Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part-7)

Brahmins were not the only people who were given land grants.

Many people were given lands either as gifts for their talent or for furthering their field of activity.


To quote some,

‘Udukkaik kaaNi” (உடுக்கைக் காணி) was given to drummers,

Vuvacchak kaaNi (உவச்சக் காணி)  and Veenai-k- kaaNi (வீணைக் காணி) was given to musicians and Veena artists,

‘koothu-k-kaaNi’ (கூத்துக் காணி), Nattuva-k-kaaNi’ (நட்டுவக் காணி), ‘Nruthya  Bhogam (நிருத்தியக் காணி), “Saakkaik kaaNi” (சாக்கைக் காணி), “Kooththandik kaaNi” (கூத்தாண்டிக் காணி), “Mey mattuk kaaNi” (மெய்மட்டுக் காணி), “Muraliyak kaaNi (முரலியக் காணி)” etc  were given to dancers and dance teachers,

“PaaNak kaaNi” (பாணக் காணி) was given to composers called PaaNar.


One must know that all these people were ordinary folks who were engaged in music and dance during festival times in the temple. They did not have work on all days of the year. So lands were gifted to them both as remuneration and for their subsistence during other times of the year. Karunanidhi’s daughter gloats over the “Sangaman” in which rural dancers performed. These performers were in good stead during monarchy. Their arts were respected by the kings and the people. Their area of activity was around the temples and as such hey had close interaction with the Brahmins of the temple.


Some of them worked in the temple everyday to beat the drums and other instruments. Others also had performed regularly in the temple. A land grant given to the temple Brahmin had laid a condition that the rice got form the land must be offered to God and shared with these singers and dancers!


Such an information is found in Thiru Marududaiyaar temple  in Kadaththur in Udumalpet. It is mentioned that the produce from the donated land must be offered on all Saturdays to Udayaar (the main deity), Nacchiyar (Deity’s consort), Vinayaka and Kshetra-pala pillaiyar. This food must be shared among the Brahmins and the dancers and singers. (1). The Brahmins must also offer oil for lamps from the donations. The so-called Brahmin supremacy could not have happened in such a situation where they had to interact with all communities in a temple and even share the offerings.


There were other grants given to further one’s field of activity. Some of them are as follows.


“Vaidhya Bhogam”(வைத்திய போகம்) or Vaidhya Vriddhi” (வைத்திய வ்ருத்தி) or “Salliya Vriddhi” (சல்லிய விருத்தி) was given to doctors,

“Kulaala Vriddhi”(குலால விருத்தி) was given to potters,

“Nandavana-p-puram” (நந்தவனப் புறம்) was given to gardeners to grow flower plants and supply the flowers to the temple.

“Mezhuguppuram” (மெழுகுப் புறம்)was given to those engaged in procuring sandal wood and other scented material for smearing on the deity.

“Ambala-p- puram” (அம்பலப் புறம்) was given to the one who procured water and firewood for the temple rituals.

“Kidaip puram”,(கிடைப்புறம்),  Thiruk-kai-k- kOttip puram” (திருக்கைக்கோட்டிப் புறம்), “ozhukkavip puram” (ஒழுக்கவிப் புறம்) were given for some services in the temple.

“Amaavasip puram” (அமாவாஸிப் புறம்), “Ardha jaamap puram” (அர்த்தஜாமப்புறம்), Thiru mandirap pOnakap puram” (திருமந்திரபோனகப்புறம்) etc were given for services during specific times and festivals in the temple.

“Pudukkup puram” (புதுக்குப்புறம்) was given for renovation purposes.

“Padhikak kaaNi” (பதிகக்காணி)was given to the one who sang Padikam.

Compared to all these the Brahmins formed only a minor percentage in having received the land grants.


The temple archagar (pujari) received Bhatta Vriddhi (பட்ட விருத்தி) from which he had to make food to offer to the deity everyday.

“Brahma Deyam”(பிரம்ம தேயம்) and “Veda Vriddhi” (வேத விருத்தி) were given for Vedic excellence.

“Bharathap pERu” (பாரதப்பேறு) or “Bharathp puRam” (பாரதப்புறம்)  was given to the one excelled in giving discourses on Mahabharatha.


