Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Pallan

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Pallan.-— The Pallans are "a class of agricultural labourers found chiefly in Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madura

Castes and tribes of southern India, Volume 5.djvu

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and Tinnevelly. They are also fairly numerous in parts of Salem and Coimbatore, but in the remaining Tamil districts they are found only in very small numbers." * [1]

The name is said to be derived from pallam, a pit, as they were standing on low ground when the castes were originally formed. It is further suggested that the name may be connected with the wet cultivation,at which they are experts, and which is always carried out on low ground. In the Manual of the Madura district (1868), the Pallans are described as "a very numerous, but a most abject and despised race, little, if indeed at all, superior to the Paraiyas. Their principal occupation is ploughing the lands of more fortunate Tamils, and, though nominally free, they are usually slaves in almost every sense of the word, earning by the ceaseless sweat of their brow a bare handful of grain to stay the pangs of hunger, and a rag with which to partly cover their nakedness. They are to be found in almost every village, toiling and moiling for the benefit of Vellālans and others, and with the Paraiyas doing patiently nearly all the hard and dirty work that has to be done. Personal contact with them is avoided by all respectable men, and they are never permitted to dwell within the limits of a village nattam. Their huts form a small detached hamlet, the Pallachēri, removed from a considerable distance from the houses of the respectable inhabitants, and barely separated from that of the Paraiyas, the Parei-cheri. The Pallans are said by some to have sprung from the intercourse of a Sudra and a Brāhman woman. Others say Dēvendra created them for the purpose of labouring in behalf of Vellālans. Whatever may have been their origin, it seems to be tolerably certain that in ancient times they were the slaves of the Vellālans, and regarded by them merely as chattels, and that they were brought by the Vellālans into the Pāndya-mandala." Some Pallans say that they are, like the Kallans, of the lineage of Indra, and that their brides wear a wreath of flowers in token thereof. They consider themselves superior to Paraiyans and Chakkiliyans, as they do not eat beef.

It is stated in the Manual of Tanjore (1883) that the "Pallan and Paraiya are rival castes, each claiming superiority over the other; and a deadly and never-ending conflict in the matter of caste privileges exists between them. They are prædial labourers, and are employed exclusively in the cultivation of paddy (rice) lands. Their women are considered to be particularly skilled in planting and weeding, and, in most parts of the delta, they alone are employed in those operations. The Palla women expose their body above the waist — a distinctive mark of their primitive condition of slavery, of which, however, no trace now exists." It is noted by Mr. G. T. Mackenzie *[2] that "in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the female converts to Christianity in the extreme south ventured, contrary to the old rules for the lower castes, to clothe themselves above the waist. This innovation was made the occasion for threats, violence, and a series of disturbances. Similar disturbances arose from the same cause nearly thirty years later, and, in 1859, Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, interfered, and granted permission to the women of lower caste to wear a cloth over the breasts and shoulders."

In connection with disputes between the right-hand and left-hand factions, it is stated †[3] that "whatever the origin of the factions, feeling still runs very high, especially between the Pallans and the Paraiyans. The violent scenes which occurred in days gone by *[4] no longer occur, but quarrels occur when questions of precedence arise (as when holy food is distributed at festivals to the village goddesses), or if a man of one faction takes a procession down a street inhabited chiefly by members of the other. In former times, members of the opposite faction would not live in the same street, and traces of this feeling are still observable. Formerly also the members of one faction would not salute those of the other, however much their superiors in station; and the menials employed at funerals (Paraiyans, etc.) would not salute the funeral party if it belonged to the rival faction."

In the Coimbatore Manual it is noted that "the Pallan has in all times been a serf, labouring in the low wet lands (pal lam) for his masters, the Brāhmans and Goundans. The Pallan is a stout, shortish black man, sturdy, a meat-eater, and not over clean in person or habit; very industrious in his favourite wet lands. He is no longer a serf." The occupations of the Pallans, whom I examined at Coimbatore, were cultivator, gardener, cooly, blacksmith, railway porter, tandal (tax-collector, etc.), and masālchi (office peon, who looks after lamps, ink-bottles, etc.). Some Pallans are maniyagārans (village munsifs or magistrates).

