RSS Feed

The Moothan Community in Kerala

Posted by Maddy Labels: , ,

The Moothan, Guptan, Mannadiar and Tharakan communities

The Moothans are a trading or Vaishya community, migrants from the Tamilakam of yore, comprising broadly, the Moothan, Mannadiyars, Guptans, and the Tharakan subgroups. A decade ago, a classmate of mine, Mr Aravindakshan, provided me the gist of a legend connected to the arrival of the Moothans at Cheranadu, after having to depart Cholamandalam, in a huff. It was quite an interesting story, but after I found more details in the copy of an old book, I decided to narrate the details here, for there could be broader interest in this community and their links to the Tamil trading world.

Whenever I hear about Mannadiyars, I remember our landlord at Koduvayur. My father, a doctor of medicine, spent a while practicing in Koduvayur and we lived in a leased home belonging to a prominent Mannadiyar.  As it so happened, he also owned a provision store, which we visited often or hung around, while waiting for the school bus. I cannot help but remember the dark-complexioned, potbellied Mannadiyar at the cash counter, his peculiar Tamil Malayalam accent, his calling us children ‘appey’, and the two assistants who handled matters at the bustling shop, how they packed provisions in newspaper cones, how they doled out small amounts oil into bottles and so on, so also the smell of the shop – a mixture of spices, oils and food grains, musty and heady at the same time. Sure, they had a good business going and the owner kept the assistants on their toes, throughout the day, bellowing into the darker areas of the shop if he suspected one or the other slacking, while patting his belly or alternately scratching his back, absent-mindedly watching the passersby.

During a visit to the Padinjare Kovilakom some years ago, in a search for details on my great grandfather Vidwan Ettan Thampuran, the Zamorin 1912-1916, I happened to meet (late) Mr Virarayan (Rajettan), a member of the Padinjare Kovilakom matrilineal family. He gave me a copy of a book authored by P Kunjikrishna Menon, detailing the procession and investiture ceremonies of the Zamorin, a book where the author thanks to my great grandfather, for support & inputs. The book itself covers multiple subjects through short essays and one of them happened to be the history of the Moothans. I had misplaced the copy during my many moves across the world but located it recently. So, without much ado, let me start with the legend behind the Moothan migration.

The Moothan community were originally Vaishyas in the Chola kingdom and hailed from Kaveripoompattinam (Poompuhar). One among them, was a minister in the Chola court, hailing from Eralapuram. Beads, jewels and such were staple exports and it appears that the king was once gifted by the lord of another land, a number of pearls, each with a hole running through them (some sources mention that these came from Ming China). A number of jewelers tried to make a necklace out of it, but failed (don’t ask me why). The perplexed minister mentioned about the situation at home, when his bright and young (as always in stories, very beautiful) daughter said she could do it easily. The girl applied ghee at one end of the hole in each pearl and lined them up near an anthill, with a fine thread just inside the hole of the first pearl. The ants smelling the ghee got to work, and as they traversed the aligned holes, threaded the pearl necklace. The minister presented the completed pearl necklace at the court the next day, to everybody’s amazement.

The king asked the minister to bring his daughter to him, but the minister demurred, stating that it was not in line with the community norms to bring an unmarried girl to the court. The furious king threatened to banish him and the proud minister stated that he would in such a case prefer to leave the kingdom. The community understanding that they were all doomed, agreed to follow the said minister who decided to move westwards to the Cheranadu, crossing the ghats at the Palghat gap. Per the legend they arrived in nine groups over a period of time. The first set comprised people from the ancient Chola period towns of Eralapuram, Adityapuram, Paschimapuram and Ramapuram. As is the practice of many communities, they brought along their kula devatha (reigning titular deity) the Bhagavathy and their learned guru Shiva acharya, as well as a good amount of wealth.

