Castes and Tribes of Southern India/Tottiyan
Tottiyan.— In the Census Report, 1901, Mr.W. Francis writes that the Tottiyans are " Telugu cultivators. The Tottiyans or Kambalattāns of the Tanjore district are, however, said to be vagrants, and to live by pig-breeding, snake-charming, and begging. So are the sub-division called Kāttu Tottiyans in Tinnevelly. The headman among the Tinnevelly Tottiyans is called the Mandai Periadanakkāran or Sērvaikāran. Their marriages are not celebrated in their houses, but in pandals (booths) of green leaves erected for the purpose on the village common. However wealthy the couple may be, the only grain which they may eat at the wedding festivities is either cumbu (Pennisetum typhoideum) or horse-gram (Dolichos biflorus). The patron deities of the caste are Jakkamma and Bommakka, two women who committed sati. The morality of their women is loose. The custom of marrying boys to their paternal aunt's or maternal uncle's daughter, however old she may be, also obtains, and in such cases the bridegroom's father is said to take upon himself the duty of begetting children to his own son. Divorce is easy, and remarriage is freely allowed. They offer rice and arrack (alcoholic liquor) to their ancestors. The Kāttu Tottiyans will eat jackals, rats, and the leavings of other people. Tottiya women will not eat in the houses of Brāhmans, but no explanation of this is forthcoming. The men wear silver anklets on both legs, and also a bracelet upon one of the upper arms, both of which practices are uncommon, while the women wear bangles only on the left arm, instead of on both as usual. Some of the Zamindars in Madura belong to this caste. The caste title is Nāyakkan." At the census, 1901, Kudulukkāran was returned as a sub-caste of the Tottiyans in Madura and Tinnevelly. The Urumikkāran, meaning those who play on the drum called urumi, are said to be Tottiyans in Madura and Paraiyans elsewhere. "The Tottiyans or Kambalattāns," Mr. H. A. Stuart writes,* "are a caste of Telugu cultivators settled in the districts of Madura, Tinnevelly, Coimbatore and Salem. They are probably the descendants of poligars and soldiers of the Nāyakkan kings of Vijayanagar, who conquered the Madura country about the beginning of the sixteenth century. As regards the origin of their caste, the Tottiyans say with pride that they are the descendants of the eight thousand gōpastris (milkmaids) of Krishna —a tradition which seems to indicate that their original occupation was connected with the rearing and keeping of cattle. The most important sub-divisions are Kollar and Erkollar, the Tamil form of the Telugu Golla and Yerragolla, which are now shepherd castes, though probably they formerly had as much to do with cattle as sheep. Another large sub-division is Kille or Killavar, which I take to be a corruption of the Telugu kilāri, a herdman. The bride and bridegroom, too, are always seated on bullock saddles. They do not wear the sacred thread. Most of them are Vaishnavites, some of whom employ Brāhman priests, but the majority of them are guided by gurus of their own, called Kodāngi Nāyakkan. [It is noted, in the Gazetteer of the Madura district, that caste matters used to be settled by the Mēttu Nāyakkan or headman, and a Kodāngi Nāyakkan, or priest, so called because he carried a drum.] Each family has its own household deity, which appears to be a sort of representation of departed relations, chiefly women who have burned themselves on the funeral pile of their husbands, or have led a chaste and continent life, or died vestals. Their girls are married after they have attained maturity. Adultery is no crime when committed within the family circle, but a liaison with an outsider involves expulsion from the caste. It is said that their newly married girls are even compelled to cohabit with their husband's near relatives. [It is further said to be believed that ill-luck will attend any refusal to do so, and that, so far from any disgrace attaching to them in consequence, their priests compel them to keep up the custom, if by any chance they are unwilling.*] The pongu tree (Pongamia glabra) is the sacred tree of the caste. Suttee was formerly very common, and the remarriage of widows is discouraged, if not actually forbidden. The dead are generally burned. Both men and women are supposed to practice magic, and are on that account much dreaded by the people generally. They are especially noted for their power of curing snake-bites by means of mystical incantations, and the original inventor of this mode of treatment has been deified under the name Pāmbalamman. They are allowed to eat flesh. The majority speak Telugu in their houses."