Apart from these, a number of land grants were made by common people to the temple to raise funds for temple use. All these grants were not under the supervision of Brahmins. Every temple had a committee to manage these grants and other donations. The system was working very well such that many people came forward to donate lands and other things. In the case of land grants, they were administered by people called “Adaippu MudalikaL(அடைப்பு முதலிகள்)(2)

There is mention of Mandraayiars (மன்றாடியார்), Vaariyaththars (வாரியத்தார்) and Maaheswaras (மாஹேஸ்வரர்)who were entrusted with managing the lands given to temples. On the final analysis what is known is that there was atleast one temple in every village and that temple had vast stretches of land under its use either in its name or in the name of people who served the temple in many ways.


This was the situation about 1000 years ago. This has continued until the British took up the reigns of our country. In the Census of 1871, it was reported that 52 percent of the people were either owners or tenants of land. But in the Census of 1881, the land distribution in the Madras Presidency showed a lopsided hoarding pattern. The Brahmins and other common folks who possessed lands given by the kings were not in the reckoning at all. Only the affluent landed class dominated the scene. On page 34 of the report of the Census 1881, it is said,


“In the Madras Presidency the number so occupied is about 5¼ millions, of whom there are enumerated as landed proprietors 24,000, besides 668 zemindars, 61,000 inamdars, that is, holders of land exempt from payment of the Government revenue, nearly 73,000 mirasidars or holders of hereditary lands, 787 kudi-mirasidars, or village proprietors with similar rights, and 220 jagheerdars. The number of cultivators or ryots is nearly 4,879,000, including about 30,000 entered under the titles of agriculturists, farmers, gardeners, and irrigators, with 167 coffee gardeners. It must be remembered, however, that, in Madras, while the State has a right everywhere to sell up any proprietor of land if the tax thereon, fixed by the Government at discretion but in accordance with certain principles, is not paid, and also possesses a right to all land not held and paid for by farmers, except on permanently settled estates or where the ancient mirasi system, or hereditary lien on the village area, is in force,—nevertheless, throughout four-fifths of the Presidency the State collects its tax direct from the cultivator, who is practically a peasant proprietor with an indefeasible right of property on his land so long as he pays the tax.”


The names of people furnished in this were all wealthy people of vast landed possession whose designation continues even today in rural Tamilnadu. There is no clue about the ordinary people in this statement, who were in a majority during the rule of monarchy. A comparison between 1891 and 1901 as recorded in the report of Census 1901 showed that the number of land owners increased in 10 years in Madras Presidency! This was in contrast to the situation in other places of India.


“In some cases marked variations are noticed in comparison with 1891. In Cochin, for example, cultivating tenants have increased from 33 to 182 thousand; in Madras cultivating land-owners have increased from 8½ to 13½ million, while non-cultivating land-owners have fallen from nearly three, to less than four-fifths of a, million,” (3)

How could this happen in a predominantly agricultural set up? Does this mean that people sold their lands to others? Or did they lose their lands for reasons like mortgage or non payment of tax? Also who were the people who gained these lands? The above statement raises the suspicion that small and marginal land holders who were mostly ordinary peasants having lands as hereditary property, which they got as grants from kings could have been rendered landless by the big owners who in most cases administered the land grants during the times of kings.


Of interest is the statement in the 1881 Census report (mentioned a little above) is that the Government had the right to confiscate the land if the tax was not paid. This rule was there even during the times of Monarchy in Tamilnadu!! The kings however made a distinction between the lands of private people and lands given as donations for religious and social purposes. The tax was waived in the case of donations for religious purposes. In the case of donations to temples given by common people, the tax was to be paid by the donor before donating it and in some cases the donor had to pay the tax every year for the donated land. (4) But the deeds came with a clause that the Government had the right to take back the property if tax was not paid. But there is no instance of such confiscation in the case of donations given to the temple related persons as those lands were tax free.


But with the gradual fall of monarchy, the kings could no longer have control over the officials particularly the tax officials and those in charge of the land administration. These officials had misused their positions and fleeced people through hook and crook.

