Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Kammālan (Malayalam)

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Kammālan (Malayalam). — " The Kammālans of Malabar," Mr. Francis writes,*[1] "are artisans, like those referred to immediately above, but they take a lower position than the Kammālans and Kamsalas of the other coast, or the Pānchālas of the Canarese country. They do not claim to be Brāhmans or wear the sacred thread, and they accept the position of a polluting caste, not being allowed into the temples or into Brāhman houses. The highest sub-division is Asāri, the men of which are carpenters, and wear the thread at certain ceremonies connected with house-building."

According to Mr. F. Fawcett "the orthodox number of classes of Kammālans is five. But the artisans do not admit that the workers in leather belong to the guild, and say that there are only four classes. According to them, the fifth class was composed of coppersmiths, who, after the exodus, remained in Izhuva land, and did not return thence with them to Malabar.*[2] Nevertheless, they always speak of themselves as the Ayen Kudi or five-house Kammālans. The carpenters say that eighteen families of their community remained behind in Izhuva land. Some of these returned long afterwards, but they were not allowed to rejoin the caste. They are known as Puzhi Tachan or sand carpenters, and Pathinettanmar or the eighteen people. There are four families of this class now living at or near Parpan gadi. They are carpenters, but the Asāris treat them as outcastes."

For the following note on Malabar Kammālans I am indebted to Mr. S. Appadorai Iyer. The five artisan classes, or Ayinkudi Kammālans, are made up of the following: —

Asāri, carpenters, Karumān, blacksmiths
Mūsāri, braziers Chembotti or Chempotti,
Tattān, goldsmiths coppersmiths.

The name Chembotti is derived from chembu,copper, and kotti, he who beats. They are, according to Mr. Francis, " coppersmiths in Malabar, who are distinct from the Malabar Kammālans. They are supposed to be descendants of men who made copper idols for temples, and so rank above the Kammālans in social position, and about equally with the lower sections of the Nāyars."

The Kammālans will not condescend to eat food at the hands of Kurups, Tōlkollans, Pulluvans, Mannāns, or Tandans. But a Tandan thinks it equally beneath his dignity to accept food from a Kammālan. The Kammālans believe themselves to be indigenous in Malabar, and boast that their system of polyandry is the result of the sojourn of the exiled Pāndavas, with their common wife Pānchāli, and their mother Kunthi, in the forest of the Walluvanād division. They say that the destruction of the Pāndavas was attempted in the Arakkuparamba amsam of this division, and that the Tac'chans (artisans) were given as a reward by the Kurus the enjoyment of Tacchanattukara amsam. They state further that the Pāndus lived for some time at the village of Bhīmanād, and went to the Attapādi valley, where they deposited their cooking utensils at the spot where the water falls from a height of several hundred feet. This portion of the river is called Kuntipuzha, and the noise of the water, said to be falling on the upset utensils, is heard at a great distance.

The Kammālans, male and female, dress like Nāyars, and their ornaments are almost similar to those of the Nāyars, with this difference, that the female Tattān wears a single chittu or ring in the right ear only.

In the building of a house, the services of the Asāri are required throughout. He it is who draws the plan of the building. And, when a door is fixed or beam raised, he receives his perquisite. The completion of a house is signified as a rule by a kutti-poosa. For this ceremony, the owner of the house has to supply the workmen with at least four goats to be sacrificed at the four corners thereof, a number of fowls to be killed so that the blood may be smeared on the walls and ceiling, and an ample meal with liquor. The feast concluded, the workmen receive presents of rings, gold ear-rings, silk and other cloths, of which the Moothasāri or chief carpenter receives the lion's share. " The village carpenter," Mr. Gopal Panikkar writes, *[3] " has to do everything connected with our architecture, such as fixing poles or wickets at the exact spot where buildings are to be erected, and clearing newly erected buildings of all devils and demons that may be haunting them. This he does by means of pūjās (worship) performed after the completion of the building. But people have begun to break through the village traditions, and to entrust architectural work to competent hands, when the village carpenter is found incompetent for the same."

It is noted by Canter Visscher †[4] that "in commencing the building of a house, the first prop must be put up on the east side. The carpenters open three or four cocoanuts, spilling the juice as little as possible, and put some tips of betel leaves into them; and, from the way these float in the liquid, they foretell whether the house will be lucky or unlucky, whether it will stand for a long or short period, and whether another will ever be erected on its site. I have been told that the heathens say that the destruction of fort Paponetti by our arms was foretold by the builders from these auguries."