The traditional story of the migration of the Tottiyans to the Madura district is given in several of the Mackenzie manuscripts, and is still repeated by the people of the caste. " Centuries ago, says this legend, the Tottiyans lived to the north of the Tungabhadra river. The Muhammadans there tried to marry their women, and make them eat beef. So one fine night they fled southwards in a body. The Muhammadans pursued them, and their path was blocked by a deep and rapid river. They had just given themselves up for lost when a pongu (Pongamia glabra) tree on either side of the stream leant forward, and, meeting in the middle, made a bridge across it. Over this they hurried, and, as soon as they had passed, the trees stood erect once more, before the Mussulmans could similarly cross by them. The Tottiyans in consequence still reverence the pongu tree, and their marriage pandals (booths) are always made from its wood. They travelled on until they came to the city of Vijayanagar, under whose king they took service, and it was in the train of the Vijayanagar armies that they came to Madura." *
The Tottiyans are most numerous in the Madura and Tinnevelly districts, and include two grades in the social scale. Of these, one consists of those who are engaged in cultivation, and petty Zamindars. The other is made up of those who wander about begging, and doing menial work. Between the two classes there is neither interdining nor intermarriage. In districts other than Madura and Tinnevelly, the name Tottiyan is applied by Tamil-speaking castes to the Jōgis, who are beggars and pig breeders, and, like the Tottiyans, speak Telugu. The following legend is current, to account for the division of the Tottiyans into two sections. They once gave a girl in marriage to a Muhammadan ruler, and all the Tottiyans followed him. A large number went to sleep on one side of a river, while the rest crossed, and went away. The latter are represented today by the respectable section, and the begging class is descended from the former. To this day the Muhammadans and Tottiyans of the Trichinopoly district are said to address each other as if they were relations, and to be on terms of unusual intimacy.
In the Madura district, the Tottiyans are apparently divided into three endogamous sections, viz., Vēkkili, Thokala, and Yerrakolla, of which the last is considered inferior to the other two. Other names for the Vēkkili section are Kambalattar, or Rāja Kambalattar. In some places, e.g., in Tinnevelly, there seem to be six divisions, Thokala, Chilla or Silla, Kolla, Narasilla, Kānthikolla and Pāla. Of these, Pāla may intermarry with Chilla, but the other four are endogamous. As examples of exogamous septs occurring among the Yerrakollas may be noted Chīkala (broom), and Udama (lizard, Varanus), of which the latter also occurs as an exogamous sept of the Kāpus.
In the neighbourhood of Nellakota in the Madura district, the Yerrakollas have a group of seven septs called Rēvala, Gollavīrappa, Kambli-nayudi, Karadi (bear), Uduma, Chīla, and Gelipithi. Intermarriage between these is forbidden, as they are all considered as blood-relations, and they must marry into a group of seven other septs called Gundagala, Būsala, Manni, Sukka, Alivīrappa, Sikka, and Mādha. The names of these septs are remembered by a system of mnemonics.
In a note on the Tottiyans of the Trichinopoly district, Mr. F. R. Hemingway writes as follows. "Three endogamous sub-divisions exist in the caste, namely, the Erra (red) Gollas or Pedda Inti (big family),the Nalla (black) Gollas or Chinna Inti (small family), and the Vālus, who are also called Kudukuduppai Tottiyans. The Vālus are said to be a restless class of beggars and sorcerers. The red Gollas are, as a rule, fairer than the blacks (whence perhaps the names). The women of the former wear white cloths, while those of the latter do not. Again, they tie their hair in different ways, and their ornaments differ a good deal. The red women carry no emblem of marriage at all, while the black women wear the pottu. The reds allow their widows to remarry, but the blacks do not. Both sections have exogamous sections, called Kambalams — the reds fourteen, and the blacks nine. The reds are divided, for purposes of caste discipline, into nine nādus and the blacks into fourteen mandais. Each village is under a headman called the Ūr-Nāyakan, and each nādu or mandai under a Pattakāran. The former decide petty disputes, and the latter the more serious cases. The Pattakāran is treated with great deference. He is always saluted with clasped hands, ought never to look on a corpse, and is said to be allowed to consort with any married woman of the caste."