The migrants, as it appears, wanted to settle down wisely, in a land where honesty, peace and law prevailed. So, they decided to test the regional Rajas by offering them a copper vessel filled with gold dust but topped off with sugar, in exchange for an abode. They did this in a peculiar fashion, sitting down, somewhat arrogantly, instead of standing or bowing down with covered mouths, as was the practice in Cheranad. Most kings refused to accede to their request and sent them away, seeing their impertinence and the fact that the pot had just some sugar, not bothering to check any further. They arrived finally at Malabar and met the Zamorin. As they did elsewhere, they came in and sat before the Zamorin, something he found quite unusual. Calling the Mangattachan (his senior minister) they inspected the pot and discovered that the pot did contain gold, not just sugar. He accepted the gift, set it down, but still curious about their practice of sitting down, asked the two representatives to come back the next day.

They came in the next day, and sat down as usual, but the Zamorin sent word that they should return the following day as he was ill. On the third day the Zamorin asked the Mangattachan, his minister, to douse the location where they usually sat, with water. The visitors arrived, and without hesitation, lay their upper garments on the wet surface, to sit down. The Zamorin understood then that the two were not impertinent, but were just following a practice they always followed, from whence they came. He had a long chat with them thereafter, listening to their story and agreed to provide them not only the land and assistance for resettlement, permission to build temples and homesteads, but also security with a force of 10,000 Nairs.

The Ramapuram group settled at Mangot and installed the Bhagavathi in a temple there (Mangottu Kavu at Athipotta, in Alathur, Palghat). These Ramapuram traders comprised the Mangotkoottil Chettys and Nalonnukoottil Chettys and the prominent family heads are titled Manna- diyars of the North and South Mannam (like in Kuzhal Mannam).

The Eralanad group settled in Tiruvazhiyode. Curiously the girl (the minister’s daughter) with the great powers, vanished the very next day, but an apparition of a Bhagavathy is seen soon after, following which the members constructed a Bhagavathy temple in her honor. This is the virgin goddess (Kanyaka Bhagavathy) at the Thiruvarakkal Bhagavathy temple. The group itself split into the Eastern and Western factions of the Cherupurathu Chettys. The Eastern faction comprises the Shankarath, Mannath, Mangalath, Vattavankunnath, Etipath, Pallithodath, and Aramballi families. The Western faction comprises the Chokath, Chilambath, Chassedath and Pambath families.

Similarly, the Adityapura group went to Vayilamkunnath, settled down and constructed their Bhagavathy temple, and finally the Paschimapura group settled down in Thatchanattukara. After all of them had settled down, the senior members together with their guru the Shiva Acahrya, met and paid their obeisance to the Zamorin. According to the practice in Malabar, these traders were then instructed to remove their sacred thread (punool) and shave off their rear tufts of hair and to start sporting front tufts as worn in Malabar. The traders remonstrated against the removal of the sacred thread to which the Zamorin agreed (wearing it during important occasions I presume), and also provided the groups with supporting artisans such as carpenters, goldsmiths, washermen etc. They adopted matrilineal practices too, in due course. The groups over time split into subgroups of Moothar and Tharakans. Whenever the Zamorins representatives traveled (Kottichezhunellath) to survey their domains, they called on some of these locations and participated in pompous reception ceremonies. So much from the Zamorin Chronicles.

Another source mentions that the Pathukudi branch traces its origin to the Perumkudi overseas trading Vaishyas among the Ippar, Kavippar & Perumkudi traders of Poompuhar. The story of the migration is much the same as we read before, only a bit more colorful, eventually ending up as asylees under the Zamorin. In another web source, the minister’s daughter requests a 41-day abstinence period before the wedding, allowing the Vaishyas to plan their departure to Cheranad. She also arranges for a girl named Vanaja to immolate herself (in her place) so that the group can inform the king that the minister’s daughter is dead, and close the case.

The entire epoch is also connected to Kannagi by other sources, though the timeline takes the migration back quite a few centuries. The legend is narrated as follows, quoting Madhava Menon - In a Sanskritized version of the same legend, Kannika is the daughter of Daksha, and the wife of Siva, who had visited her father in violation of the warning of her husband. For this transgression, she had been cursed to take three incarnations as a woman. The first was as Auvayar, who became a widow while still remaining a virgin, and devoted the rest of her life to the worship of Murugan. The second was as Kannaki (Kannika as pronounced by Muthan), the heroine of Cilappatikaram - they believe that she had remained a virgin as her husband had been fully taken up making love to Madhavi the courtesan. According to this version the Muthan had migrated to Kerala along with her, when she had wandered distraught after burning Madhurai in the tragic aftermath of the victimization of her husband. The Muthans have a temple dedicated to her at Palakkad.

