Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part -3)

The second fact from the 2nd episode described in the previous part is about the name Vaarthikan. This is not a personal name but a title that one gets when one excels in giving commentary to Vedantha. It was one of the main occupations of Brahmins until western education replaced traditional education. Vaarthikan of Thiru-th-thangaal received his own town and Vayalur as a kind of compensation for the wrong done to him. There is evidence of another Vaarthikan living in Trichy region, having received land gifts from the Cholan king. This Vaarthikan was engaged in giving discourses on Vaarthikam (in this context the Pradeepaka Vaarthikam for Bhagavadpaadheeyam). In order to enable him to continue this service, he was given land endowments by the Town committee (பெருங்குறி சபை) during the reign of Veera Rajendra Chola (1063-70) (1). This is found in the inscription in Kailasanatha temple at Chozhamaadevi in Trichy. The purpose of the grant was not just a token of appreciation but also to enable him to continue the teaching services to others. This shows that Vaarthikan of Thiru-th-thangaal also could have used the benefits he received for spreading education.



The same temple has another evidence of a Brahmin having been given land grants by the Town committee for his service in giving discourses and for Bhatta Vriddhi. The Bhatta vriddhi enabled him to procure oil for lamps and materials for worshiping rituals of the temple without any hindrance. (2). This was given in the period of King Rajendar Chola –I (1012 to 1044)

Gifting lands was not a special favour to Brahmins alone. Vriddhis were given to various classes of people. To cite an example from an inscription found in Agastheeswaram in Kanyakumari district (1438 AD), those engaged in medical profession were given “salliya vriddhi”. Potters were given “Kulaala Vriddhi”. (3) The returns from the gifted lands were used for improving the professions they were engaged in. In the case of Brahmins, the income from the lands helped them to support the pupils who stayed with him for studies. A misconception may arise here that education meant here was only Vedic education which means only the Brahmin community was benefited by these grants. That it is not so is known from other sources.


Though a Vaarthikan was engaged in Vaarthikam, he had imparted general education to others. We do find evidence of Vaaththis imparting education to the children in the village where they lived. During the Cholan period the school teachers were called as Vaaththis. (4) They were the Brahmins who taught the student in the front verandah of their homes called as ‘Thinnai’ schools. Vaarthikan came to be known as Vaarthee or Vaaththi in course of time. In modern times this name got transformed into “vaadhiyaar”. There is an opinion that Vaadhyar came from Upaadhyaya of Sanskrit. But it has its roots in Vaarthi which is also a derivative from Sanskrit.


One of the main accusations of the Dravidian Chauvinists is that Brahmins denied other castes access to education and they only grabbed all the chances for education for thousands of years.

It is blatantly wrong to say that Brahmins usurped the chances of education of the people because, the Brahmins were teachers and not students. This can be substantiated from the sangam texts. The Brahmin poets were less in number compared to others who have contributed to the sangam literature. This shows that they have trained the students from different castes in writing poetry and enabled them to deliver them in a learned forum like the Sangam Assemblage but  not competed with them in the presenting their poems.  In the Tamil lexicon, we come across a term called “Kulapathy” – a title given to a teacher who has taught 1000 students! This shows the level of literacy and awareness on education. Only one sangam poem was attributed to one Kulapathy NakkaNNanaar of Kidangil. (5). NakkaNNan is a Brahmin name. The ‘na’ prefix is added as a respect. His original name was Kannan which is common among Brahmins.


It is also wrong to say that Brahmins imposed Sanskrit education and taught only Vedas. According to Tholkaappiyam there were 6 types of Brahmins (6) and all of them were engaged in teaching besides their Vedic duties. Writing on these 6 types, Naccinarkkinyar says that both Sanskrit based and Tamil based education was imparted. There was a broad classification into Sanskrit and Tamil learning. Three types of Brahmins were engaged in teaching Sanskrit and three were engaged in teaching Tamil.  The 3 categories of Sanskrit and Tamil teaching were known as head, middle and end. (முதல், இடை, கடை)  (7) Grammar formed the head of learning, literature and Dharma sastras the middle and other books formed the end level of learning. Thus there were three categories of Sanskrit teaching and three categories of Tamil teaching of head, middle and end level of study material.


