HISTORY OF ADI-DRAVIDARS
The Thiruvalluvar Foundation has been formed for the social and educational advancement of the Parayars. The members are all residents of Mumbai and they are almost entirely hailing from the erstwhile-undivided Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu. It is our duty to gather as much knowledge as we can about the origins and ancestry of the Parayars.
Thamilakam or the land of the Tamils during the medieval days extended from the Arabian seacoast on the west to the Bay of Bengal coastline on the east and from the Tirupathi hills in the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Thamilakam thus encompassed present day Tamil Nadu, Kerala and small portions of present day Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
According to a broad consensus, aboriginal tribes called ‘narakar’ or ‘nagar’ were the native inhabitants of Thamilakam. The Dravidians migrated from elsewhere and settled later in Thamilakam. The aborigines fused/ co-existed with the Dravidians to form the ‘naga-dravidian’ people. Wild and savage, the aborigines were probably the tribes referred to as ‘rakshasas’ and ‘yatudanas’ in the vedas and as nagas in later Buddhist and other literature.
The ‘Eyinars’ were one of these ancient aboriginal tribes. They disliked calling themselves Tamilians. They were hunters by profession. Later on they became soldiers and farmers. They came to be called ‘parayars’ around 2 A.D. After India attained Independence, they came to be called ‘Adi-dravidars’ or ‘ancient dravidians’ thereby emphasizing the fact that they predated the Dravidians in Thamilakam. At present they have chosen to be addressed as ‘Sambavars’ meaning ‘descendants of Shambu or Shiva’.
The ancient tribes of Thamilakam were classified in those days on the basis of the nature of the soil or region inhabited by them.
The old tribes and their modern names are as follows:-
There are two views about the term ‘Parayar’. One of the older occupations of the ‘Parayars’ was ‘tom-tomming’ or beating the drum in order to announce messages to villagers. Thus, the term could have come in vogue to relation to their profession i.e. ‘messengers’. ‘Poraiyan’ means ‘desert dweller’ and the term may have risen to denote the arid and inhospitable areas inhabited by the Parayars. This term first occurs as a caste, or more correctly an occupational name in a poem of Mangudi Kilar in 2 A.D.
The ‘Eyinars’ are often referred to in ancient Tamil literature and they are said to have been skillful bowsmen and soldiers. They appear to have inhabited the Pallava and Chola kingdoms in North and Central Tamil Nadu. They were divided into two sub-divisions; the Ulavu (ploughing) and the Nesavu (weaving) and included the paanan (ministrel).
Some of the significant sub-divisions of the Eyinars were Valluvar (priests), Kottai (fort), Kottakara (granary), Jambhu and Virabahu (Jambhu is Shiva and Virabahu is one of the mythical commanders of Shiva), Pannikar (teacher), Koliyar and Saliyar (weavers), Kuravar (hillmen) and Ambu (archers). The Eyinars were considered to be excellent archers. These titles indicate the ancient greatness of the Eyinars and also reflect a connection with valour, skill and riches. Obviously, the Eyinars did not do any petty or menial jobs.
The Eyina hunters were the earliest Tamilian tribe to clear the Dandakaranya and Shadaranya forests for cultivation and to build small forts therein for their safety. Those employed in the clearing of jungles came to be called ‘Vetiyan’ (hewers) while others who sank wells and dug tanks for irrigation came to be called the Thoti (digger) division.
As early as the 3rd / 4th Century A.D., the Eyina chieftains were reigning at Ambur, Vellore and other places. They had well supplied granaries (kottakaram) and strong forts (eyil) with deep ditches and tall walls. They had musicians and dancers (paanans) to amuse them when out of work, priests (valluvans), carpenters, masons, weavers (koliyans), gymnastic instructors (pannikars), shoe-makers (semman), barbers, washermen etc. The Parayars (ancient Eyinas) as Dr. Caldwell has observed, thus, constituted “a well defined, distinct ancient caste independent of every other.” They founded the villages in the south Thamilakam. They were the mayors and aldermen of the villages, which they had established and this is even now recognized by all the other castes in the old custom of referring any boundary dispute to a Parayar. In almost all the ancient village ceremonies of a communal nature, the Parayars play an important role. For example, on the occasion of any festival of Shiva at Tiruvalur in Thanjavur, a Parayar has a hereditary right to precede the God’s procession holding a white umbrella.
In Tamil Nadu, there was a curious feature of society, which was not found anywhere else in India. All the castes were divided into right hand, left hand and neutral factions who used to constantly feud against each other in ancient times.
