Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Tamil Kinship

Unlike the Westerners, Tamil people have a very elaborate kinship system.
PICTURE CREDIT: http://www.familyholiday.net/family-tree-craft-template-ideas

The Tamil people have a very elaborate and systematic kinship system. Families can be categorized into two main groups. Panggali (Parallel Cousins) and Muraipasangga (Cross Cousins). Panggalis are treated as siblings while Muraipasangga are those who we can marry. Therefore, the terminology used for the Panggali is the same as our siblings.

Parallel Cousins = Father's brother's children or Mother's sister's children

Cross Cousins = Father's sister's children or Mother's brother's children

The Panggali or Muraipasangga group is not only for immediate families but also for the extended families. Certain clans have family names which determines who is who in the entire clan. 

Therefore, members of such clans will avoid marriage with their Panggali families as they will carry the same surname. This is similar to the Gothra system.

Certain terminology in the Tamil kinship can be used for more than one relationship. For example, a person can call his sister’s husband as Machan, Attan or even Maaman depending on the relationship of the families prior to the marriage.

The terms used for in-laws are also used for the Muraipasangga. 

I have given some examples of the terminology which we have below. Each of these terminology represents a particular relationship. 

Father - Thanthai
Mother - Thaai
Grandfather - Paattan
Grandmother - Paati
Maternal Grandmother - Ammayee
Paternal Grandmother - Appayee
Great Grandfather - Poottan
Great Grandmother - Pootti
Great Great Grandfather - Ottan
Great Great Grandmother - Otti
Great Great Great Grandfather - Seyon
Great Great Great Grandmother - Seyol
Great Great Great Great Grandfather - Paran
Great Great Great Great Grandmother - Parai
Son - Magan
Daughter - Magal
Grandson - Peyaran
Grandaughter - Peyarti
Great Grandson - Kollu Peyaran
Great Granddaughter - Kollu Peyarti
Great Great Grandson - Ellu Peyaran
Great Great Grandaughter - Ellu Peyarti
Brother - Sagothar
Sister - Sagothari
Elder Brother - Annan
Elder Sister - Akka
Younger Brother - Thambi
Younger Sister - Thangachi
Father's Elder Brother - Periappa
Father's Younger Brother - Chithappa
Father's Sister - Athai
Mother's Brother - Maama
Mother's Elder Sister - Periamma
Mother's Younger Sister - Chinnamma
Athai's Son - Attan
Athai's Daughter - Athachi
Parallel Cousins - Panggali
Cross Cousin - Muraipasangga
Husband - Kanavan
Wife - Manaivi
Annan's Wife, Wife's Akka - Anni
Thambi's Wife, Wife's Thangachi - Kolunthiya
Kanavan's Annan - Muthaar
Kanavan's Thambi - Kolunthanar

Manaivi's brother, Sister's husband - Machan
Wife's Sister's Husband - Sagalai (Annan/Thambi)
Husband's Brother's Wife - Orupadi (Akka/Thangachi)
Machan's Son, Brother's Son (Female), Son-in-law - Marumagan
Machan's Daughter, Sister's Daughter (Male), Daughter-in-law - Marumagal

My wife’s younger sister becomes my Kolunthiya. I can call my Kolunthiya’s husband as Thambi. Our relationship is also known as Sagalai, brothers through marriage as our wives are sisters. Sagalais and their children become Panggalis. They are like siblings. 

The kinship of the Tamils was created to ensure that there is a proper system to define family relationships. It was also created to avoid incest among the people. 

The choice of words in Tamil kinship may vary depending on the region or clan a person originated from. But the family relationship in general, is the same for all Tamils. 

The earliest ancestor 7 generation ago is known as Paran (male) and Parai (female). This is how the term Paramparai is born for the Tamil family tree. The Tamil word for tradition, Parampariyam, is taken from Paramparai Niyayam. So our ancestors are not only the founders of our family tree but also the pioneers of our tradition.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Origin of Madurai Veeran

DISCLAIMER: You can debate the contents of this article as there is no real evidence on the origins of Madurai Veeran or we can also say that it is not fully proven. What I have written here is based on existing oral tradition and opinions. The origin of Veeran remains a mystery and time shall tell who he really was. If I find anything new about his origins that contradicts with what I have written here, I will write a sequel to this post and share it with everyone.