The Tottiyans are supposed to be one of the nine Kambalam (blanket) castes, which, according to one version, are made up of Kāppiliyans, Anappans, Tottiyans, Kurubas, ummaras, Parivārams, Urumikkārans, Mangalas, and Chakkiliyans. According to another version, the nine castes are Kāppiliyan, Anappan, Tottiyan, Kolla Tottiyan, Kuruba, Kummara, Mēdara, Oddē, and Chakkiliyan. At tribal council-meetings, representatives of each of the nine Kambalams should be present. But, for the nine castes, some have substituted nine septs. The Vekkiliyans seem to have three headmen, called Mettu Nāyakan, Kodia Nāyakan, and Kambli Nāyakan, of whom the first mentioned is the most important, and acts as priest on various ceremonial occasions, such as puberty and marriage rites, and the worship of Jakkamma and Bommakka. The Kambli Nāyakan attends to the purification of peccant or erring members of the community, in connection with which the head of a sheep or goat is taken into the house by the Kambli Nāyakan. It is noted, in the Gazetteer of the Madura district, that "persons charged with offences are invited to prove their innocence by undergoing ordeals. These are now harmless enough, such as attempting to cook rice in a pot which has not been fired, but Turnbull says that he saw the boiling oil ordeal in 1813 in Pudukkōttai territory. Perhaps the most serious caste offence is adultery with a man of another community. Turnbull says that women convicted of this used to be sentenced to be killed by Chakkiliyans, but nowadays rigid excommunication is the penalty."
The Kambalam caste is so called because, at caste council meetings, a kambli (blanket) is spread, on which is placed a kalasam (brass vessel) filled with water, and containing margosa (Melia Azadirachta) leaves, and decorated with flowers. Its mouth is closed by mango leaves and a cocoanut.
A correspondent writes to me that "the Zamindars in the western parts of Madura, and parts of Tinnevelly, are known as Kambala Palayapat. If a man belongs to a Zamindar's family, he is said to be of the Rāja Kambala caste. The marriage ceremony is carried out in two temporary huts erected outside the village, one for the bridegroom, the other for the bride. The tāli is tied round the bride's neck by an elderly female or male belonging to the family. If the marriage is contracted with a woman of an inferior class, the bridegroom's hut is not made use of, and he does not personally take part in the ceremony. A dagger (kattar), or rude sword, is sent to represent him, and the tāli is tied in the presence thereof."
In a zamindari suit, details of which are published in the Madras Law Reports, Vol. XVII, 1894, the Judge found that the plaintiffs mother was married to the plaintiff's father in the dagger form; that a dagger is used by the Saptūr Zamindars, who are called Kattari Kamaya, in the case of inequality in the caste or social position of the bride; that, though the customary rites of the Kambala caste were also performed, yet the use of the dagger was an essential addition; and that, though she was of a different and inferior caste to that of the plaintiffs father, yet that did not invalidate the marriage. The defendant's argument was that the dagger was used to represent the Zamindar bridegroom as he did not attend in person, and that, by his non-attendance, there could have been no joining of hands, or other essential for constituting a valid marriage. The plaintiff argued that the nuptial rites were duly performed, the Zamindar being present; that the dagger was there merely as an ornament; and that it was customary for people of the Zamindar's caste to have a dagger paraded on the occasion of marriages. The Judge found that the dagger was there for the purpose of indicating that the two ladies, whom the Zamindar married, were of an inferior caste and rank.
It is recorded, in the Gazetteer of the Madura district, that, when a Tottiyan girl attains maturity, "she is kept in a separate hut, which is watched by a Chakkiliyan. Marriage is either infant or adult. A man has the usual claim to his paternal aunt's daughter, and so rigorously is this rule followed that boys of tender years are frequently married to grown women. These latter are allowed to consort with their husband's near relations, and the boy is held to be the father of any children which may be born. Weddings last three days, and involve very numerous ceremonies. They take place in a special pandal erected in the village, on either side of which are smaller pandals for the bride and bridegroom. Two uncommon rites are the slaughtering of a red ram without blemish, and marking the foreheads of the couple with its blood, and the pursuit by the bridegroom, with a bow and arrow, of a man who pretends to flee, but is at length captured and bound. The ram is first sprinkled with water, and, if it shivers, this, as usual, is held to be a good omen. The bride-price is seven kalams of kumbu (Pennisetum typhoideum) and the couple may eat only this grain and horse-gram until the wedding is over. A bottu (marriage badge) is tied round the bride's neck by the bridegroom's sister."