The blacksmith is employed in the manufacture of locks and keys, and ornamental iron and brasswork for the houses of the rich. The smithy is near the dwelling hut, and the wife blows the bellows. The smith makes tyres for wheels, spades, choppers, knives, sickles, iron spoons, ploughshares, shoes for cattle and horses, etc. These he takes to the nearest market, and sells there. In some places there are clever smiths, who make excellent chellams (betel boxes) of brass, and there is one man at Walluvanād who even makes stylographic pens. The Mūsāri works in bell-metal, and makes all kinds of household utensils, and large vessels for cooking purposes. He is an adept at making such articles with the proper proportions of copper, lead and brass. In some of the houses of the wealthier classes there are cooking utensils, which cost nearly a thousand rupees. Excellent bell-metal articles are made at Cherpalcheri, and Kunhimangalam in North Malabar is celebrated for its bell-metal lamps. The importation of enamelled and aluminium vessels, and lamps made in Europe, has made such inroads into the metal industry of the district that the brazier and blacksmith find their occupation declining.

The goldsmith makes all kinds of gold ornaments worn by Malaiālis. His lot is better than that of the other artisan classes.

It is noted in the Malabar Marriage Commission's report that "among carpenters and blacksmiths in the Calicut, Walluvanād and Ponnāni taluks, several brothers have one wife between them, although the son succeeds the father amongst them." Polyandry of the fraternal type is said to be most prevalent among the blacksmiths, who lead the most precarious existence, and have to observe the strictest economy. As with the Nāyars, the tāli-kettu kalyānam has to be celebrated. For this the parents of the child have to find a suitable manavālan or bridegroom by the consultation of horoscopes. An auspicious day is fixed, and new cloths are presented to the manavālan. The girl bathes, and puts on new clothes. She and the manavālan are conducted to a pandal (booth), where the tāli-tying ceremony takes place. This concluded, the manavālan takes a thread from the new cloth, and breaks it in two, saying that his union with the girl has ceased. He then walks away without looking back. When a Kammālan contemplates matrimony, his parents look out for a suitable bride. They are received by the girl's parents, and enquiries are made concerning her. The visit is twice repeated, and, when an arrangement has been arrived at, the village astrologer is summoned, and the horoscopes of the contracting parties are consulted. It is sufficient if the horoscope of one of the sons agrees with that of the girl. The parents of the sons deposit as earnest money, or āchcharapanam, four, eight, twelve, or twenty-one fanams according to their means, in the presence of the artisans of the village; and a new cloth (kacha) is presented to the bride, who thus becomes the wife of all the sons. There are instances in which the girl, after the āchcharam marriage, is immediately taken to the husband's house. All the brother-husbands, dressed in new clothes and decorated with ornaments, with a new palmyra leaf umbrella in the hand, come in procession to the bride's house, where they are received by her parents and friends, and escorted to the marriage pandal. The bride and bridegrooms sit in a row, and the girl's parents give them fruits and sugar. This ceremony is called mathuram kotukkal. The party then adjourns to the house of the bridegrooms where a feast is held, in the course of which a ceremony called pal kotukkal is performed. The priest of the Kammālans takes some milk in a vessel, and pours it into the mouths of the bride and bridegrooms, who are seated, the eldest on the right, the others in order of seniority, and lastly the bride. During the nuptials the parents of the bride have to present a water-vessel, lamp, eating dish, cooking vessel, spittoon, and a vessel for drawing water from the well. The eldest brother cohabits with the bride on the wedding day, and special days are set apart for each brother. There seems to be a belief among the Kammālan women that, the more husbands they have, the greater will be their happiness. If one of the brothers, on the ground of incompatibility of temper, brings a new wife, she is privileged to cohabit with the other brothers. In some cases, a girl will have brothers ranging in age from twenty-five to five, whom she has to regard as her husband, so that by the time the youngest reaches puberty she may be well over thirty, and a young man has to perform the duties of a husband with a woman who is twice his age.

