Brahmins were not treated with any undue favours even in the times of kings. A Brahmin was expected to fulfill very high standards of morality and set an example for others. When he failed to do that, he had to pay the price for it. He was expected to undertake only 6 kinds of activities, failing which he was considered as a degraded Brahmin in the Tamil society. The six activities are studying or recitation, teaching, doing Homas, doing homas for others, giving gifts and accepting gifts. (ஓதல், ஓதுவித்தல், வேட்டல், வேட்பித்தல், ஈதல், ஏற்றல்). All these 6 came with a strict retribution when not done properly. When a Brahmin abandoned or went away from any of these duties, he was not accepted by the society. Many Brahmins became degraded in this way and had to seek a job for living.
One prominent example is seen in Agananuru. A Brahmin had given up doing Homas and therefore not considered for other activities of a Brahmin. He started doing shell cutting for a living. (1) Yet another instance of degraded Brahmins is told in Silappadhikaram who failed to adhere to the traditional activities of a Brahmin. (1) The mistake that these Brahmins did was to have taken interest in ‘Vari-p-paattu’ or singing and therefore could not be considered for the other activities of Brahmins such as teaching, conducting homas or taking gifts. These Brahmins lived outside the town as a group. This shows that such Brahmins were not given accommodation in the Brahmin areas (Agrahara) and not allowed in other activities of the Brahmins.
More than all these, a damaging observation is made by the author of Silappadhikaram that the entourage of Kovalan did not want to stay in the vicinity of these Brahmins and therefore stayed in the area near a temple away from them. (2) It is common talk by the Dravidian leaders to put the blame on Brahmins for the “historic” harassment and abandonment of other castes in spite of absence of any evidence of such a deed by the Brahmins. But the Dravidian leader who extols himself as an expert in Kannagi’s story, does not want to acknowledge that an instance of degraded Brahmins, just because they had taken up singing was recorded in Silappadhikaram. That degradation was not imposed by fellow Brahmins. The entire society had treated them as degraded and untouchable too – something we get to know from Adiyaarkku nallar’s commentary. (3)
These incidents make hollow the complaint of the Dravidian Chauvinists that it was Brahmins who imposed strictures on other sections of the society. No single section held the power to pass such strictures. It was a collective decision of the community at large and / or the King’s order – be it a stricture on a Brahmin or another.
That this system of discipline continued until recently can be made out from a pillar inscription in a temple in Nandavaram in Karnool district. In an incident cited this inscription, the village community had interfered in the personal affairs of the Brahmin families and denied them the right to be in the Agrahara and carry out Vedic rites. The mistake they did was that they had demanded dowry for the marriage of their girls. They were reinstated only after they gave an undertaking that they would not demand dowry. The inscription, dated at Saka 1492 “records the resolution of the Vidwa Mahajanas of Nandavaram on the occasion when the Agrahara was restored to them and they were reinstated in it by the authorities that they would take up the study of Vedas and sastras and would abstain from levying dowries for marrying of girls in their community”. (4)
Marriage is a personal affair within a family. What a family is doing in the marriage of their girl, is well within their rights. But this incidence shows that Brahmins were not allowed to behave as they wished even in matters pertaining to their family. Taking dowry or giving dowry for marriage of the girl was not considered as a virtue for a Brahmin. When a Brahmin slipped from that virtue he was penalized. The community around him did not leave that as an internal matter, but wanted him to stand by that virtue. Inspite of this being the state of affairs in the country particularly South India in the past, the Dravidian zealots are spreading canards against the Brahmins that they harmed the other communities by their Manuvadi theories.
The imposition of punishment like the one given in Nandavaram was not a Manuvadi theory but one aimed at discouraging such practices then and in future generations of Brahmins. Brahmins had never seen money unless given by others. But the ruling and trading classes had always flaunted their riches. Within the same society, one section of it namely the Brahmins were witness to the material growth of others but were not expected earn and enjoy the same like others. Their income depended on what others gave them. And not all Brahmins were given gifts and endowments. Only the best among them who were experts in religious discourses received the donations. Moreover with the fall of monarchy and lack of patrons, life became difficult for the Brahmins. This must have resulted in the rise of demand for dowry in the community.