The Tharakan version agrees with these main details, but they believe their ancestors had accompanied Kannaki from Tanjavur onwards. The Gupta version is that Dakshayini was incarnated for the third time as Kannika, their own specific deity, and the daughter of the minister who had fled from the attentions of the Chola prince. They have several temples in her honour, but they enshrine her in the form, and the modes of worship are identical with those prescribed in Kerala for the worship of the mother-Goddess Bhadrakali.

Another legend agrees that these Vanika Vaishyars accompanied Kannaki and settled in Palghat over 400 years ago, and came to be known as Moothans. In this version, the Palghat Achan gifted land, authorized temple construction and thus came about the Moothan community of Palakkad. The local belief in Palghat, which is different from the versions where Kannagi goes to Vanchi, is that Kannagi first came to Palakkad along with some devotees who belonged to the Moottatu (S Jayashankar, writing in the temples of Palghat District, uses the term Moottatu instead of Mootan) community there. The original seat of the Goddess, according to them, was at the center of Palakkad Town.

From the Handbook of Kerala (Madhava Menon) and research conducted by PRG Mathur, we can glean the following additional aspects. The community prefers to term themselves as Arya Vaishyas with multiple subdivisions. Guptans, the most Sanskitized and perhaps the earliest migrants can be found at Ottapalam, Mannarghat and Perinthalmanna. Moothan or Tharakan, the largest majority can be found in Palghat and Alathur, whereas the most affluent, being the Mannadiyars can be found at Chitoor, Koduvayur and other parts of Palghat. It appears also that some of the learned Moothans use the Ezhuthacchan title. Always in a tussle to climb up the social caste ladder, even though they were considered lower by Nairs, the Moothans termed themselves Vaishyas (without the sacred thread) and therefore superior. The term Moothan (Muttavan – Elder) itself is explained as a title given to their leader by the Zamorin, but the Tarakan perceives himself superior to the Moothan, eventually becoming a Nair, according to Thurston. The Moothans and Mannadiars maintain Tamil observances whereas the Guptans are more inclined towards Brahmanical forms.

As we can summarize, the groups branched into three distinct subgroups, the Guptans, the Mannadiyars and the Moothans. The Mannadiars were considerably richer, and some of them changed their caste names to Nairs, while some in Tattamangalam termed themselves Menon stating that they were conferred the title by the Cochin Raja. The teachers among them, especially in the Valluvanad region (the Zamorin’s domain) who learned Sanskrit, called themselves Ezhuthatchans. According to the oral testimony of one such learned person in Kadambazhipuram (near Cherplasseri) a former Moothan approached Punnassery Nambi at Pattambi to learn Sanskrit, who after ascertaining that they were Vaishyas suggested the caste subgroup name of Guptan. Thus, came about the learned and Sanskritized Guptan community, who kept to themselves (not intermarrying with Moothans and Mannadiars) termed themselves Vaishyas and wore a sacred thread during important ceremonies. The Guptans took to Astrology, Tantrism and Ayurveda.

The Moothans and Mannadiars stuck to trade and the community spoke in a dialect - a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam, and in the past wrote their accounts in Tamil. According to Madhava Menon. The Moothans are segmented into five exogamous clans whereas the Guptans adopt lineage names. The Moothan community in Palghat has over 45,000 members these days and still derives much of their revenue from domestic trade, hardly venturing beyond Indian borders.

We get the following additional inputs from Thurston - It is recorded, in the Madras Census Report, 1891, under the conjoint heading Muttan and Tarakan, that “these two are allied castes, but the latter would consider it a disgrace to acknowledge any affinity with the former. Tarakan literally means a broker. Dr. Gundert says that these were originally warehouse-keepers at Palghat. There is considerable antagonism between the Palghat and Walavanad sections of the caste.