Madurai Veeran with Bommi and Valliyammal

Madurai Veeran is worshiped as a guardian deity by the Tamils. As what I know, there is no written record about him. 

According to certain oral tradition, he was the prince of a king in Kaasi (Varanasi). When he was born, the astrologer predicted that the baby will bring bad luck to the king. So the king decided to dispose him and requested his guards to do it.

The guards then threw him away. Some say he was left to die in the forest. Others say he was placed in a trunk and left to float away in the river. 

Veeran was then found by the Sakkiliyar community (presently known as Arunthathiyar). They were cobblers and leather workers. They raised him as their own son. He became a powerful warrior.

He fell in love and eloped with a local chieftain Bommana Naicker's daughter, Bommi. As he belonged to a different caste, Bommana Naicker became very angry and sent soldiers to kill him. The ruler of Trichy at that time was also a Naicker. He saw the military potential of Veeran. So he gave Veeran protection. 

At that time, Madurai was ruled by Tirumalai Naicker (1623-1659 AD). He got to know about Veeran and requested the ruler of Trichy to send him over to serve in Madurai. This is how Madurai Veeran became a commander in Tirumalai Naicker's army.

He then fell in love with a beautiful damsel named Valliyammal. He also subdued the Piranmalai Kallars and their leader, Sanggili Karupu. Later, Veeran was wrongly accused of treason and sentenced to death by amputation.

That is the summary of the folk legend. 

I believe that Veeran's origins is debatable. Let us look at some fine details which skipped the normal ears.

For a start, the legend claims that Veeran was the prince of a king who lived in Kaasi. He was then abandoned by the king but raised by the Sakkiliyar community. 

The Sakkiliyars are actually Telugus. The original name of the Sakkiliyar community is Madiga. They migrated to Tamil Nadu from Andhra when the Telugu Naickers were ruling South India. 

As they were leather workers, they usually lived close to the military camps. They were needed to prepare equipment such as boots, shields and guards for the soldiers. Some of the Madigas also served in the army of the Naickers. 

During the rule of the Palayakarar chieftains, Sakkiliyars also served in their army. One of the earliest Palayakarar to fight against the British, Pooli Thevar, had a Sakkiliyar warrior named Ondi Veeran Pagadai. The Sakkiliyar soldiers are known as Pagadai.

Veeran was probably never a prince of Kaasi. Kaasi is located in Uttar Pradesh. That is about 1700 km north of Tamil Nadu-Andhra region. It will not be possible for a new born baby to be abandoned in Kaasi and then found by a community which lives so far away in South India.

Furthermore, the royal guards would have not traveled that far to abandon the baby. Considering the obstacles such as hills and forest with no proper roads in the 17th century, it would have taken weeks for them to travel that far just to throw a baby away. The most impractical thing to do!

If at all Veeran was a prince, how did his adopted parents find out about it? Who told them he was a prince? 

Royal guards who were tasked to abandon a royal baby would have not dared to leave any mark of royalty such as garments, jewels on the baby as this can invite trouble for the king. If Veeran was a prince, Bommana Naicker would have not objected his love for Bommi.

Some claim that Madurai Veeran's image shows him wearing a Poonool (sacred thread). Therefore, they assume that he must be a royalty or an upper caste like Brahmins. 

Poonool was actually used by many castes in ancient times. It was not exclusively for the Brahmins or any upper castes alone. Today, many of the practices like wearing Poonool or keeping Kudumi (hair knot) is no longer done by us but our ancestors did it. 

Just because we don't wear Poonool today, it does not mean our ancestors never wore it.

It is only logical to assume that Veeran was indeed born in a Sakkiliyar community. Like other Sakkiliyars, he lived near the military camp and learned martial arts from there. He then became a great warrior. 

It is either this or he could have been an abandoned child found by the Sakkiliyars and raised as one of them. Meaning no one knows his actual caste or lineage.

I believe that his royal origin could be a myth created because some cannot accept the fact that someone either born into or raised by the cobbler community became one of the most successful warriors of all time. 

When you become too proud of your lineage to the extend of looking down on others, you will not bow down and pray to a deity who was from the cobbler community. Myths like this is created to elevate the deity's position so that others will worship him too.

Veeran will remain as an icon of bravery. A true warrior. May the Tamils of the villages continue to sing ballads on his name. May our descendants remember him for his service in upholding justice.