A table showing these divisions is as follows: -
The right hand faction was and is considered superior. The Parayars are part of the right hand faction. Even today, they are the strenuous upholders of the privileges of the right hand division. The Parayar field labourers were enlisted as soldiers by the Tamilian kings. It was King Rajarja Chola who created this ‘left-right’ division. He named the division consisting of those soldiers who had won victories for him in all his foreign campaigns as the right hand army. These men were recruited from the Parayar, Vedan, Nattaman and Malayaman castes.
According to Keralite traditions, Cheraman Perumal, the most famous of the Chera kings had a powerful army and navy and the following was the social structure during his times:-
From the above, it may be seen that the Sambavars or Parayars held an enviable place in the Cheran hierarchy.
The Parayars, distinct from the other Tamil castes, maintained many pre-Hindu beliefs unique to that area and era. Their spiritual life includes the knowledge of what are considered arcane mysteries, magic, rituals and beliefs. As a result, members of other castes consult Parayar shamans or Velathans in Kerala for advice that is not otherwise accessible. Sudalai Madan and Chokka Madan are deities associated with this community. ‘Ellaiyamman’ is the principal goddess of the Parayars, central to their religious framework and generally distinctive to their religion. She has a Parayar head and a Brahmin body (thereby displaying the superiority of Parayars) and in rare cases carries the torn head of a brahmin in her hands. ‘Ellaiyamman’ stems from the Tamil word for ‘boundary’ i.e. ‘ellai’ making her the Mother Goddess of the boundaries. The positioning of the image of the deity at the boundary of the Parayar settlement suggests that the Goddess presides over the settlement and safeguards its perimeters from other castes. In Sri Lanka, the ‘Berava’ caste is supposed to be Parayars who were imported from Tamil Nadu to fulfill certain ritual roles. The Berava exorcists practise ‘Suniyama’ a critical ritual that has gained importance in the last decades. The Suniyama heals by severing the tie that binds a victim to an act of sorcery. While this removes the affliction from the victim, it also restores his/her relationship to the community at large by diverting the violence of the sorcery without engaging in a cycle of retribution. Dances of this community include ‘Kolam-thullal’ or ‘mask-dance’, part of their exorcism rituals and the fertility dance ‘mudi-attam’ or ‘hair dance.’ ‘Parayan thullal’ has a slow narrative style for singing with slow graceful elegant steps, movements and hand gestures. The dancer smears the body with charcoal paste and wears ornamental headgear and a red cloth round his waist.
1) The Eyinars appear to have been a robust marital race. With regard to the dietary habits of the Eyina tribe of hunters, the ‘Ten Tamil Idylls’ and the ‘Purananooru’ say that they ate pork and the flesh of the wild cow and drank intoxicating liquors. Here are some examples of their diet taken from ancient Tamil literature: - “the new white rice boiled with the flesh of the swine just killed by the Eyinars” and “thou shall get the hot rice cooked by the Eyina women with sweet tamarind and roasted beef.”
2) The settlement of land dispute by one Vesali Parayar and his Councilors regarding the ownership of a field belonging to a temple in a village called Mudepakavar is mentioned in an inscription of the eleventh century and the Parayar’s decision was deemed final and absolute. Some of these rights and privileges still remain with them in the village organization.
3) In 1220 A.D.,(Maravarman Sundara Pandya), the Nadu of Kananadu levied per capita tax on land holders. Concessional rate of levy (1/8 panam) was collected from the Parayars in contrast to ½ panam from brahmins, chettis and vellalas.
4) In the inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola (1013 A.D.), the loom (tari) of the Parai,Tusa and Saliya are mentioned.
5) A survey conducted by British engineer, Thomas Barnard (1767-1774) of a settlement in Chengleput District revealed the following: In the Madras Presidency, the Parayars had around 350 sub-divisions. They performed specific functions like ‘Kaniyatchi’, ‘pujari’, ‘talaiyari’ and ‘vetti’. The average size of Parayar houses and backyards were 2.5 and 37.5 Kulis compared to 4.3 and 10.5 Kulis of the houses in the Ur. The Parayar houses and backyards were considerably larger than those of other castes and were traditionally considered inalienable and non-taxable properties to be enjoyed by them with no restriction.
6) According to the 1814 statement on Mirasi rights by F.W.Ellis, the Collector of Madras, the Parayars possessed established rights and privileges, which constituted their Mirasi. First, the Paracheri, the site of their houses wherever placed and the backyards attached to them, were held, like the houses of the mirasdars, rent free and they were exempted universally from all taxes and imposts whatsoever; secondly they were entitled to a share in the produce of every crop, which they received at various rates and in various modes under the denomination of Kalavasam, Sudantiram etc; thirdly, they held the secondary offices of the village as Talaiyari, Vettiyan, Kambukatti, Alavukaran, Totty, etc for which they were allowed Maniyams and Sudantirams distinct from those mentioned above.