Concerning the marriage ceremonies of the Yerrakollas, I gather that, on the betrothal day, kumbu must be cooked. Food is given to seven people belonging to seven different septs. They are then presented with betel leaves and areca nuts and four annas tied in a cloth, and the approaching marriage is announced. On the wedding day, the bride and bridegroom are seated on planks on the marriage dais, and milk is sprinkled over them by people of their own sex. A few hours later, the bridegroom takes his seat in the pandal, whither the bride is brought in the arms of her maternal uncle. She sits by the side of the bridegroom, and the Mettu Nāyakan links together the little fingers of the contracting couple, and tells them to exchange rings. This is the binding portion of the ceremony, and no bottu is tied round the bride's neck. At a marriage among the Vekkiliyans, two huts are constructed in an open space outside the village, in front of which a pandal is erected, supported by twelve posts, and roofed with leafy twigs of the pongu tree and Mimusops hexandra. On the following day, the bride and bridegroom are conducted to the huts, the bride being sometimes carried in the arms of her maternal uncle. They worship the ancestral heroes, who are represented by new cloths folded, and placed on a tray. The bridegroom's sister ties the bottu on the bride's neck inside her hut, in front of which kumbu grain is scattered. Betel and a fanam (coin) are placed in the bride's lap. On the third day the bridegroom is dressed up, and, mounting a horse, goes, accompanied by the marriage pots, three times round the huts. He then enters the bride's hut, and she is carried in the arms of the cousins of the bridegroom thrice round the huts. The contracting couple then sit on planks, and the cousins, by order of the Mettu Nāyakan, link their little fingers together. They then enter the bridegroom's hut, and a mock ploughing ceremony is performed. Coming out from the hut, they take up a child, and carry it three times round the huts. This is, it is said, done because, in former days, the Tottiyan bride and bridegroom had to remain in the marriage huts till a child was born, because the Mettu Nāyakan was so busy that he had no time to complete the marriage ceremony until nearly a year had elapsed.
At a wedding among the nomad Tottiyans, a fowl is killed near the marriage (aravēni) pots, and with its blood a mark is made on the foreheads of the bride and bridegroom on their entry into the booths. The Vekkiliyans sacrifice a goat or sheep instead of a fowl, and the more advanced among them substitute the breaking of a cocoanut for the animal sacrifice.
In connection with marriage, Mr. Hemingway writes that "the Tottiyans very commonly marry a young boy to a grown woman, and, as among the Konga Vellālas, the boy's father takes the duties of a husband upon himself until the boy is grown up. Married women are allowed to bestow their favours upon their husbands' relations, and it is said to be an understood thing that a man should not enter his dwelling, if he sees another's slippers placed outside as a sign that the owner of them is with the mistress of the house. Intercourse with men of another caste is, however, punished by expulsion, and widows and unmarried girls who go astray are severely dealt with. Formerly, it is said, they were killed."