We see yet another instance like the one above, recorded during the reign of a local king called Shambuvaraya in Thondai naadu which was under the control of the Cholan king. The region was a “padai veedu” (படை வீடு) a place where the Cholan army men were posted on duty for keeping vigil on that area. The inscription is about the Brahmins living there who were Kannadigas, Tamilians, Telugus and Ilaalaas. They had demanded dowry from the groom for marrying the girl. The inscription says that this was against Brahmin-hood and the Brahmins must stop this practice. If not, they would get the wrath of the King. The inscription was signed by Asesha Vidwa Maha janas. (5)
This inscription shows that
· People speaking different languages have coexisted.
· The common thread among them was their identity as Brahmins.
· Brahmins speaking different languages have had marital alliances among themselves.
· Dowry was given by the groom for marrying the girl and not the other way round as it is prevalent now in many communities.
· Though signed by a committee, it was done under the Royal stamp of authority. This tells the real picture of the olden times that the King had an all pervading presence.
One of the accusations of the Dravidian leaders is that Brahmins held the power to dictate terms and influenced the kings which they did for suppressing the other castes. The above 2 instances show that Brahmins could not even have a say in the affairs of their own families. The how could they have dictated terms on others’ families?
Another interesting feature known from the Padai Veedu inscription is that the Brahmin taking dowry was said to lose “Brahmaneeyam” or Brahmin-hood (“பிராமணீயத்துக்கும் புறம்பாகக் கடவர்”). This word Brahmaneeyam was an obsession with Karunanidhi. He and his predecessors called it as ‘Paarppaneeyam” without any idea of what Paarppaneeyam means. From the inscription, it is known that Brahmaneeyam stands for high standards of morality in personal life. Since the Brahmin was ordained to impart education and conduct the worshiping rituals in the temple, he must behave as one without any blemishes and be a role model for others. Unless he follows the tenets of morality, he cannot inspire others to follow those tenets. That is why the society had behaved like a watch dog and had been very strict with him. This is contrary to what the Dravidian leaders are saying – that the Brahmin imposed strict rules on other castes.
The preaching and following of morality had continued for all times in the past and comes to be known from the records of the British period. An Austrian traveler Phillip Wesdin, who toured India between 1776 and 1789 had written in his book ‘Voyages to the East Indies ‘(Published, Rome, 1796, Berlin, 1798, England, 1880), has written many instances pertaining to this in his book. To quote an instance,
“..the youth who are destined to be Brahmanas must spend 10 years within the precincts of the temple at Trichur and avoid all intercourse with female sex. They are obliged also to observe the strictest silence which continues for 5 years. This is the first degree of philosophy”. (6)
The same kind of restriction on Brahmin students were continuing for all times in the past as we find a similar stipulation for the students (sattar / சட்டர்) in the inscription found in the Vishnu temple in Parthivasekhara puram during the reign of Kokkaru Nanthadakkan of the 9th century CE. (7)
There is misconception on what “Sattar” means, based on which a section of people blame Brahmin sattars as those who passed strict rules on other castes in the past. Sattam in Tamil means law and hence they think that Sattars were the ones who imposed the “Manuvadi” discrimination on others. But in a situation where the King’s writ was supreme and Village committees were active even as early as the 10th century, no individual person could have had his say on the people. This term ‘sattar’ is found in the Ennaayiram Ur kalvettu of Rajendra Chola –I. In that the Sattars were mentioned as unmarried Brahmins who were students of sastras. (8). The bachelor students of sastras were called as Sattars. The strict rule on celibacy during the time of studies of the Sattar testifies this.
An average Brahmin studied the Vedas and moral preaching in the Gurukul. Only a few attended ordinary schools where other subjects were taught and where people from all sections of the society studied. In the Collector’s report pertaining to Tamil areas during the period 1822 to 25, Brahmins constituted only 13% in South Arcot and 23% in Madras and 30% in Salem in these schools. In higher learning (Colleges) Brahmins studied Theology, metaphysics, ethics and law (Dharma sastras). They did not enter into fields like astronomy (Jyothisha related) and medicine. The report from Malabar for the same period showed that there were only 78 Brahmin students studying astronomy of the total enrolment of 808. Similarly 31 Brahmin students studied medicine out of 194 students. (9)
For the Brahmin, morality was a way of life (Brahminhood) and also a subject to taught. This was evident even as late as the 18th century. The Brahmin teacher had touched upon moral preaching in every possible way. Some of the verses he had taken up for discussion and debate among the students show how moral sensibilities were inculcated in the students. In the words of Phillip Wesdin (quoted above)
“These verses serve not only as examples of the manner in which the words must be combined with each other, but contain, at the same time, most excellent moral maxims, which are thus imprinted in the minds of the young people as if in play; so that, while learning the language, they are taught rules proper for forming their character, and directing their future conduct in life. That the reader may be better enabled to conceive some idea of the morality of the Brahmans, I shall here subjoin a specimen of these sentences.
