Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Indian confusion - Race, Caste, Clan & Surnames

Before you read, keep in mind that this was not written with the intention to divide the people. It was written with the intention to explain the meaning of each group.

The write up on my journey in Bali is still in progress. I have to transfer some image files in order to upload them. So I thought of writing about the biggest confusion in the Indian Malaysian community. It is a sensitive one too. But clarification should be given. Else, when are we going to understand it?

To my friends of other races who happened to read my blog, this will probably be enlightening as many may not be aware of our demographics. First of all, there are two main classification for us in Malaysia. Indian & Ceylonese. Many assume it to be a homogenous race like Chinese, but it isn't.

The Chinese have many languages but they have a common language called Mandarin. They also have one writing script. This is what makes the over 1 billion Chinese worldwide as a homogenous race. Ancient Chinese rulers were smart. They created paternal surnames and made it a rule to not marry those with the same surname.

Do we Indians have paternal surnames like Chinese? Yes. Certain clans have it. I will explain later. Let's deal with the basics first.

Indians & Ceylonese
Indians are not homogenous. We do not have a single unifying language, writing script or even a common calendar. In fact, Indian is not even a race. It is actually the nationality of India. During colonial times, all those who came from the British India Empire were classified as Indians. Because it was their nationality.

The British left and Malaya gained its independence. The citizenship of these people was later carried on as the Race or Bangsa in all official documents. It is also called as Keturunan. This is how the nationality called Indian became a race in Malaysia. I even contacted National Registration Department (NRD) to get some clarification and here is their reply:
English - Sir, for your information, racial information is based on the original country of the race. Tamil is classified as a language and not as a race.

The same rule is applied to those who came from Sri Lanka. The country was formerly known as Ceylon. They are known as Ceylonese till today for this one reason.

Hope we are clear on this. Let's move on.



Language Family
What exactly is Dravidian then?

Okay. I don't wish to touch on the racial aspect. There will be too many arguments and the Aryan-Dravidian debate will start in my blog. I wish to avoid that in a diplomatic manner.

Dravidian is a language family. The linguist have grouped the languages in the planet into various language families. They do this based on similarities or common origin. Refer to the Ethnologue  for the other language families in the world. The Dravidian group is said to be made of 85 languages with a population of 220 million speakers. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Brahui, Toda, Tulu are some of the main languages in this family.

24 main Dravidian languages
Language Ethnic
South Asia is home to many languages. Most of us in Malaysia are from southern India. We are speakers of mainly Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam language. Tamils alone are more than 80% of the entire Indian Malaysian population.

To know more about Tamil regions, you might want to check my earlier post on Tamilakam.

Ceylon has two main languages. Tamil and Sinhala. The Ceylonese in Malaysia are mostly Tamils. Despite sharing a common mother tongue, Tamils in Malaysia are divided as Indians or Ceylonese. I am not sure if the Ceylonese can now opt to change their race to Indian in order to be part of the larger group. Perhaps possible. Each language ethnic is made of several caste groups.

Caste 
I am a Tamil. My knowledge on castes which exist in other language ethnics is quite limited. I know to certain extend about some castes outside Tamil Nadu through my reading. Edgar Thurston's Castes & Tribes of Southern India has quite alot of information about it.

But for this post, I will focus on the Tamils alone.

Turston's books can be downloaded at  http://www.scribd.com/sharmalant/documents

There are two main aspects in Caste. Jati and Varna. Jati is actually the clan or tribe you were born into. It is also known as kulam in Tamil. In the olden days, jati was the race of the people. They don't intermarry with people who are not from the same jati. Every society in this world has its own list of jatis. The Scots, Irish, Chinese all have it under different names.

Varna is the social classification of jatis. Basically, the classes. There are 4 main Varnas in Hinduism. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra.

Modern India has their version of Varna in the form of Forward Caste (FC), Backward Caste (BC), Most Backward Caste (MBC), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The problem of Varna in India is there is no meritocracy. They practice something called the caste reservation.

So even if  you are a FC, there is no guarantee that you will get a scholarship despite having good results. It depends on the quota. This aspect of caste is the real obstacle in Indian society. Because it does not let people progress according to their capability.

