varna and jati

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sat May 22 13:08:24 UTC 1999

There is an interesting thread, Color of Skin in May 1997
in INDOLOGY archives; I wrote then that Classical Tamil(s)
praised 'brown' color (Any ethnic Indian's color) in
contrast to Sanskrit 'white'; Possibly our bright folks
like Chandra, Jean-Luc, Palaniappan, Schalk, Veluppillai,
Vidyasankar, Rama, Manivannan, Selva can add to/contest them.

N. Ganesan


                  Color of Skin

With Krishna getting lighter as years pass by, it is interesting
that old Tamil literature praises only dark brown color.
Not the fair complexion. Girls' hues are said to be of
sprouting mango leaves - maanthaLir niRam.

The color that repeatedly comes in ancient Tamil sangam
works is "maal/maamai/maa". Vishnu's name in Tamil
Tirumaal is from this "maal". This word has survived to
this day. "poNNu maaniRamaa iruppaa" (The bride is
brown in color.)

Only brown complexion is praised, so much so that
fair color is not desired!

When the heroine suffers due to separation from hero:

1) She becomes weak & sallow. She complains
"The beauty of my darkness is disappearing. Sallowness
is spreading all over my body to my disgust".

                         - AinguRunuuRu 35

2) "Due to paleness arising out of separation, she
turns into the color of conch shell, losing all elegence".

                         - AinguRunuuRu 470

3) The changing complexion of the heroine's body
is compared to a dark plant sprouting white flowers.

                         - Narrinai 302

Black/brown color was not only good for women. For Kings too!

   "karungkai oLvaaL perumpeyar vazhuti"
The Pandya King's praise is laden in adjectives.
"Pandyan with black hands, shining sword and great fame".
There is no hint of "lowness" for being dark.

In 12th century mUvar ulaa by OTTakkuuttar, Vikrama Chola
(a descendent of Rajarajan I who built Tanjore temple)
is eulogized as "Dark Cloud". In the medieval commentary
to muuvar ulaa, Krishna and Chola Kings are compared
to Black Cloud (Kanrung koNDal) for two
reasons - for their patronage and also for color.
An intended pun.

The Mahabharata's black/white/in-between etc., are interesting.
These mixings in Ancient India have been dealt by
Prof. Madhav Deshpande in many of his writings:
a) Aryan and NonAryan in India, U. Michigan, 1979
b) Sociolinguistic attitudes in India, 1979
c) Sanskrit and Prakrit: Sociolinguistic issues, Delhi, 1993
d) Aryans, Non-Aryans and Brahmanas: Processes of
Indigenization, J. of IE studies, 1993

In tamil, there is a proverb: "Don't believe a white paraiyan
or a dark brahmin". Subtle meaning is that these colors
are unusual/suspicious in these castes. Accusations of racial impurity.

Many of the existing priestly clans must have learnt sanskrit
and claimed brahminhood over the years. When Ramanujar
created the caste of Ayyangars, many nonbrahmins entered
into that scheme. Many have Pillai as their surnames.
Only from 14th century or so, we hear the name "Ayyangar"
(Mainly from Pillaipperumal Aiyangar's
time onwards, the famous author of ashta prabandhams) .

Adhisaiva Sivacharyar priests in tamil nadu is another case in
point. They are ancient Tamils, preservers of the Agama tradition.
There is a fifth century Tirumantiram that says
"If brahmins do archana at Siva temples, King will die,
famine will result, Diseases will multiply". Old  commentaries
say this Tirumantiram specifically stipulates that
only Adhisaivas should perform pujas at Siva temples, not just
any brahmin. Helene Brunner discusses
the origins of the Adisaiva brahmin lineages and speculates that they
may represent an indigenous non-brahmin priestly group who
successfully claimed brahmin status.  Her article, in French, is
"Les categories sociales vediques dans le Sivaisme du sud," Journal
asiatique 252 (1964): 452-72.  Richard Davis discussed the Adisaivas
of Tamilnad in an article, Aghorasiva's Background, Journal of
Oriental Research (Dr. S. S. Janaki Felicitation Volume) 56-62


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