Tamil Nadu

Tamil folklore replete with tales of ‘honour’ killing

While the growing number of honour killings in recent months across Tamil Nadu has sparked both outrage and despair, Tamil folklore is replete with several such incidents. Ironically, many victims have became folk heroes with stories of their love and loss recalled in Kaniyan Koothu and Villupattu performances during festivals of folk deities in southern Tamil Nadu.

“Kaanichaavu, a folk literature, describes these murders as Theetu sadangu Kolai (murders of untouchability ritual). Special meetings were held to plan the murder of those who married outside their caste ,” says folklorist A.K. Perumal, who has collected many of these stories.

Dr. Perumal’s collection includes as many as 50 such stories with 10 already in print. “Most of these stories belonged to the 16th century. Even though the stories are from southern districts, they reflect the overall trend and society’s approach to inter-caste marriages,” he said.

Interesting twist

The story of Arya Muthupattan, a Brahmin, who married two Dalit women, has an interesting twist. According to the legend, he gave up his Brahmin identity on the advice of his father-in-law, and led the life of a Dalit. “But the conversion could not prevent him from being murdered,” said Dr. Perumal, explaining the storyline of Muthupattan Kathai, now performed by Kaniyan Koothu and Villupaatu artistes.

Over the years, the stories have undergone modifications and Kaniyan Koothu performer V. Muthuperumal adds another layer to Muthupattan’s tale, saying his two wives — Pommakka and Thimmakka — were actually Brahmins, but were brought up by a cobbler, Vazga Pagadi. “Muthupattan, a great scholar, led the life of a cobbler for the sake of his wives. He was killed while he was cleaning swords in the Thamirabharani,” Mr. Muthuperumal said.

Then there is the story of Kaathavarayan, a Dalit, who fell in love with Aryamala, a Brahmin woman, only to be impaled to death.

No exceptions

Caste rigidity and its inherent violence did not spare even kings. Vengalarasan is said to have chopped off his daughter's head when she was abducted by the King of Travancore, who fell in love with her.

Dr. Perumal points out that though these stories were interpreted to suit the changing times, the fact remains that those who married outside their community, irrespective of their caste hierarchy, were victims of honour killing.

“Society was very particular about maintaining the purity of each caste and those who violated it had to pay a heavy price,” he points out.

He recounted the story of Chidambaram Nadar which bears testimony to the extent to which communities went to protect this notion of honour. “Chidambaram saved a Brahmin woman, a victim of snake bite, through his tantric practices. But when she came forward to marry him, the villagers killed him for the inter-caste marriage,” Dr. Perumal said.

Common thread

The story of Chinnan also provides insight into the rigidity of the caste system. “He was a local chieftain, known for his bravery. He married a minor girl from his community and the elders of the family allowed him to have concubines from a caste far lower in the hierarchy. He was very attached to his concubine and declared her his wife. The entire village hatched a conspiracy and the local king turned a blind eye to their designs,” Dr. Perumal said.

The common thread across these stories is that those who violated caste norms in marriage were killed, though many later were resurrected as folk heroes.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 12:34:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Tamil-folklore-replete-with-tales-of-%E2%80%98honour%E2%80%99-killing/article16078898.ece

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