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About Sengunthar Community

 

 

Sengunthar means a red dagger, also called as Kaikolars are a large tamil people.Their name comes from a mythical hero ‘Veera Bahu’ and from the words “kai” (hand) and “kol” (shuttle used in looming or spear). They consider the different parts of the loom to represent various gods and sages. They were in the army of Chola dynasty. 


In the anthology collection of songs from various period about Sengunthar, called Senguntha Prabhanda Thirattu, it was claimed that Sengunthas were serving the army of Early Cholas even about 2000 years ago. Further even before the rise of medieval Cholas, inscriptionary evidence exists about Kaikkola in Jain temples of Tamilnadu.

 

Brief History of Sengunthars in South India

The earliest historically accurate evidence for Sengunthars, as per Chola inscriptions (Thelintha Kaikola Padai) indicate that they belong to the Warrior class. They took up weaving silk and transformed to land owners and business men. Later, during 17th and 18th century history indicate that Sengunthars were predominantly involved in weaving. This is indicated in various sources. At the same time, weaving was not the only occupation involved. Agriculture and business were also secondary occupations of Sengunthars.

 

Since Sengunthars were not Vellalars and belonged to the idangai(Left-hand) caste group as per old British documents of the 18th century they did not feel bound to the land. They also migrated across Tamilnadu from their origin to spread Tamil literature.

They form a significant population in Kancheepuram, Tirupur and Salem. They started using Mudaliar surname even though there is no established date on when they started using the title. It should be noted that Sengunthars do not tend to intermarry with other Mudaliars even though they may reside in the same area as other Mudaliars.

Literary Evidence about Sengunthar

The following literature mention about Sengunthar as early as 9th century AD.

 

Tivakaram – tamil lexicon

The earliest literary evidence about Sengunthar occurs in Tivakaram, a Tamil lexicon (dictionary) from the 9th century AD. This dictionary refers to Cenkuntarpatai – an army of Sengunthars. This proves that the dual name of Sengunthar or Kaikolar was existing for over 1000 years.

 

Ittiyelupathu – Seventy Spears – By OttaKuttar

The major book about Sengunthar was written by Ottakuttar in 9th century AD. This book called Ittiyelupathu refers to the historical and mythological account of origin of Sengunthar and their relationship with the Chola monarchs.

 

Senguntha Prabanda Thiratu – Editor Sabapathi Mudaliar

The book Senguntha Prabanda Thiratu was published by editor Sabapathi Mudaliar. This is a collection of songs collected from old manuscripts. These are songs mainly about Sengunthar and their tradition.

 

Kaikolars using Mudali title from the Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai

It is customary for Kaikolars to use Mudali title after their personal name. In Pondicherry there were many weaver families in the 18th century. Since each caste was represented by two head-men known as nattars, the weavers also were required to select two head-men. Since there was dispute in selecting these two-headmen, the chief dubash of that time Ananda Ranga Pillai was requested by the Governor of Pondicherry to select the two head-men.

The two head-men selected were Muttu Mudali and Ana Nayakka Mudali both from Kaikolar caste. From this we understand that Mudali surname was used by Sengunthars as early as 1750AD.


Cenkuntar pillaittamil by Ñanappirakacacuvamikal, Tiricirapuram Kovinta Pillai, Ilatcumanacuvami

Cenkuntar pillaittamil was a book published in later 19th century. This is also a collection of songs from palm-leaf manuscripts about Sengunthars. It was published by Ñanappirakacacuvamikal, Tiricirapuram Kovinta Pillai, Ilatcumanacuvami

 

History and Historical Evidence

During chola rule kaikolars served as soldiers and called as “Thelintha kaikolar padai”. Sengunthars were considered as descendents of lord Muruga having a kol{Vel}. There is another story indicating that Sengunthars are descendants of VeeraBahu the general of Lord Muruga.

Sengunthars were prominent members of Tamil society even during the 10th century AD during chola rule.

