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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras


The Agamudaiyans, Mr. W. Francis writes,6 are “a cultivating caste found in all the Tamil districts. In Chingleput, North Arcot, Salem, Coimbatore and Trichinopoly, they are much less numerous than they were thirty years ago. The reason probably is that they have risen in the social scale, and have returned themselves as Vellālas. Within the same period, their strength has nearly doubled in Tanjore, perhaps owing to the assumption of the name by other castes like the Maravans and Kallans. In their manners and customs they closely follow the Vellālas. Many of these in the Madura district are the domestic servants of the Marava Zamindars.” The Agamudaiyans who have settled in the North Arcot district are described7 by Mr. H. A. Stuart as “a class of cultivators differing widely from the Agamudaiyans of the Madura district. [6]The former are closely allied to the Vellālas, while the latter are usually regarded as a more civilised section of the southern Maravans. It may be possible that the Agamudaiyans of North Arcot are the descendants of the first immigrants from the Madura district, who, after long settlement in the north, severed all connexions with their southern brethren.” In some districts, Agamudaiyan occurs as a synonym of Vellālas, Pallis and Mēlakkārans, who consider that Agamudaiyan is a better caste name than their own.

The Agamudaiyans proper are found in the Tanjore, Madura, and Tinnevelly districts.

It is noted in the Tanjore Manual that Ahamudaiyar (the equivalent of Agamudaiyan) is “derived from the root āham, which, in Tamil, has many significations. In one of these, it means a house, in another earth, and hence it has two meanings, householder and landholder; the suffix Udeiyār indicating ownership. The word is also used in another form, ahambadiyan, derived from another meaning of the same root, i.e., inside. And, in this derivation, it signifies a particular caste, whose office it was to attend to the business in the interior of the king’s palace, or in the pagoda.” “The name,” Mr. J. H. Nelson writes,8 “is said by the Rev. G. U. Pope, in his edition of the Abbé Dubois’ work,9 to be derived from aham, a temple, and padi, a step, and to have been given to them in consequence of their serving about the steps of temples. But, independently of the fact that Madura pagodas are not approached by flights of steps, this seems to be a very far-fetched and improbable derivation of the word. I am inclined to doubt [7]whether it be not merely a vulgar corruption of the well-known word Ahamudeiyān, possessor of a house, the title which Tamil Brahmans often use in speaking of a man to his wife, in order to avoid the unpolite term husband. Or, perhaps, the name comes from aham in the sense of earth, and pati, master or possessor.”

Concerning the connection which exists between the Maravans, Kallans, and Agamudaiyans (see Kallan), the following is one version of a legend, which is narrated. The father of Ahalya decided to give her in marriage to one who remained submerged under water for a thousand years. Indra only managed to remain thus for five hundred years, but Gautama succeeded in remaining for the whole of the stipulated period, and became the husband of Ahalya. Indra determined to have intercourse with her, and, assuming the guise of a cock, went at midnight to the abode of Gautama, and crowed. Gautama, thinking that daybreak was arriving, got up, and went to a river to bathe. While he was away, Indra assumed his form, and accomplished his desire. Ahalya is said to have recognised the deception after two children, who became the ancestors of the Maravans and Kallans, were born to her. A third child was born later on, from whom the Agamudaiyans are descended. According to another version of the legend, the first-born child is said to have faced Gautama without fear, and Agamudaiyan is accordingly derived from aham or agam, pride, and udaiyan, possessor. There is a Tamil proverb to the effect that a Kallan may come to be a Maravan. By respectability he may develope into an Agamudaiyan, and, by slow degrees, become a Vellāla, from which he may rise to be a Mudaliar.

Of the three castes, Kallan, Maravan and Agamudaiyan, the last are said to have “alone been greatly [8]influenced by contact with Brāhmanism. They engage Brāhman priests, and perform their birth, marriage, and death ceremonies like the Vellālas.”10 I am told that the more prosperous Agamudaiyans in the south imitate the Vellālas in their ceremonial observances, and the poorer classes the Maravans.

