Monday, 25 November 2013

The Paraiyars

Thirumavalavan, Dalit activist and president of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK)

The Paraiyars are among the most ancient Tamil clans which has stood the test of time. They were also mentioned in the ancient Sangam literature, the Purananooru.

The name of this clan comes from the percussion instrument known as Parai. The actual meaning of the Tamil word Parai is 'to speak' or 'to convey'. Malayalam language being a descendent of Tamil managed to retain the use of this word. 

Some of you who happened to hear spoken Malayalam would have come across the following:

Can you suggest another hotel? 

Vere oru hotel parayamo?

The Parai drum was used for religious occasions. The art performance which uses the Parai drum is known as Parai Aattam. It is also called as Thappu Aattam by the Telugu speaking Sakkiliyars.

After the social change that happened in ancient times, it lost its importance and became associated with funeral rites. 

Besides religious occasions, the Parai drum was also used as an instrument for official purpose. The drum beaters will beat the Parai to convey messages up to several kilometers. The Parai drum was also used during war.

The Paraiyars were once a respected community. It is believed that they lost their social status after the Vellalar colonization of Thondaimandalam in the 8th century AD.

Thondaimandalam is the northern region of present day Tamil Nadu. 

According to the census in 2001, there were 1,860,519 Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu. The Paraiyars are also known as Sambavar.

The Paraiyars consume beef. Skins of cows are used for their Parai drums. They had their own settlements in the past. It is usually located in the outskirts of the villages. Such settlements are known as Paracheri. 

When the British came to India, they noticed that the beef eating Paraiyars were living in the outskirts of the village. The word Paraiyar was then adopted into English as Pariah to refer to outcasts. It is used till today all over the world.

Besides beating drums, Paraiyars also practiced Shamanism. They were involved in black magic and ritualistic trance. There are several divisions among the Paraiyars. 

One of it is a priestly division known as the Valluvar. It is believed that the author of Tirukural, Tiruvalluvar came from this division of the Paraiyars. His real name is not known. The Valluvars also worked as weavers.

The author of Tirukural who came from the priestly division of the Paraiyars, the Valluvars. Hence, he is know as Tiruvalluvar - The respected Valluvar.

Many Paraiyar families migrated to Malaysia during colonial period. They served as indentured laborers in the rubber estates along with many other clans. 

The Malaysian Paraiyars managed to preserve some of the cultures of their ancestors. Some of them are still involved in Shamanism. The sound of the Parai can be heard in modern Malaysia due to their effort in preserving the art.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

My Thoughts on Numerology

Today's world is obsessed with many occult practices. Among the many occult practices that became an obsession is Numerology. I have nothing against occult practices. Some of the practices like Palmistry and Indian Astrology have always kindled the interest in me.

According to Palmistry and Indian Astrology, no two human being will have the same reading. The lines in our palms are unique. Furthermore, Indian Astrology is calculated based on time of birth, place of birth, latitude and longitude. There are also rules to follow if twins were born, making this branch of occult science a very special one.

However, Numerology as what we see today has many flaws. The flaw is not with the numbers, but the system itself.

Numerology is based mainly on ones date of birth. Numbers are taken, added and a reading is done. Alphabets are assigned numerical values and names derived from the combination of alphabets are said to have special values.

This is believed to have the power to decide on fate itself.


(17 January 2013)

A person born on this date will have two numbers. The first being his Birth Number and the second is his Destiny Number.

Birth Number is based on the addition of the first two digit representing the day he was born. In this case, 17. Therefore, 1 + 7 = 8. If the date was 29, then it will be 2 + 9 = 11, 1 + 1 = 2.

The Destiny Number is based on the addition of all digits in the date. 1 + 7 + 0 + 1 + 2 + 0 + 1 + 3 = 15, 1 + 5 = 6.

We must add the digits until one digit remains.

Now, lets consider the parallel dates of today 12-11-2013 with other calendars apart from the Gregorian Calendar.

Jullian Calendar

Hebrew Calendar

Islamic Calendar
08 -01-1435

Persian Calendar

Chinese Calendar

Tamil Calendar

The Birth Number for today is 3 in the Jullian calendar, 9 in Hebrew, 8 in Islamic, 3 in Persian, 1 in Chinese and 8 in Tamil.

The Jews, Chinese and Tamils have long used their calendar even before the Jullian or the Gregorian calendar were invented.

If you were to compare the other dates (and years), you will notice that the Birth Number and Destiny Number keeps changing.

Some may counter this argument by stating that 3 in Gregorian is equivalent to 8 in another calendar so the readings of each Numerology system will be accurate for its own calendar.

That is not true, the calendars shown above do not necessarily have the same corresponding numbers at all times. Therefore, 3 in Gregorian is not necessarily 8 in Tamil at all times.