Such an incident happened in the 15th century was reported in Nagappattinam where the local official had exploited the differences between two groups of people and extracted huge amounts as tax. This is in a famous inscription found in the temple of Veerattaaneswara in Korukkai. (5)

The two groups of people are known as Right-handed (வலங்கை) and Left-handed (இடங்கை) people. These names were due to their religious leanings namely Dakshinachara and Vama chara. There were 98 groups of them in each section. Almost all the down trodden people and those at the receiving end of caste conflicts belonged to these two sections. The inscription in the temple shows that these two groups decided to come together because they suffered exploitation from the officials (mostly tax officials) who used the feud among them to cheat them and collect more tax. This happened during the Vijayanagara rule. There was no connection to Brahmins to the tax issues discussed by these sections. But any article on these sections of people written by the Dravidian writers would somehow contain the term Brahmin and say that they joined others to exploit the down trodden castes of these sections.


Their rationale was that the Left handed people came to the Kongu nadu along with their priest by carrying his slippers in their head. In one version it is said that it was kasyapa rishi. But the Dravidian thinkers attributed it to a Brahmin who was over powering these people. The conflicts between these two sects have been a legend and it continues in some form even today as a conflict between “caste Hindus” and dalits.


The use of “Hindus” here is highly objectionable because Hinduism was in no way the cause of these conflicts Both sects were Hindus and had their own practices in worship. The most probable cause for the conflict could be the competition between them. One section came from outside (from North) and another was already present in the South. So it had started as a conflict between locals and immigrants. All the groups of these sections were given a caste-name by the British in the Census of 1881 based on the job they were doing at the time of enumeration. No one knows who suppressed whom because both the sections or groups among them had suppressed each other as and when they could. But the conflict was more on religious belief as the Left handed people (vamachara) brought tantric customs and worship to Tamilnadu for the first time. Their origins go back to Indus times and there is also a possibility to assume that they were the degraded castes of the Agni vamsa. A detailed study is needed to know their background which in my opinion would unravel some mysteries of the Indus culture.


These people were not initially accepted by the local people. However in due course they gained the goodwill of the kings, the prominent among whom was Kuloththunga Chola I. They had their own temples and worship forms. The Right handed ones had their own temples in such a way that the rival section was not allowed inside. Most of the caste conflicts in this region (Coimbatore, Nagappatnam, Kanyakumari) must be analsysed in the light of the long standing struggle between these sections.

But to cast aspersions on Brahmins as having suppressed the Left handed people was nothing but a strategy by the Dravidian writers to degrade Brahmins.


Infact there is a record in Rudram palayam in Kongu area which says that the Chathur Vedi Mangalam was protected by the Left handed section. The Left handed people had pledged to protect the Chathur Vedi Mangalam with a promise that they would kill the one who steals the calf, like how they used to kill the pigs. (6) Their aggressiveness is known from this. But they never had any issues with Brahmins.


The conflicts between the two sections have been recorded by the British on page 24 in the Report of the 1871 Census as follows:

“There is in Southern India, both in Mysore and in the Madras Presidency, a singular division of castes into the right-hand and the left-hand faction, which frequently gives occasion to disturbance at public festivals. The origin of the distinction is lost in fable, and the separation seems very arbitrary; thus, some weavers are found in the one faction, some in the other; the fisherman sides with the right hand, whilst the hunter ranges himself with the left; and, what seems yet more remarkable, the agricultural labourers’ wives attach themselves to the left-hand, while their husbands take the right-hand side, and the shoemakers fight with the former, their wives joining the latter party. Many castes, however, occupy a neutral position, and take no part in these feuds.”


This shows there was movement between these two sections. There could have been love marriages between the persons of these sections which had heightened the tension between them. Or else how could a situation of wife from one section and husband from another section have happened? Common people by and large had kept themselves away from them. Today no one knows who belongs to which section of these two. But the caste conflicts of this belt need to be understood from this backdrop.

Fortunately the British showed no interest in the feud between these two sections precisely because no Brahmins were involved. If the Brahmins were involved even by a negligible measure, the British would have blown it out of proportions because they had an agenda against the Brahmins.


A reading of the Census report 1871 and subsequent reports gives rise to this opinion ( 7). Their utter despise for Brahmins as people who were fed by others and led a useless life can be read here.


