‘Binary vertical division caused disputes in colonial Madras’

Talk organised by Madras Literary Society on the occasion of Madras Day celebrations

“The binary vertical division (of the horizontally divided castes) started in 10-11th centuries though the exact reason is not known. In the colonial Madras, such divisions caused several disputes among the people and at times they became quite violent that force had to be used to quell the same,” said K.R. A. Narasiah, historian and researcher in colonial history, during a talk organised by Madras Literary Society on the occasion of Madras Day celebrations here at the DPI campus in Chennai on Saturday.

Speaking about the binary vertical divisions in a talk titled ‘Caste Divisions in Colonial Madras’, Narasiah said, “There are four records in Government Oriental Manuscript Library regarding this division - Idangkai Valangkai Puranam, Valangkai Charithram, Idangkai Jathi varalaaru and Puduvai Idangkai Valangkai Sadhiyar Varalaru. The records detail the flags, the symbols and the respective idols for the groups.”

Stating that the foreign trade created wealth and competition, which elevated the social status of the trading community, he said, “Any association with English traders created a sense of betterment in status in the society. The trading community suddenly found itself projected upwards and a social status was required for which temple control became important. The new population found the Right Hand and Left Hand castes to be a grouping factor and cultural identity.”

Narasiah noted that the disputes resulted in major violence and demarcation of boundaries for various castes.“The English divided the black town as East and West parts with the Eastern portion allotted for the Left Hand castes and the West to the Right Hand castes. In 1707 again there was a big dispute and the cause was about the usage of streets in Pedda Naickan Peta by the groups. As the dispute turned violent, the Army was called in to control,” he said.

The British established their rule by making three major changes as they understood the role of temples, Narasiah said. “One, the Dharmakartha’s appointment were to be ratified by the company. Two, arbitration rested with the company. And three, protection of the temple as a guardian by the company. The leaders of the castes and Dharmakarthas of the temples became tools in the hands of the British.”

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 3:11:21 AM |

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