In some places a Pallan family is attached to a land-holder, for whom they work, and, under ordinary conditions, they do not change masters. The attachment of the Pallan to a particular individual is maintained by the master paying a sum of money as an advance, which the Pallan is unable to repay. The Pallans are the Jāti Pillais of the Pāndya Kammālans, or Kammālans of the Madura country. The story goes that a long while ago the headman of the Pallans came begging to the Kollan section of the Pāndya Kammālans, which was employed in the manufacture of ploughs and other agricultural implements, and said "Worshipful sirs, we are destitute to the last degree. If you would but take pity on us, we would become your slaves. Give us ploughs and other implements, and we shall ever afterwards obey you." The Kollans, taking pity on them, gave them the implements and they commenced an agricultural life. When the harvest was over, they brought the best portion of the crop, and gave it to the Kollans. From that time, the Pallans became the "sons" of the Pāndya Kammālans, to whom even now they make offerings in gratitude for a bumper crop.

At times of census the Pallans return a number of sub-divisions, and there is a proverb that one can count the number of varieties of rice, but it is impossible to count the divisions of the Pallans. As examples of the sub-divisions, the following may be quoted: —

Aiya, father.
Ammā, mother.
Anja, father.
Atta, mother.

Dēvendra. — The sweat of Dēvendra, the king of gods, is said to have fallen on a plant growing in water from which arose a child, who is said to have been the original ancestor of the Pallans.

Kadaiyan, lowest or last.

Konga. — The Kongas of Coimbatore wear a big marriage tāli, said to be the emblem of Sakti, while the other sections wear a small tāli.

Manganādu, territorial.
Sōzhia, territorial.
Tondamān, territorial.

These sub-divisions are endogamous, and Aiya and Ammā Pallans of the Sivaganga zemindāri and adjacent parts of the Madura district possess exogamous septs or kīlais, which, like those of the Maravans, Kallans, and some other castes, run in the female line. Children belong to the same kīlai as that of their mother and maternal uncle, and not of their father.

The headman of the Pallans is, in the Madura country, called Kudumban, and he is assisted by a Kālādi, and, in large settlements, by a caste messenger entitled Vāriyan, who summons people to attend council-meetings, festivals, marriages and funerals. The offices of Kudumban and Kālādi are hereditary. When a family is under a ban of excommunication, pending enquiry, the caste people refuse to give them fire, and otherwise help them, and even the barber and washerman are not permitted to work for them. As a sign of excommunication, a bunch of leafy twigs of margosa (Melia Azadirachta) is stuck in the roof over the entrance to the house. Restoration to caste necessitates a purificatory ceremony, in which cow's urine is sprinkled by the Vāriyan. When a woman is charged with adultery, the offending man is brought into the midst of the assembly, and tied to a harrow or hoeing plank. The woman has to carry a basket of earth or rubbish, with her cloth tied so as to reach above her knees. She is sometimes, in addition, beaten on the back with tamarind switches. If she confesses her guilt, and promises not to misconduct herself again, the Vāriyan cuts the waist-thread of her paramour, who ties it round her neck as if it was a tāli (marriage badge). On the following day, the man and woman are taken early in the morning to a tank (pond)or well, near which seven small pits are made, and filled with water. The Vāriyan sprinkles some of the water over their heads, and has subsequently to be fed at their expense. If the pair are in prosperous circumstances, a general feast is insisted on.

At Coimbatore, the headman is called Pattakāran and he is assisted by various subordinate officers and a caste messenger called Ōdumpillai. In cases of theft, the guilty person has to carry a man on his back round the assembly, while two persons hang on to his back-hair. He is beaten on the cheeks, and the Ōdumpillai may be ordered to spit in his face. A somewhat similar form of punishment is inflicted on a man proved guilty of having intercourse with a married woman.

