Saturday, December 3, 2022


The People

Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanised states of India, but it is still primarily rural. Most of the people live in more than 64,000 nucleated villages. There is an established caste system, and the traditional differentiations here are a lot more pronounced than in many other parts of the country. The largest distribution of population is mostly confined to the Chennai metropolitan covering industrial areas, townships and villages surrounding Chennai city, and those around Madurai, Coimbatore, and Tiruchchirappalli. More than 80% of the state's population follows Hinduism. Christianity and Islam are also followed here.

The Brahmins which forms the highest caste normally is distinguishable with a religious white mark on their forehead. Earlier their work used to be confined to religious activities and astrological profession. They were almost wholly dependent on villages gifted to them by successive kings. Simple living and high thinking was their way of life.

Communities such as Vellalas (known as Gounders in Coimbatore, Mudaliars in Chingleput and other areas, Pillais in Thirunelveli district) took to a large scale agriculture, they supervised agriculture operations and they had their income  through sale of the produce. The Village -traders belonged to a few Vaishya communities such as Komutti Chettiars.

Shaanaars, who were  toddy - tappers since independence emerged as a prosperous mercantile community by their enterprise. The untouchables have been the main agricultural labourers. These communities did the job assigned  to them and eked out their  livelihood. In each village, there were dhobis and barbers.

Tribes have had a special place in Tamil history. There was a classification of tribes according to landscapes. The chieftain of each tribal group and his wife were given an honoured  place. In the mountains, hills and hilly tracts such as Palani hills, the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats, the distinguished chieftain was known as Poruppan, Verppan and Cilampan, his spouse was known as Koticci  or Kuratti. The mountain tribe, of which the poruppan was the chieftain was divided into two main Phratries. The members of the two Phratries were known as Kanavar and Kurava  and spouses Kurattiyar. The Badagas, Kotas, and Todas are other tribes found in the Nilgiri hills.

In the Thanjavur deltaic area, the leader of the settlement  is known as Makilnam or Uran and his wife is called Manaive or Kilatti. The members of this rich agricultural settlement were ulavar  with their Ulattiyar  and Kataiyar with their Kataicciyar. In the  coastal region, the tribal chief  was known as Cerppan or Pulampan  and his wife as Paratti or Nulaicci.    

The pattern and lay out of streets, houses  and community centres was the  same every where in village scene Tamil  Nadu. Each village was built  around or near a temple and the priests  who were invariably  Brahmins  lived in the areas called 'Agraharam'. Adjoining them lived Pillais and Mudaliars. Trading  communities  had their habitation in the area next to these central streets. The untouchables lived on the outskirts of the village.  

Orthodoxy  and conservatism  are now giving place to rationalism. The village  and town  plans are rapidly  changing. Some of the Agraharams  are occupied in part of people of other caste. Followers of religions other than Hinduism used to live in groups  either out side the village or in clusters on a portion. The festivals bring  all the castes together.  Each caste has a role to play in the conduct of the festival.