Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A peep into the past to know whether castes existed in Tamilnadu

In this age of instigation and perpetuation of caste- hatred,

what we commonly hear is that the upper castes have suppressed the lower castes

for ages and for millennia – squeezing them out

by exploitation and lived on their blood.

It is a fashion for anyone and everyone to repeat this accusation nowadays.

This post is an analysis of whether there is any truth in this accusation

looking from ancient Tamil literature

The first clearance that caste is not connected to birth or social status

is given by none other than the poetess Ouvaiyaar.

She had clearly said that there are only 2 castes,

One upper caste and one lower caste. (Jaathi irandozhiya vErillai)

Those who are generous are upper caste (ittaar periyOr)

Those who are greedy are the lower caste (idaadhaar izhi-kulatthOr).

Here she uses the term ‘kulam’ as a synonym of Jaathi.

At another verse we find the description about ‘kudi’.

(Varappiyara neer vuyrum…)

When bunds are adequately raised in the fields,

There will be surplus in the agricultural production.

When the agricultural production increases,

the ‘kudi’s will prosper.

(nel vuyara kudi vuyarum).

Kudi therefore means who reside (kudi irutthal)

They are the subjects or the people of the country.

There have been many Kudi-s mentioned in olden texts of Tamil.

In Kali-th-thogai, we find the aayar ladies (cattle breeders) telling that

they belonged to the oldest ‘kudi’ of Pandyan kings

and were there in the land of Kumari before it was submerged.

These cow-herds formed one kudi identified with a job common to all of them.

But there were variations within themselves as

aayar, (who protected the cow)

idayar, (who lived in the middle –idai- land between kurunchi and marudham)

pOdhuvar, (who were commonly found in all lands)

kOvalar, (who protected cows)

mullaiyar, (who lived in millai-lands)

gOvindhar, (who take care of cows)

aNdar, (who take care of cows)

kudavar (Who possessed cattle)

aanvalar, (experts in protecting cattle)

gOpaalar, (who protect cows)

amudhar, (who supply nectar like milk)

thoruvar ( who owned cattle) and

vallavar. ( who lacked courage)

Like this,

Kudis existed as groups of subjects who shared a commonality among themselves.

This commonality was about the job they did

arising from their expertise or in the gain of expertise in doing that job.

In other words, varna dharma was the basis of kudi,

with each kudi engaged in a specific job.

The cattle breeders and milk men come under this type of kudi.

The entire range of Mullai-k-kudi came under

any one of the above mentioned category of cow-herds.

The difference is only geographic

or in the exact type of the of the job they did.

Otherwise there was no difference between them.

Bonding was strong among this type of Kudi,

for all of them either owned or took care of cattle and

all of them enjoyed a similar reward for their works,

namely milk and milk products.

Those who owned many cattle were well off than those who owned less number.

The difference was there in economic status only.

There is another group of Kudi also

that existed on a symbiotic relationship.

We find the mention of one such group of 4 kudi in PuranaanUru .

Verse 335 tells about ‘naal vagai-k-kudi’ – the 4 kudi.

(note these are not castes – these are specific groups of subjects who lived as one unit

or identified themselves as one).

They are



Kadamban and


They always move in one groups as their livelihood depended on each other.

The pANan was capable of composing verses and

singing them to a tune in his ‘yaazh’, an instrument like veena.

The Parayan moves with him by playing on his ‘parai’ (drum)

The Thudiyan also is an instrumentalist in that he uses ‘thudi-p-parai

to play along with the other two.

The kadamban is one who wears garland made of kadamba flowers

and dances to the tune of the other three.

These 4 groups were skilled in their respective avocations and

played a complementary role to each other.

The PaaNan was foremost among them in that he

exhibited his talent in praising the kings.

His songs were aptly supported by the other kudi people.

It is probable that he took a larger share of the gifts given by kings

while other had smaller shares.

In this category there is economic difference and

difference in avocation / jobs as well.

