Paraiyar: Wikis


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Total population
90 Lakhs (9 Million) (2001 census)
Regions with significant populations
Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji




Related ethnic groups

Tamil people, Dalits

Paraiyar, Parayar & Sambavar also called as Adi-Dravida are a social group found in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in Sri Lanka (see Caste in Sri Lanka). In Tamilnadu though they have been enumerated under three different caste names, they have generally been referred to as Paraiyar. In Northern Districts of Tamilnadu they are known as Paraiyans only. In the southern districts of Tamilnadu they are known as Sambavar or Samban. However, they themselves prefer the name Adi Dravidar to Paraiyar and Sambavar.[1] The Indian census of 2001 reported the Paraiyan/Adi-Dravida population about 9 Million [2].

"Adi-Dravida" is a modern name of Paraiyar given by Government of Tamilnadu, it denotes only the Paraiyar Caste. Paraiyar/Adi-Dravida are the majority among the Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu. The scheduled castes are generally called 'Adi-Dravidar' by the Government of Tamilnadu. Paraiyan and Samban are synonymous with Adi Dravidar.[1] The term 'Adi-Dravidar' means Ancient Dravidians in Tamil Nadu.


Etymology and origin

The late Bishop Robert Caldwell derived the name Paraiyar from the Tamil word Parai a drum, as certain Paraiyars act as drummers at marriages, funerals, village festivals, and on occasions when Government or commercial announcements are proclaimed.[3] Mr. H. A. Stuart, however, seems to question this derivation, remarking ( Madras Census Report, 1891) that "it is only one section of Paraiyars that act as drummers Nor is the occupation confined to the Paraiyars. It seems in the highest degree improbable that a large, and at one time powerful, community should owe its name to an occasional occupation, which one of its divisions shares with other castes.[4] 'The word Paraiyar is not found in Divakaram, a Tamil Dictionary of the eleventh century A.D., and the word Pulaiyar was then used to denote this section of population, as it is still in Malayalam to this day'."[5] In the legend of the Saivite saint Nandan is, in the prose version of the Periya Puranam called a Pulayan, though a native of Cholamandalam, which was a distinctly Tamil kingdom.[5] The Madras Census Report 1891 estimated over two million members of Paraiyar or Pariah caste. In the Census Report, 1901, Mr. Francis mentions an inscription of the chola king Raja Raja, dated about the eleventh century A.D., in which the Paraiyar caste is called by its name.[6] It had then two sub-divisions, the Nesavu or weavers, and Ulavu or ploughmen. The caste had even then its own hamlets, wells and burning-grounds.[7]

The community is classified as a depressed community until recent times. The economic and educational privileges have been denied to them for centuries. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that their position must have been reasonably higher in older times. Some scholars presume that Paraiyars must have been followers of Buddhism who lost their status in society during the revival of the Agamic cults.[8][9][10] Thiruvalluvar[11][12][13] , the Tamil author of the Thirukkural, the Tamil poet Auvaiyar[11][12][13][14], and the architect of the classical city of Hastinapur[13][14] had all been "Paraiyars". [10]

The following is a description of "Paraiyars" originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 802 of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911.

Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 ,Volume V20,Page 802.[15]

PARIAH, a name long adopted in European usage for the outcastes of India. Strictly speaking the Paraiyans are the agricultural labourer caste of the Tamil country in Madras, and are by no means the lowest of the low.

The majority are ploughmen, formerly adscripti glebae, but some of them are weavers, and no less than 350 subdivisions have been distinguished. The name can be traced back to inscriptions of the 11th century, and the "Pariah poet," Tiruvalluvar, author of the Tamil poem, the Kurral, probably lived at about that time.

The accepted derivation of the word is from the Tamil. parai, the large drum of which the Paraiyans are the hereditary beaters at festivals, &c. In 1901 the total number of Paraiyans. in all India was 24 millions, almost confined to the south of Madras. In the Telugu country their place is taken by the Malas, in the Kanarese country by the Holeyas and in the Deccan by the Mahars.

Some of their privileges and duties seem to show that they represent the original owners of the land, subjected by a conquering race. The Pariahs supplied a notable proportion of Clive's sepoys, and are still enlisted in the Madras sappers and miners. They have always acted as domestic servants to Europeans. That they are not deficient in intelligence is proved by the high position which some of them, when converted to Christianity, have occupied in the professions.

In modern official usage the outcastes generally are termed Panchamas in Madras, and special efforts are made for their education.See Caldwell, Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages (PP. 54 0 -554), and the Madras Census Reports for 1891 and 1901.

Physical anthropology

As per anthropological research done by Edgar Thurston, the Paraiyars had an average cephalic index of 74[16] and an average nasal index of 80.[17]

List of Paraiyars

Historical personalities

Social reformers and activists

  • Iyothee Thass Pandithar (1845-1914), founded the Sakya Buddhist Society (also known as Indian Buddhist Association)
  • Rettamalai Srinivasan (1860-1945), a Dalit activist, politician from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  • M. C. Rajah (1883-1943), a Dalit politician, social and political activist from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • J. Shivashanmugam Pillai (1901-1975), first Dalit mayor of Madras and first speaker of Madras Legislative Assembly since India's independence.
  • N. Sivaraj (1892-1964), Indian lawyer and politician. Served as Mayor of Madras and Member of Lok Sabha.




  • Christie Jayaratnam Eliezer, a well known Sri Lankan mathematician, who worked under Paul Dirac. He is widely accredited for one of his collaborations better known as theory of Eliezer-Dirac.

See also


  1. ^ a b 'People of India',By Kumar Suresh Singh, 'Anthropological Survey of India'(Page.42.)
  2. ^ (pdf)Indian Census figures
  3. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.77.)
  4. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.77,78.)
  5. ^ a b c Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.78.)
  6. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.82.)
  7. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.83.)
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ a b [3]
  11. ^ a b c d Castes and Tribes of Southern India. Vol. VI. EdgarThurston and Rangachari, K. 1909.(Page.82.)
  12. ^ a b c Irschick, Eugene F. (2001). "Dialogue and History,Constructing South India, 1795–1895". Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Madras Times, 19 January 1891.
  14. ^ a b c Irschick, Eugene F. (2001). "Dialogue and History,Constructing South India, 1795–1895". Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg lxii
  17. ^ Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Introduction, Pg lxxii
  18. ^ Paraiyan and Legend of Nandan, by REV. A. C. Clayton
  19. ^ [4]
  20. ^ [5]
  21. ^ [6]


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