This shows that not all Brahmins were knowledgeable in Sanskrit and Vedas. Some Brahmins were skilled in specific fields of Sanskrit and Vedas and some others in Tamil and its literature. The coexistence of Sanskrit and Tamil can thus be traced back to the times when Tholkppaaiyam was written. This discounts the theory of Dravidian Chauvinists that Brahmins were migrants and not natives of Tamilnadu. Unless they were native speakers of Tamil, Brahmins could not have come to possess the expertise in Tamil and be engaged in teaching Tamil of three categories as a hereditary occupation even as early as Tholkaappiyar’s times.


Did the Brahmins discriminate among the students is that next question. There was no discrimination among the castes for access to learning. Though Vedic learning was confined Brahmins in agraharas, teaching of Tamil and other branches of studies was available to everyone. In the beginning of his commentary to Tholkaappiyam,  Nacchinarkkiniyar gives a list of those who were eligible to be taught and those who were not eligible.


Those who are eligible to be taught are 6, namely one’s own son, teacher’s son, king’s son, the one who gives money, the one who worships and the one who is keen to learn. (8)

Those who are not eligible to be taught are 8, namely a lazy one, the one in the grip of passion, the one who tells falsehood, the one who is always thinking of sex, the robber, the one who suffers from serious diseases, the one who cannot control anger and the one who does not have a steady mind (9). Thus we will see that there was no restriction on students on the basis of caste or varna. The restriction was with reference to attitudes and temperament.


That no discrimination existed against any caste can be made known from a Sangam poem written by none other than a King! A Pandyan king who won over the territories in North India (Arya vartha) thereby earning a Title “Aryap padai kadantha Nedunmsezhiyan” had written on how a learned person from even the 4th varna was respected. He has said that among the 4 varnas having differences among themselves, a person form the higher varna would bow before the one belonging to a lower varna if he is educated. Therefore it is imperative that a person gets education even if it means helping one or spending money (10).

This view expressed by this king shows that

  • the Dravidian chauvinists were wrong in their perception that Aryans imposed the varna system. This king himself got the title of having conquered the Aryan warriors (of Aryavratha). He has made a reference to the 4 varnas. If the varna system was imposed by Aryans or the people of Aryavartha, this king who conquered the Aryan kings could have in no time eliminated the varna system. That he didn’t do so shows that varna system was indigenous to Tamil lands.
  • the varna system was not a barrier to education.
  • the educated one from the any varna was respected. As teachers who imparted education, the Brahmins were held in esteem.
  • If a person was honored, the reason was not his caste or varna, but it was due to the merit he carried.


Tholkaappiyar himself has written about the existence of the varnas in Tamil lands. Varna system in Tamil lands  was not a borrowed or an imposed one by the “Aryans”. The Tamil society had its own system of varnas which were not just 4 but 7 in number. (11) In addition to the 4 varnas, there were astrologers (அறிவன்), sages (தாபதர்) and ‘porunar’ (பொருநர்) (those who were warriors and wrestlers) according to Tholkaappiyam (12). 


Importance of education was felt by all people irrespective of their background. The Dravidian propaganda that Brahmins did not allow lower varnas to get education was wrong. Infact without Brahmins no education was possible in those days. The Kings had made provisions for education through grants to teaching Brahmins. The Vriddhi or lands given to learned persons from the Brahmin community was not only a reward for their excellence but also to enable them to promote education. The Brahmins considered it a sin to collect fee for teaching. So there arose a need to give them gifts as compensation. Due to these reasons, the gifts were made by the kings to learned Brahmins. This educational system sustained by these Brahmins continued till the British occupied our lands. This can be read from the report of the Collector of Bellary, A.D Campbell submitted in the year 1825. (13)

” There is no doubt that in former times, especially under the Hindoo Governments very large grants, both in money, and in land, were issued for the support of learning. Considerable Yeomiahs, or grants of money, now paid to Bramins from my treasury, and many of the numerous and valuable Shotrium villages, now in the enjoyment of Bramins in this district, who receive one-fourth, one-third, one-half, two-thirds, and sometimes the whole, of their annual revenue, may, I think, be traced to this source. Though it did not consist with the dignity of learning to receive from her votaries hire; it has always in India been deemed the duty of Government to evince to her the highest respect, and to grant to her those emoluments which she could not, consistently with her character receive from other sources; the grants issued by former governments, on such occasions, contained, therefore, no unbecoming stipulations on conditions. They all purport to flow from the free bounty of the ruling power, merely to aid the maintenance of some holy or learned man, or to secure his prayers for the state. But they were almost universally granted to learned or religious persons, who maintained a school for one or more of the sciences, and taught therein gratuitously; and though not expressed in the deed itself, the duty of continuing such gratuitous instruction was certainly implied in all such grants.