Agamudaiyan has been returned, at times of census, as a sub-division of Maravan and Kallan. In some places, the Agamudaiyans style themselves sons of Sembunāttu Maravans. At Ramnād, in the Madura district, they carry the fire-pot to the burning ground at the funeral of a Maravan, and also bring the water for washing the corpse. In the Tanjore district the Agamudaiyans are called Terkittiyar, or southerners, a name which is also applied to Kallans, Maravans, and Valaiyans. The ordinary title of the Agamudaiyans is Sērvaikkāran, but many of them call themselves, like the Vellālas, Pillai. Other titles, returned at times of census, are Adhigāri and Mudaliar.

At the census, 1891, the following were returned as the more important sub-divisions of the Agamudaiyans:—Aivali Nāttān, Kōttaipattu, Malainādu, Nāttumangalam, Rājabōja, Rājakulam, Rājavāsal, Kallan, Maravan, Tuluvan (cf. Tuluva Vellāla) and Sērvaikkāran. The name Rājavāsal denotes those who are servants of Rājas, and has been transformed into Rājavamsa, meaning those of kingly parentage. Kōttaipattu means those of the fort, and the Agamudaiyans believe that the so-called Kōttai Vellalas of the Tinnevelly district are really Kōttaipattu Agamudaiyans. One sub-division of the Agamudaiyans is called Sāni (cow-dung). Unlike the Maravans and Kallans, the Agamudaiyans have no exogamous septs, or kilais.


It is recorded, in the Mackenzie Manuscripts, that “among the Maravas, the kings or the rulers of districts, or principal men, are accustomed to perform the ceremony of tying on the tāli, or in performing the marriage at once in full, with reference to females of the Agambadiyar tribe. The female children of such marriages can intermarry with the Maravas, but not among the Agambadiyar tribe. On the other hand, the male offspring of such marriages is considered to be of the mother’s tribe, and can intermarry with the Agambadiyas, but not in the tribe of the Maravas.” I am told that, under ordinary circumstances, the offspring of a marriage between a Maravan and Agamudaiyan becomes an Agamudaiyan, but that, if the husband is a man of position, the male issues are regarded as Maravans. Adult marriage appears to be the rule among the Agamudaiyans, but sometimes, as among the Maravans, Kallans and other castes, young boys are, in the southern districts, sometimes married to grown-up girls.

The marriage ceremonial, as carried out among the poorer Agamudaiyans, is very simple. The sister of the bridegroom proceeds to the home of the bride on an auspicious day, followed by a few females carrying a woman’s cloth, a few jewels, flowers, etc. The bride is seated close to a wall, facing east. She is dressed up in the cloth which has been brought, and seated on a plank. Betel leaves, areca nuts, and flowers are presented to her by the bridegroom’s sister, and she puts them in her lap. A turmeric-dyed string or garland is then placed round the bride’s neck by the bridegroom’s sister, while the conch shell (musical instrument), is blown. On the same day the bride is conducted to the home of the bridegroom, and a feast is held. [10]

The more prosperous Agamudaiyans celebrate their marriages according to the Purānic type, which is the form in vogue amongst most of the Tamil castes, with variations. The astrologer is consulted in order to ascertain whether the pair agree in some at least of the points enumerated below. For this purpose, the day of birth, zodiacal signs, planets and asterisms under which the pair were born, are taken into consideration:—

1. Vāram (day of birth).—Days are calculated, commencing with the first day after the new moon. Counting from the day on which the girl was born, if the young man’s birthday happens to be the fourth, seventh, thirteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth, it is considered good.

2. Ganam (class or tribe).—There are three ganams, called Manusha, Dēva, and Rākshasa. Of the twenty-seven asterisms, Aswini, Bharani, etc., some are Manusha, some Dēva, and some Rākshasa ganam. Ashtham and Swāthi are considered to be of Dēva ganam, so individuals born under these asterisms are regarded as belonging to Dēva ganam. Those born under the asterisms Bharani, Rōgini, Pūram, Pūrādam, Uththarādam, etc., belong to the Manusha ganam. Under Rākshasa ganam are included Krithika, Āyilyam, Makam, Visākam, and other asterisms. The bridal pair should belong to the same ganam, as far as possible. Manusha and Dēva is a tolerable combination, whereas Rākshasa and Dēva, or Rākshasa and Manusha, are bad combinations.

3. Sthridīrgam (woman’s longevity).—The young man’s birthday should be beyond the thirteenth day, counting from the birthday of the girl.