For example,12-11-2000 is 22-08-1379 in the Persian Calendar. The Birth Number is 3 Gregorian, 3 Persian in 2013 but 3 Gregorian, 4 Persian in 2000.

The numbers will always change and the readings will of course be different.

I usually hear the argument of pro-Numerology people who state that since we are following the Gregorian Calendar today, we must derive our Numerology system based on this calendar.

First of all, we all have to remind ourselves about the history of calendars. Today, we follow the Gregorian Calendar. This calendar is also known as the Christian Calendar. It was modified from the Jullian Calendar in 1582.

The Indians started using this calendar only after the British invasion. Furthermore, as Western colonial power spread across the globe, various countries started adopting this calendar too.

Say if China and its allies invades the world tomorrow just like what the British did in the past, they will have all the power to change the standard calendar again. 

In fact, a new calendar with a new year can be created anytime to commemorate the victory of the invading nation.

Such thing has happened in the past and it will not be suprising for it to happen again.

Should that happen like it did in the past, will the pro-Numerology people change their system again? If the entire world start using the Chinese calendar, will they still use the Gregorian Calendar to derive their Birth and Destiny Number?


Furthermore, for us Tamil Hindus, all our celebrations and festivals are based on our own Tamil Calendar. We follow the Lunar-Solar system. We even take note of the moon phases.

We only use the Gregorian Calendar for matters which is not related to our religion or culture. But our entire culture and religion is still depending on our own Tamil Calendar.

So why should a Tamil Hindu calculate his Birth or Destiny Number based on Gregorian Calendar? If the reason is mystical, then shouldn't the Tamil Hindus use their own Tamil Calendar to derive their numbers?

Another thing which we have to ponder is people with the same Birth Number or Destiny Number do not necessarily have the same characteristics.

Of course, the Numerologist will show us some samples and say things like "You see, those born on 1st of the month will have very good leadership skills".

Does that mean everyone born on 1st is a natural leader?
Does that mean those born on other days do not have leadership quality?

When a Numerologist list out the characteristics of each number, we just fall for it blindly because we only pay attention to our own number. We need to realise that we actualy have bits and pieces of the characteristics shown in all numbers.

A person with number 5 may only train his mind to focus on the characteristics of number 5 without realising that he may also have characters of 9, 8 or 2. 

The second matter which I would like to highlight here is assigning numerical values to alphabets.

Each alphabet has its own number and this varies according to the Numerology system one follows. Certain people also believe that if the alphabets can be added or reduced in a person's name, it will give a different effect.

SHARMALAN  = 1 + 8 + 1 + 9 + 4 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 5 = 33 = 6

A numerologist will then do his reading based on the number 33 or 6. If he finds it not suitable for my Birth Number or Destiny Number, he will recommend some changes.


Each will give a different numerical value.

Fair enough but no matter how my name is restructured, the pronunciation is still going to be the same. So why does it matter?

To add on, I could even have nicknames among my friends and family. Some might call me with names other than Sharmalan. Does that mean the power changes each time a different name is called?

Another fact we have to consider is the alphabets used are Roman Script. The world has many languages and many scripts. People still use those scripts to write. Assuming that Roman Script alphabets have some mystical power is quite mind blowing.

Our ancestors never used the Roman Script and they definitely did not believe in Numerology based on Roman Script.

I am not against anyone's believes in numbers or luck but I think it is best for the believers of Numerology to reconsider the system they are following. 

As for me, I do not believe in Numerology because I see a lot of flaws in the way the numerical values are calculated and assigned.

To me, simply taking a date from a calendar and assuming it to be my number is something hard to accept especially when we are still using other calendar system in our daily lives.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Chindians of Nilgiris

An offspring born as a result of marriage between an Indian and Chinese is known as Chindian. This term is very common in Malaysia as there are quite a number of Chindians in my country.

Back in the 19th century, there were a lot of Chinese convicts in British Malaya. The prison was not enough to accommodate them so these convicts were sent to a prison in Nilgiris.

Nilgiris is a hilly region located in the west of Tamil Nadu. It is known for its natural beauty and tea plantations.

During a stormy night in 1868, 12 of these Chinese convicts escaped from the prison. They were arrested 2 weeks later in Malabar (prese
nt day Kerala).

Some of the Chinese remained in Nilgiris. They married the local Paraiyar tribe women and settled down on the hill slopes between Naduvattam and Gudalur. Their descendants with typical Chinese slant eyes developed into a colony over there.

This is one of the earliest records of Chindian families in modern history outside Malaysia.

I wonder what happened to the Chindians of Nilgiris.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Birds of A Feather Flock Together

The population of our species is currently 7.1 billion. We are in every part inhabitable in this planet. Although we are the same species, breathe the same air, and share the same blood color, we have differentiated ourselves in many ways. 

