Tampering with history

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Jun 20 15:39:16 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-06-19 09:49:44 EDT, sns at IX.NETCOM.COM writes:

<< Wrong!. First you have to prove that whatever area in Central Asia could
 the population needed to overwhelm all of North India and impose its own
 and language on a more advanced civilization. >>

One does not not need overwhelming population to effect cultural change. An
example from historical times in South India can be used here.

There is no evidence to show that the west coast dialect Tamil was any more
Sanskritized than the east coast Tamils before 10th century AD. The
transformation of Kerala into a linguistic and cultural entity separate from
Tamilnadu can be largely attributed to the influence of nambudiri brahmins.
Reputed historians of Kerala, M.G.S. Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthat in an
article "A History of the Nambudiri Community in Kerala" in "Agni" ed.by Frits
Staal, (vol.2, p.256-278) say the following.

"There is every reason to attribute the foundation of the thirty-two
settlements of tradition to the post-Sangam period, preferably to the seventh
and eigth centuries, and to postulate a close connection between these brahmin
settlements and the ninth century phenomenon of the rise of the later cEra
kingdom of makOtai or mahOdayapuram.

....The new Cera or Kerala dynasty had its capital city at makOtai or
mahOdayapuram, which is identified with modern koduGgallUr. The perumALs
claimed kSatriya status and, like the guptas, cAlukyas, pallavas and others,
proudly proclaimed their championship of varNAzramadharma.  They were great
patrons of the temples, which were controlled by the Kerala brahmins. Among
these kings were cEramAn perumAL nAyan2Ar, one of the sixty-three Tamil zaiva
saints, and kulazEkhara AzvAr, one of the twelve  saints of Tamil vaiSNavism.
It was during the later cEra period that Kerala brahmins developed into an
organized, powerful, wealthy, landowning community enjoying the paronage of
the state. They formed an oligarchy supporting the perumAL's government, thus
accelerating the process by which a rigid hierarchical caste system  was
established. Gradually the influence of these brahmins from Tulu-Kannada areas
and their nAyar followers weaned Kerala away from the common Tamil heritage.
This period also witnessed the beginnings of the development that shaped
Malayalam into a separate language." (p.259)

What was the proportion of these nambudiri brahmins in the total population of

"It may be suggested that, since we are able to identify about seventy temples
from this period, about a hundred or so may have been in existence. If we
calculate on an average ratte of ten brahmin families per temple we get a
thousand families. If again we assume an average of ten members per family,
the total nambudiri population during the later period may have been only
about ten thousand. Leaving a generous margin for unnoticed temples, this
number might be doubled. Since the armies of the cEra perumAL and his vassals
alone numbered several thousand, these ten or twenty thousand brahmins must
have formed only about one or two percent of the total population of Kerala.
However, they enjoyed high status and possessed property and influence out of
all proportion to their numbers." (p.265)

For comparison purposes, one should note that among the main castes of Kerala,
in 1931 nambudiris formed 0.15% in Travancore, 0.5% in Cochin and less than
0.7% in Malabar. (C. J. Fuller's "The Nayars Today", 1976, p. 37)

The similarities between the Kerala situation and the Vedic situation can be:

The pre-RV aryans can be compared to brahmins in Tamilnadu-Kerala who were
there for several centuries and who had even important CT poets among them.

Nambudiri brahmins can be compared to the RV aryans.

The linguistic and cultural changes resulting from the influence of nambudiris
can be compared to the far-reaching linguistic and social changes that have
been thought to have happened in the area under consideration. (If you are
interested in the Dravidian kinship system there is a book by Thomas Trautman
where you will also find a discussion about the differences between the north
and south Indian systems.)

The hypergamous conjugal relationship called sambandham of nambudiris with
nAyar women has parallels in the puranic tradition where many brahmin rishis
fathered children of kSatriya princesses.

In short, while the cAlukyas could not achieve alienation of any part of
Tamilakam on a permanent basis though their prolonged military conflicts with
the Tamil kings, the nambudiri brahmin immigrants were able to achieve through
linguistic/cultural conversion. Many Keralites (not linguistic scholars) still
think that Malayalam originated in Sanskrit in the same way many indigenous
Aryan theorists view all Dravidian languages as originating in Sanskrit.

With the right combination of socio-political factors, even a small group of
immigrants can effect major social changes.

S. Palaniappan

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