As time passed and kingdoms fell, these kudis, headed by Paanan

moved to other lands in search of philanthropists.

We find in PuranaanUru verses telling

how the PaaNan came all the way from his native land

to the king in another land,

expecting rich dividends in return for his verses.

But in course of time, one or two kudis of these

could have become capable of surviving on their own.

It is also possible that hierarchal differences crept in

(in post sangam age, i.e., sometime in the last 2000 years only)

and PaaNam assumed a better status than the other three, namely,

parayan, thudiyan and kadamban.

When status takes central stage, differences develop.

Earlier, the PaaNan would not have left the other three

whenever he had a chance to sing in front of a king.

But now he could have chosen to go alone to project his expertise

and earn name and money for himself.

In this scenario, envy, competitiveness and

urge to downplay the importance of others would become inevitable.

The differences develop between the kudi of same category

or of some symbiotic relationship,

than with totally different kudi who have s different avocation.

These kudis gradually developed into castes and

differences between them led to caste conflicts.

That is why we find caste conflicts between specific castes

who shared a common past or common avocation.

It is not possible to see a Kovalan (aayan or cattle breeder)

suppressing a Parayan, who is skilled in beating the drum.

There is no cause of enmity between them.

But it is possible to find a conflict between a pAnan and parayan

for, they had to fight for the same place with their respective skills.

Another group of kudis in symbiotic relationship is the MukkulatthOr,

formed by Agamudaiyaar, Maravar and Kallar.

Their symbiosis was discussed in this blog earlier, (can be read by browsing).

They too are like the 4-types of kudi’ mentioned in PuranaanUru.

They had a common avocation, but hierarchal differences were there.

Each of the three were there as singular units until not long ago.

In the last 500 to 1000 years only,

further branching had happened within them.

Even among the MukkulatthOr it is said, that they became ‘vELaan’ later.

A vELaan is one who is engaged in agriculture.

Further sub-divisions are formed on the basis of this new found avocation

for these three groups who were earlier known for defending territories.

Today we have among kallars sub-divisions such as

Ambalakarar, Servai, Vandaiyar, Thalaivar, Nattaar (not Nadar)Sendapiriyar, Alathondamar, Ambalam, Aarsuthiyar, Kaadavaraayar, Kalingarayar, Thanjaraayar, Chozhangaraayar, Kandiyar, Pursaar, Vaanavaraayar, Mazhavaraayar, Pallavaraayar,Ponnapoondar,Pullavaraayar, Karaimeendar,Vanavarayar,Vairayar,Ponpethiar,Gopalar, Thondaimaan, Thevar, Kandapillai, Vayaadiyar, Vanniar, Alankara Priyar, Munaiyatriyar,Keerudayar, Saaluvar, Manraayar,Kaadavaraayar, Madhavarayar, Onthiriyar, Serumadar, Vambaliar, Thenkondaar, Mankondaar, Kaaduvetiyaar, Sozhagar, Chozanga Nattar etc.

There are said to be many more.

Like this many ‘kudis’ of earlier days have metamorphosed into very many castes.

at a later period.

If we analyse PuranaanUru,

the following castes (based on avocation) only have existed.




Vuppu vaaNigar (vumaNar),








kiNai magaL,










thEr paagar,








pooN sei kollar,









yaazh pulavar,


yaanai vEttuvar,

vada badugar,







The last three are the 3 varnas

on the basis of their avocation based on their temperament

All the others too got their names by the specific jobs they did.

But with the increase in number of jobs over a period of time,

newer divisions also came into vogue - to be known by the avocations

or issues connected with those avocations only.

This is how castes have come into being.

It will be interesting to see that Brahmins (andhanar)

Kings and vaisyas (vanigar) existed as they were

during the times PuranaanUru verses were composed..

These three names are broad in application,

but among them Brahmins alone seemed to have retained their identity.

The reason is that sub-divisions did not develop among Brahmins.

The Iyer and Iyengar division came much later.

