Page images
PDF
EPUB

mation of the widow on the funeral pile seems unknown here,* at least they do not now aspire to the honor of this superstitious, san. guinary, but generous devotion, for which is substituted the easier ceremony of consuming the Tally. Nothing can exceed the precautions taken by the Nomboories, to seclude their women from the gaze of profane eyes, guarded with more than moslim jealousy, their nearest relations are interdicted communication : even brothers and sisters are separated in early age. The women are known by no other term than Unterjennem or Agotamar, which may be translated the concealed, their seclusion is more strict than that of a cloister, if venturing to some neighbouring temple, rolled in cloth, fortified by a large umbrella, and preceded by a female servant, who commands the absence of all intruders, they escape the view of the curious. Where chastity is so strictly guarded, a breach of it is not easy, instances of frailty however are not unknown. If the crime be committed with a man of a lower rank, both offenders escheating to the Circar, are sold as slaves to some of the inferior classes, in earlier times it was visited by still further severities. But the indignation it excites is in no measure extended to similar transgressions of the other sex, a ready casuistry reconciles them to the practice of forming connections with the Nair women, a Nomboorie being supposed to honor the family from which he chooses a paramour, finds one in every house. The Nomboories are comparatively fair, well formed, and their women said to be distinguished by their beauty,—their costume except in being somewhat less scanty differs in nothing from that of the Nairs, the privilege of wearing gold bracelets is the only peculiarity in their ornaments, their cleanliness deserves commendation, and might be ranked as almost a secondary virtue, did not much of it arise from superstition.

Numbuddy, Mootoodda, Aghapaud, Ovel, and Eelieadoo are inferior casts of Nomboories, each forming different ranks; they are the descendants of bramins who were degraded from the station they once held for various transgressions at some remote date ; tradition has handed down the story of their disgrace, but it is unnecessary to repeat the tale.

Of Foreign Bramins—The prospect of gain and the high veneration experienced by the bramin cast in Travancore, attracts crowds from the surrounding countries. The Putters trace the date of their first emigrations to the period of the earliest Kshetry Princes,

* Although it would appear very common on the other side of the Ghauts as is seen, in the number of rude monuments commemorating this event in Shencottah.

when their numbers were few, their reputation high, the increase of one, has proportionally deteriorated the other, but the influence of superstition still enables them to hold a place in opinion, that their own equivocal reputation could never deserve. It is unnecessary to minutely enumerate the various classes of foreign bramins that resort here. The Imbrantries from Toolonaad, (Canara) and Putters from the Tirnavelly, Tanjore, Coimbetoor are the most numerous. The latter are collected under Summooghum Muddum which serve as a point of union; they are seventeen in number, and scattered throughout the country, each individual attaches himself to one thus forming little communities or corporations, the Muddum has generally some funds of its own, but all belonging to contribute to its support, and the property of any of its members who may

die without heir or intestate devolves to it. Some of the foreign bramins remain permanently, but their abode in most cases is temporary, as they believe that dying in Malliallum exposes them to the risk of transmigrating in the body of an ass; a fate averted by a timely retreat. They are chiefly engaged in the pursuits of commerce, which leads them frequently during their residence to visit the other coast; they traverse all parts of the interior finding a subsistence at every Pagoda, or Ootuperra, and this indulgence they are careful liberally to avail themselves of, the object of all is to accumulate a certain property with which to retire to their families by whom they are rarely accompanied, they are indefatigable in the pursuit of this end, which their singular perseverance and economy generally enables them to accomplish. Ambitious of office they often attain it, but are generally seen performing some of the minor duties of the temples, often in still meaner occupations, frequently of a secular kind, but nearly half are merchants, trading in cloth (of which they once had the exclusive privilege) and grain. The Imbrantrie has some amiable qualities, and is by no means remarkable for the wily duplicity that distinguishes the Putter, but it is superfluous to draw the character of this class of men ; emigration has not enlarged the sphere of their virtues, and they may be considered as ranking greatly below the Nomboories in every estimable quality

Kshetries—The introduction of the Kshetries into Malliallum ap.. pears to have originated with the dynasty of Sharren Permaul, the most eminent are called Tumbeemars, or Raujah Coomar Tevoomapaud, denotes those of lesser dignity, there is some difference in point of rank and privilege, the Saumunder class though belonging to the Kshetrie tribe are of secondary estimation. It is superfluous to detail

their minute peculiarities, their general character and customs so much resemble those of the Nairs. As with them the manner in which the race is continued gives a wide scope to the wandering sensibilities of both sexes. The choice of the female is confined to the Nom boorie tribe, but restricted in quality not quantity, a fickleness that readily changes its object finds abundant room for selection. The offspring of this connection belong to the Kshetrie cast, the males are debarred forming any union with the women of their own tribe, but such being considered a high distinction amongst those of the first rank, of Nairs, bewildered amidst profusion, the Kshetrie only experience the embarrassment attended on so wide a choice. The progeny springing from such an union, ranks with the Saumunder cast. The Kshetrie abstain from animal food, aspire to consi. deration from the number and variety of their ablutions, and emulate the bramins in their theoretical piety, probably practical vice; which however is partly redeemed by the presence of some virtues ; most of the petty chiefs are of this tribe, but with few exceptions none belonging to it possesses either authority or wealth.