In connection with the caste organisation of the Pallans in the Trichinopoly district, Mr. F. R. Hemingway writes as follows. "They generally have three or more headmen for each village, over whom is the Nāttu Mūppan. Each village also has a peon called Ōdumpillai (the runner). The main body of the caste, when attending council- meetings, is called ilam katchi (the inexperienced). The village councils are attended by the Mūppans and the Nāttu Mūppan. Between the Nāttu Mūppan and the ordinary Mūppans, there is, in the Karūr tāluk, a Pulli Mūppan. All these offices are hereditary. In this tāluk a rather different organisation is in force, to regulate the supply of labour to the landholders. Each of the village Mūppans has a number of karais or sections of the wet-land of the village under him, and he is bound to supply labourers for all the land in his karai, and is remunerated by the landowner with 1¼ marakkāls of grain for every 20 kalams harvested. The Mūppans do not work themselves, but maintain discipline among their men by flogging or expulsion from the caste. In the Karūr tāluk, the ordinary Pallans are called Manvettaikārans (mamoty or digging-tool men)."

The Pallans have their own washermen and barbers, who are said to be mainly recruited from the Sōzhia section, which, in consequence, holds an inferior position; and a Pallan belonging to another section would feel insulted if he was called a Sōzhian.

When a Pallan girl, at Coimbatore, attains puberty, she is bathed, dressed in a cloth brought by a washer-woman, and presented with flowers and fruits by her relations. She occupies a hut constructed of cocoanut leaves, branches of Pongamia glabra, and wild sugarcane (Saccharum arundinaceum). Her dietary includes jaggery (crude sugar) and milk and plantains. On the seventh day she is again bathed, and presented with another cloth. The hut is burnt down, and for three days she occupies a corner of the pial of her home. On the eleventh day she is once more bathed, presented with new cloths by her relations, and permitted to enter the house.

It is stated by Dr. G. Oppert *[5] that "at a Pallar wedding, before the wedding is actually performed, the bridegroom suddenly leaves his house and starts for some distant place, as if he had suddenly abandoned his intention of marrying, in spite of the preparations that had been made for the wedding. His intended father-in-law intercepts the young man on his way, and persuades him to return, promising to give his daughter as a wife. To this the bridegroom consents." I have not met with this custom in the localities in which the Pallans have been examined. In one form of marriage among the Pallans of the Madura district, the bridegroom's sister goes to the house of the bride on an auspicious day, taking with her the tāli string, a new cloth, betel, fruits and flowers. She ties the tāli round the neck of the bride, who, if a milkpost has been set up, goes round it. The bride is then conducted to the house of the bridegroom, where the couple sit together on the marriage dais, and coloured water, or coloured rice balls with lighted wicks, are waved round them. They then go, with linked fingers, thrice round the dais. In a more complicated form of marriage ceremonial, the parents and maternal uncle of the bride-groom, proceed, on the occasion of the betrothal, to the bride's house with rice, fruit, plantains, a cocoanut, sandal paste, and turmeric. These articles are handed over, with the bride's money, to the Kudumban or Kālādi of her village. Early in the morning of the wedding day, a pandal (booth) is erected, and the milk-post, made of Thespesia populnea or Mimusops hexandra, is set up by the maternal uncles of the contracting couple. The bride and bridegroom bring some earth, with which the marriage dais is made. These preliminaries concluded, they are anointed by their maternal uncles, and, after bathing, the wrist-threads (kankanam) are tied to the bridegroom's wrist by his brother-in-law, and to that of the bride by her sister-in-law. Four betel leaves and areca nuts are placed at each corner of the dais, and the pair go round it three times, saluting the betel as they pass. They then take their place on the dais, and two men stretch a cloth over their heads. They hold out their hands, into the palms of which the Kudumban or Kālādi pours a little water from a vessel, some of which is sprinkled over their heads. The vessel is then waved before them, and they are garlanded by the maternal uncles, headmen, and others. The bride is taken into the house, and her maternal uncle sits at the entrance, and measures a new cloth, which he gives to her. She clads herself in it, and her uncle, lifting her in his arms, carries her to the dais, where she is placed by the side of the bridegroom. The fingers of the contracting couple are linked together beneath a cloth held by the maternal uncles. The tāli is taken up by the bridegroom, and placed by him round the bride's neck, to be tightly tied thereon by his sister. Just before the tāli is tied, the headman bawls out "May I look into the bride's money and presents"? and, on receiving permission to do so, says thrice "Seven bags of nuts, seven bags of rice, etc., have been brought."