Our ancestors are probably the same but thousands of years of social evolution has divided mankind along many lines. We took different paths, settled in different lands, created different cultures, believe in different Gods, speak different languages but we remain the same when it comes to our strong sense of belonging. 

That sense of belonging can be called as tribalism. Tribalism is alive in each one of us. Although the core feeling is the same, the application is different.

Take football fans for an example. No matter how good or bad the performance is, a diehard Man Utd fan and a Liverpool fan will never come to a common agreement. Their loyalty to their club is displayed by not just supporting the club of their choice but also by throwing tantrums on their rivals.

I am sure some of you will remember an incident that happened in Malaysia not so long ago. A Man Utd fan was at a stadium full of Liverpool fans during one of the training session. 

His mistake? He wore a Man Utd jersey and the crowd forced him to remove it. They also mocked him and booed at him.

Although it is common sense not to wear a rival jersey in such place, we cannot deny that the behavior displayed by the crowd on that day is in fact a form of tribalism. Race, religion, caste, age, gender did not matter on that day. The love for their team is above all. There are also incidents of football fans beating up each other and also stabbing one another.

Now let's look at other forms of tribalism. 

Faith or religious believes also contributes to tribalism. Perhaps the biggest contributor. Although many religion claims to be against the concept of tribe or race, the religion itself becomes a tribe. Countless wars have been fought in the name of religion. Christians killing Muslims, Muslims killing Hindus, Hindus killing Jains. The list goes on.

Some may argue by stating that atheist do not kill others in the name of God. True enough but the atheist themselves often form groups to go against religious institutions. This even involves insulting religious beliefs and its believers. The atheist who choose to group themselves believe that their choice is better than the others and there is a need to form a network. Here again, tribalism is being displayed.

We then have tribalism according to our birth. This comes in the form of caste or race. It is natural to see people of the same race or caste associating with one another. They form groups for themselves. 

The ones formed under racial umbrella is often because of common skin colour or a common native language. The ones formed under caste or clan is because of family and kinship. They are related to each other, siblings and distant cousins. So naturally, they see a need to bond together.

The racial riots that happened is due to this form of tribalism. Let's say a Malay guy is attacked by a group of Chinese youths on the road. The other Malays will see it as Chinese attacking Malays. 

They will then respond to it in a similar manner. When that happens, rumors will spread claiming that the Malays and Chinese are chopping each other although not all Malays and Chinese are involved. 

99% of them probably did not even know about the fight that started it all.

But when it becomes a racial fight, the spirit of tribalism will then be displayed. 

If a Tamil speaking guy says something negative about Tamil society, it will probably be taken as a feedback. Some may even call the person a social reformer.

But what if a Telugu guys does the same with similar intention? 

High chances are he will be labelled as anti-Tamil. This happens because people feel threatened when someone outside their circle speaks about them. It is like having your neighbor talking about your family when it is none of his business.

When Periyar campaigned against caste, his main activities were centered around anti-Brahmin ideas. Periyar insulted Brahmin women and the Brahmins. He was also against Hinduism. He encouraged Hindu idols to be smashed and paraded with slippers. 

His ideology created a separate cluster of Tamils. Periyarism became a caste of its own. An anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindu caste.

Tribalism is also seen in the music industry. When the rapper Psychomantra lashed out at Yogi B, there was war of words between their two fan base. Both throwing words at each other. 

Who is the better rapper? Who has better lyrics? Who is right? Who is wrong? Fans were arguing although the real issue has got nothing to do with them. That is also a form of tribalism.

What about politics? Of course, tribalism exist there. BN and PR will never agree with each other. So are their supporters. Here, the supporters will go to the extend of not speaking up when their party of choice makes a mistake.

For example, most of us do not like BN. But that does not mean we should be quiet when PR does something wrong. 

When a private home altar was demolished in Sepang, many PR supporters of Hindu faith chose to be quiet about it because Sepang is under PR rule. They then came up with a list of arguments to justify the act. 

When someone speaks up, they are immediately labelled as 'Macai BN' (A stupid BN supporter) although the person who speaks up may be anti-BN in real life.

The authorities then ruled that it was illegal to demolish the altar and all of a sudden, the noise makers became silent. They refuse to admit what was done is indeed wrong.

Our sense of political tribalism closed our eyes at that moment. We failed to uphold what we originally intend to fight for.

Is tribalism good or bad? It can be either way. Regardless of how good or bad it is, it cannot be denied that tribalism exist as a culture in human society. 

As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. It is human nature to group themselves according to their similarities and that can be for almost anything.

Take a look around you and you will see this behavior in almost every aspect of our daily life. The spirit of tribalism exist in each one of us for different purpose. Only the degree of its display varies.