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  1. #1
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    Brahmins and Tamil society


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    Hi,

    I am a Tamil christian vellala, my ancestors were sozha and saiva pillais from near tiruvarur and from another side of the family from palayamkottai.I saw this thread about hatred for brahmins in Tamil Nadu. I felt I could add another perspective to this great forum and take this discussion in a different direction.

    There have been brahmins in the tamil country since very ancient times. However I see two periods in history when there were new influx of brahmin immigrants to the tamil country. Of course there would have been constant movement of people throughout history but documented large scale settlements occured during the reign of Rajaraja chola and again five centuries later during Vijayanagar rule.
    Brahmins who settled in tamil country had fairly well established roles which was as priests, teachers, tutors and accountants. But it was primarily I believe as sustainers of religious culture and as a bulwark of Shaivite faith that the later Chola kings patronised brahmins and made huge grants of land to the brahmin run temples.
    After the fall of the tamil dynasties in the 13th century there was a long period of poltical flux and invasions. Then the political establishment stabilised with the Vijayanagar rule during which time a new class of brahmins came to the tamil country then again with the Maratha rulers.
    A bit about the the well known non varna system of tamil society. Tamil society was never governed by the varna system and I really doubt if any society in India really was in a 'water tight' manner. The main proponents were the brahmins who sought to understand and later 'fit' tamil society into this system. Social groups were not very defined and there was mobility on the social scale at various levels in most parts of India and more especially in tamil country.
    Brahmins by nature of their established role in society favoured the maintance of status quo. Yet were amenable to change when it was worthwhile or inevitable. A bit about Vellalas, unlike present configurations the Vellala were a hugely diverse group of people not necessarily of the same stock. You must realize tht the Vellala group is not confined to the tamil ethnic group of today. There are the ballalas and tuluva vellalas of karnataka and vellalas of kerala and the telugu rajas and more distantly the reddis. The term denoted a agricultural class and which actually reveled in its 'agricultural culture'. This group gave rise to ruler classes as evidenced by the sozha vellalas, the karkatha (pandya) vellalas and the vellala gounders (cheras). And in turn were not totally cut off from the maravar classes currently classified as thevars and kallars. The maravar groups were in turn small farmers when there no wars. The vellalas were also merchants and when the nagrathars settled in tamil country in another millenia they are documented to have married sozha vellala girls.
    Now coming to the discussion, the current dislike of brahmins has of course a long history. You read about similar feeling during the heyday of buddism and jainism. That was because people associated the ills of the Hindu faith with the principal and most visible proponents. But in tamilnadu the reasons are a little different as brahmins were essentially invited to practice the ancient faith of shaivism in tamilnadu. Brahmins who came even in chola times came from a more sanskritised society and had links to ancient heart of sanskrit culture the ganges basin. They could not fully grasp the structure of tamil society and constantly strived to mould it into its northern counterparts. I believe when the later cholas invited and settled Brahmins in the cauvery basin they made a conscious choice to integrate with the Sanskrit culture of other parts. However they wanted to do it on their own terms. But when the later groups of Brahmins moved to tamil country they were able to be more vocal with their concept of society. They as the ancient rules prescribed saw agriculture as the work of shudras but this remained in the realm of esoteric discussion as the vellala groups lrgely held ownership of land through the nayak and maratha periods. But there were changes in the Vellala groups as a result of the Brahmin interaction. I believe the occurence of the vaishnava vellalas are a result of these cultural interactions.