 

Sengunthars as Agriculturalists

According to Science and Empire: Essays in Indian Context, by Deepak Kumar, the Sengunthar weavers very often figure in the capacity of kudi, i.e. tenant-cultivators and also holders of kaniyachi, that is hereditary possession over the land. During the period of Sadasiva raya, the sthanathar of the Brahmapuriswara temple made an agreement that they would cultivate certain lands of the Kaikkola regiment. Here is a reference that Sengunthars are involved in agriculture and how they used Mudaliar title Cylon

 

Sengunthars Military Exploits

In Journal of the Bombay Historical Society, the authors state that in the Army of Later Cholas from 900-1200 AD, many commanders and captains were drawn from the ranks of Sengunthar. Further records of exploits of Sengunthar in Ceylon, Bengal, Burma and Indonesia are recorded in temple inscriptions.

According to Carla M. Sinopoli in the book The Political Economy of Craft Production: Crafting Empire in South India, evidence for Kaikkola armies appear from the Chola period.They describe that Sengunthars were both weavers and merchants and maintained armies to guard their regional trading ventures. Throughout the chola period, trading and military activities of Sengunthar are predominant. Sengunthar were members of the Ayyavole 500 regional trading corporation. Sengunthar armies are mentioned in several 12th century inscriptions and individual Sengunthar are frequently referred to as members of the Chola emperor’s royal bodyguard. Sengunthar origin stories also emphasize their military heritage. A twelft-century epic poiem by the legendary Tamil poet Ottakuttan lauds the bravery and prowess of Sengunthar soldiers and traces their roots to the armies of the gods and original chola kingdoms of the early historic period.

 

Sengunthars Temple Trustees

According to India Before Europe by Catherine Ella Blanshard Asher, Cynthia Talbot, Sengunthas attained positions of responsibility at the two major Vaishnavite temples of Srirangam and Tirupati. In Tirupati, they were in charge of distributing the consecrated food offerings to the worshippers.

In the book The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500-1650, author Sanjay Subrahmanyam states that many Senguntha families were rich enough to contribute both land and gold to temples.

According to Ruth Barnes in Textiles in Indian Ocean Societies, in AD 1418 in Tiruvannamalai, Sengunthars were given the right to blow the conch, ride palanquins and elephants and wave the temple fly whisk.

 

Sengunthars as Export and Transportation Specialists

As part of their association with the merchant group Ayyavole 500, Sengunthars were responsible for transporting goods manufactured from one area to another in ancient India. Like other merchant groups this led to their settling down in various areas all the way north from the Vindhya mountains i.e. Godavari district to the south in Sri Lanka. Similarly they settled in all the major ports such as Cochin, Mangalore and Malabar areas. This is shown by the fact that Sengunthars were noted for their handling of export goods in Malabar, according to A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization By Niharranjan Ray and Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya.

 

 

Diverse nature of the Sengunthar Nadus forming separate castes with a single name

There are 72 subdivisions or Nadus in Sengunthar. These are separated across hundreds of kilometres in distance. As time progressed, these subdivisions got separated from one another and lost the common cultural bondings. Further based on the location of the subdivisions, whether in Tamil Nadu or Kerala or Andhra or Karnataka their customs changed. Though they speak different languages in other states, their mother tongue is Tamil.
 

Finally all that remains common are

  • The name of the caste – Sengunthar/Kaikolar

  • The chief Goddess – Kanchipuram Kamatchi.

Sengunthar is recognized as a single caste for all legal purposes but in reality these 72 subdivisions are like separate castes with customs according to the regions they live and usually do not intermarry. However this is now changing due to culture integration.

Culture and Customs of multiple sections of Sengunthars

The Culture and Customs of the Sengunthars is similar to most tamilians. However there are differences in customs between the various divisions of Sengunthar. The significant difference being that some divisions are more kootam conservative than other Sengunthar groups when it comes to marriage partners.

 

Culture and Customs

Sengunthar caste consists of diverse group of people even though they are classified under the same group by the government of India. There is a diverse culture and customs among Sengunthar. Sengunthar follow the local custom and culture of the region where they live. While many Sengunthar groups follow the kootam culture, some groups do not follow kootam culture for marriage. So Sengunthar who live in the same area could belong to different cultures unlike other castes. The accent of Tamil and tradition varies according to the regions they live. So it can be said that though the various Sengunthar groups are called by a single name, they are neither homogenous nor endogamous. This is a legacy of the federal system of the Sengunthar Nadus and Desams.