4. Yōni (female generative organs).—The asterisms are supposed to belong to several animals. An [11]individual belongs to the animal to which the asterism under which he was born belongs. For example, a man is a horse if his asterism is Aswini, a cow if his asterism is Uththirattādhi, and so on. The animals of husband and wife must be on friendly terms, and not enemies. The elephant and man, horse and cow, dog and monkey, cat and mouse, are enemies. The animals of man and wife should not both be males. Nor should the man be a female, or the wife a male animal.

5. Rāsi (zodiacal sign).—Beginning from the girl’s zodiacal sign, the young man’s should be beyond the sixth.

6. Rāsyathipathi (planet in the zodiacal sign).—The ruling planets of the zodiacal signs of the pair should not be enemies.

7. Vasyam.—The zodiacal signs of the pair should be compatible, e.g., Midunam and Kanni, Singam and Makaram, Dhanus and Mīnam, Thulām and Makaram, etc.

8. Rajju (string).—The twenty-seven asterisms are arranged at various points on four parallel lines drawn across three triangles. These lines are called the leg, thigh, abdomen, and neck rajjus. The vertices of the triangles are the head rajjus. The asterisms of the pair should not be on the same rajju, and it is considered to be specially bad if they are both on the neck.

9. Vriksham (tree).—The asterisms belong to a number of trees, e.g.:—

• Aswini, Strychnos Nux-vomica. • • Bharani, Phyllanthus Emblica. • • Krithikai, Ficus glomerata. • • Pūram, Butea frondosa. • • Hastham, Sesbania grandiflora. • • Thiruvōnam, Calotropis gigantea. • • Uththirattādhi, Melia Azadirachta. •

Some of the trees are classed as milky, and others as dry. The young man’s tree should be dry, and that of the girl milky, or both milky.

10. Pakshi (birds).—Certain asterisms also belong to birds, and the birds of the pair should be on friendly terms, e.g., peacock and fowl.

11. Jādi (caste).—The zodiacal signs are grouped into castes as follows:—

• Brāhman, Karkātakam, Mīnam, and Dhanus. • • Kshatriya, Mēsham, Vrischikam. • • Vaisya, Kumbam, Thulām. • • Sūdra, Rishabam, Makaram. • • Lower castes, Midhunam, Singam, and Kanni. • The young man should be of a higher caste, according to the zodiacal signs, than the girl.

After ascertaining the agreement of the pair, some close relations of the young man proceed to some distance northward, and wait for omens. If the omens are auspicious, they are satisfied. Some, instead of so going, go to a temple, and seek the omens either by placing flowers on the idol, and watching the direction in which they fall, or by picking up a flower from a large number strewn in front of the idol. If the flower picked up, and the one thought of, are of the same colour, it is regarded as a good omen. The betrothal ceremony is an important event. As soon as the people have assembled, the bridegroom’s party place in their midst the pariyam cloth and jewels. Some responsible person inspects them, and, on his pronouncing that they are correct, permission is given to draw up the lagna patrika (letter of invitation, containing the date of marriage, etc.). Vignēswara (the elephant god Ganēsa) is then worshipped, with the lagna patrika in front of him. This is followed by the announcement of the forthcoming [13]marriage by the purōhit (priest), and the settlement of the amount of the pariyam (bride’s money). For the marriage celebration, a pandal (booth) is erected, and a dais, constructed of clay and laterite earth, is set up inside it. From the day on which the pandal is erected until the wedding day, the contracting couple have to go through the nalagu ceremony separately or together. This consists in having their bodies smeared with turmeric paste (Phaseolus Mungo paste), and gingelly (Sesamum) oil. On the wedding day, the bridegroom, after a clean shave, proceeds to the house of the bride. The finger and toe-nails of the bride are cut. The pair offer pongal (boiled rice) to the family deity and their ancestors. A square space is cleared in the centre of the dais for the sacred fire (hōmam). A many-branched lamp, representing the thousand-eyed Indra, is placed to the east of the square. The purōhit, who is regarded as equivalent to Yama (the god of death), and a pot with a lamp on it representing Agni dēvata, occupy the south-east corner. Women representing Niruti (a dēvata) are posted in the south-west corner.