Umblawassies—The Umblawassies hold a rank immediately below the bramins, to which tribe it is said they once belonged, they still continue with the exception of the Varriar, and Mauroyen to wear the sacerdotal insignia. The Umblawassies, though numbers of them are engaged in agricultural pursuits, are generally dedicated to the service of the temples, (in fact they are the Deeadassee of the other coast, but much more numerous than the correspondent class) they differ in nothing from the Nairs except that the cast is kept up, as with the Kshetries through the intervention of bramin's assistance. The women of it being solely devoted to that race, while the offspring of an Umblawassie by a Nair woman becomes a Shooder. They are of various denominations, the Shakkaiur performs as dancer in the Koothu Umbalums of the Pagoda; the employment of Pooshagum consists in collecting flowers to decorate the Idol, the deities of the Poosharodu are of an inferior nature. The Varriar, Nangiaar, and Mauroyen, compose the chief musicians belonging to the Pagodas ; sound the chank in announcing the approach of Nomboorie Saniassee ; profess the science of astrology &c. The last mentioned holds the lowest rank, to his other vocations adding the performance of some menial offices about the dead.

Nairs—The Nairs may be considered as constituting the soul of the population, they are all of the Shooder tribe, but split into various classes. The Velloymah hold the first rank, they are only seen in the more northern parts, where the Keereeathee class are also more generally found. The Illacurra and the three succeeding ranks predominate throughout Travancore, the above term signifies one belonging to the house of a Nomboorie, and may probably denote the state of dependance in which they were retained by the bramins ; while that of Shroobacurra applies more particularly to those who were held in vassalage by the chiefs. Paudamungalum, and Tamulpaudum, (appellations denoting those who were under the controul of temples) constitute the fifth and sixth classes. Pulicham are the bearers of the Nomboories or higher ranks, but performing this office for no others. The Shacouller, or Vellacaudoo, are those following the profession of oilmongers. The Poolicay, or Andem Nairs, are potters. Vellathudum or Errinkolay, Purriarrie or Vellakathura, are washermen, and barbers, of the bramins, and Nairs, but will only act as such for them. Aggatuchurnaver, are those who perform some menial offices for the former. Yeddachayray Nair, or Yerma Shaudra, are cowherds. Cullatu Nair, or Velloor Nair, are empiricks. Yahbary, merchants. Oodatoo Nair, boatmen, Attycoorchy, or Sideear, a low cast who perform the necessary offices about the dead. There are four principal classes of artificers, silver smiths, braziers, black smiths, carpenters, who constitute (tho' separate in themselves) a distinct body, and are the lowest rank of (if they can be included amongst) Shuders. Many minor subdivisions might be added ; each of the above orders are still further graduated and discriminated by various shades. It must be observed, however, that those belonging to each particular class, are by no means confined to the vocation, some of them would seem to point out, and the profession must be generally considered as rather serving to denote a distinct rank than indicating an occupation; this remark it will be seen is alike applicable to the several divisions of artists. The males will eat (and with them the circumstance is important) with those belonging to their own cast, though somewhat lower than them in rank, but they do not carry their condescension very far; the females are quite inexorable on this point, and in many instances even decline using the vessel that has been touched by a person of inferior* (however slight the difference) order.

а

*Their fastidiousness is occasionally inconsistent. The bramins receiving as food a confection made by the Concanies, as the Nairs do a sweetmeat made by the christians.

[ocr errors]

The character* of the Nair, in some points rises above that of his neighbours, but it is made up of anomalies, a highmindedness, sensibly alive to personal insult, is united to an insidious duplicity, a rapacity difficult to satisfy or satiate, a more than equivocal integrity at least when in office, and perhaps only then, as they exhibit no particular distrust to each other, and an ingenuity of falsehood that can affirm or deny with equal facility; but there are not wanting qualities to modity and soften many of those darker shades; in their intercourse with each other they are mild, perhaps amiable, nor are they by any means strangers to domestic or social virtues. They possess a considerable share of intelligence, though probably they have more subtilty than ability in business. To their equals their demeanour is courteous, the degradation of the lower orders will account for, and partially extenuate their arrogance towards them, but if haughty, the feeling at least is free from any mixture of cruelty. Though having no sentiments of martial independence, (indeed their virtues as well as vices have a tincture of effeminacy) they have the reputation of being brave, but their courage is of the usual Hindoo kind, rather apathetical than active. Life supported with patience is quitted without regret, and when forfeited to offended laws, is resigned with an unequalled degree of stoicism. Though capable of exertions, they are prone to indolence, a listless disposition satisfied with indigent care, supplying no stimulus for exertion, as in other parts of Malliallum ; they must gradually give way at least in point of property, before the superior industry of some of the inferior ranks. All the servants of Government, are taken from this class, they are particularly solicitous of office, and it has been seen how well disposed they are to abuse it, in those cases, they are more profligate in acquisition, than lavish in consumption, and perhaps may generally deserve the character rather of economy than prodig. ality, except those on such occasions almost all liv on their lands, the latter classes have the enjoyment of much leisure. If the business of agriculture require their attendance, their employment is more of inspection than aid.

The higher orders of Nairs, are known under the collective term of Maudumby, or Prubbukamars, designations under which are comprised various others; the most common are Kurtaos, Elluiddum, Kymulla, Kurupu, Mainawen, Pulle (the two latter are also used as professional offices) in which there is a nice gradation of

* It bears except in the particular that requires the fidelity of the men very remarkable resemblance to that given of the Natchiez, a South American tribe.

!

« PreviousContinue »