Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Krishnavakakkar

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Krishnavakakkar.—The Krishnavakakkars are, in Travancore, practically confined to the southern taluks of Eraniel and Kalkulam. The caste name literally means belonging to Krishna, but probably means nothing more than belonging to the pastoral class, as the titular suffixes, Ayan and Acchi, to the names of males and females, found in the early settlement accounts of the State, indicate. In modern times the title Pillai has been adopted. By some castes, e.g., the Shānars, they are called Kuruppu.

The tradition is that, in ancient times, a large section of them migrated from Ambādi, the place of Krishna's nativity and early childhood, to Conjeeveram, in the vicinity of which, place there is still a village called Ayarpati. Here they resided for some time, and then seventy-two families, seeking fresh fields and pastures new, proceeded to Kērala, and presented an image of Krishna, which they had brought from northern India to the reigning king Mahārāja Udaya Martanda Varma.According to another account, the recipient of the image was one Pallivana Perumal at an earlier date. The Maharaja, according to the legend, observing the interesting customs of the immigrants, and especially their devotion to Krishna, called them Krishnanvaka, and ordered them to serve in the temple of Krishna (Tiruvampadi within the pagoda of Sri Padmanābha at Trivandrum). Their leader was given the title of Ananthapadmanabha Kshētra Pallava Rāyan. This migration is supposed to have occurred in the first year of the Malabar era. A neet, or royal grant, engraved on a copper plate, was issued to them, by which they were entrusted with the management of the temple,and commanded to live at Vanchiyūr in Trivandrum. In the pollution consequent on a birth or death among the seventy-two families, the image of Krishna, which they had brought, was believed to share for three days as a distant relation, and, in consequence, the daily ceremonies at the temple were constantly interrupted. They were told to remove to a place separated from Trivandrum by at least three rivers, and settled in the Eraniel and Kalkulam taluks. They were, as a tax in kind for lands given to them for cultivation, ordered to supply peas for the Tiruvampati temple. During the reign of Martanda Varma the Great, from 904 to 933 M.E., successive neets were issued, entrusting them with diverse duties at this temple. Such, briefly, is the tradition as to the early history of the caste in Travancore. The title Pallava Rāyan (chief of the Pallavans) seems to indicate the country, from which they originally came. They must have been originally a pastoral class, and they probably proceeded from Conjeeveram,the capital of the Pallavas, to Travancore, where, being worshippers of Vishnu, they were entrusted with the discharge of certain duties at the shrine of Krishna in Trivandrum.

The Krishnavakakkar are not strict vegetarians, as fish constitutes a favourite diet. Intoxicating liquors are forbidden, and rarely drunk. In respect to clothing and ornaments, those who follow the makkathāyam system of inheritance (from father to son) differ from those who follow the marumakkathāyam system (through the female line), the former resembling the Vellālas in these matters, and the latter the Nāyars. The only peculiarity about the former is the wearing of the mukkuthi (nose ornament), characteristic till recently of all Nāyar women in south Travancore, in addition to the ordinary ornaments of Chettis and other Tamilians. Widows, too,like the latter, are dressed in white, and the pampadam and melitu in the ears form their only ornaments. They tie up their hair, not in front like Nāyar women, nor at the back like Tamil women, but in the middle line above the crown — the result of a blend between an indigenous and exotic custom. The hair is passed through a cadjan ring secured by a ring of beads, and wound round it.The ring is decorated with arali (Nerium odorum)flowers. Tattooing was very common among women in former times, but is going out of fashion.

They worship both Siva and Vishnu, and special adoration is paid to Subramaniya, for whose worship a great shrine is dedicated at Kumara Koil. Sasta, Bhutattan, and Amman have small shrines, called ilankams, dedicated to them. They live in large groups,each presided over by a headman called Kāryastan, who is assisted by an accountant and treasurer. The offices are elective, and not hereditary. Their priest is known as Karnatan or Āsān. At present there is apparently only one family of Karnatans, who live at Mepra in the Eraniel taluk. The female members of this priestly family are known as Mangalyama, and do not intermarry or feed with the general community. The marumakkathāyam Krishnavakakkar speak Malayālam, while the makkathāyis speak a very corrupt Tamil dialect intermixed with Malayālam.

The names of the seventy-two houses of the caste are remembered, like the gōtras of the Brāhmans, and marriage between members of the same house are absolutely forbidden. Among the marumakkathāyam section, the tālikettu is celebrated in childhood, and supplemented by the actual wedding after the girl reaches puberty. On the marriage day, the bridegroom goes in procession to the house of the bride, sword in hand, and martially clad, probably in imitation of Krishna on his marriage expedition to the Court of Kundina. On the third day of the marriage ceremonies, the bride's party go to the house of the bridegroom with an air of burning indignation, and every effort is made to appease them. They finally depart without partaking of the proffered hospitality. On the seventh day, the newly-married couple return to the bride's house. The custom is said to be carried out as symbolising the act of bride-capture resorted to by their ancestor Krishna in securing the alliance of Rukmani. It is generally believed that fraternal polyandry once prevailed among these people, and even to-day a widow may be taken as wife by a brother of the deceased husband, even though he is younger than herself. Issue, thus procreated, is the legitimate issue of the deceased, and acquires full right of inheritance to his property. If one brother survives the deceased, his widow is not required to remove her marriage ornament during life.

The origin of the marumakkathāyam custom is alleged to have been that the first immigrants came with a paucity of women, and had to contract alliances with the indigenous Travancoreans. At the present day only about a hundred families follow the law of inheritance through the female line. Their children are known by the name of the mother's illam (house). The male, but not the female members of makkathāyam and marumakkathāyam sections, will eat together. A daughter,in default of male issue, succeeds to the property of her father, as opposed to his widow. The Krishnavakakkar believe that, in these matters, they imitate the Pāndavas.A peculiar feature of their land-tenure is what is known as utukuru — a system which exists to a smaller extent among the Shānars of Eraniel and the adjacent tāluks. In the ayakkettu or old settlement register, it is not uncommon to find one garden registered in the name of several persons quite unconnected with each other by any claim of relationship. In some instances the ground is found registered in the name of one person, and the trees on it in the name of another.

The dead are generally cremated, and the ashes taken to the foot of a milky tree, and finally thrown into the sea. On the sixteenth day, the Āsān is invited to perform the purificatory ceremony. A quantity of paddy (unhusked rice), raw rice, and cocoanuts, are placed on a plantain leaf with a cup of gingelly (Sesamum) oil, which is touched by the Āsān, and poured into the hands of the celebrants, who, after an oil bath, are free from pollution.*[1]

  1. * This account is taken from a note by Mr. N. Subramani Aiyar.