Madurai

King Thirumalai Nayak and the Kallar connection

Mukkupari alias Thavamani Kalyani Thevar with artefacts given by king Thirumalai Nayak to his forefather Tirumalai Pinna Thevan.   | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

A nondescript house at Dharmathupatti near Tirumangalam holds a significant place in understanding the region’s history. It is where 80-year-old Mukkupari alias Thavamani Kalyani Thevar resides. He can easily be mistaken to be one of the many villagers. But he says he is the 11th descendant of Thirumalai Pinna Thevan, a leader of Piramalai Kallar community, who had a special relationship with king Thirumalai Nayak.

Mr. Kalyani Thevar has several artefacts given to Thirumalai Pinna Thevan by king Thirumalai Nayak - three copper plates, a ‘kambali’ (blanket), ‘kalanji’ (a bronze vessel that is kept with the community leader during meetings) and ‘padhakuradu’ (sandal) .

Louis Dumont, a French anthropologist and author of ‘A South Indian subcaste: social organisation and religion of Piramalai Kallar,’ had met Mr. Kalyani Thevar and his father after the World War II while doing fieldwork for his book, says Mr. Kalyani Thevar.

Art historian K.T. Gandhirajan, who recently met him, says Piramalai Kallar used to reside along the Nagamalai hill range till Elumalai near Usilampatti. There is a reference in the District Gazetteer, 1960, which says Thirumalai Pinna Thevan was a headman of the community.

Recalling his family’s oral tradition, Mr. Kalyani Thevar says it all started after king Thirumalai Nayak challenged the public to try breaking into the highly fortified palace. A group of Piramalai Kallars managed to gain entry using an ‘udumbu’ (monitor lizard) and stole valuables from the king’s bedroom. Following this incident, the king made an announcement asking the thieves to turn in by themselves.

“Since the intention of the Piramarai Kallars was not to steal, they returned the belongings to the king. Impressed by it, the king gave several rights to Thirumalai Pinna Thevan. It has also been recorded in the copper plates,” says Mr. Kalyani Thevar.

Curator of Thirumalai Nayak Palace K. Sakthivel says this incident is usually narrated during the evening light-and-sound show that used to take place at the palace.

Artefacts

A detailed description of the three copper plates has been recorded in the book, ‘Thirumalai Naicker Seppedugal’ which was released by the State Archaeological Department in 1994. These copper plates were issued between 1645 and 1656.

Among the three, one copper plate measuring 21 cm in height and 14 cm in width, which was issued in 1655, holds significance. It says Thirumalai Pinna Thevan got two titles from the king - Peththa Pillai and Thirumalai. He received a ‘kambali’, ‘pathakuradu’ and ‘kalanji.’ The king also permitted the female descendants of the family to use the title, ‘Thirumalai Punniakka.’ Two villages - Dharmathupatti and Uchapatti - were given as grants to him.

Mr. Kalyani Thevar says his ancestors used to settle disputes among members of their community while sitting on the ‘kambali,’ along with the ‘padhakuradu’ and ‘kalanji.’ He adds, “It is said that those who are accused of charges can only speak the truth when they stand on the ‘padhakuradu.’

Apart from these artefacts, Mr. Kalyani Thevar also possesses several palm leaf manuscripts, which, according to Mr. Gandhirajan, are around 150 years old. “There are also several paper documents to show that there was an organised system by which disputes among Piramalai Kallars were settled by this family until the colonial rule. However, the colonial government classified the Piramalai Kallars as a ‘criminal tribe’ under the Criminal Tribes Act,” he says.

Photographs of the copper plates can be kept at Thirumalai Nayak Palace so that those who are interested can visit the family to understand the history, adds Mr. Gandhirajan.

Mr. Kalyani Thevar, who lives with his son Thirumalai alias Karthikeyan, says their family continues to preserve these artefacts.


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 10:21:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/king-thirumalai-nayak-and-the-kallar-connection/article32431472.ece

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