Apart from this, they retained their identity as they didn’t change their avocation

or their avocation offered a limited scope for variation.

The Kings were known as Arasar in Tamil.

But the Kshathriyas as such were many in their divisions,

depending on regional and work-based issues

and also power of influence they were able to wield.

Vanigar also had many variations depending on the trade they did.

The VumaNar in sangam period are those who traded in salt.

Parathavar were those who were engaged in fishing.

Within this group also there were variations –

each coming to be recognized as a separate caste.

Today, there is no singular identity as ‘VaNigar’ (vaisya)

Perhaps the Vanniyas are the Vaisyas

and they want to brand themselves as the most backward.

Whereas their ancestors if they were to be here now would be

dead against calling themselves like that.

The pride of avocation gave each group pride of themselves.

Our politicians have simply wiped off this pride from these many castes.

The conflict had come only within those groups in symbiotic relationship,

or within those who were trying to have a share in a common product.

As such (for example) a group in Vaisya category could exploit or suppress

another group of the vaisya category.

They rarely had anything to equate with or fight for with other categories.

That is why suppression of other castes by the so-called upper castes,

particularly the Brahmins was never reported in the past.

But exploiters have exploited the ignorance of the public into believing this.

The Brahmin’s avocation was learning Vedas and conducting rituals.

He was tied by the ethics of this avocation to depend on alms and

gifts from his avocation.

His area of jurisdiction was temple and worship.

Even this area is breached.

He was accommodated into school and college education during the British period.

So were the others.

It must be remembered that Education as it is now was there only for a century

before we got independence.

It is foolish to say that Brahmins grabbed all educational opportunities for ages,

denying others opportunities.

The educational scenario was open to all

and it was not only Brahmins but also others from other castes

who had their education.

Except Brahmins others learned job oriented eduaction.

The Brahmins had their education in vedas.

Others had their education in respective skill related fields.

There was no bar for any one to learn any education.

But the three varnas learned some part of vedas which was learned after upanayana.

The 4th varna too had the liberty to learn vedas.

But that can be done only through initiation through upanyana.

Others who did not have the capacity to learn vedas, had to learn puranas.

One of the 6 works of Shudras as per Nigandu sutras is to learn Puranas and hear kalakshepas.

But Vedic education was not money yielding.

A Vedin must seek alms (Bhiskha) to have a meal.

Whereas all the other types of education and avocations

enabled one to earn money for oneself.

Today, there are not many avocations.

The government behaves as though it believes that there are only two avocations,

namely, engineering and medical.

By not encouraging other arts of trade,

the competition is only for these two fields.

As we saw earlier, when people compete for the same avocation,

the conflicts arise.

The powerful among them grab the greater share.

That is what is happening now, with the active connivance of those in power.

What we see is that those in higher hierarchy in the ‘Kudi” groups and

who in times of yore lived amicably in symbiosis,

are out to grab a larger size of the cake for themselves.

In the melee,

almost every avocation is getting forgotten now.

The worst victim is agriculture.

All other areas of skill are now forgotten and

given up in exchange for engineering studies.

The Brahmin who was not trained in any avocation other than learning

has found his space shrunk.

Similarly all those people trained in specific skills for ages,

find themselves left in the lurch

for want of patronage for their avocations.

Their avocations are fast dying,

so also the skills that were developed over the ages.

In those days

the competition between the same kudi led to differences

and there were many kudis.

Today all of India had been made into a single kudi,

fighting for a couple of avocations.

This is a ‘created’ scenario,

the so-called suppression of the lower castes by Brahmins also a ‘created’ myth.

Caste as such is thus not a disadvantage in India.

(It helped in maintaining different avocations.)

But casteism as used by politicians is terribly harmful.


Anonymous said...

I thinking equating Vaishyas (VaNigar) with present day Vanniyas is not correct.