 

Community Legends and festivals

The Sura Samhara festival is a ritual tradition practised a long time ago by the Sengunthars. According to the mythology of weaver community, the Sengunthars weavers were born out of nine gems that were scattered from Parvati’s anklet. At the Sura Samhara festival, they dress up as the nine warriors of Virabahu, the lieutenant of Lord Karthikeya and enact the killing of the demon Narakasura

 

Self Sacrifice of Senguntha Soldiers

Along with Agamudayars, Maravars, Kallars, Sengunthas also served in the army of Chola Empire. Similar to them, Senguntha soldiers seemed to have practiced the tradition of NavaKandam. This act involves cutting any of the nine parts of the human body such as arms, legs and even the neck.This is usually done after taking an oath to death in service of a chieftain.

 

Gods/Goddesses

Sengunthars are predominantly Shaivites. They possess a Clan God as most of the castes in Tamil Nadu. Mostly, it is some form of Amman i.e.Goddess Parvati. Since Sengunthas are considered to be descended from the armies of Lord Muruga, Murugan is their chief god. Sengunthas are historically associated with Shiva Temples in Andhra Pradesh temples like Srisailam, Srikalahasti and Kotappa Konda.

 

Kootam/kulam

Kootam defines birth from a single male ancestor. Kootam is transferred patrilineally i.e., via the father of a person. Hence people belonging to the same kootam are considered as brothers and sisters. So marriage between a male and female belonging to the same kootam is prohibited. However distantly they may be related.

Historically there were many kootams in Sengunthar in the 72 nadus of ancient past. Each kootam had a leader. The head leader in Kanchipuram was the head for all these leaders. This was used to manage disputes within the community. Nowadays, the kootams have merged into one another and there is no well defined leader for each kootam. It is used only for setting up marriage alliances.

 

Warrior Clans

During Chola rule Sengunthars served as soldiers and were called “Terinja kaikolar padai”. (Terinja means “known” in Tamil and Padai means “regiment”), so “terinja-kaikolar padai” were the personal bodygurads. Sengunthars who were initially weavers were militarised during the Chola empire and formed a major part of the Chola army from 8th century to 13th century. There were no Sengunthar army before or after the Chola empire.

They formed many regiments in the Chola army. Some of those regiments are:

  • Singalantaka-terinda-Kaikkolar (a regiment named after Singalantaka i.e. Parntaka I)

  • Virasola-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Kodandarama-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Danatonga-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Parantaka-terinia-Kaikkolar

  • Muttavalperra-Kaikkolar – (meaning the “recipient of the pearl ornamented sword” in Tamil)

  • Samarakesarit-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Vikramasingat-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Adityapanma-terinda-Kaikkolar

  • Karikala-Chola-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Arumolideva-terinja Kaikkolar

  • Parttivasekarat-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Gangadaditta-terinja-Kaikkola

  • Madurantaka-terinja-Kaikkolar

  • Pirantaka-terinja-Kaikkolar

The link below indicates that Sengunthars were prominent members of Tamil society even during the 10th century AD during Chola rule.

-terinja-Kaikkolar and Vikramasingat-terinja-Kaikkolar derived their names from possible titles of Parantaka Udaiyar-Gandaradittatterinja-Kaikkolar[8] must have been the name of a regiment called after king Gandaraditya, the father of Uttama-Chola. Singalantaka-terinda-Kaikkolar (a regiment named after Singalantaka i.e. Parntaka I) Danatonga-terinja-Kaikkola (regiment or group). The early writing of the record and the surname Danatunga of Paranataka I suggests its assignment to his reign. Muttavalperra seems to indicate some special honour or rank conferred on the regiment by the king.

 

Sengunthar Kings under Chola reign

* Pazhuvur Veeran -Belongs to the period of Parantaka Chozhar (10th century).