    A new phase opened when Europeans first came to India. The Europeans first sought to use the land owning groups as their liaisons in their power centres. These liasions were in tamil country the vellala landowners who looked for social ascendancy within their own groups. Yet they were not cooperative enough for the british and with the slow decline of Indian princes the English wanted a more academic and clerical civil staff to govern the empire. Thus it was during the late 1700s and the early 1800s that the Brahmins began to take up English education and work for the british. It was symbiotic relationship, the Brahmins who till that time did not have socially authorized access to land or wealth found a new calling which suited their abilities. It was during this period that the real rifts started. Brahmins moved from clerical jobs to academic endeavors. The links of sanskrit to german and other European languages gave rise to a new ethnic theory with proponents from the European and Indian academia. The Aryan theory was reborn in a new light with the Europeans cast as Western Aryan and the Brahmins and select higher caste groups as Indo-Europeans. This found hearty support in the anglicized Brahmin groups in India. In Tamil Nadu this social theorizing gave rise to various theories. This new Indo-European theory was combined with the north Indian varna concept to produce a more vocal Dravida-Shudra concept. This was being put onto serious academic discussions by the second half of the 19th century. This theory had varying reaction from the land owning groups some who were 'hindu believers' and in fact most of tamil society were accommodating the dravida-shudra theory by creating a 'sat-shudra' entity. But there were others who saw this as a Brahmin ploy to 'build into' the system the new scheme of things under British patronage - the immigrants now trying to take the upper hand in socio-political arrangements. By the early 1900s there were Vellalas, Naickers and Reddis who were grouping to reverse this development. The avenues which they employed varied.
    This was accompanied by an altogether new behavior among Brahmins, in several places in the Cauvery basin. Land had been granted to temples by the chola kings and farmed by tenant farmers and the income passed onto temple coffers in the ideal scheme of things. There was a new move by several Brahmin families to appropriate temple land and using the British government changed the ownership of these prime agricultural tracts to private ownership. This created a new class of Brahmin mirasdars. This broke an ancient rule where Brahmins were not allowed to be directly involved in agriculture and created a new land owning group in direct and serious competition to the Vellala land owners.
    By the 1900s political developments added another aggravating factor- the Congress party. The congress was almost overwhelmingly an association of anglicized Brahmins who kept everyone else out. This on a national scene meant that once the british were out the new direct rulers would be Brahmins a first in Indian history. So the scene among the tamil non Brahmins got heated up. Rajaji choosing Kamaraj Nadar was seen by the Vellala elite as a deliberate ploy to by pass them to get to the lower castes. The rationalist theories of Periyar were probably an unexpected unifying factor. These ideologies created a 'Dravidian' movement which started to demonify Hinduism in its ancient stronghold. And portrayed Brahmins as caricatures to be hated. This naturally did not hold well as is seen from the separation of the DMK from the DK and again the formation of the AIADMK.
    Yet the path once taken took a life of its own. I believe that Brahmins are yet to understand and grasp the ancient structure of tamil society. They should also understand that Tamil society had created a non-sanskritic culture with an emphasis on agriculture and overseas trade from very ancient times. This was independent of the Vedic civilization of the North. However tamil society took what it liked from the Sanskrit culture and tamil merchants took the Ramayana epic to the Far East. That being said tamil society was more fluid than that in other parts of India. Brahmins in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Tamil Nadu were in social conflict with the other high castes with whom they had lived for centuries. At the core was a social re-arrangement among several others which took a relatively economically impoverished priestly class and transformed it into a land owning class which wielded direct political power. The equations are still being written.
    I would urge everyone everywhere however to look beyond these issues and appreciate each other and cherish this new gift of India. I call it new because as anyone can see 60 years is a very short period and nations like relationships can be broken and out of broken relationships comes hatred. The north Indians need to appreciate the quiet living of the south and the southerners have admire the entrepreneurial qualities of the northern merchant classes. The Vellalas and other groups have to appreciate the discipline and academic qualities of the Brahmins and Brahmins and all of Indian society should admire the ancient agricultural and merchant classes of the south and stop applying the varna classifications. Not just in public but in the privacy of their homes and hearts.
  2. #2
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    Dear Sri Tanjoreculture Ji (I am assuming that I can call you Sri),

    Welcome to the Forum.

    Very thoughtful posting. This adds to what Sri Nacchinarkiniyan Ji's scholorly writings on this subject under the 'Why?' thread. All these writings add a bit more knowledge about our past.

    I especially appreciate the deep sentiment expressed by you at the end of your posting. Unless we all first start with the thought that we are all 'Indians' first, our future will not be prosperous. Very well said.

    Thank you.

    Regards,
    KRS
    Last edited by KRS; 10-02-2008 at 04:05 AM. Reason: Corrected the name
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    hi tanjore,

    welcome to the club. what a delightful romp through history. i am with you all along. i did not know the details to this extent, but always am in awe of the ancient tamil culture.

    i like your tone and the way you have presented it. i hope you stay with us, and continue to participate. i sincerely wish that in case you hear some harsh words, please teflon it, and remember that there are people like me, who need people of your perspectives.

    thank you.
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    A good write up tanjoreculture. But there are certain wrong impressions which are sought to be perpetuated.

    1. Tamil religion and the so called sanskritization: Saiva saddhanta which is the major religion in Tamil Nadu originated in Kashmir. The Saiva Agamas which form the basis of the religion are in Sanskrit. Just because the later texts like Thiru Mandiram were written in Tamil does not make it a Tamil religion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaiva_Siddhanta

    http://www.himalayanacademy.com/ssc/

    Skandha Purana which deals exclusively with Skandha or Murugan is in Sanskrit. Kalidasa wrote Kumara Sambhava which deals with the birth of Murugan in Sanskrit. The worship of Skandha has declined in the north. But that does not make him an exclusive Tamil god. Even deities like Mariamman are mentioned in the puranas.

    There are Vaishnava agamas and Saktha agamas. Whether the agamas and tantras are part of the Vedic culture or distinct from it has been academically discussed for a long time with no conclusive opinion. I could quote from Thrumandiram about the Vedas. There are scholars like Dayananda Saraswati (founder of Arya Samaj) who argued that the present day Hinduism is entirely non-Vedic.

