Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part-5)

A common perception even among scholars is that the Vedic Brahmins who were gifted with villages, enjoyed the lands as a kind of fiefdom for them. These villages were called as Chathur Vedi Mangalam. The Dravidian influence on the thought process of most people is such that you would not come across a writer or a speaker who would speak kindly of the Brahmins of Chathurvedi mangalam. This is the only place where the Brahmins were supposed to be in charge of the lands gifted to them by the kings. The Dravidian rationale holds that the Brahmins had complete control on the affairs of the people in these Mangalams under whom other caste-people suffered subjugation. But the existing records show a different picture.
The Chathur Vedi Mangalam was created by the kings to promote Vedic learning. It consisted of a group of villages. The activities of the Chathurvedi Mangalam were centered around a temple where the Brahmins conducted the worship. The main feature of the Chathur Vedi Mangalam was that it was exempted from paying taxes to the Government. But it did have its own Committee to raise money for the upkeep of all the activities in the Mangalam. This did not mean that the committee was all powerful and had the freedom to frame its rules. Right from the process of creating the Mangalam, till the last detail about its governance, every rule was framed by the Government. The Government’s role did not stop with that. It continued to have a supervisory role on the way the Mangalam was managed.
This is the reason why we have more inscriptions on Chathurvedi mangalams than on general governance. The Government’s rule in the country was fixed and therefore there was no need to write them on stones. But the extent of Chathur Vedi Mangalam, the rules governing them and the grants made to them were unique for each of them and therefore they had to be given in writing. Perhaps the availability of these rules on stone had made the Dravidian chauvinists think that Brahmins enjoyed special favours from the kings.
The fact was that the Brahmins of the Chathur vedi Mangalam did not control the entire area. Contrary to what the Dravidian thinkers have projected, the Maha Sabha (Grand Committee) of the Chathur Vedi was not an all-Brahmin committee. It had representation from different sections of the Mangalam. This is known from the inscription of Amani Narayana Chathur Vedi Mangalam. It says the Maha sabha consisted of the members of the Village committee (ஊர் வாரியப் பெரு மக்கள்), members of the Udhaaseena committee (உதாசீன வாரியம்), members of the committee in charge of Lakes, members of the committee in charge of fields, 200 elders and then only continues to mention Bhattars (Brahmins conducting worship in the temple) and Visishters  (விசிஷ்டர்) (1)
The hierarchy shows Brahmins coming in the end and not in the leading position. The Village elders had taken the prime position. Next came the Udhaaseena members who were mediators or Madhyasthas, having no stakes in the affairs of the proceedings. This nature of these people is known from the inscriptions found in Kaveri paakkam in Arakkonam area. (2). Next came the members of utility works in which a majority of the residents of the Mangalam had a stake. Then came the elders of the Mangalam. After that only the Bhattars were mentioned. The Visishters were those who were highly respected for their character and life style. The saintly people perhaps were called as Visishters. (3)
Even though the gifted lands were known as Chathur Vedi Mangalam, it did not mean that the entire land was owned by them. The villages of the Mangalam came under the jurisdiction of the committee of the Mangalam in which they had their representatives. All the affairs of the Mangalam were discussed and decided by this Maha Sabha in the presence of the elders and officials and duly carried out only after their approval. This is known from Udayarkudi inscriptions. (4)
Most importantly the proceedings of the Maha Sabha took place in the presence of a representative of the King. The King’s representative in most occasions was a tax official and also one who carried King’s orders on specifics.  In an instance recorded in the temple of Cholamadevi in Trichy, (11th century CE), this official had overruled some of the decisions of the Committee of the Cholamadevi Chathur Vedi Mangalam and had them rewritten as per the King’s orders. This decision was signed by the Madhyasthan of the village as a mediator between the committee and the King. (5) This shows that though the village was said to have been given to Brahmins – which most scholars think – the records show that the Brahmins did not have exclusive control over the committee and the committee too did not enjoy autonomy. The kings had not let off control over them.
The importance of the Madhyasthan in finalizing the decisions of the Maha Sabha can be ascertained from other inscriptions also. In the findings of Thirumal puram, the Madhyasthan is mentioned as “Nadu irukkai” (நடுவிருக்கை) the one who was seated in the middle or the centre. (6) Only those persons who have established their non partisan approach were appointed in the committee of Madhyasthan (Udhaaseena committee).The Madhyasthan negotiated between the members of the Maha Sabha to bring out the final decisions. He delivered the final decision which was recorded by the scribes. The names of these Madhyasthans as found in one of the inscriptions show that they were not and need not be Brahmins. There was the mention of one Annamalai, the Senapti of the Mangalam and one Ettik kula Srikavai mangala desan as Madhyasthans in the inscriptions of the Garbhapureesawar temple. (7) The decision also must carry the signature of the Madhyasthan as a stamp of authority. (Vanavan Maadevi Chathur Mangalam found in Ganga Jadadarar temple of Govinda puththur) (8)