If a woman becomes pregnant before the āchchara kalyānam has been performed, her parents are obliged to satisfy the community that her condition was caused by a man of their own caste, and he has to marry the girl. If the paternity cannot be traced, a council is held, and the woman is turned out of the caste. In the sixth or eighth month of pregnancy, the woman is taken to her mother's house, where the first confinement takes place. During her stay there the pulikudi ceremony is performed. The husbands come, and present their wife with a new cloth. A branch of a tamarind tree is planted in the yard of the house, and, in the presence of the relations, the brother of the pregnant woman gives her conji (rice gruel) mixed with the juices of the tamarind, Spondias mangifera and Hibiscus, to drink. The customary feast then takes place. A barber woman (Mannathi) acts as midwife. On the fourteenth day after childbirth, the Thali-kurup sprinkles water over the woman, and the Mannathi gives her a newly-washed cloth to wear. Purification concludes with a bath on the fifteenth day. On the twenty-eighth day the child-naming ceremony takes place. The infant is placed in its father's lap, and in front of it are set a measure of rice and paddy (unhusked rice) on a plantain leaf. A brass lamp is raised, and a cocoanut broken. The worship of Ganēsa takes place, and the child is named after its Grandfather or grandmother. In the sixth month the chōronu or rice-giving ceremony takes place. In the first year of the life of a boy the ears are pierced, and gold ear-rings inserted. In the case of a girl, the ear-boring ceremony takes place in the sixth or seventh year. The right nostril of girls is also bored, and mukkuthi worn therein.

It is recorded, in the Gazetteer of Malabar, that, "amongst Kammālans, the betrothal ceremony is similar to that of the Tiyans. If more than one brother is to be married, to the same girl, her mother asks how many bridegrooms there are, and replies that there are mats and planks for so many. Cohabitation sometimes begins from the night of the betrothal, the eldest brother having the priority, and the rest in order of seniority on introduction by the bride's brother. If the girl becomes pregnant, the formal marriage must be celebrated before the pregnancy has advanced six months. At the formal marriage, the bridegrooms are received by the bride's mother and brothers; two planks are placed before a lighted lamp, before which the bridegrooms and the bride's brothers prostrate themselves. The bride is dressed in a new cloth, and brought down by the bridegroom's sister and fed with sweetmeats.

"Next day all the bridegroom's party visit the Tandān of the bride's desam (village), who has to give them arrack (liquor) and meat, receiving in his turn a present of two fanams (money). The next day the bride is again feasted in her house by the bridegrooms, and is given her dowry consisting of four metal plates, one spittoon, one kindi (metal vessel), and a bell-metal lamp. The whole party then goes to the bridegroom's house, where the Tandan proclaims the titles of the parties and their desam. All the brothers who are to share in the marriage sit in a row on a mat with the bride on the extreme left, and all drink cocoanut milk. The presence of all the bridegrooms is essential at this final ceremony, though for the preceding formalities it is sufficient if the eldest is present."

The Kammālans burn the corpses of adults, and bury the young. Fifteen days' pollution is observed, and at the expiration thereof the Thall-kurup pours water, and purification takes place. On the third day the bones of the cremated corpse are collected, and placed in a new earthen pot, which is buried in the grounds of the house of the deceased. One of the sons performs beli (makes offerings), and observes dīksha (hair-growing) for a year. The bones are then carried to Tirunavaya in Ponnāni, Tiruvilamala in Cochin territory, Perūr in Coimbatore, or Tirunelli in the Wynād, and thrown into the river. A final beli is performed, and the srādh memorial ceremony is celebrated. If the deceased was skilled in sorcery, or his death was due thereto, his ghost is believed to haunt the house, and trouble the inmates. To appease it, the village washerman (Mannān) is brought with his drums, and, by means of his songs, forces the devil into one of the members of the household, who is made to say what murthi or evil spirit possesses him, and how it should be satisfied. It is then appeased with the sacrifice of a fowl, and drinking the juice of tender cocoanuts. A further demand is that it must have a place consigned to it in the house or grounds, and be worshipped once a year. Accordingly, seven days later, a small stool representing the deceased is placed in a corner of one of the rooms, and there worshipped annually with offerings of cocoanuts, toddy, arrack, and fowls. In the grounds of some houses small shrines, erected to the memory of the dead, may be seen. These are opened once a year, and offerings made to them.

The Kammālans worship various minor deities, such as Thīkutti, Parakutti, Kala Bairavan, and others. Some only worship stone images erected under trees annually. They have barbers of their own, of whom the Mannān shaves the men, and the Mannathi the women. These individuals are not admitted into the Mannān caste, which follows the more honourable profession of washing clothes.