At a marriage among the Konga Pallans of Coimbatore, the bridegroom's wrist-thread is tied on at his home, after a lamp has been worshipped. He and his party proceed to the house of the bride, taking with them a new cloth, a garland of flowers, and the tāli. The milk-post of the pandal is made of milk-hedge (Euphorbia Tirucalli). The bride and bridegroom sit side by side and close together on planks within the pandal. The bridegroom ties the wrist-thread on the bride's wrist, and the caste barber receives betel from their mouths in a metal vessel. In front of them are placed a Pillayar (figure of Ganēsa) made of cow-dung, two plantains, seven cocoanuts, a measure of paddy, a stalk of Andropogon Sorghum with a betel leaf stuck on it,' and seven sets of betel leaves and areca nuts. Camphor is burnt, and two cocoanuts are broken, and placed before the Pillayar. The tāli is taken round to be blessed in a piece of one of the cocoanuts. The Mannādi (assistant headman) hands over the tāli to the bridegroom, who ties it round the bride's neck. Another cocoanut is then broken. Three vessels containing, respectively, raw rice, turmeric water and milk, each with pieces of betel leaf, are brought. The hands of the contracting couple are then linked together beneath a cloth, and the fourth cocoanut is broken. The Mannādi, taking up a little of the rice, turmeric water, milk, and betel leaves, waves them before the bride and bridegroom, and throws them over their heads. This is likewise done by five other individuals, and the fifth cocoanut is broken. The bride and bride-groom go round the plank, and again seat themselves. Their hands are unlinked, the wrist-threads are untied, and thrown into a vessel of milk. The sixth cocoanut is then broken. Cooked rice with plantains and ghī (clarified butter) is offered to Alli Arasani, the wife of Arjuna, who was famed for her virtue. The rice is offered three times to the contracting couple, who do not eat it. The caste barber brings water, with which they cleanse their mouths. They exchange garlands, and the seventh cocoanut is broken. They are then taken within the house, and sit on a new mat. The bridegroom is again conducted to the pandal, where cooked rice and other articles are served to him on a tripod stool. They are handed over to the Ōdumpillai as a perquisite, and all the guests are fed. In the evening a single cloth is tied to the newly married couple, who bathe, and pour water over each other's heads. The Pillayar, lamp, paddy, Andropogon stalk, and two trays with betel, are placed before the guests. The Mannādi receives four annas from the bridegroom's father, and, after mentioning the names of the bridegroom, his father and grandfather, places it in one of the trays, which belongs to the bride's party. He then receives four annas from the bride's father, and mentions the names of the bride, her father and grandfather, before placing the money in the tray which belongs to the bridegroom's party. The relations then make presents of money to the bride and bridegroom. When a widow remarries, her new husband gives her a white cloth, and ties a yellow string round her neck in the presence of some of the castemen.

At a marriage among the Kadaiya Pallans of Coimbatore, the wrist-thread of the bride is tied on by the Mannādi. She goes to, a Pillayar shrine, and brings back three trays full of sand from the courtyard thereof, which is heaped up in the marriage pandal. Three painted earthen pots, and seven small earthen trays, are brought in procession from the Mannādi's house by the bridegroom, and placed in the pandal. To each of the two larger pots a piece of turmeric and betel leaf are tied, and nine kinds of grain are placed in them. The bridegroom has brought with him the tāli tied to a cocoanut, seven rolls of betel, seven plantains, seven pieces of turmeric, a garland, a new cloth for the bride, etc. The linked fingers of the contracting couple are placed on a tray containing salt and a ring. They go thrice round a lamp and the plank within the pandal, and retire within the house where the bridegroom is served with food on a leaf. What remains after he has partaken thereof is given to the bride on the same leaf. The wrist-threads are untied on the third day, and a Pillayar made of cow-dung is carried to a river, whence the bride brings back a pot of water.

In some places, the bridegroom is required to steal something from the bride's house when they return home after the marriage, and the other party has to repay the compliment on some future occasion.