    This is not surprising since many of the puranas were written in the south. These early literature were in Sanskrit because it was considered the literary language. There was a similar development in the west where books were written in Latin and not English. There was tremendous opposition to the translation of the Bible to English and the first man who started it was murdered. There was a lot of opposition initially to service in Tamil in churches.

    The Adheenam had absolute control over the major temples. They could have changed the language of Archanai to Tamil if they wanted. The priests were only lowly paid employees. But the Adheenams did not do it for a long time for their own reasons.

    2. Brahmins and caste: This has been discussed in detail in tamilnation.org. There was and is a caste system in Srilanka where there are very few Brahmins. In fact temple entry for all castes came to Srilanka much later. It is the Saiva Vellalas who were responsible for the caste system in Srilanka.

    All the castes practiced the caste system and untouchability. You may find it politically expedient to single out the Brahmins. But it is not true. The brahmins are not responsible for the two tumbler system or the atrocities committed on the dalits in Tamil Nadu after independence.

    What is shocking is that people who speak Telugu, Kannada and Malayalm are called Tamilians whereas the Brahmins who speak Tamil are called non Tamilians. Thanthai Periyar will be turning in his grave with the recent developments of North Indian Brahmins occupying high positions in the government in Tamil Nadu. It seems to be the policy to be only anti Tamil Brahmins. All other Brahmins are welcome.

    I come from a village where only two castes are there in the main village. Brahmins and Saiva Vellala Pillais. There is no anti Brahminism and the communities have worked together for generations. Politicians have always adapted the rule of Divide and Rule.
    Last edited by Nacchinarkiniyan; 10-02-2008 at 11:25 AM.
    யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்.

    நச்சினார்க்கினியன்.
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    Welcome "tanjoreculture" to the forum. It is interesting to read your views on "Brahmins and Tamil Society". Though I do not intend to enter into the discussions, I wish to point out a factual error about Perunthalaivar K.Kamaraj. You have stated that " Rajaji choosing Kamaraj Nadar was seen by the vellala elite as a deliberate ploy to by pass them to get to the lower castes". Rajaji did not bring Sri K.Kamaraj to prominence in Congress. It was his Guru and mentor, the great orator and Parliamentarian Sri S.Satyamurthy who brought Sri K.Kamaraj as Secretary of TN Congress, when he was the President. For more details you can refer the following site:
    http://www.perunthalaivar.org/englis...gory/politics/

    Regards,
    Brahmanyan.
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    Another Myth which has been perpetuated by the Brahmins and others is the migration at the time of the Cholas from the north. There is no shred of evidence to support this.

    In fact history states about the migration of Brhamins from South India to Bengal. The Senas who were ruling Bengal at the time of the Cholas were South Indian Brahmins. The Cholas defeated the last Pala king in Bengal. After that the Sena dynasty ruled. They brought Brahmins from Ujjain and south India to propagate Hinduism. There is historical evidence for all this.

    Again Brahmins were involved in propagating Hinduism in the far east. One south Indian Brahmin family exercised tremendous influence for generations in Thailand. Even today the coronation ceremony of the King is performed by South Indian Brahmins who have settled down there. This is history.

    It is believed that Bodhidharma, the founder of Shao Lin school of Martial Arts and the Chan (later Zen ) religion was a Brahmin from Kanchipuram.
    யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்.

    நச்சினார்க்கினியன்.
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    First I would like to appreciate the warm words and polite opinions expressed.

    My idea about Rajaji and Kamaraj Nadar is mistaken and I have based it on hearsay. And I did not mean to put the blame on the caste system on Tamil Brahmins. Social stratification and sadly oppression of fellow humans is a feature of all human societies.
    The classification of Vellala and related groups as Shudras seems to have been a cause for a rift. Even though this had a much older history some specific event maybe a census or government notification in the late 1800s seems to have sparked off specifically directed feelings against Brahmins. Maybe some one has more facts.
    However it must be said that the four plus one system seems to gain ascendancy in the later period of the cholas. Interestingly where there are simultaneous sabha and nadu temple inscriptions on the subject, the sanskrit of the sabha version mentions the four varnas and the nadu version in tamil does not.
    Besides several community groups seems to have straddled a range extending across the spectrum defined by varnashrama. Take a few examples the Kallars were highway robbers, warriors, chieftains and kings in Ramnad. The Nadars were not all Marameri Nadars as is widely believed there were also Gramani Nadars and Nadars in small merchant guilds. The Vellalas consisted of subsistence farmers, peasants, large landowners, inland and overseas merchants, royal body guards, some form of bureaucrats (muvenda- velars) and kings. Some Nagarathars owned land and were agriculturists. Certain hill tribes are described to have become landowners and members of guilds.
    On another topic the tamil connection with SE Asia and the far east has not got half the attention it deserves. There was a study published in 'Human Biology' where it was shown that Tamil Iyers had genetic affinity to SE Asia. Apparently there were Tamil queens in Korea and Japan. The common public in Busan still remember the name of a very popular tamil queen in the Korean royal house from a thousand years ago. But the name apparently does not make much sense to tamil speakers who have visited Busan recently. There are Japanese records of priests from the chola coast officiating in royal ceremonies. There was a recent article about a Thai lady who said her ancestor went from Chidambaram and had a family name of 'senaithalaivan'. She looked properly 'chinese' to me!
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    Talking about professions Brahmins had taken to all professions. The drama "Mricchakatika" by Sudraka shows that Brahmins had become Merchants thousand years back. In Tamil Nadu only a very small number were priests in temples. This was restricted mostly to the Saiva Brahmins. Historically it is seen that most of the Brahmins were Saivas in Tamil Nadu. The conflict during the Chola period was between the Saivas and Vaishnavas. Had there been a Smartha matam at the time of Ramanujacharya, they would have engaged in some debate with him. There is no such history.

