta, mother.

Devendra. The sweat of Devendra, the king of
gods, is said to have fallen on a plant growing in water
from which arose a child, who is said to have been the
original ancestor of the Pallans.

Kadaiyan, lowest or last.

Konga. The Kongas of Coimbatore wear a big
marriage tali, said to be the emblem of Sakti, while the
other sections wear a small tali.


Manganadu, territorial.
Sozhia, territorial.
Tondaman, territorial.

These sub-divisions are endogamous, and Aiya and
Amma Pallans of the Sivaganga zemindari and adjacent
parts of the Madura district possess exogamous septs
or kilais, which, like those of the Maravans, Kalians,
and some other castes, run in the female line. Children
belong to the same kilai as that of their mother and
maternal uncle, and not of their father.

The headman of the Pallans is, in the Madura
country, called Kudumban, and he is assisted by a
Kaladi, and, in large settlements, by a caste messenger
entitled Variyan, who summons people to attend council-
meetings, festivals, marriages and funerals. The offices
of Kudumban and Kaladi are hereditary. When a family
is under a ban of excommunication, pending enquiry,
the caste people refuse to give them fire, and otherwise
help them, and even the barber and washerman are
not permitted to work for them. As a sign of excommu-
nication, a bunch of leafy twigs of margosa (Melia
Azadirachtd) is stuck in the roof over the entrance to the
house. Restoration to caste necessitates a purificatory
ceremony, in which cow's urine is sprinkled by the
Variyan. When a woman is charged with adultery, the
offending man is brought into the midst of the assembly,
and tied to a harrow or hoeing plank. The woman has
to carry a basket of earth or rubbish, with her cloth tied
so as to reach above her knees. She is sometimes, in
addition, beaten on the back with tamarind switches.
If she confesses her guilt, and promises not to misconduct
herself again, the Variyan cuts the waist-thread of her
paramour, who ties it round her neck as if it was a tali
(marriage badge). On the following day, the man and


woman are taken early in the morning to a tank (pond)
or well, near which seven small pits are made, and filled
with water. The Variyan sprinkles some of the water
over their heads, and has subsequently to be fed at their
expense. If the pair are in prosperous circumstances, a
general feast is insisted on.

At Coimbatore, the headman is called Pattakaran >
and he is assisted by various subordinate officers and a
caste messenger called Odumpillai. In cases of theft, the
guilty person has to carry a man on his back round the
assembly, while two persons hang on to his back-hair.
He is beaten on the cheeks, and the Odumpillai may be
ordered to spit in his face. A somewhat similar form of
punishment is inflicted on a man proved guilty of having
intercourse with a married woman.

In connection with the caste organisation of the Pallans
in the Trichinopoly district, Mr. F. R. Hemingway writes
as follows. " They generally have three or more head-
men for each village, over whom is the Nattu Muppan.
Each village also has a peon called Odumpillai (the runner).
The main body of the caste, when attending council-
meetings, is called ilam katchi (the inexperienced). The
village councils are attended by the Muppans and the
Nattu Muppan. Between the Nattu Muppan and the
ordinary Muppans, there is, in the Karur taluk, a Pulli
Muppan. All these offices are hereditary. In this taluk
a rather different organisation is in force, to regulate
the supply of labour to the landholders. Each of the
village Muppans has a number of karais or sections of
the wet-land of the village under him, and he is bound
to supply labourers for all the land in his karai, and is
remunerated by the landowner with ij marakkals of
grain for every 20 kalams harvested. The Muppans do
not work themselves, but maintain discipline among their


men by flogging or expulsion from the caste. In the
Karur taluk, the ordinary Pallans are called Manvettai-
karans (mamoty or digging-tool men)."

The Pallans have their own washermen and barbers,
who are said to be mainly recruited from the Sozhia
section, which, in consequence, holds an inferior position ;
and a Pallan belonging to another section would feel
insulted if he was called a Sozhian.