As per Vanniya tradition, they had originated from the "fire" (also known as Vahni in Sanskrit) to protect Draupadi, who was also born from the same sacrifical fire of Drupada.
So that explains there name origin too.
Also please note the 'na' phonetic sound used in VaNigar is different from that in Vanniya.

jayasree said...

Tamil texts do not talk about vanniyas. It talks about only vaNigar.

vaNigar are traders and are known as vaisyas in sanskrit.

In the list I provided form Purananuru, arasar (kashathriyas) and brahmins had exited as they were.
The reason was, as I wrote - the absence of competition or symbiotic existence with any other group.
But the VaNigars were many - depending on their trade. Differences in social status came up in course of time due to the differences in material benefit from the respective avocations.

Since vanniyas were mostly traders, I inferred that they belong to vaisya varna. But your information is truly valuable in that it reinforces my finding that migrated population from Dwaraka (Gujarath)after krishna's exit that was brought to Tamilnadu by Agasthya merged with the local population to some extent whereas a majority of them who settled in the border areas of Cholas and pandyas later became Keralites and kannadigas who were referred to as Dravidas by another section of Dwaraka migrants that was settled in Kashmir from the time of Dwaraka deluge.

The term Vanniya sounds like Banya community (traders) of Gujarat. The 'ba' - 'va' interchange is common when it comes to Tamil . Eg basanthi - vasanthi
bandE (in kannada) - vanden in Tamil.
bahula - vahula
banni- (kannada)- vaanga
Bengal - VangaaLam.

and many more.

It appears for certain that the Banyas of dwaraka - the descendants or subjects of Dhrishtadymna were one of the 18 communities brought to Tamil nadu by Agasthya. They later (perhaps) came to be called as vanniyas.

Please read my many posts on this subject - a group of it posted in the recent post "The great bath - a pushkarini".

I request you to send me any other information about this
that you have with you.

I will be continuing the post on this thread under the label "No dravidian divide" after Deepavali.

The migration from Gujarat has evidence in Tamil texts. I have written about it in quite a few posts in this blog.

jayasree said...

From you comment the ba- va interchange.
Vahni - bahni
remember the Bangla desh freedom fighters of
Mukthi vaahni - Mukhthi Baahni?

Anonymous said...

Vanniyas call themselves as 'Vanniya-kula-Kshatirya'. They also call themselves as 'Padaiyachi (Army force) Gounder'. This name negates the Vaishya association.

They are mostly found in the Northern districts of present day Tamil Nadu. Their main dieties are Gangai-amman, Draupadi-amman, Gandhari-amman. They broadly divide themselves into two sects: Saivaites and Vaishnavites and the latter group strictly observe the Saturday 'vratam' during the Tamil month of Purattasi and sport the 'Urdhva Pundram (or) Namam'. But unlike the Tamil Brahmins, the two sects do not follow endogamity and matrimonial alliances are common between the sects.

Drupada ruled over Panchala desam (which can be identified with present day Bihar & West Bengal area. Later on that region came to be called as Gouda desam.

Assuming the Kali-yugam starting (and obviously the Mahabharatam period) of around 5100 BCE, the 'Vahniya' (I am still sticking with my assumption that the Sanskrit "Vahni-meaning Agni" is the root word of their origin) population consolidated itself in the Panchala desam and the subsequent Gouda desam.

Another assumption I would here make is that there had been a series of migrations from Gouda desam to Dravida regions.. All the people who migrated retained their identity as Goudas (Gouder - then modified as Gounder). They had mostly settle in present day:
- a) Northern districts of Tamil Nadu
- b) Southern districts of Karnataka
- c) Western districts of Tamil Nadu.
Category a)are the Vanniyars (Kshatriya-Padayachi Gounders).
Category b) are the Vokkaliga (Gowdas of Karnataka).
Category c) are the Vellala Gounders (Involved in Agriculture-land owners) of Coimbatore region.