He adds a note explaining the difference between Taragan and Tarakan - Another caste of traders, which has now been practically incorporated in the Nayar body, is the class known as Taragans (literally, brokers) found in Palghat and Walavanad, some of whom have considerable wealth and high social position. The Taragans of Angadippuram and the surrounding neighborhood claim to be immigrants from Travancore, and to be descendants of Ettuvittil Pillamar of Quilon, who are high caste Nayars. They can marry Kiriyattil women, and their women occasionally have sambandham with Samantan Rajas. The Palghat Taragans on the other hand can marry only in their caste.” I believe however that the Taragan’s responsibility was tax collection for the Raja and not working as brokers or agents, and later intermingled with Nairs. The Moothan womenfolk are called Chettichis.

One other interesting aspect is that the Chetty womenfolk of Palghat make the chuttu or kai murukkus which we can only find in Palghat. It is perhaps my favorite among savories and something I always remember to carry back to the US, after visiting Palghat. We can also see that most metalware shops in Palghat are owned by Mannadiars.

Now let us get some inputs from the Tamil side of the ghats, just across the Palghat gap. Firstly, we can take note that the aforementioned Sivacharya hailed from the Perur madom near Coimbatore, indicating that most of the clan probably lived in Kongunadu and moved later to Cheranadu. The Moothans who approached the Zamorin must have done so in the 16th or 17th century when the Zamorin had become the suzerain, after defeating the Valluva Konathiri and usurping the Mamankam rights. Kongu chronicles mention a robust trade between Kongunad and Cheranad, so also the existence of a number of Vellala families in the Palghat area. We discussed this briefly while talking about the Kongan Pada.

Epigraphist Pulavar Dr. S. Raju mentions a Kongu Chola inscription, more than 1,000 years old, which talks of Vellalan Kumaran Kumaranaana Dhananjaya Pallavaraiayan, living in Palghat. He adds - One story that repeats in literature and copper plates is that of the marriage of a Chola princess into the Chera royal family, and the subsequent movement of 8,000 Kongu Vellalas to Chera Nadu. ‘Alagumalai Kuravanji’ talks of these Vellalas,” says Raju. “According to Mezhi Vilakkam, the Vellalas had landed rights (kani urimai) in various locales in Cheranadu. Kongu Vellalas arrived in Palghat from Kangeyam, Karur, Kaadiyur, Sanguppalayam (Sankarandampalayam) and Pazhaiayakottai. A copper plate in the Salem archives, registers an agreement among several members of the Kongu Vellala and Kongu Mannadiyar Communities and belonging to the Porulandaikulam, living in Kilkarai Pundurai nadu, granting lands and perquisites to Ponnallippulandran of Dharmapuram. This of course does not align with the previously mentioned legends or what the community states.

Raju also connects the Mannadiyars to Kongunadu (Courtesy - Hindu article April 30th, 2020 Suganthy Krishnamachari) - Mannadiyar is a title, which the Angarath and Vadaseri families of Kerala have. William Logan, in his Malabar Manual, says that the Mannadiyars were a caste of Vellalars from Kangeyam, in Coimbatore province, who had settled in Palakkad. Mandradi is a title held by many Kongu Vellala families which became Mannadi in Malayalam. According to him, Vadaseri Mannadiyars have the privilege of opening the Western entrance to the Perur temple, near Coimbatore, because they once owned all the land to the West of the temple. They owned forests, running to thousands of acres in Kerala, from where they used to supply wood for erecting pandals during the temple festival in Perur. Mannadiyars were disciples of the Melmatam in Perur, to which many Kongu Vellalas owe allegiance. When a Mannadiyar died, concluding rites after 14 days, were performed in Perur, on the banks of the Noyyal. Mannadiyar families in Maruthur, Palakkad district, were familiar with Kamba Ramayanam. Pavakoothu, based on the epic, is a 14-day festival in the Chunanghi Bhagavati temple in Nallepilly.