When a Pallan girl, at Coimbatore, attains puberty,
she is bathed, dressed in a cloth brought by a washer-
woman, and presented with flowers and fruits by her
relations. She occupies a hut constructed of cocoanut
leaves, branches of Pongamia glabra, and wild sugar-
cane (Saccharum arundinaceiim). Her dietary includes
jaggery (crude sugar) and milk and plantains. On the
seventh day she is again bathed, and presented with
another cloth. The hut is burnt down, and for three
days she occupies a corner of the pial of her home. On
the eleventh day she is once more bathed, presented
with new cloths by her relations, and permitted to enter
the house.

It is stated by Dr. G. Oppert * that " at a Pallar
wedding, before the wedding is actually performed, the
bridegroom suddenly leaves his house and starts for
some distant place, as if he had suddenly abandoned his
intention of marrying, in spite of the preparations that
had been made for the wedding. His intended father-
in-law intercepts the young man on his way, and
persuades him to return, promising to give his daughter
as a wife. To this the bridegroom consents." I have
not met with this custom in the localities in which the
Pallans have been examined.

Original Inhabitants of Bharatavarsa or India.


In one form of marriage among the Pallans of the
Madura district, the bridegroom's sister goes to the
house of the bride on an auspicious day, taking with her
the tali string, a new cloth, betel, fruits and flowers. She
ties the tali round the neck of the bride, who, if a milk-
post has been set up, goes round it. The bride is then
conducted to the house of the bridegroom, where the
couple sit together on the marriage dais, and coloured
water, or coloured rice balls with lighted wicks, are waved
round them. They then go, with linked fingers, thrice
round the dais. In a more complicated form of marriage
ceremonial, the parents and maternal uncle of the bride-
groom, proceed, on the occasion of the betrothal, to
the bride's house with rice, fruit, plantains, a cocoanut,
sandal paste, and turmeric. These articles are handed
over, with the bride's money, to the Kudumban or
Kaladi of her village. Early in the morning of the wed-
ding day, a pandal (booth) is erected, and the milk-post,
made of Thespesia populnea or Mimusops kexandra, is
set up by the maternal uncles of the contracting couple.
The bride and bridegroom bring some earth, with
which the marriage dais is made. These preliminaries
concluded, they are anointed by their maternal uncles,
and, after bathing, the wrist-threads (kankanam) are
tied to the bridegroom's wrist by his brother-in-law,
and to that of the bride by her sister-in-law. Four
betel leaves and areca nuts are placed at each corner of
the dais, and the pair go round it three times, saluting
the betel as they pass. They then take their place
on the dais, and two men stretch a cloth over their
heads. They hold out their hands, into the palms of
which the Kudumban or Kaladi pours a little water
from a vessel, some of which is sprinkled over their
heads. The vessel is then waved before them, and they


are garlanded by the maternal uncles, headmen, and
others. The bride is taken into the house, and her
maternal uncle sits at the entrance, and measures a new
cloth, which he gives to her. She clads herself in it,
and her uncle, lifting her in his arms, carries her to the
dais, where she is placed by the side of the bridegroom.
The fingers of the contracting couple are linked together
beneath a cloth held by the maternal uncles. The tali
is taken up by the bridegroom, and placed by him
round the bride's neck, to be tightly tied thereon by his
sister. Just before the tali is tied, the headman bawls
out " May I look into the bride's money and presents " ?
and, on receiving permission to do so, says thrice
" Seven bags of nuts, seven bags of rice, etc., have been