Just like the Vanniyas - who have carried their 'Kula' Gods (Ganga, Daupadi, Gandhari), the Vella Gounders have also established Kumara worship in their region. Their chief God is Muruga. Skanda worship was very popular in Bihar region in the past (Chandragupta Maurya goes and prays in the temple of (Deva)Senapati in Pataliputra before embarking on his numerous expeditions). Senapati is a prestigious name in many (Vellala) Gounder families. Chandragupta Maurya is supposed to have taken up Sanyasa and spent his last days in Southern Karnataka (Shravana-bela-gola). So did he follow his fellow countrymen - or did his countrymen follow him to the South?

Today, the awareness of their rich past culture among Vanniyas seems to have been overtaken by the deluge of Tamil Chauvinism by their so-called caste leaders in the race for reservation quota.

All Tamilians seems to have become obsessed with the questionable theory of they being Dravidians and try to get potrayed themselves as being 'more-Tamil'. This feeling is present in other regions like Andhra, Karnataka etc., but they do not deny their heritage - which is nothing but the continuity of our civilsation that has been in existence for many thousands of years.

Every caste in Tamil Nadu (except the 'condemned-Aryan-Brahmins') thus try to erase their history and cut the roots to Sanatana Dharma.

This is what the anti-Hindu forces have been trying to achieve for the last few decades. This makes their 'harvesting' task much easier.

I am sorry if I digressed from my original purpose of the post - but I think that if we do not try to have a relevant conclusion of this topic, then all out Findings, Hypotheses-Theories-Analyses are just plain Data.

Ok, now coming back to Vanniyas - they are not traders. They have been involved in various rural vocations - like agriculture, small-time trading etc. Economically, they had not prospered - and did not get benefit from the reservation policy of initiated from the 1920s by the Justice Party. They never were part of the DMK and sided with the Congress and had great leaders like Ramaswami Padayachi. They did not get much benefit from the DMK rule from the late 60's and that grudge was carried till the 80's when the Vanniya Sangam agitation for nearly a decade led to the creation of a 'Most-backward' Category within the Backward Category.

jayasree said...

My thanks for the details.
I will go through them and such other related ones and get back to continuing this thread after November.

Anonymous said...

'Ayar, Vettuvar.....thinaipeyar' & 'veriyattu' were described in earlier sangam chronicle Tholkappiyam. Vettuvars were the only tamil Kshatriyar clan during sangam period. Vettuvars (Maravars, Mazhavars, Eyinars, Mutharaiyars) were the only kshatriyas and the rest of the kshatriya clans were later formed. Mutharaiyars were described as a clan of kings in naaladiyar. Mutharaiyars worship kannappa nayanar and claims the lineage as vettuvars do & Vettuvars are discribed as muthurajas in palayapattu varalaaru. kadaiyelu vallal valvil ori who ruled kongu region(kolli hills and namakkal region) was said to be a vettuvar king belong to subclan 'Mazhavars' & king Athiyaman is a mazhava vettuvar king. vettuvars are said to be maravars in sangam. Eyinars (Archers) are vettuvars. some sect of vettuvars also lived as kallars. Tholkappiyam clearly says that muruga worship originated from vettuvars. Valli belongs to vettuvar tribe. Muruga was a vettuvar god. The origin of kaali came from vettuvars(silambu, vettuva vari). The present day vettuvars (kongu vettuva gounder, pollachi zameen pooluva gounders, punnan vettuva gounders, vettuvars, vettaikarars) were categorized as military castes by britishers.

jayasree said...

@ anonymous,
Thanks for the details.
The difference between kshatriyas and Vettuvars can be known from the difference in the circumstances in which they carried out their duties. While Kshatriya was soldier or army man working directly under the king and taking the orders from the king directly, the Vettuvars fulfilled the space of a ruler or chief in remote areas of the kingdom.

The Puraththinai iyal Sutra 60 explains this. ”வேந்து விடு முனைஞர் வேற்றுப் புலக் களவின் ஆதத்து ஓம்பல் மேவற்று ஆகும்”. வேந்தனால் விடப்பட்ட முனை ஊரகத்துள்ளார், வேற்று நாட்டின் களவினானே ஆவைக் கொண்டு பெயர்ந்து பாதுகாக்கும் மேன்மை உடைத்து.