All the above references show that the Parayars had a major role to play in Tamil Nadu especially in the north western parts.
At present the Sambavars constitute about 12% of the population of Tamil Nadu and make up 60% of the Scheduled Caste population of Tamil Nadu. As on 1st May 1976 there were 76 castes listed in ‘The Schedule (Scheduled Castes) Part XVI-Tamil Nadu out of which Entry No 56 of this Schedule reads as follows:- “Paraiyan, Parayan, Sambavar.”
The question that arose in my mind after reading about the warrior origins of our ancestors was why are our people situated in clusters outside the main villages and what is the reason for the hostility, which the other castes have towards us which has resulted in untouchability being practiced against us.
In Southern Tamil Nadu all the Hindu castes stay in the ‘ooru’, which is the village while the Parayars along with certain other castes reside in ‘cheris’ or small settlements outside the village. In north-western Tamil Nadu the Parayars reside in ‘colonies’ outside the ‘ooru’, the difference being that here the colonies are more spacious and populous than the ‘cheries’ of the south. The reason for the separate settlements is the distinct racial origins of the Sambavars and the other Hindu castes. The Sambavar tribe must have occupied the places, which were most conducive to living considering climate, availability of water, fertility of land etc. The Dravidians who settled later on occupied the same places but at different locations. It must be remembered that the Dravidians were a highly cultured and advanced race while the Sambavars were but primitive people. Thus, though were at peace with the aborigines they must have feared and disliked them. Therefore, it is not as if the other castes have removed the Parayars out of the village. Both these communities have lived separately of their own volition.
Coming to untouchability, this was a direct result of the advent of the Aryans in Tamil Nadu. North Indian aryans entered Tamil Nadu around the 1st century AD. They styled themselves as ‘brahmins’. Very soon they converted the Tamil kings to Hinduism and uprooted Jainism which was the dominant religion. The kings in turn converted the population. After the Tamilian people were forcibly converted to Hinduism by the Tamilian kings under the influence of the brahmins, the cow became a sacred animal and eating beef and consuming alcohol came to be looked down upon as hateful habits. Most castes gave up these habits and rose in the social hierarchy. The Eyinars, as a whole, however were stubborn and valued their independence and self-respect. They rejected all brahminical customs and manners, which led to a decline in their social status. The main reason for untouchability being imposed upon them appears to be the wont of Parayars to skin cows and eat their flesh.
Nandanar, the reputed Saivite saint, who forced Nandi the bull to move and allow him a darshan of the Hindu god Nataraja was a Parayan. Avvaiyar the greatest Tamil poetess was from the Parayar community. In modern times, Illayaraja, the ace-composer of Tamil film music has made the Sambavar community proud. Above all, Saint Thiruvalluvar, the poet-laureate of Tamil Nadu and the greatest of all the Tamilian saint-reformers was a Parayar.
HOPE AND IDEAS
Swami Vivekananda had prophesied that each era would belong to a varna, turn by turn. After Brahmin domination, it would be the turn of soldiers, then traders, then workers and finally the untouchables. The 21st Century may well see the Sambavars reclaiming their rightful position in Tamil society.. I want my people to stand up for our rights. Disguising our identity and hiding behind facades cannot be a long-term solution. We have to face up to our problems and fight back. Sure we’ll show love and respect for other castes, but first we will love ourselves and respect ourselves.
This is the GOOD NEWS, which I want to share with my Sambavar brothers, and sisters wherever they are. We have been wrongly labelled as low-caste/ outcaste. The truth is that we belong to a proud community who are descendants of men of a noble lineage. Our ancestors were brave proud men who founded the villages and towns of ancient Thamilakam. Men who fought for the imperial Chola kings and returned victorious from overseas conquests. Men who scorned the brahmins and refused to toe their line unlike other castes. Hunters, archers, soldiers, warriors, farmers and weavers, it is a lineage to uplift our spirits. So, raise your heads with pride, fellow Sambavars and stand tall for we are among the best.
Dreams have a way of coming true if our outlook is positive and if we are persistent. It is my dream, and I am sure yours too, that our children and grandchildren will live in days when Sambavars will hold their heads high and stride out to meet the world on level terms, suffused with confidence, self-respect and pride. May God bless our community. Long live SAMBAVARS.
SAMANANDHA JOSEPH GEORGE