The same situation had been reported in the Reports of British Collectors from other regions also. To cite another example,  the report of the Principal Collector of Malabar in 1823 shows that the teachers had never insisted on a regular and exorbitant fee but only received some presents at the end of the studies. The present also varied depending on the capacity of the student.

“The private teacher who gives lessons in Theology, Law, etc., does not receive any monthly or annual allowance but a present or compensation when the pupils leave him according to the circumstances and means of each.” (13 a)

This is a solid proof of Brahmins continuing with teaching profession with a service motive until the first quarter of the 19th century. But things started deteriorating after the British took the reigns. This traditional system of education which was cheap and affordable was eroded because the common people, the labourer class were the most affected by the British policies. They lost their income and means of livelihood due to the British policies and were forced to migrate. This resulted in disturbing the education of their children. A decline in traditional schools and student enrolment occurred due to this. In a kind of self confession, this Collector of Bellary has said this in the following lines.


“I am sorry to state that this is ascribable to the gradual but general impoverishment of the country. The means of the manufacturing classes have been, of late years greatly dimin­ished, by the introduction of our own European manufactures, in lieu of the Indian cotton fabrics. The removal of many of our troops, from our own territories, to the distant frontiers of our newly subsidized allies, has also, of late years, affected the demand for grain, the transfer of the capital of the country, from the Native Governments, and their Officers, who liberally expended it in India, to Europeans, restricted by law from em­ploying it even temporarily in India, and daily draining it from the land, has likewise tended to this effect which has not been alleviated by a less rigid enforcement of the revenue due to the state. The greater part of the middling and lower classes of the people are now unable to defray the expenses incident upon the education of their offspring, while their necessities require the assistance of their children as soon as their tender limbs are capable of the smallest labour. (13 b)


This is a very valuable report that tells that the manufacturing class lost their means of livelihood due to the British policies. As a result they could not send their children to schools. The shocking part of it is that the children were required to do jobs to augment the income for the family. In one stroke, the British destroyed the means of livelihood of common people, the education of their children, besides forcing them into child labour. Within the first few decades of British rule, everything in our society was made topsy turvy. In this background what was the sin that the Brahmins did? Who denied education to the children of the  poor working class? What made the children start working with their nimble findings right from their childhood?


One may ask what the Brahmins were doing with the gifts they received. Why didn’t they continue to patronize the children in their Gurukul? If it is true that they did not expect remuneration for teaching, couldn’t they have continued with the traditional teaching for these deprived children? The answer for these questions is fortunately recorded by this Collector of Bellary, for us to know what really happened.


The British came with a goal of plundering this country. Would they leave an opportunity to grab the lands that were with the Brahmins? They did grab them in the name of ‘school fund’ for the new type of education they introduced by replacing the traditional education. In the event of the death of the owner (Brahmin) of the land gifted to him by kings and village committees in olden times, the land was taken over by the British Government to create a “School fund” to bear the expenses of the new education system they introduced.  This is revealed in the report submitted by the Madras Collector, L.G.K. Murray  in 1825 in his action report taken on the initial report by the Collector of Bellary.


“The late Collector of Bellary having stated in his report that none of the institutions for education at present existing in that district derive support from the state added ‘there is no doubt that in former times especially under the Hindoo Government very large grants both in money and in land were issued for the support of learning’, and further stated his opinion that many of the Yeomiahs and Shrotriums now held by Bramins in the district may be traced to this source. No conditions he observed ‘are stated in the grants issued by the former governments; they all purport to flow from the free bounty of the ruling power merely to aid the maintenance of some holy or learned man. But they were almost universally granted to learned or religious persons, who maintained schools for one or more of the Sciences and taught therein gratuitously; and though not expressed in the deed itself the duty of continuing such gratuitous instruction was certainly implied in all such grants.’ It does not appear upon what grounds Mr Campbell founded his opinion so confidently that the implied condition of the grants referred to was the continuance of gratuitous instruction; but it seems not to be the result of particular investigation. Mr Campbell further suggested with the view of covering the expense of a general arrangement proposed by him in this report for the improvement of education that it might be provided that ‘on the demise—of any persons now holding Yeomiahs or alienated lands a new enquiry be instituted and that though the same may have been continued for more than one genera­tion by the British Government it may be resumed and carried to a new fund to be termed, “the school fund“, unless it is clearly stated in the body of the original grant to be hereditary, or the intention of the ruling power at the time to make such grant hereditary be clearly proved to the satisfaction of government.’ The Board have little doubt that the resumption of lands now alienated, in the manner suggested by Mr Campbell would produce ample funds for the purpose contemplated but they conceive that the two objects in view, namely, the recovery of alienated lands, and the establishment of a fund for the support of schools should be kept entirely distinct and separate. The establishment of schools in every part of the country under any general plan should be regulated”  (13 c)