    It is quite likely that Smartha religion which believes in the synthesis of all the sects became popular because of the sectarian conflicts. Again only a hypothesis.

    The Aryan/Dravidian theory which forms the basis of the present day politics in Tamil Nadu is not accepted by all historians for want of sufficient evidence. Dravida was the name for a region in India given in the Puranas. In fact it is a classification of the Brahmins.

    Pancha Dravida Brahmins. Please see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmins

    Dravid is a Brahmin surname. There are Brahmins in U.P also with the surname Dravid.

    Again there is no established connection between the Indus Valley civilization and Dravidians or Tamil. It is all theories and wishful thinking.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_Civilization

    http://www.harappa.com/har/har0.html

    Unfortunately the rabble rousing politicians of Tamil Nadu have convinced the people of Tamil Nadu that they belong to a different race and they were driven to the south by the invading Aryans. There is absolutely no evidence for these theories.

    The history of Tamil Nadu reveals that all the communities have ruled some parts of Tamil Nadu at sometime or the other. Their caste did not prevent them from becoming rulers. The only communities who never ruled Tamil Nadu are the Dalits and the Brahmins. Chandragupta Maurya being born a sudra did not prevent him from becoming one of the greatest rulers of India and establishing a dynasty.

    The historians of India were rarely concerned with the happenings in South India. After independence this has been rectified to some extent. But even today the historical knowledge of South India is woefully inadequate. History is not popular in Tamil Nadu. Historians who want to present the true history are discouraged since it is not politically acceptable.

    To quote one simple instance. We have all heard of the 18 siddhars. There is very little historical evidence about the Siddhars. Two of them are Gorakkar and Maccha Muni. Anyone who is familiar with Nath/Siddhas would know that these Siddhas could be Goraknath and Matsyendranath the legendary Gurus of the Siddhas. But not in Tamil Nadu. Because they are from the North. Because the siddhars wrote in Tamil they can have no connection with the North.

    It is time that the Tamilians give up their extreme parochialism.
    யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்.

    நச்சினார்க்கினியன்.
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    Talking about Tamil culture, why are obsessed with only the later Cholas? Puranic Hinduism had come to Tamil Nadu by that time as shown by the writing of Kamba Ramayanam.

    But the golden period of Tamil culture was in the Sangham age. The Brahmins were there and contributed to the Tamil literature. Unfortunately we have forgotten this age. This article gives a short description of Tamil literature.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_literature

    Who remembers Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan one of the greatest Tamil Kings. Or Vanchi Maanagaram. How we traded with the Roman empire through the port of Musiri. We erect a statue for Kannagi, but do not remember the temple for her in Kodungalloor. How many Saivites in Tamil Nadu have visited the temple at Thiruvanchikulam famous for its association with Sundarmurti Nayanar?
    யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்.

    நச்சினார்க்கினியன்.
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    Dear Sri “Tanjoreculture”


    Namaskarams.

    It is heartening to see some one who feels that one could add another perspective to the hatred while there are many who try to add only hatred to hatred. I hope the approach to get at the cause will lead us to a solution. I appreciate your good intentions expressed in the last paragraph of your posting in seeking harmony with one another.

    While I agree with some of your noting on history, I find that there are a number of infirmities in certain portions of history. As you know, these arise because the Indian more particularly South Indian history has been written to suit the European conveniences. In the nineteenth and twentieth century the “European historians” were actively engaged in distorting the history of India so that they could divide and rule India and loot the mineral and agricultural wealth of this great Nation.

    I will deal with the infirmities one after other in separate posts as other wise this post my be too long. Forumites may please bear with me for a number of posts.
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