In the Madras Census Report, 1901, the following sub-castes of Malabar Kammālans are recorded: —Kallan Muppan and Kallukkotti (stone-workers), Kottōn (brass-smith), Pon Chetti (gold merchant), and Pūliasāri (masons). In the Cochin Census Report, 1901, it is stated that "the Kammālans are divided into six sub-castes, viz., Marāsāri (carpenter), Kallasāri mason), Mūsāri (brazier), Kollan (blacksmith), Tattān (goldsmith), and Tōlkollan (leather-worker). Of these six, the first five interdine, and intermarry. The Tōlkollan is considered a degraded caste, probably on account of his working in leather, which in its earlier stages is an unholy substance. The other sub-castes do not allow the Tōlkollans even to touch them. Among the Marāsāris are included the Marāsāris proper and Tacchans. The Tacchans are looked upon by other castes in the group as a separate caste, and are not allowed to touch them. All the sub-castes generally follow the makkathāyam law of inheritance, but there are some vestiges of marumakkathāyam also among them. There is a sub-caste called Kuruppu, who are their barbers and priests. They officiate as priest at marriage and funeral ceremonies. When they enter the interior shrine of temples for work in connection with the image of a god, or with the temple flagstaff, the Asāri and Mūsāri temporarily wear a sacred thread, which is a rare privilege. Their approach within a radius of twenty-four feet pollutes Brāhmans. On the completion of a building, the Marāsāri, Kallāsāri and Kollan perform certain pūjās, and sacrifice a fowl or sheep to drive out the demons and devils which are supposed to have haunted the house till then."

For the following note on the Kammālans of Travancore, I am indebted to Mr. N. Subramania Aiyar. "The titles of the Malayalam Kammālans are Panikkan and Kanakkan. The word Panikkan means a worker, and Kanakkan is the title given to a few old and respectable Kammālas in every village, who superintend the work of others, and receive the highest remuneration. It is their business to sketch the plan of a building, and preside at the vastubali rite. Many Tamil Kammālans have naturalised themselves on the west coast, and speak Malayālam. Between them and the Malayālam Kammālans neither intermarriage nor interdining obtains. The latter are divided into five classes, viz., Asāri or Marapanikkan (workers in wood). Kallan or Kallāsāri (workers in stone), Mūsāri (braziers and coppersmiths), Tattān (goldsmiths), and Kollan (workers in iron). To these the Jātinirnaya and kēralavisēshamāhātmya add a sixth class, the Tacchan or Irchchakollan, whose occupation is to fell trees and saw timber. The Tacchans are also known as Villasans (bowmen), as they were formerly required to supply bows and arrows for the Travancore army. Epigraphic records point to the existence of the five classes of Kammālans in Malabar at least as early as the beginning of the ninth century A.D., as a Syrian Christian grant refers to them as Aimvazhi Kammālas. There is a tradition that they were brought to Kērala by Parasu Rāma, but left in a body for Ceylon on being pressed by one of the early Perumāl satraps of Cranganūr to marry into the washerman caste, after they had by a special arrangement of the marriage shed trapped to death a large number of that obnoxious community. The King of Ceylon was requested, as an act of international courtesy, to send back some of the Kammālans. As, however, they were loth to return to their former persecutor, they were sent in charge of some Izhavas, who formed the military caste of the island. The legend is given in detail by Canter Visscher, who writes as follows. " In the time of Cheramperoumal, a woman belonging to the caste of the washermen, whose house adjoined that of an Ajari (the carpenter caste), being occupied as usual in washing a cloth in water mixed with ashes (which is here used for soap), and having no one at hand to hold the other end of it, called to a young daughter of the Ajari, who was alone in the house, to assist her. The child, not knowing that this was an infringement of the laws of her caste, did as she was requested, and then went home. The washer-woman was emboldened by this affair to enter the Ajari's house a few days afterwards; and, upon the latter demanding angrily how she dared to cross his threshold, the woman answered scornfully that he belonged now to the same caste as she did, since his daughter had helped to hold her cloth. The Ajari, learning the disgrace that had befallen him, killed the washerwoman. Upon this, her friends complained to Cheramperoumal, who espoused their cause, and threatened the carpenters; whereupon the latter combined together to take refuge in Ceylon, where they were favourably received by the King of Candy, for whom the Malabars have great veneration. Cheramperoumal was placed in great embarrassment by their departure, having no one in his dominions who could build a house or make a spoon, and begged the King of Candy to send them back, promising to do them no injury. The Ajaris would not place entire confidence in these promises, but asked the king to send them with two Chegos (Chōgans) and their wives, to witness Cheramperoumal's conduct towards them, and to protect them. The king granted their request, with the stipulation that on all high occasions, such as weddings and deaths and other ceremonies, the Ajaris should bestow three measures of rice on each of these Chegos and their descendants as a tribute for their protection; a custom which still exists. If the Ajari is too poor to afford the outlay, he is still obliged to present the requisite quantity of rice, which is then given back to him again; the privilege of the Chegos being thus maintained.