At a marriage among the Konga Pallans of Coim-
batore, the bridegroom's wrist-thread is tied on at his
home, after a lamp has been worshipped. He and his
party proceed to the house of the bride, taking with
them a new cloth, a garland of flowers, and the tali. The
milk-post of the pandal is made of milk-hedge {Euphorbia
Tirucalli). The bride and bridegroom sit side by side
and close together on planks within the pandal. The
bridegroom ties the wrist-thread on the bride's wrist, and
the caste barber receives betel from their mouths in a
metal vessel. In front of them are placed a Pillayar (figure
of Ganesa) made of cow-dung, two plantains, seven
cocoanuts, a measure of paddy, a stalk of Andropogon
Sorgkttm with a betel leaf stuck on it," and seven sets of
betel leaves and areca nuts. Camphor is burnt, and two
cocoanuts are broken, and placed before the Pillayar.
The tali is taken round to be blessed in a piece of one of
the cocoanuts. The Mannadi (assistant headman) hands
over the tali to the bridegroom, who ties it round the


bride's neck. Another cocoanut is then broken. Three
vessels containing, respectively, raw rice, turmeric water
and milk, each with pieces of betel leaf, are brought.
The hands of the contracting couple are then linked
together beneath a cloth, and the fourth cocoanut is
broken. The Mannadi, taking up a little of the rice,
turmeric water, milk, and betel leaves, waves them before
the bride and bridegroom, and throws them over their
heads. This is likewise done by five other individuals,
and the fifth cocoanut is broken. The bride and bride-
groom go round the plank, and again seat themselves.
Their hands are unlinked, the wrist-threads are untied,
and thrown into a vessel of milk. The sixth cocoanut
is then broken. Cooked rice with plantains and ghi
(clarified butter) is offered to Alii Arasani, the wife of
Arjuna, who was famed for her virtue. The rice is
offered three times to the contracting couple, who do not
eat it. The caste barber brings water, with which they
cleanse their mouths. They exchange garlands, and the
seventh cocoanut is broken. They are then taken within
the house, and sit on a new mat. The bridegroom is
again conducted to the pandal, where cooked rice and
other articles are served to him on a tripod stool. They
are handed over to the Odumpillai as a perquisite, and
all the guests are fed. In the evening a single cloth is
tied to the newly married couple, who bathe, and pour
water over each other's heads. The Pillayar, lamp,
paddy, Andropogon stalk, and two trays with betel, are
placed before the guests. The Mannadi receives four
annas from the bridegroom's father, and, after mentioning
the names of the bridegroom, his father and grandfather,
places it in one of the trays, which belongs to the bride's
party. He then receives four annas from the bride's
father, and mentions the names of the bride, her father


and grandfather, before placing the money in the tray
which belongs to the bridegroom's party. The relations
then make presents of money to the bride and bridegroom.
When a widow remarries, her new husband gives her a
white cloth, and ties a yellow string round her neck in
the presence of some of the castemen.

At a marriage among the Kadaiya Pallans of Coim-
batore, the wrist-thread of the bride is tied on by the
Mannadi. She goes to, a Pillayar shrine, and brings
back three trays full of sand from the courtyard thereof,
which is heaped up in the marriage pandal. Three
painted earthen pots, and seven small earthen trays, are
brought in procession from the Mannadi's house by the
bridegroom, and placed in the pandal. To each of the
two larger pots a piece of turmeric and betel leaf are
tied, and nine kinds of grain are placed in them. The
bridegroom has brought with him the tali tied to a
cocoanut, seven rolls of betel, seven plantains, seven
pieces of turmeric, a garland, a new cloth for the bride,
etc. The linked fingers of the contracting couple are
placed on a tray containing salt and a ring. They go
thrice round a lamp and the plank within the pandal, and
retire within the house where the bridegroom is served
with food on a leaf. What remains after he has partaken
thereof is given to the bride on the same leaf. The
wrist-threads are untied on the third day, and a Pillayar
made of cow-dung is carried to a river, whence the bride
brings back a pot of water.

In some places, the bridegroom is required to steal
something from the bride's house when they return home
after the marriage, and the other party has to repay the
compliment on some future occasion.

When a death occurs among the Konga Pallans of
Coimbatore, the big toes and thumbs of the corpse are


tied together. A lighted lamp, a metal vessel with raw
rice, jaggery, and a broken cocoanut are placed near its
head. Three pieces of firewood, arranged in the form
of a triangle, are lighted, and a small pot is placed on
them, wherein some rice is cooked in turmeric water.
The corpse is bathed, and placed in a pandal made of

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