I. What is the use of study, if the object of it be not to learn knowledge and fear, which is true wisdom?
II. Why have we ceased living in the forests, and associated ourselves in cities and towns, if the object of our doing so be not to enjoy friendship; to do good mutually to each other, and to receive in our habitations the stranger and wanderer?
III. The wounds occasioned by a slanderous tongue occasion far more pain, and are much more difficult to be healed, than those which proceed from fire and the sword.
IV. Of what use is it to thee to shut the door of thy house? It is necessary in order that thy wife may learn to be upon her guard.
V. He who revenges an injury enjoys a pleasure which endures only a day; but he who forgives receives a satisfaction which will accompany him through life.
VI. Modesty becomes every one, but is a particular ornament to the learned and rich.
VII. The state of a married pair, who never deviate from the path of honour, virtue, and mutual duty, is as difficult as that of those who impose on themselves the several penances”.
Every issue mentioned above has relevance for all people and at all times. The teacher Brahmin who was under strict vigilance by the society, retained these moral values and passed on to subsequent generations. These issues formed the core of Brahmaneeyam. Sensing the importance of this, the first evangelist of the Christian Faith, Roberto de Nobili set up his camp in Madurai – of all the places in India – and projected himself as a Brahmin Christian to induce the people to embrace Christianity. (10) What he started continues even today in incarnations as “sadhu” Christians and mimicking Brahmin values (Brrahmaneeyam) and terminologies common among Brahmins in their evangelical preachings. If Brahminhood is bad and condemnable, can this trend continue even now?
(To be continued)
(1) “வேளாப் பார்ப்பான் வாளரந்துமித்த வளை களைந்து ஒழிந்த கொழுந்தின் அன்ன” Agananuru -24
(2) ” வரி நவில் மறை நூல் வழுக்கத்துப் புரி நூல் மார்பர் உறைபதி சேர்ந்து” Silappadhikaram, chapter 13 – lines 39 & 40.
(3) “புக்கென்னாது சேர்ந்தென்றதனால், அந்தப் பார்ப்பார் இழுக்கிய ஒழுக்கமுடைமை தமது சாவக நோன்புக்கேலாமையின், ஊர்க்கயலதோர் நகரிற் கோயிற்பக்கத்தில் சேர்ந்தாரென்க.” (அடியார்க்கு நல்லார் உரை)
(4) Annual Report on South Indian Epigraphy, 1913-5 ; p.10, No 4
(5) S.S.I., Vol I, No 56. (“Thamizaga-k kalaikalum, kalvettgalum” by Maa. Rajamanickanaar. Page 213.
” இற்றை நாள் முதலாக இந்தப் படை வீட்டு ராஜ்யத்துப் பிராமணரில் கன்னடியர், தமிழர், தெலுங்கர், இலாளர் முதலான அசேஷ கோத்ரத்து அசேஷ சூத்திரத்தில் அசேஷ சாகையிலவர்களும் விவாகம் பண்ணுமிடத்துக் கன்னியாதானமாக விவாகம் பண்ணக் கடவராகவும், கன்னியாதானம் பண்ணாமல் பொன் வாங்கிப் பெண் கொடுத்தால், பொன் கொடுத்து விவாகம் பண்ணினால், ராஜ தூஷணத்துக்கு உட்பட்டுப் பிராமணீயத்துக்கும் புறம்பாகக் கடவர் என்று பண்ணின தர்ம ஸ்தாபன சமய பத்திரம்; இப்படிக்கு அசேஷ வித்வ மஹாஜனங்கள் எழுத்து”.
(6) “The beautiful Tree” Vol III, by Dharampal
(7) Travancore Archeological series Vol 1
(8) T.A.S., Vol I No 6
(9) “The beautiful Tree” Vol III, by Dharampal