"The Kammālans are to some extent educated, and a few of them have a certain knowledge of Sanskrit, in which language several works on architecture are to be found. Their houses, generally known as kottil, are only low thatched sheds. They eat fish and flesh, and drink intoxicating liquors. Their jewelry is like that of the Nāyars, from whom, however, they are distinguished by not wearing the nose ornaments mukkutti and gnattu. Some in Central Travancore wear silver mukkuttis. Tattooing, once very common, is going out of fashion.

"In timber work the Asāris excel, but the Tamil Kammālans have outstripped the Tattns in gold and silver work. The house-building of the Asāri has a quasi-religious aspect. When a temple is built, there is a preliminary rite known as anujgna, when the temple priest transfers spiritual force from the image, after which a cow and calf are taken thrice round the temple, and the Kanakkan is invited to enter within for the purposes of work. The cow and calf are let loose in front of the carpenter, who advances, and commences the work. On the completion of a building, an offering known as vastubali is made. Vastu is believed to represent the deity who presides over the house, and the spirits inhabiting the trees which were felled for the purpose of building it. To appease these supernatural powers, the figure of a demon is drawn with powders, and the Kanakkan, after worshipping his tutelary deity Bhadrakāli, offers animal sacrifices to him in non-Brāhmanical houses, and vegetable sacrifices in Brāhman shrines and homes. An old and decrepit carpenter enters within the new building, and all the doors thereof are closed. The Kanakkan from without asks whether he has inspected everything, and is prepared to hold himself responsible for any architectural or structural shortcomings, and he replies in the affirmative. A jubilant cry is then raised by all the assembled Asāris. Few carpenters are willing to undertake this dangerous errand, as it is supposed that the dissatisfied demons are sure to make short work of the man who accepts the responsibility. The figure is next effaced, and no one enters the house until the auspicious hour of milk-boiling.

"Vilkuruppu or Vilkollakkuruppu, who used formerly to supply bows and arrows for the Malabar army, are the recognised priests and barbers of the Kammālans. They still make and present bows and arrows at the Ōnam festival. In some places the Kammālans have trained members of their own caste to perform the priestly offices. The Malayāla Kammālans, unlike the Tamils, are not a thread -wearing class, but sometimes put on a thread when they work in temples or at images. They worship Kāli, Mātan, and other divinities. Unlike the Tamil Kammālans, they are a polluting class, but, when they have their working tools with them, they are less objectionable. In some places, as in South Travancore, they are generally regarded as higher in rank than the Izhavas, though this is not universal.

"The tāli-kettu ceremony is cancelled by a ceremony called vāzhippu, by which all connection between the tāli-tier and the girl is extinguished. The wedding ornament is exactly the same as that of the Izhavas, and is known as the minnu (that which shines). The system of inheritance is makkathāyam. It is naturally curious that, among a makkathāyam community, paternal polyandry should have been the rule till lately. 'The custom,' says Mateer, of one woman having several husbands is sometimes practiced by carpenters, stone-masons, and individuals of other castes. Several brothers living together are unable to support a single wife for each, and take one, who resides with them all. The children are reckoned to belong to each brother in succession in the order of seniority.' But this, after all, admits of explanation. If only the marumakkathāyam system of inheritance is taken, as it should be, as a necessary institution in a society living in troublous times, and among a community whose male members had duties and risks which would not ordinarily permit of the family being perpetuated solely through the male line, and not indicating any paternal uncertainty as some theorists would have it; and if polyandry, which is much more recent than the marumakkathāyam system of inheritance, is recognised to be the deplorable result of indigence, individual and national, and not of sexual bestiality, there is no difficulty in understanding how a makkathāyam community can be polyandrous. Further, the manners of the Kammālars lend a negative support to the origin just indicated by the marumakkathāyam system of inheritance even among the Nāyars. The work of the Kammālars was within doors and at home, not even in a large factory where power-appliances may lend an element of risk, for which reason they found it quite possible to keep up lineage in the paternal line, which the fighting Nāyars could not possibly do. And the fact that the marumakkathāyam system was ordained only for the Kshatriyas, and for the fighting races, and not for the religious and industrial classes, deserves to be specially noted in this connection."

  1. ♦ Madras Census Report, 1901.
  2. * See the legendary story narrated in the article on Tiyans.
  3. * Malabar and its Folk, 1900.
  4. † Letters from Malabar.