Clans Among Tamils
Usually, Tamils do not marry outside their clan. This is due to various reasons. The Tamil clans are made of many families of many lineages. Lineage is known as Vamsam in Tamil.

Since clans started out as unique tribes in ancient times, each of these clans developed its own culture and tradition. Their difference can be seen in the cultural practice, family deity and even the design of Thaali.

Thaali or Mangalsutra is the marriage pendant of married Hindu women.

The Tamil Thaali represents the clan and the family a woman is married into. Both mother and wife of a man (daughters-in-law of the same family) will have the same thaali design.Telugus use Pottu Thaali. Malayalis use Ella Thaali. They do not have variations in thaali design unlike the Tamils.

Pottu is bindi or dot and Ella means leaf

Thaali pendants used by married Tamil women of various clans
Thaali pendants used by married Tamil women of various clans. 18-27, 29 and 32 are Pottu Thaali used by Telugus. 37 is known as Ela Thaali used by Malayalis.
Thaali pendants used by married Tamil women of various clans




Some Tamil clans are maternal, most of it are paternal. Tamils clans are further divided into branches. It is called as kilai, kootam and even gothra. People of the same branch are called sa-gothra. Hence, marriage among sa-gothra is forbidden. There are also names to identify their clan branches.

Many people are also not aware that different clans occupy different regions in Tamil Nadu. For example, Shanar (Nadar) are mainly from south Tamil Nadu, particularly Tirunelveli district. Vanniars are mainly concentrated in northern region such as Dharmapuri etc

You would have realized by now that clans and castes are more than what has been portrayed in Tamil films. It has always been portrayed negatively in our media. They need to also show the details like what I have written in this post. Only then will viewers really understand it.


Surnames
Tamils have their own surnames. Most of it are titular clan surname used by everyone in the clan irrespective of kinship. Others like the Kallars of Thanjavur have individual paternal family surnames representing their gothra or kilai.


The Vellalars (a caste of 150 clans) who live in east and south Tamil Nadu use Pillai surname. Vellalars who migrated to the northern districts use Mudaliar. Vellalars in the western districts use Kavundar. Here you see an example of Vellalars being identified differently depending on the region they live in. When migrations happen, changes in culture happens too.

Pillai, Kavundar and Mudaliar are clan surnames, not paternal family names.

Some of the surnames are also shared by more than one clan from other castes depending on the region they live in. Interestingly, Kavundar (also spelled as Gounder, Kaunder) is also used by few other castes in western Tamil Nadu. Particularly the Vanniars, Vettuvars and Kurumbars who live there.

Athough the Vellalars, Vanniars, Vettuvars and Kurumbars of the west share a common titular surname, Kavundar, they don't intermarry. Because they belong to different clans from different caste groups.

The caste which I was born into have a total of 1,135 surnames. Mainly paternal surnames. It is a consolidation of three clans known as Kallar, Maravar and Agamudayar. Hence we are known as Mukkulathor, people of the three clans. We are also called Terkittiyar which literally means southerners. Thevar is one of the many surnames we have. Our surnames are passed down from father to son.

More can be written about the diversity we Indians have but I will stop here for now. Hope this clears the general confusion most people have. Like I said, this is not to divide anyone but there is no harm in understanding diversity.
- Comments

70 comments:

  1. Great One Sir.. Sharmalan Thevar...! How do you feel if Maravar married Kallar or if maravar married Nadar..
    I do not who created this Jatis..clan or branches.. All the names or jatis comes from their occupation like those who are battle to protect their nation they usually called maravar (MARAM). the word Maram meant for veeram..Like that those people work digging pond or lake maintaining the drainge system they said to be Pallar.. Because their work most probably in Pallam.. Like that etc.. Correct if am wrong.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. As for intercaste marriage, it all depends on the individual and their families. I wrote an opinion on what can be done but at the present moment, it may not be widely accepted.

      http://sharmalanthevar.blogspot.com/2013/12/intercaste-marriage.html

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  2. Good explanation sir........Can I kindly know more about Naicker Cast.........(palayar naicker)..........:)

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    1. The Naickers were also called Vadugar, which simply means Northerners as they came mostly from the other side of Venkata Hills. Venkata Hills was the northern boundary of Tamilakam. The Naickers served under the Vijayanagar kings. They were mostly Telugus and Kannadigas. The root word is Naik. From this, Naicker and Nayadu is derived.