MGR’s mother Satyabhama, according to Raju, belonged to a family in Maruthur, who are referred to as Vadavanur Vellalar in copper plates. To Gopala Menon and Satyabhama, was born the renowned M.G. Ramachandran! Thus, MGR had a Kongu Vellala connection, according to him. Ilankai Tamil Sangam (Sachi Sri Kantha) tells us that MGR did play the Mannadiyar card when there was a furor about him being a Malayali. MGR is recorded as stating - My ancestors belonged to Kongu Nadu region and were from Mandradiar group. Their ancestral town was Pollachi. Those who were called Mandradiar in Pollachi, were called ‘Mannadiar’ (in corrupted form) in Palakkadu region…. It’s because of this, when someone calls me as a Malayalee, I become angry. These details were told by my mother when I was young’. I will not get into further details here or agree fully with this, as I did some research into this aspect and will write about it another day, in more detail.

We note that these traders were also associated with the weaving trade, from inscriptions found near Tirupur. A locality within Tirupur named Sarkar Periyapalayam has a temple named Sukreeswarar Kovil or Kurukku Thali. Meenakshi Sundaram (New Indian Express 09-08-15) tells us the following - Throwing light on the trade activities of a large merchant guild at Sarkar Periyapalayam, whose name is mentioned as Mukundhanur in an epigraph, an inscription spread on the entire large wall of the shrine unfolds how the traders planned the expenses to conduct the temple festival Vaikasi Thiruvizha to worship the deity Kurakkuthali Nayanar. Interestingly, expressing their consent, as many as 64 merchants have ‘signed’ their names on the inscription. While four of them have given their signatures in the ancient Vatezhuthu (Rounded script) the rest have done it in Tamil script. The four merchants had hailed from ‘Malaimandalam’ which refers to present-day Kerala. 

He adds - Taking a history enthusiast to the world of trade in ancient times, the inscription details the names of different commodities and the customs duty on their exports and imports. Besides, the it also informs the names of the merchants with their native towns as Urayurudayaan Periyyayya Devan, Pandimandalathu Sundarapandiyapurathu Siriyapillai, Eralapurathu Vyapari Koothan Kannan and so on. Pointing out the mention of the place ‘Eralapuram’ in the inscription, Mr Poongundran, the former, Assistant director, Tamil Nadu Archeology Department informs us it is none other than today’s Ernakulam in Kerala!

Now that is probably confusing, the Eralapuram so mentioned was the location from where the traders migrated out of, somewhere near PoomPuhar. Eralanadu is also Eranad where the Nediyiruppu swaroopam originated from. These Eralapuram migrants settled at Thiruvazhiyode, and perhaps re-termed themselves as Eralnadu or Eralapuram (new) traders, after resettling in the Malayalam regions and changing their written script to Vattezhuthu. But the Chola period locales of Eralapuram, Adityapuram, Paschimapuram and Ramapuram are yet to be pinpointed. I will add a clarifying note if I get more details.

With this, I think I have collated most of the available information on the Moothan community and arranged them in a somewhat cohesive fashion. Hopefully, it will be of some help to anybody searching for their roots.

References

Ariyittuvalcayum Kotticcelunnallattum (1910) – By P Kunji Krishna Menon

Handbook of Kerala – Vol 2 – T Madhava Menon (with Moothan inputs by PRG Mathur)

Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. 4 of 7 by Edgar Thurston

 

The Habshis and Siddi communities of India

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Africans in India, over the ages

During the medieval period, affluent rulers fighting their many wars provided employment to able-bodied mercenaries, and their kingdoms provided job placement for many slaves. Later on, with the arrival of the Europeans, the slave industry spread globally and many Indian and African slaves were shipped around the world. While the African slave stories have been studied in great detail, the tales of the Africans in India or that of Indian slaves abroad, have not been well-publicized. The African community are called the Siddi’s and as you will soon note, there were quite many of them at one time, with some rising up the ranks, while others floundered as petty slaves or house servants, in wealthy homes. Remnants of that robust community which made India their home for 500- 800 years or more, can still be seen here and there in India, some retaining bits and pieces of their ancient musical and artistic heritage even after assimilation into the Indian society.