The Collector of Bellary suggested the formation of School fund with the money generated from the usurped lands of the Brahmins. But the Collector of Madras went a step further. While he readily agreed to take over of lands from the Brahmins, he had delinked them from the School Fund. Thus what was given by kings and philanthropists through the ages for the self sustenance of education at the grass root level was diverted away from that purpose by the British.


In this context a glaring fact is that the lands owned by the business class who formed the Dravidian movement were not in the picture at all. Their lands were not taken away for the “School fund”.  Only the lands owned by Brahmins that they received for Bhatta Vriddhi (upkeep of temples) and for education were taken away. This at once destroyed the upkeep of temples and the education at the village level at once. If we search for any of the Dravidian leader who has lost his lands or possessions due to the British action, there is nothing to be seen like that. As told earlier, a nexus between the business / landlords and the rulers continued with the British too, with these Dravidian leaders forming an understanding with the British thereby protecting their interests.


The British had successfully impoverished the working class. They forced the children to quit school and be engaged as child laborers. As if to offer a remedy, they introduced schools for the children. On the supply side of education, Brahmins were still there in a position to educate children. But that was successfully thwarted by making them also destitutes by taking away their possessions that bore the stamp of authority by olden Tamil kings.  The old land deeds were not honoured and the lands were taken up by the British Government upon the death of the owner- Brahmin. This happened post 1825 AD.


Thus the continuing educational scenario of our country was disturbed and then disbanded by the British. They cleverly destroyed both the supply side and demand side of education (Brahmins and Children of working class). In the end both the sides were rendered landless and moneyless. There is ample evidence to show from the British records themselves that the Brahmins rendered free education to the poor. They did not demand money from the students but were content with what was given to them. The reports of British Collectors from different regions of South India paint the same picture. They have said that the number of traditional schools at that time was more in India compared to many other European countries, while the cost of education was much less – something unthinkable in the European countries.


The students  in traditional schools were not only taught the basic 3Rs but also other skills required for the jobs. From the account of the Collector of North Arcot, it is known that the students learned commerce, preparation of account statements, skills need for public offices like Karnam, village Shroff and merchants so that once they come out of school, they can take up some jobs and start making a living. (13 d) The scope for this was given by Brahmins and not taken away by Brahmins.


In the tsunami of the British hegemony, the Brahmins also lost their livelihood and traditional duties. They were also left to fend for themselves in a new scenario. If you notice, only the Brahmins and Shudras who form the extreme ends of the Varna system were left in the lurch. The landlords and the business men survived the British onslaught. But the affected ones were the Brahmins and the Shudras (poor and the landless).


Until the turn of start of the 20th century Brahmins could not relocate themselves. But when they started finding a venue for living for themselves, the Dravidian movement chipped in to chop them off. The data that Karunanidhi shows on Brahmin domination in Jobs, hardly covers a couple of decades. The exploitation that he cites hardly shows sufficient numbers to say that Brahmins did indeed grab all the opportunities in education and jobs. Even before a generation of disturbed Brahmins could settle in jobs, the Dravidian movement started spreading lies on Brahmin hegemony and exploitation.


heir biggest lie was that Brahmins have grabbed the chances of others in education and in jobs for thousands years, while the reality was that they were largely teachers who enabled others to make a living. Their religious background had incapacitated them to make any violent response against the hate campaign. Like Vaarthikan of Thiru-th-thangaal, they are being lashed because they continue to be soft targets. For the wrong done to Vaarthikan, the city of Madurai paid a price through Kannagi. Similarly a country and people which had become ungrateful to a community that had enlivened the education of the masses for a known period of 2000 years is suffering for the mistake of going after the Dravidian chauvinists.


The reality check does not end here. The Brahmins were never treated with a kid’s glove even by the kings. Let us see those issues in the next post before knowing about the 3rd Brahmin of Silappadhikaram.