      They arrived in Tamil Nadu during the rule of the Vijayanagar empire. Over time, this title was also adopted by some clans which are native to Tamil Nadu.

      From the word Palayar Naicker, I am assuming it to be from Palayakarar Naicker. When the southern part of Tamil Nadu was ruled by Tirumalai Naicker with Madurai as capital, the country was divided into 72 different palayams by his Prime Minister Ariyanatha Mudaliar. This is based on an ancient system invented by the Pandyas.

      A Palayam is an administrative unit with military power. Each palayam will be headed by a Palayakar. Most of them were Naickers and Thevars. They will provide the king with military assistance whenever needed.

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    2. The Naickers also worship Jakkamma as their main Goddess. Kattabomman @ Getti Bommu Naicker was the Palayakarar of Panchalamkurichi. He is a Telugu.

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  3. sir really very intresting ur article iam hindu vodugarnaidu in andhra pradesh it belongs to which caste sir now iam.settled in ap

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  4. What is the meaning for thali number 6

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  5. Sir ,thank you for the images..These are very clear....but can you give explanation for the numbers next time sir as this will be easier for everyone to check.Thank you.:) :)

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  6. Sir,these images are very clear...Kindly give the explanation also as will be easier for everyone to check...thank you sir.:) :)

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  7. Pls tell me more about the Reddies.

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  8. Pls tell me more about the Reddies.

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  9. What is meaning of thali no 6 in 3rd

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  10. What is the meaning of thali.no 6 in 3rd.

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  11. sir which marava can use pottu thali and what are the divisions of agathu maravar

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    1. I think Pottu Thali is used by Telugus. I am not very sure about Agatha Maravar divisions. The Agatha Maravar of Madurai-Dindigul region are called Maniyakarar.

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  12. Who is is kule dheivam for vellalar pillai people?which place exactly this vellalar pillai reside?we have been lost touch since 3generations ago with India.I want to know my origin and my kule dheivam.any idea?

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    Replies
    1. Vellalar is a large community of over 100 clans. The Vellalars who live in the east and south of Tamil Nadu usually use Pillai behind their names. To know your kula deivam, you need to first get in touch with your ancestral village.

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  13. which maravar groups use fish mandai thali

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    Replies
    1. Sir, we are kondaya kottai maravar we are using no.18 thali.

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  14. Hi I would like to confirm my husband caste ...his family used thali ' thennaimarethali' ..but he don't know actually what caste he is..we are from Malaysia...pls will u help us sir...

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    Replies
    1. Best way to find out is by knowing the name of village and district his paternal family came from. Nowadays, thaali designs are being modified by many people as they wish. I suspect his family must be from northern Tamil Nadu. The type of thaali which you mentioned is popular over there.

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  15. Hi I would like to confirm my husband caste ...his family used thali ' thennaimarethali' ..but he don't know actually what caste he is..we are from Malaysia...pls will u help us sir...

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  16. Thennaimarathali which caste are using...my husband family are use that thali but they didn't gv proper and so we are totally confused ..sir pls help us..we r malaysia

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  17. we thevars are kstriyas but i have a doutd which vansh or vamsam dose kallar maravar and servaikarar or agamudaiyar belong to

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  18. Very informative write ups.would love to read more.im astonished by your knowledge

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  19. Sir, could you pls tell me which one is padayachi thaali design?

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    Replies
    1. No sis but I will ask my Padayachi friends about it.

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    2. Padri yachts use Ramar thaali. In the shape of M

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  20. vipoothi pattai & vipoothi pattai thagadu belongs which sub castes

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  21. I use a pottu thali and in my wedding bride put off White or beige saree and cover when put thé saree
    But am tamil not telugu... which caste dnt understand plse

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    Replies
    1. Check your husband's ancestry (his father's side) if anyone were Telugus.

