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
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)
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,
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 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),
pooN sei kollar,
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
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
(It helped in maintaining different avocations.)
But casteism as used by politicians is terribly harmful.