* Pazhuvai Narayanan ruled Pazhuvur along with his twin brother Pazhuvur Veeran

* Kachchithaliyan-ruled Kanchi

* Ottriyooran-ruled Thiruvottriyur

* Kalanthai arasan-ruled Pon vilaintha Kalathoor

* Putridang Kondaan-ruled Thiruvarur

* Kolaanthagan-ruled Kodungkundram

* Puliyur palli kondaan-ruled Chidambaram

* Pinavan-ruled Kadamboor

10.Kandiyuraan-ruled ThirukKandiyur

* Mudukundra Manian-ruled Viruthachalam

* Thanjai Vemban- ruled Thanjavur

 

Tamil Scholars

* Thirumala Thevar(Author of Thirumanthiram)

* Kaari Desiga Acharyar

* Narasinga Munaiyaraiyar

* Idangazhip Perumal

* Perumizhalaip Perunthagaiyaar

* Meipporul moorthy

* Sathi Nayanar

* Serunthunaiyaar

* KotpuliNayanar

* Kootruva Nayanar

* Eripatha Nayanar

* Kanam pullar

* Dandiyadigal

* Ottakuthar

* Kuganeriyappa Navalar

* Kangeyar

* Poyyamozhip pulavar

* Pagazhi koothar

* Kachiyappa Munivar

* Chidambara Swamigal

* Pirasai Arunachala Swamigal

 

* Irattai Pulavargal

* Padikaasu pulavar

 

72 Sengunthar Nadus

There were 72 Sengunthar Nadus divided in four Divisions:

 

A)First East Sivapura Nadu and its kilai(Branch) Nadus. The kilai(Branch) Nadus under East Sivapura Nadu are

1.Mel Padappai, Kizh padappai,Aathanjeri

2.Maanampathi,Sembakkam,Agaram,Moonathondru

3.Munnoor,Paramesuramangalam,Mathuraanthagam

4.Thindivanam

5.Akkaraipathu,Mailam

6.Thiruvakkarai,Pudhuchery,Ozhukarai,Kathirkamam

7.Thiribuvanam, Nallaathur

8.Thiruvathigai,Palur

9.Idaiyaatrur,Thiruvennainallur

10.Panamalai,Ananthapuram

11.Vazhuthalaipattu

12.Maaparai,Aarur

13.Pattinam,Karunguzhi

14.Mannaar Koyil

15.Palayam

16.Kuppakkam, Thirukkandechuram

17.Jambai,Thiruvarangam

Totally 18 including the Sivapura Nadu

 

B) South Thonthipura Nadu and its kilai(Branch) Nadugal

1.Murugamangalam

2.Thiruvamathur

3.Thiruvannamalai

4.Varathur,Senguruchi

5.Kachchithidal

6.Salem,Viruthachalam

7.Thittaikudi

8.Thirumalaipaadi

9.Thirukkoval

10.Thirunagechuram, Kumbakonam

11.Thiruchemponpalli

12.Koyil, Sirkazhi

13.Maapillai kuppam

14.Thirumarugal

15.Thevur, Kattur

16.Nallachery, Polagam

17.Rameshwaram, (Kanya)Kumari

18 including the main Thonthipura Nadu

 

C) West Virinjipura Nadu and his Kilai(branch) Nadugal

1.Aamur, Kudiyetram(Currently Gudiyatham)

2.Vaniyampadi

3.Korattai

4.Bhavani

6.Tharamangalam

7.Ezhukarai Nadu

8.Pagazharai

9.Poorathirai

10.Thiruchengodu

11.Vaiyapuri, Pazhani

12.Avinasi

13.Nanjunda kudi

14.Karur,Natham

15.Kavalpalyam

16.Karugur, Kangeyam, Sivanmalai, Chennimalai

17.Namakkal

18 including the Virinjipura Nadu

 

D) North Sozhingapura Nadu and its kilai(Branch) Nadugal

1.Thiruthani

2.Thelinadu

3.Nerinadu

4.Thiruvadi nadu

5.Thirumemisai

6.Konthampakkam

7.Thirukkaalathi

8.Thondai nadu

9.Varai nadu

10.Venkatagiri

11.Thirupathi

12.Jegannatham

13.Seettampalli

14.Sempuram

15.Varadapuri

16.Chandragiri

17.Kasi,Gaya(Buddha Gaya in Bihar), Ayothiya, Imaya nadu(Himalayas)

18 including the Sozhingapuram

Sengunthar Mahajana Sangam

The Sengunthar Mahajana Sangam was formed in 1927 in chennai. They published an exclusively magazine for sengunthars "SENGUNTHAMITHIRAN"

 

 

 

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