“They are all, of course, Bráhmans, and a considerable number of them are purohits or hereditary family priests, who receive as of right the alms and offerings of their clients, and attend upon them when the presence of Bráhmans is necessary. But besides the purohits themselves there is a large body of Bráhmans who, so far as their priestly office is concerned, may be said to exist only to be fed. They consist of the younger members of the purohit families, and of Bráhmans who have settled on cultivation or otherwise in villages where they have no hereditary clients. These men are always ready to tender their services as recipients of a dinner, thus enabling the peasant to feed the desired number of Bráhmans on occasions of rejoicing, as a proprietory offering, in token of thanksgiving, for the repose of his deceased father’s spirit, and so on. The veneration for Bráhmans runs through the whole social as well as religious life of a Hindoo peasant, and takes the practical form of either offerings or food. No child is born, named, betrothed, or married; nobody dies or is burnt; no journey is undertaken or auspicious day elected, no home is built, no agricultural operation of importance begins, or harvest gathered in, without the Brahmans being feted or fed; a portion of all the produce of the field is set apart for their use, they are consulted in sickness and in health, they are feasted in sorrow and in joy; and though I believe them to possess but little real influence with the people of the Punjáb,* a considerable proportion of the wealth of the Province is diverted into their useless pockets. But with the spiritual life of the people, so far as such a thing exists, they have no concern. Their business as Bráhmans is to eat and not to teach—I am speaking of the class as a whole, and not of individuals—and such small measure of spiritual guidance as reaches the people is received almost exclusively at the hands of the regular orders which constitute the first of my priestly classes. In theory every Hindoo has a guru or spiritual preceptor, in fact, the great mass of the peasantry do not even pretend to possess one; while those even who, as they grow old and respectable, think it necessary to entertain one are very commonly content to pay him his stipend without troubling themselves about his teaching; but the guru is almost always a Sadhu or professed devotee.”


Be that as it may, this narration shows that Brahmins subsisted on what others gave. (Remember this was as on 1871). Can such people be oppressors of others? The Brahmins had no wealth and regular income. They also had no bias against any castes as is seen from the narration that they attended to all the calls by people. Their life depended on everyone else around them and they could not afford to be choosers.


The report also speaks of the disgust that the British had for Brahmin-feeding. Feeding a guest (athithi) was a daily routine for the Hindus. Feeding Brahmins also was considered as a noble act. There are many inscriptions on feeding Brahmins even by kings. But the British could not stomach the respect given to Brahmins by all sections of the society. The influence of the Brahmins in all the affairs of the people is something the British wanted to thwart because the Brahmin posed an obstacle in their missionary and political goals.  The Brahmin must be stopped and discredited somehow. This is reflected in the report.

One of the first action plans of the British to stop the role of the Brahmin in the common households is to threaten the people not to feed the Brahmins. The Feeding comes as a part of a puja or a ritual that was done for any activity at the household. Each family had a Brahmin as a family priest. The British wanted to stop this close interaction between the Brahmins and other people. This was executed as a threat to people not to feed the Brahmins. The report of the Census 1871 says that the people were sacred to see the census official because they thought (among other reasons) they had come to levy some new tax for feeding the Brahmins.


“it was variously supposed that the tax would fall on those who trod on the village-path, who swung an arm, who carried an umbrella, or who fed Brahmins.” (8)

Why should the people think like this unless they were previously threatened by the British officers against feeding the Brahmins? A persistent campaign to defame Brahmins and separate the locals from them had thus stated in the middle of the 19th century. The people by and large did not fall a prey to the machinations of the British. But such a thing did not happen in Tamilnadu. The Dravidian chauvinists who did not want the British to leave the country took up the hate-Brahmin campaign of the British and used it for their selfish goals.


(to be continued)



  1. “Kongu naattuk kalvettugal – Coimbatore maavattam” page 132
  2. S.I.T.I., Op.cit, p.1391
  3. http://www.chaf.lib.latrobe.edu.au/dcd/page.php?title=&action=next&record=1344
  4. A.R.E,. 127 /1914
  5.  “Kongu naattuk kalvettukaL” page 151
  6. “கிராமத்திலும் பிடாகைகளிலும் கன்று குண்டை கட்டிநார் உண்டாகில் பன்றில் ஒன்றாக குத்தி தூக்குவொம்”
  7. http://www.chaf.lib.latrobe.edu.au/dcd/main.htm (achieves of the Census reports in the British period)
  8. http://www.chaf.lib.latrobe.edu.au/dcd/page.php?title=&record=39



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