The direction of Varuna (the god of water) being west, the bridegroom occupies this position. The best man, who represents Vāyu (the god of wind) is placed in the north-west corner. As the position of Kubēra (the god of wealth) is the north, a person, with a bag full of money, is seated on that side. A grinding-stone and roller, representing Siva and Sakthi, are placed in the north-east corner, and, at their side, pans containing nine kinds of seedlings, are set. Seven pots are arranged in a row between the grinding-stone and the branched lamp. Some married women bring water from seven streams or seven different places, and pour it into a pot in front of the lamp.

The milk-post (pāl kambam) is set [14]up between the lamp and the row of pots. This post is usually made of twigs of Ficus religiosa, Ficus bengalensis, and Erythrina indica, tied together and representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Sometimes, however, twigs of Odina Wodier, and green bamboo sticks, are substituted. At the close of the marriage ceremonies, the Erythrina or Odina twig is planted, and it is regarded as a good sign if it takes root and grows. The sacred fire is kindled, and the bridegroom goes through the upanayana (thread investiture) and other ceremonies. He then goes away from the house in procession (paradēsa pravēsam), and is met by the bride’s father, who brings him back to the pandal. The bride’s father and mother then wash his feet, and rings are put on his toes (kālkattu, or tying the leg). The purōhit gives the bridegroom a thread (kankanam), and, after washing the feet of the bride’s father and mother, ties it on his wrist. A thread is also tied on the left wrist of the bride.

The pair being seated in front of the sacred fire, a ceremony called Nāndisrādham (memorial service to ancestors) is performed, and new clothes are given to the pair. The next item is the tying of the tāli (marriage badge). The tāli is usually tied on a turmeric-dyed thread, placed on a cocoanut, and taken round to be blessed by all present. Then the purōhit gives the tāli to the bridegroom, and he ties it on the bride’s neck amidst silence, except for the music played by the barber or Mēlakkāran musicians. While the tāli is being tied, the bridegroom’s sister stands behind the bride, holding a lamp in her hand. The bridegroom ties one knot, and his sister ties two knots. After the tāli-tying, small plates of gold or silver, called pattam, are tied on the foreheads of the pair, and presents of money and cloths are made to them by their relations and friends. They then go seven times round the [15]pandal, and, at the end of the seventh round, they stand close to the grinding-stone, on which the bridegroom places the bride’s left foot. They take their seats on the dais, and the bridegroom, taking some parched rice (pori) from the bride’s brother, puts it in the sacred fire. Garlands of flowers are given to the bride and bridegroom, who put them on, and exchange them three or five times.

They then roll flowers made into a ball. This is followed by the waving of ārathi (coloured water), and circumambulation of the pandal by the pair, along with the ashtamangalam or eight auspicious things, viz., the bridesmaid, best man, lamp, vessel filled with water, mirror, ankusam (elephant goad), white chamara (yak’s tail fly-flapper), flag and drum. Generally the pair go three times round the pandal, and, during the first turn, a cocoanut is broken near the grinding-stone, and the bride is told that it is Siva, and the roller Sakthi, the two combined being emblematical of Ardanārisvara, a bisexual representation of Siva and Parvathi. During the second round, the story of Arundati is repeated to the bride. Arundati was the wife of the Rishi Vasishta, and is looked up to as a model of conjugal fidelity. The morning star is supposed to be Arundati, and the purōhit generally points it out to the bridal pair at the close of the ceremonial, which terminates with three hōmams. The wedding may be concluded in a single day, or last for two or three days.

The dead are either buried or cremated. The corpse is carried to the burning or burial-ground on a bier or palanquin. As the Agamudaiyans are Saivites, Pandārams assist at the funeral ceremonies. On the second or third day after death, the son and others go to the spot where the corpse was buried or burnt, and offer food, etc., to the deceased. A pot of water is left at the [16]spot. Those who are particular about performing the death ceremonies on an elaborate scale offer cooked food to the soul of dead person until the fifteenth day, and carry out the final death ceremonies (karmāndhiram) on the sixteenth day. Presents are then given to Brāhmans, and, after the death pollution has been removed by sprinkling with holy water (punyāham), a feast is given to the relatives.

The Agamudaiyans worship various minor deities, such as Aiyanar, Pidāri, and Karupannaswāmi.

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