[INDOLOGY] query: 18 ;"sre.nii jaatis

George Hart glhart at berkeley.edu
Tue Oct 15 19:48:29 UTC 2013

Actually, there is quite a bit of evidence for caste — and untouchability — in Sangam literature.  It should be kept in mind that references to jāti (and especially untouchability) in Indian classical kāvya and the like are not common.   Still, there are mentions of “people of low birth,” pulaiyaṉs (= Dalits or other low castes) and other epithets implying low caste and status.  The groups receiving these appellations are leatherworkers, drummers (of two types), and washermen, among others.  According to the Tamil Lexicon, the word pulai means "baseness, uncleanness, defilement [incurred from contact with a ritually polluting substance or person], evil, animal food, outcaste, and stench.”  The root pul is in the DED. Among its meaning in various languages are Kannada pole meaning menstrual flow, impurity from childbirth, defilement, Koḍagu pole, pollution caused by menstruation, birth, or death, Tulu polē, pollution, defilement, and, far afield, Brahui pōling, stain, stain on one’s character. Most of the Southern languages have some equivalent for Tamil pulaiyaṉ, man of low caste. 

An example is Puṟam 287.1, “O Pulaiyaṉ who beats the tuṭi drum, O low one (iḻiciṉa) who [holds] sticks that strike [the drum].”
துடி எறியும் புலைய!
எறிகோல் கொள்ளும் இழிசின!

Another example is Puṟam 360:

When people have been carried on the bier                                                                                               15
to the burning ground, that fearful place of desolation,
that salty wasteland overgrown with spurge, site of what
is other than life, and they lie there on grass, receiving toddy
and a few grains of rice at the command of outcaste Pulaiyaṉ,
and then they have entered the mouth of fire,                                                                                           20
for many of these who ate and grew fat no fame has flourished!

(Note that “outcaste” is added here for clarity).

பாறுஇறை கொண்ட பறந்தலை, மாகத
கள்ளி போகிய களரி மருங்கின்,
வெள்ளில் நிறுத்த பின்றைக் , கள்ளடு
புல்லகத்து இட்ட சில்லவிழ் வல்சி,
புலையன் ஏவப் புன்மேல் அமர்ந்துண்டு,
அழல்வாய்ப் புக்க பின்னும்,
பலர்வாய்த்து இராஅர், பகுத்துஉண் டோரே

Palaniyappan, who believes there was no caste in Sangam times, has argued that the word pulai comes from poli, “shine” and has positive connotations, but this does not accord with the DED or the uses of the word in other Dravidian languages.

On Oct 14, 2013, at 10:53 AM, Rajam <rajam at earthlink.net> wrote:

> This response is in reference to Whitney's comment:
> /// I would like to revise that suggestion, and instead propose that we might see here a reflex of another set of South-Indian caste-communities referred to in Tamil as the kuṭimakkaḷ, perhaps best rendered 'people of the village'.  The entry s.v. in the Madras Tamil Lexicon reads (with my transliteration and bracketed translations):
> kuṭimakkaḷ , n. < id. +. 1. Sub-castes rendering service in a village, being 18 in number, viz.,vaṇṇāṉ [washerman], nāvitaṉ [barber], kuyavaṉ [potter], taṭṭāṉ [goldsmith], kaṉṉāṉ [brazier], kaṟṟaccaṉ [mason], kollaṉ [blacksmith], taccaṉ [carpenter], eṇṇeyvāṇikaṉ [oil merchant], uppuvāṇikaṉ [salt merchant], ilaivāṇikaṉ [betel merchant], paḷḷi [watchman], pūmālaikkāraṉ [garland maker], paṟaiyaṉ [Dalit, pariah], kōvilkuṭiyāṉ [conch-blower], occaṉ [? another Dalit community], valaiyaṉ [fisherman], pāṇaṉ [tailor]. /// 
> 1. Re: The term "caste."  You can start from the entry in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste. 
> 2. The Portuguese started using the term "casta" when they came to the southern part of Tamilnadu (in the 16-th century) and tried to learn Tamil and describe Tamil in Portuguese for the sake of further missionary activities. "Casta" was the term they used to describe the various groups of people they noticed in the local society. I happened to have the opportunity to work through the Portuguese manuscript (from 1549 A.D.), by Fr. Henrique Henriques, which describes Tamil in Portuguese. As a "Latin grammarian," Henriques had problems categorizing people's local names when doing the declensions. So … when he lists a set of local names for the first declension, he says, "Names for occupations. Such nouns for occupations are also nouns of castes."  For further details, please see our book "The Earliest Missionary Grammar, Harvard University Press, 2013." 
> 3. Re: Madras Tamil Lexicon entries. Well … there are discrepancies. For example, if anyone seriously wants to study the history of "castes" or any such thing, one should also look at all their entries beginning with the root/stem of the word. Just for fun, try all the words starting with the stem "kuṭi," and you'll see that words such as "kuṭimakaṉ," "kuṭimakkaḷ," and so on don't have contiguous semantics. 
> 4. The term "cāti/ஜாதி/சாதி" was never restricted to refer to humans in order to indicate high/low status. It just referred to different types of living beings. 
> 5. There was no indication of "untouchability" in the Tamil society as reflected in early Tamil poems. 
> 6. Even when Fr. Henriques (16-th century) listed the names/nouns for people in the Tamil land where he lived and served, he never indicated that there was "untouchability" due to the existence of certain people. 
> ++++++++++++ 
> It IS sad that some modern socio-anthro studies have presented local cultures in ways that the locals cannot understand or accept. To me, it all looks like a cookie-cutter analysis for individual academic progress. 
> Thanks and regards,
> Rajam
> _______________________________________________
> INDOLOGY mailing list
> INDOLOGY at list.indology.info
> http://listinfo.indology.info

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology/attachments/20131015/9887ac9b/attachment.htm>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list