Saturday, April 19, 2008


The Tamil society during the early Pandyan age had several class distinctions among the people, which were different from the Aryan classification of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The highest class, among the Tamils, was the Arivar or the sages. They were the ascetics that renounced materialism and mostly lived outside the cities. Next in rank were the Ulavar or the farmers. Following the Ulavar, were the Aiyar or shepherds, then Vedduvar or hunters, followed by artisans such as goldsmiths, blacksmiths etc., then Padaiadchier or the armed men, the Valayar or fishermen and finally the Pulayar or the scavengers. The higher classes enjoyed more privileges than the lower classes - for example, when the higher classes passed in the streets, the lower classes made way for them. The Pulayan, for ex., bowed in supplication if he met a nobleman. The class distinctions were quite conspicuous in many aspects of life - the dress worn by the people, the way they groomed themselves and the kind of food they subsisted on were all different from one class to another. In spite of such class-based social inequalities, there was no slavery in the society.
There was legal and social inequality between the sexes. Women had no rights on property and, in general, were subordinated by men. However, women mixed freely in the business and amusements of social life. In towns and cities, women of lower classes were employed as hawkers, vendors, shopkeepers or servants in rich households and in the villages, they worked in the fields and gardens along with men and shared their hardships. The ladies of the higher classes were more confined to their homes, but they were not secluded from society. The plight of widows was miserable – they were considered inauspicious and had to live life according to very strict rules. They were prohibited from decorating themselves or participating in any form of amusement. The practice of Sati was also prevalent in ancient Tamil country and was known as tippaydal. When the Pandyan king Pudappandiyan died, his queen killed herself by ascending the funeral pyre of the king. Women were exposed to education, a fact testified by the presence of many women poetesses in the Sangam works – some of them include Avvaiyar, Mudatamakkanniar, Kaakkaippaadiniyaar, Naachchellayaar, Naagaiyaar, Nanmullaiyaar, Ponmudiyaar, Ilaveyiniyaar and Nappasaliyaar.
A variety of clothing was used by people during this age, including those made of cotton and silk. People living in hilly and deserted areas wore dresses made of foliage and flowers. Sheaths of grassy weeds (Korai) were used for making dress by the hill and forest area people. Skins of animals and barks of trees were also used. Men of the poorer classes wore only one piece of cloth around the waist. Women covered their upper body with a kind of dress called, kachchu. Among the higher classes, men wore two pieces: one around the waist and the other, the upper cloth, thrown over the shoulders. Women of sophisticated society wore half sarees, made of the finest cotton and silk fabrics, with embroidery. Both men and women sported long tresses of hair. The diet was plain, rice being the staple cereal, with maize, millet, milk, butter and honey being in common use. Meat eating was common - people ate flesh of rams, deer, hare, fowl, porcupines, pigs and boar, fresh and dried fish. The kind of housing was determined by the type of geography of the land and the economic status of the occupants. The rich built their houses with tiled roofs and walls made of burnt bricks and mud, while the poor built their huts with mud and thatched it with grass, coconut leaves or palmyra palm leaves. Both in the huts and houses, the flooring was smeared with cowdung. The affluent had houses with porticoes, many storeys, open terraces and furnished their houses well. The inner walls of their houses were decorated with flowers and paintings, with cottages to protect them from the wind. Cots were in common use – the rich had luxurious beds decked with swan’s feathers and flowers, while the common people had beds woven with the straw of maize and the poorest people used beds made of grass or hay.

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