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  22. Hello Sir, what thali does a person from thiruvarur usually wears or rather what clan people lives in Thiruvarur

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    Replies
    1. Kumbham Thaali is popular in that region

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  23. Sir which people use pillayar thali???

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  24. Sir which people use pillayar thali???

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  25. so...who will wear pillayar thaali sir?

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  26. sir...pls let me know which caste use pillayar thaali?

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  27. sir...which people use pillayar thaali?

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  28. Very good write up..... I sincerely thank you.
    Keep up.

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  29. My sincere thanks and best wishes.
    Great Job.

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  30. I am a agamudaiyar, my grandfathers name is called mickappan thever... how is agamudaiyar connected with thever? So is thever my kulam n agamudaiyaar is my caste? One more last question what is agamudaiyar caste? Which king did we work for? I am born and brought up in Singapore my dad n mom also born here. My grandfather is from tanjavoor. Kindly clear my doubts.

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    1. Agamudayar is one of the 3 clans that make up the Mukkulathor caste. Thevar is a popular surname among the Mukkulathor.

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  31. Is that pallar caste can marry a thevar caste in Malaysia ?

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  32. bro,as per my understanding those who r using ramar thali is telugu ppl
    but which caste they belong to?
    got chked with few telugu origins they admitted that too.pls advse

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    Replies
    1. Many Tamils use Ramar Thaali. The Ramar Thaali is a Vaishnavite design. There are two main types. Vadakalai (U shaped naamam) and Thenkalai (V shaped naamam). Telugu's generally use Pottu Thaali. In overseas country like Malaysia, it is quite mixed up as many don't follow the original Thaali design of their ancestors.

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  33. oh okay,those who are using V shape namem thali belongs to which caste actually?
    but met some of kannadians who are using ramar thali as well
    kinda confuse in this

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  34. Hi,

    Very interesting and nice article.
    Thank you for your researches and explanation.

    I have a doubt here to be cleared.
    Can you please explain what jaathi person wears annapatchai thaali or palasara thaali

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    Replies
    1. There are some Agamudayars who use it. It can also be used by other castes from the same region.

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  35. People that wearing pillayar thali from which caste and they are from Thiruchirapalli Pudukottai?

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  36. People who wore pillayar thali from which caste? They are from Thiruchirapalli Pudukottai

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  37. Hi... Shamalan

    Can you explain me 3 rd picture number 20,23 and 24 it belongs to which cast and kulam.

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    Replies
    1. Not sure which caste but 20 and 24 is Tenkalai Namam. 23 is Vadakalai Namam.

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  38. Hi... Shamalan

    Can you explain me 3 rd picture number 20,23 and 24 it belongs to which cast and kulam.

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  39. Hi sir. plz explain on Thennaimarathali. WHich caste normally use it. tq

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  40. I want to know which thali do the naicker wear

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  41. Hi sir, i want to know which caste will using thennagiri thali?
    How will be the design

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  42. Hi sir, pls explain about thennaigiri thali? which caste will use it?

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  43. Hi sir, whic thali will gounder use? is it kumbam thali
    Pls advice

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  44. Sir can explain me about theva
    r and what thali use for thever..
    And wht kulaideivem for thevar

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  45. a sincere request to you. it seems you have some deep knowledge regarding Mukkulathor caste. Can you please update Mukkulathor history in wikipedia.
    Link : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mukkulathor
    there is no proper information given about Mukkulathor history, please start from Sangam period to current scenario. Please update about kings, chieftains and warriors like sethupathis, maruthu brothers, velu nachiyar, poolie thevan. I am not much well versed in writing blogs and clearly you are having good experience and depth knowledge than me, hence asking you. Please consider my request.
    eg links for your reference : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajput

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  46. Hi Sir. Ceylonese wears No what of the front and back of a Thali for your images above

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  47. hi bro im cecil rayan i want to know whether pattangatti from south are sub caste or seperate caste.

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  48. hi sir im cecil rayan i want to know whether pattangatti from south is a seperate caste or it is a sub caste of some other

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  49. Hi Sir, could you please advise the thennai maram thali using for which caste.
    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. From what I heard, it is used more in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu. Not very sure about the caste group.

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