There was “Naattaamai” (9) in those times – a name which continues even now in the rural side. He was the core member of the Grama sabha and supervised the land and tax issues. Perhaps the Madhyasthan who was also called as Nadu irukkai, could have come to be known as Naattaamai. From what we are seeing in the rural side, a Brahmin had never held the post of a Naattaamai.
The kings had a kind of obsession with the Chathur Vedi Mangalam. Kings of the same lineage and from other lineages too, who had conquered the region where the Chathur Vedi Mangalam was situated, held their sway on the Mangalam. The names of the Mangalam changed with the change of Kings perhaps to express their control over them. A prominent example can be seen in the case of Mani Mangalam in Kancheepuram. From the inscriptions of Raja Gopala Swamy temple, it comes to be known that Manimangalam was called as Lokamahadevi-chaturvedimangalam in the times of Rajakesari varman. It was renamed as Rajachulamani-chaturvedimangalam during the reigns of Rajadhiraja, Rajendra and Virarajendra I. After that it was known as Pandiyanai-irumadi-ven-kanda-Sola-chaturvedimangalam. During the reign of Rajaraja III, it was known as Gramasikhamani-chaturvedimangalam. (10)
This obsession with the Chathurvedi Mangalam could have been due to the fact that the Mangalam was excluded from paying taxes to the king. So a new king had to take a fresh look at the Mangalam once he assumed power and decide about that status. Another reason could have been that the Tamil kings of those days were fond of self boasting as seen in the numerous titles they had which they got written in their Meykeerthi (Prasasthi). The temple honours and pujas done by the Brahmins for their sake perhaps made them nurture the Mangalams.
An inscription to this effect is recorded in the Kailasanatha temple at Cholamadevi, Trichy. One Paranthakan Adhiththa Pidaariyaar, a kin of the king made a donation of gold with a condition that the interest from the donation must be used for the rituals conducted on the birth star of the king by singing his achievements (prasasthi). One Kalanju of gold from the interest must be paid to the person (Brahmin) who conducted the pooja. The remaining amount must be given to the other Bhattars (poojaris). If they fail to sing the prasasthi, none should be given the interest amount. (11)
At any time, the King had the power to change the composition of the Chathur Vedi Mangalam. He could secede a part of it and gift it to others. A record of this is found in the Thiruvalangadu copper plates which tells about a village called Palaiyanur separated from Singalantaka Chathur Vedi Mangalam and  gifted as a Deva daana to the temple at Thiruvalangadu. This shows that the king had a privilege of taking away lands form the Chathur Vedi Mangalams. This also shows that those Mangalams were not exclusive possessions of the Brahmins. A host of officials of the Kingdom were involved in the process of making this Devadaana. The village people also were involved.  The order was addressed to the headmen of the districts, the headmen of the brahmadeya villages and the residents (urar) of the devadana, showing that the entire society and not just Brahmins were involved. (12)  If the Chathur Vedi Mangalam was a possession of the Brahmins, this could not happen. It is a specious campaign promoted by Dravidian ideologists that Brahmins were a favored lot and that their writ was running high in the Chathur Vedi Mangalam. .
The hidden fact was that there was State control over the lands and grants to Brahmins and temples whereas no such State control was evident in the case of donations to Jains. What the government of today is doing to the Hindu religion was also there in the past. The lands were also given to the Jains. They were known as ‘Devadaana paLLi-ch-chandham’ (13). But there is NO instance of the Government (king) taking away a part of it or overseeing the Maha sabha of these lands. The lands were enjoyed by the Jains without any control from the Monarchy (government). But the Chathurvedi Mangalam and Devadaana donations were audited and controlled by the Government.
Though this discrepancy looks glaring, the probable reasons could be that such donations could have been small and sparing and that the kings had no keen interest in the affairs of the Jains. If they were really impressed with Jainism and were patrons of the Jains, their interaction with the Jains could have found way into the inscriptions. One of the fond theories of the Dravidian scholars of Tamil nadu has been that the Jains held sway on the kings and contributed significantly to the Tamil society. But the Kings had more interest in Hindu temples and Chathur Vedi Mangalams and were after the Vedic customs and Hindu practices for most times in the past. The importance to Jains is more of a projection by Tamil scholars who are prejudiced against the Brahmins.
(More on how Brahmins were not favored in the Mangalams and in land grants to be discussed in the next post)
(1)    A.R.E.,689 / 1904
“ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ கொப்பர கேசரி வற்மற்கு யாண்டு நாலாவது பழுவூர் கொட்ட்த்துக் காவதிப் பாக்கமாகிய அமனி நாராயண சதுர் வேதி மங்கலத்தில் வாட்டை ஊர் வாரியப் பெருமக்களும், உதாசீன வாரியப் பெரு மக்களும், (எ)ரி வாரியப் பெரு மக்களும், கழநி வாரியப் பெரு மக்களும், இருநூற்றுவப் பெருமக்களும், பட்டர்களும், விசிஷ்டர்களும் உள்ளிட்ட மஹாசபே”
(2)    S.I.I., Vol XIX, No. 84, and  S.I.I., Vol, XIII, No.307.
(3)    S.I.I., Vol.III, pt3,No 156
(4)    A.R.E. 556/1920
(5)    Thamiz naattuk kalvettugal” page 30
(6)    S.I.I., Vol.III,No 142
(7)    A.R.E. 688/1904
(8)    A.R.E. 168 / 1929
(9)    S.I.I., Vol 3, No 142
(11)”Thamiz naattuk kalvettugal” page 14
(13)S.I.I, Vol. III, No 128

One thought on “Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part-5)

  1. Simply Brilliant analysis.Sri maha Periaval of Kanchi Mutt has also dealt with this subject in one of the volumes of Deivattin Kural,but this is really extensive and detailed analysis.Thank you for enlightening me in the twilight zone of my life.Regards, Ganesh.

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