(to be continued)





(1)    “Thamizh naattuk kalvettukaL – 2004” page 19 & 20

(2)    “Thamizh naattuk kalvettukaL – 2004” page 21 & 22

(3)    “Kanyakumari maavatta-th tholliyal kaiyedu” page 37

(4)      “Thamizhakak  kalaikalum, kalvettukalum” by Maa. Rajamaanikaknaar, page 219.

(5)     Kurum thogai 252

(6)    Tholkaappiyam, Puraththinai iyal  74 “அறுவகைப் பட்ட பார்ப்பனப்பக்கமும்”

(7)    ” ஆறு பார்ப்பியல் என்னாது வகை என்றதனான், அவை தலை, இடை, கடை என ஒன்று மும்மூன்றாய்ப் பதினெட்டாம் என்று கொள்க; அவை ஓதல், ஓதுவித்தல், வேட்டல், வேட்பித்தல், கொடுத்தல், கோடல் என ஆறாம் இருக்கும், எசுரும், சாமமும் இவை தலையாய ஓத்து. இவை வேள்வி முதலியவற்றை விதித்தலின் இலக்கணமுமாய், வியாகரணத்தான் ஆராயப்படுதலின் இலக்கியமும் ஆயின. அதர்வமும், ஆறங்கமும் தருமநூலும் இடையாய ஓத்து. இதிகாசமும் புராணமும் வேதத்துக்கு மாறுபடுவாரை மறுக்கும் உறழ்ச்சி நூலும், அவரவர் அதற்கு மாறுபடக் கூறும் நூல்களும் கடையாய ஓத்து. எழுத்து சொல்லும் பொருளும் ஆராய்ந்து இம்மைப்பயன் தருதலின், அகத்தியம் தொல்காப்பியம் முதலிய தமிழ் நூல்களும் இடையாய ஓத்து ஆம் என்று உணர்க. இவையெல்லாம் இலக்கணம். இராமாயணமும் பாரதமும் போல்வன இலக்கியம். இனி, தமிழ்ச் செய்யுட் கண்ணும் இறையனாரும் அகத்தியனாரும் மார்க்கண்டேயனாரும் வான்மீகனாரும் கவுதமனாரும் போல்வார் செய்தன தலையும், இடைச் சங்கத்தார் செய்தன இடையும், கடைச்சங்கத்தார் செய்தன கடையுமாகக் கொள்க.”  (நச்சினார்க்கினியர்.)

(8)     “தன் மகன், ஆசான் மகனே, மன்மகன், பொருளணி கொடுப்போன், வழிபடுவோன், உரை கோளாளன்” (நச்சி –உரை – தொல்காப்பியம் பாயிரம்)

(9)     “மடி, மானி, பொச்சப்பன், காமுகன், கள்வன், அடுநோய்ப் பிணியாளன், ஆறாச் சினத்தன், தடுமாறு நெஞ்சத்தவன் உள்ளிட்ட எண்மர் நெடுநூலைக் கற்கலாதார்.” (நச்சி –உரை – தொல்காப்பியம் பாயிரம்)

(10) “வேற்றுமை தெரிந்த நாற்பாலுள்ளும் கீழ்ப்பால் ஒருவன் கற்பின் மேற்பால் ஒருவனும் அவன் கட்படுமே” (புநா-183)

(11)Tholkaappiyam, Puraththinai iyal  74

“அறு வகைப் பட்ட பார்ப்பனப் பக்கமும்
ஐ வகை மரபின் அரசர் பக்கமும்
இரு மூன்று மரபின் ஏனோர் பக்கமும்
மறு இல் செய்தி மூ வகைக் காலமும்
நெறியின் ஆற்றிய அறிவன் தேயமும்
நால் இரு வழக்கின் தாபதப் பக்கமும்
பால் அறி மரபின் பொருநர் கண்ணும்
அனை நிலை வகையொடு ஆங்கு எழு வகையான்

தொகை நிலை பெற்றது என்மனார் புலவர்”

(12)”வாளானும், தோளானும் பொருதலிலும், வென்றி கூறலும்” (புறப்பொருள் வெண்பாமாலை உரை)

(13) (13 a) (13 b) (13 c) (13 d) “The beautiful Tree” Vol III, by Dharampal http://www.samanvaya.com/dharampal/



One thought on “Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part -3)

  1. The actual Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple as well as Meenakshi Amman Temple is usually a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city involving Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to help Lord Shiva (available as Sundareswarar or Beautiful Head of the family) and his consort, Goddess Parvati (by means of Meenakshi or Fish-eyed Goddess).

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