The Kalaris of Malabar

Posted by Maddy Labels:

Kalari, Kalari Vidya and Kalari payattu – their origins

Most who chance on this would be wondering if there is more to the Kalari than the historic martial arts form practiced in Malabar and some other related versions in other parts of today’s Kerala. While academicians and practitioners have focused on the practice and the schools in Malabar, many have neglected the free flow of mercenaries between Sri Lanka and Malabar, as well as the Lankan and Tulu connections to the martial art form. In this short essay, we will go over the legendary origins of Kalari in Malabar and cover hitherto neglected links to similar practices which existed in erstwhile Ceylon and Tulunad.

Arthur Rowland Knapp – An unpopular ICS bureaucrat

Posted by Maddy

The Knappan of Malabar

Knapp is well known in Kerala, not as the person, but more from the connotation 'Knappan' which in colloquial Malayalam slang, means an incompetent man, prone to erroneous or unsuccessful acts, apparently a testament to Knapp’s poor administrative skills. Now how on earth did this person, a knighted civil servant, well decorated and so highly thought of in Britain, later a member of the executive council, get such a reputation? I thought it should be quite interesting to trace out this bloke’s story.

The Arakkal Swaroopam

Posted by Maddy Labels: , , ,

 Its Checkered History

In the medieval history of Malabar, there existed but one Muslim kingdom, and that was known as the house of the Arakkals. Legends about the way it came into its being can be read in the Keralolpathi, the Aithihyamala, various travel diaries, as well as the ledgers of the Dutch VOC and the British EIC. They do hold a reader’s attention, and fleeting reports of the power and wealth it possessed at some stages in the past still pop up now and then, in the news media. Let’s take a look are some highlights and the family’s interaction with the many global players who swooped into Malabar to enrich themselves on its spice produce.

Legends of the Sacrifice Rock

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

Velliyankallu – The Sacrifice Rock at Malabar

Velliyankallu is a two or three-acre rocky island in the Arabian Sea, about 20 miles from Calicut, or 10 miles from Payyoli and Tikkodi, placed between Elathur and Tellicherry. Today, it is an island where people go for leisure, while some prefer it for bird watching. But most would either associate it with Mukundan’s brilliant novel Mayyazhipuzhayude Therrathail, or with the legendary Kunjali Marakkar at the Santos Island of the Portuguese. Not a very large island, its rocky precipice rises to some 855 feet above sea level. Interestingly, there are quite a few legends associated with this rock, some dating back many centuries. Let’s get out there and find out.

The Zamorin – VOC treaties of 1691, 1710

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

A most famous document, and a turning point in the history of the Zamorins

As treaties go, the content of the two treaties signed between two reigning Zamorins of Calicut and the Dutch VOC establishment in Cochin is quite dull and uninteresting to a lay reader, but it was made at a turning point in the history of the Zamorins, as we shall soon see. From a linguistic point of view, there are some peculiarities in these works, and experts opine these early examples of written Malayalam show its development as a language. The 1691 Malayalam contract was written on a gold foil (ola) and is perhaps the longest gold scroll in the world. Over time, the scribed text has disappeared to a large extent whereas the silver foil contract made in 1710 remains a robust specimen which still (especially due to the tarnish) provides a clear view of the scribed text. Let’s try and find out some detail in these obscure documents, which have hardly been mentioned or talked about, thus far.

Vasco Da Gama - Voyage to Calicut - 1498

Posted by Maddy

Where and when? Doubts remain.

At the tail end of the 15th century, an event occurred which opened the Indian subcontinent to the West, and ushered a plethora of changes. Internationalism, wars, expanded trade, profiting, rivalry, monopolism, greed, subjugation, and finally, colonialism arrived. Even though there were many visitors from the west coming and going, and of course drifting towards the parts of the south in search of spices and Christians, it was the arrival of Portugal’s Vasco Da Gama in 1498 which brought about these huge changes and ended free trade. This article will dwell on just the arrival of the first fleet from Lisbon and its Admiral Vasco Da Gama at Calicut. Most people are content to record that he arrived at Calicut in 1498. Do we need to correct history books on the when and where after over 520 years? Perhaps! As they say, the devil is in the details.