A question about the term "Iyer"

jayabarathi barathi at PC.JARING.MY
Sat May 16 00:06:22 UTC 1998

At 02:33 PM 5/15/98 PDT, you wrote:
>I would like to know as to what is the approx time period since which
>the word "aiyar" has been used to refer to a Tamil speaking Smartha
>  Earlier discussions by S.Palaniappan have been helpful in giving us
>the etymology of "ai" related words and have proved that the word does
>go back to classical Tamil..but since when has the word been
>specifically used to denote a Smartha Brahmin? Likewise, does Tamil
>literature ever use terms like "aiyAL" to refer to a smArta woman?

        Dear Dr.Krishna,

                The earliest reference to this word, that one
        can think of occurs in the "TholkAppiyam".
                In the "KaRpu iyal", verse #4 mentions it.

        "Poyyum valzuvum thOnRiya pinnar,
         Aiyar yAththanar karaNam enba"

                This with reference to mariage regulations.
                At one time the "KaLaviyal" form of love,
        living together as husband and wife was in vogue.
        Boy meets girl and they decide to become husband and
                In this custom, a lot of deceit, and wrongs
        crept in. So, after that the "aiyar" compiled the
        set-rules. So say the ancient ones.
                When TholkAppiyar says that someone else has
        already said so, it would naturally mean that it was
        said before his time. And the institution of the
        karaNam's by the aiyar's was even earlier than the
        saying was done. It could mean Brahmins in general.
        But whether they are Smarthas are nor not, or perhaps
        the Siva Brahmins or SivAchAryas and DhIkshithars,
        I would'nt venture to pin-point. This calls in
        a lot of other variables, like the date of TholkAppiyam,
        the date of Adhi Sankara, etc.
                In the epigrapical records , don't remember
        any Brahmin being addressed as "aiyar" On the other
        hand, they are known by epithets like "BrammAdhi rAjan"
        "BrammarAyan", "Kiramaviththan". Kiramaviththan would
        be the indicating a Brahmin well-versed with Krama-pAta
        of VEdhic recital. These could mean Smarthas, especially
        since these names are generally found after AdhiSankara's
                But I have seen later palmyra records
        where  Smarthas are addressed as aiyar, ganapaadi,
        sAstri, and as Sarma.
                There is a curious useage for this word "aiyar"
        in the Periya PuraNam.
                NandhanAr is one of the 63 nAyanmAr devotees
        and he happened to be a Dalit.
                In the Periya PuraNam, he is addressed as "aiyar".
                Never heard of feminine gender of aiyar being
        addressed as aiyaL. [Pssst..normally we call them
        as "aiyarAththu mAmi" or simply "ammAmi":-)]



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