The fringe regions of the kingdom could not be effectively protected by the kings' army. So the king deputed the Vettuvar (hunters) to undertake stealing of cattle expeditions and distributing them to the people and also protecting the territory. This can be seen in Vettuva vari of Silappadhikaram.

This was characteristic of Kurinji (hill) regions and was prevalent throughput the western Ghats upto Aravalli in Maharashtra. The Mang tribes and Mahar tribes (by whose name the name Maharashtra came into being) of Maharashtra also come under similar category. They worshiped Korravai and you can find this deity throughout the western ghat section. Popular deities are Kollur Mookambikai and Kolahpur Devi. kol, kolla, kollu will be there in use in the names of these regions and deities throughout these region.

The Mang and Mahar tribes were branded as thief tribes and also down trodden by the British, because they dealt with buffaloes that included the removal of the dead body of the buffalo. In Vettuva vari in Silappadhikaram, one of the works of Vettuvar was sacrificing buffallo to Korravai (whom they called as Mahishasura mardini - the one who killed Mayidan / mahishan, the buffalo)and later removing the carcass. The social stigma arose only after the traditional system of village life in these regions were spoiled by Muslim and British invasions.


jayasree said...

There is etymological difference between the names of tribes engaged in hunting. The Mazavar was the oldest name that was in use in Muruga's times. "மண்டமரட்ட மழவர் குழாத்திடைக் கணட முருகனுங் கண் களித்தான்” என்று வள்ளியை மழவர் குழாத்திடைக் கண்டதை அரும்பதவுரையாசிரியர் கூறுதலால், mazhavar is construed as the oldest name. The use of 'zha' (ழ) is more in sangam terminology.

Mazha means young, therefore the mazhavar denotes youth band. This in course of time changed into Maravar.

Eyinar were those who use arrows. Ey (எய்)means arrow and those who shoot arrows were Eyinar. Vettuvan is hunter proper. Therefore Mazhavar and Eyinar become Vettuvar by taking up hunting. They also became the keepers of the border regions. They were not core kshatriyas but were classified as Kshatriyas for the kind of attitude (குணம்)of Kshatriya.

Another group that comes under similar description is the Palayas. When Pandyan king and his subjects managed to survive the 3rd flood around 3500 years ago, he wrestled Muththoor kuRRam from Cholas according to Adiyaarkku nallar (silappadhikara urai). It is near Kangeyam. At the same time survivors from sunken Bet Dwaraka were also brought there. The Gangeya tribes (Ganga clan) who brought their cattle wealth from IVC in Dwaraka started co existing with the Ayar who accompanied Pandyan king from 3rd flood. The Kangeyam kaalai belongs to same gene pool of Indus bull. They brought the bull fight with them and founded the Mullai thinai culture. For protection of these people, Pandyan established many Palayam and Maravar settlements around which continue in the names of the places here.

All the other classes you have mentioned were sub sects that developed in the last 1000 to 1500 years. Please read the inscriptions of the Kongu region published by Archeological dept of TN. You will know how most of them were migrants or shuttlers between regions and how these various sects were developed as a matter of necessity.

On Velir (Ori), I don't agree with you. They were the Agnu kula kshatriyas or the descendants of Drishtadyumna and related to Krisha's vrishni clan. They migrated to the Tamil lands 3500 years ago when sarasvathi dried and a tsunami gulped Bet Dwaraka, the Dwaraka that was built after Krishna's dwaraka was lost.

All the kadai ezu vallal
were Velirs only. Whatever trace of Indus civilization that we find in Tamilnadu is because of these people who brought it here.

There are a number on articles in this blogspot on these topics in English. There is a separate series in Tamil on Thamizan Dreavidanaa (தமிழன் திராவிடனா?) in
Please read them.