At a Tottiyan funeral, fire is carried to the burning-ground by a Chakkiliyan, and the pyre is lighted, not by the sons, but by the sammandhis (relations by marriage).The Tottiyans of the Madura district observe the worship of ancestors, who are represented by a number of stones set up somewhere within the village boundaries. Such places are called male. According to Mr.Hemingway, when a member of the caste dies, some of the bones are buried in this shed, along with a coin, and a stone is planted on the spot. The stones are arranged in an irregular circle. The circles of the Yerrakollas are exceedingly simple, and recall to mind those of the Nāyādis of Malabar, but without the tree. The stones are set up in an open space close to the burning-ground. When a death occurs, a stone is erected among the ashes of the deceased on the last day of the funeral ceremonies (karmāndhiram), and worshipped. It is immediately transferred to the ancestral circle. The male of the Vekkiliyan section of the Tottiyans consists of a massive central wooden pillar, carved with male and female human figures, set up in a cavity in a round boulder, and covered over by a conical canopy supported on pillars. When this canopy is set in motion, the central pillar appears to be shaking. This illusion, it is claimed, is due to the power of the ancestral gods. All round the central pillar, which is about ten feet high, a number of stones of different sizes are set up. The central pillar represents Jakkamma and other remote ancestors. The surrounding stones are the representatives of those who have died in recent times. Like the Yerrakollas, the Vekkiliyans erect a stone on the karmāndhiram day at the spot where the body was cremated, but, instead of transferring it at once to the ancestral circle, they wait till the day of periodical male worship, which, being an expensive ceremonial, may take place only once in twelve years. If the interval is long, the number of stones representing those who have died meanwhile may be very large. News of the approaching male worship is sent to the neighbouring villages, and, on the appointed day, people of all castes pour in, bringing with them several hundred bulls. The hosts supply their guests with fodder, pots, and a liberal allowance of sugar-cane. Refusal to bestow sugar-cane freely would involve failure of the object of the ceremonial. After the completion of the worship, the bulls are let loose, and the animal which reaches the male first is decorated, and held in reverence. Its owner is presented with cloths, money, etc. The ceremony may be compared with that of selecting the king bull among the Kāppiliyans.
Self-cremation is said * to have been "habitually practiced by Tottiya widows in the times anterior to British domination; and great respect was always shown to the memory of such as observed the custom. Small tombs termed thipanjankōvil (fire-torch temple) were erected in their honour on the high-roads, and at these oblations were once a year offered to the manes of the deceased heroines. Sati was not, however, compulsory among them, and, if a widow lived at all times a perfectly chaste and religious life, she was honoured equally with such as performed the rite." It is noted, in the Gazetteer of the Madura district, that "sati was formerly very common in the caste, and the two caste goddesses, Jakkamma and Bommayya, are deifications of women who thus sacrificed themselves. Every four years a festival is held in their honour, one of the chief events in which is a bullock race. The owner of the winning animal receives a prize, and gets the first betel and nut during the feast. The caste god is Perumāl, who is worshipped in the form of a curry-grinding stone. The story goes that, when the Tottiyans were fleeing to the south, one of their women found her grinding-stone so intolerably heavy that she threw it away. It, however, re-appeared in her basket. Thrown away again, it once more re-appeared, and she then realised that the caste god must be accompanying them."
"The Tottiyans," Mr. Hemingway writes, "do not recognise the superiority of Brāhmans, or employ them as priests at marriages or funerals. They are deeply devoted to their own caste deities. Some of these are Bommaka and Mallamma (the spirits of women who committed sati long ago), Vīrakāran or Vīramāti (a bridegroom who was killed in a fight with a tiger), Pattālamma (who helped them in their flight from the north), and Mālai Tambirān, the god of ancestors. Muttalamma and Jakkamma are also found. Mālai Tambirān is worshipped in the mālē. The Tottiyans are known for their uncanny devotion to sorcery and witchcraft. All of them are supposed to possess unholy powers, especially the Nalla Gollas, and they are much dreaded by their neighbours. They do not allow any stranger to enter their villages with shoes on, or onhorseback, or holding up an umbrella, lest their god should be offended. It is generally believed that, if any one breaks this rule, he will be visited with illness or some other punishment."
The Tottiyans have attached to them a class of beggars called Pichiga vādu, concerning whose origin the following legend is narrated. There were, once upon a time, seven brothers and a sister belonging to the Irrivāru exogamous sept. The brothers went on a pilgrimage to Benares, leaving their sister behind. One day, while she was bathing, a sacred bull (Nandi) left its sperm on her cloth, and she conceived. Her condition was noticed by her brothers on their return, and, suspecting her of immorality, they were about to excommunicate her. But they discovered some cows in calf as the result of parthenogenesis, and six of the brothers were satisfied as to the girl's innocence. The seventh, however, required further proof. After the child was born, it was tied to a branch of a dead chilla tree (Strychnos potatorum), which at once burst into leaf and flower. The doubting brother became a cripple, and his descendants are called Pichiga vāru, and those of the baby Chilla vāru.
- * Madras Census Report, 1891.
- * Manual of the Madura district.
- * Gazetteer of the Madura district.
- * Manual of the Madura district.