When a death occurs among the Konga Pallans of Coimbatore, the big toes and thumbs of the corpse are tied together. A lighted lamp, a metal vessel with raw rice, jaggery, and a broken cocoanut are placed near its head. Three pieces of firewood, arranged in the form of a triangle, are lighted, and a small pot is placed on them, wherein some rice is cooked in turmeric water. The corpse is bathed, and placed in a pandal made of four plantain trees, and four green leafy branches. The nearest relations place a new cloth over it. If the deceased has left a widow, she is presented with a new cloth by her brother. The corpse is laid on a bier, the widow washes its feet, and drinks some of the water. She then throws her tāli-string on the corpse. Her face is covered with a cloth, and she is taken into the house. The corpse is then removed to the burial-ground, where the son is shaved, and the relations place rice and water in the mouth of the corpse. It is then laid in the grave, which is filled in, and a stone and some thorny twigs are placed over it. An earthen pot full of water is placed on the right shoulder of the son, who carries it three times round the grave. Each time that he reaches the head end thereof, a hole is made in the pot with a knife by one of the elders. The pot is then thrown down, and broken near the spot beneath which the head lies. Near this spot the son places a lighted firebrand, and goes away without looking back. He bathes and returns to the house, where he touches a little cow-dung placed at the entrance with his right foot, and worships a lamp. On the third day, three handfuls of rice, a brinjal (Solanum Melongena) fruit cut into three pieces, and leaves of Sesbania grandiflora are cooked in a pot, and carried to the grave together with a tender cocoanut, cigar, betel, and other things. The son places three leaves on the grave, and spreads the various articles thereon. Crows are attracted by clapping the hands, and it is considered a good omen if they come and eat. On the fourth day the son bathes, and sits on a mat. He then bites, and spits out some roasted salt fish three times into a pot of water. This is supposed to show that mourning has been cast away, or at the end. He is then presented with new cloths by his uncle and other relations. On the ninth or eleventh day, cooked rice, betel, etc., are placed near a babul (Acacia arabica) or other thorny tree, which is made to represent the deceased. Seven small stones, representing the seven Hindu sages, are set up. A cocoanut is broken, and pūja performed. The rice is served on a leaf, and eaten by the son and other near relations.

The Pallans are nominally Saivites, but in reality devil worshippers, and do pūja to the Grāma Dēvāta (village deities), especially those whose worship requires the consumption of flesh and liquor.

It is recorded, *[6] in connection with a biennial festival in honour of the local goddess at Āttūr in the Madura district, that "some time before the feast begins, the Pallans of the place go round to the adjoining villages, and collect the many buffaloes, which have been dedicated to the goddess during the last two years, and have been allowed to graze unmolested, and where they willed, in the fields. These are brought in to Āttūr, and one of them is selected, garlanded, and placed in the temple. On the day of the festival, this animal is brought out, led round the village in state, and then, in front of the temple, is given three cuts with a knife by a Chakkiliyan, who has fasted that day, to purify himself for the rite. The privilege of actually killing the animal belongs by immemorial usage to the head of the family of the former poligar of Nilakkōttai, but he deputes certain Pallans to take his place, and they fall upon the animal and slay it."

It is noted by Mr. Hemingway *[7] that the Valaiyans and the class of Pallans known as Kālādis who live in the south-western portion of the Pudukkōttai State are professional cattle-lifters. They occasionally take to burglary for a change.

The common titles of the Pallans are said †[8] to be "Mūppan and Kudumban, and some style themselves Mannadi. Kudumban is probably a form of Kurumban, and Mannādi is a corruption of Manrādi, a title borne by the Pallava (Kurumban) people. It thus seems not improbable that the Pallas are representatives of the old Pallavas or Kurumbas.

  1. * Madras Census Report, 1891.
  2. * Christianity in Travancore, 1901.
  3. † Gazetteer of the Trichinopoly district.
  4. * See Nelson, the Madura Country, II, 4—7, and Coimbatore District Manual, 477.
  5. * Original Inhabitants of Bharatavarsa or India.
  6. • Gazetteer of the Madura district.
  7. * op.cit.
  8. † Madras Census Report, 1891.