Home | Biodata | Biography | Photo Gallery | Publications | Tributes
[Back to Narikorava Studies]
The caste system among the Narikoravas and the ceremonies they perform at various important functions in their lives makes interesting study. Through the help of a questionnaire and by direct interview with the elders in the group we collected information about their caste divisions and the ceremonies they perform at birth, marriage and death. They also told us about the various poojas they perform. We describe here the details regarding their caste system, religious and other domestic ceremonies. We also have a small section on disputes among the Narikorava people.
1. CASTE DIVISIONS AND RELIGION
There are broadly two main groups of Nari Koravans--those who sacrifice the buffalo and those who sacrifice the goat.The latter are more numerous in Orakadu village. They have four different castes or divisions among them viz. Gujarathi (perhaps from Gujarat), Mevaado (perhaps from Mewar), Dhaabi and Se$liyo.( A fifth division, Pava$r, was added, based on a later study). Each group is distinguished by the goddess they worship and is subdivided into a number of smaller groups bearing different names The Gujarathis worship Paravetteeswari or Paravettamman (Paarvati) and are divided into—Jumblo, Govinda, Raamu, Panwaar and Manikyo. Mevaados worship Bhadra Meenakshi or Madura Meenakshi and are divided into five smaller groups—Dheto, Daarkyo, Heero, Navel and Naamo. Kali or Durgaa is the goddess of the Dhaabi group whose subdivisions are Datto, Manyo and Makhro. Sel or Kanniamma is the goddess of the Seliyo group. It has only one class called Veethiyo.
Our informant, Pardesi, a gaunt middle-aged man in the early forties with a forbidding moustache and an imposing figure, was a Datto of the Dhaabi group and gave his family history. According to him the earliest (first) Kuruvikaran was one Kaaliaraaja, a king who went to the forest for hunting and lost his way. The goddess Kaali appeared to him in the form of a bat and assured him of her protection by a saying, which means -- "you beget children in the forest, I shall bring them up in the plateaus". Henceforth that group took Kaali as their deity. Pardesi reeled off the names of fifteen ancestors from the original Kaaliaraja viz.-- Vaatsinya, Dhaadar, Dhamsi, Mehpal, Panchi, Tularam Mahoon, Makhundar, Dhaadar, Manyo, Sandal, Appa, Harna, Gulpanisingh, Raman Singh down to Pardesi himself. He has a son Kumar and a grandson Munna. It is interesting to note that Pardesi, an illiterate person is able to remember the long list of names of his ancestors while some of us do not even remember the names of our great-grand father!
The Narikoravans are all Hindus and are intensely religious in their own way Though they visit temples occasionally, they worship their goddesses in their own places. The idols of the goddesses are kept in a bundle of clothes called by them as 'sami moottai' meaning "God's bundle". Each family has a sami moottai which is reverently and carefully looked after by the head of the family. The sami moottai contains packs of the blood of the animals they sacrifice in cloth and other clothes dipped in the animals' blood. These they claim are many generations old.
Four silver plated reliefs (about 10 cms high) of their goddesses are kept in triangular shaped cushion like bags. In two figures breasts are prominently displayed. The figures are represented with only two hands each, and not a single hand is represented in the abhaya (protection) or varadha (boon-giving) pose commonly associated with deities. Each figure is represented with a long skirt-like lower garment, a tall head-dress, bangles, arm-band and necklace. The first figure wears a blouse, has a prominent belly and holds a flower in each hand.(Women of the Narikorava tribe wear their skirt in the same manner low on the hip). It also wears a long garland with the two ends loose. The second and third figures do not seem to have blouses, but are definitely female. They wear leg ornaments. A flower with six petals is held in the left hand and a bird--probably a parakeet--in the right hand held at shoulder level. On the lower sides two peacocks are depicted and just above them parakeets upside down.(Many Narikoravas do not eat the parakeet) The fourth figure is more or less identical with the first figure, except that it displays a siraschakra and it is not clear whether it is a female. So the four different figures represent two sets of deities.
There is also a blood soaked paavaadai (skirt) called 'sami-paavadai'. Women are not allowed to touch the sami moottai and the sami moottai of one group should not be touched by other groups. They are very reluctant to open and show the sami moottai to others. At the time of the 'pooja' or worship the head of the family unties his hair and spreads it out and opens the sami moottai. He wears the blood stained skirt and places the silver-plated reliefs of the goddesses on the triangular cushions which are kept on the opened sami moottai. Flowers and kumkum (coloured turmeric powder) are placed in front of the goddesses. The blood of the sacrificed animal is also put in front of the goddesses and the head of the family dances in front of the goddesses and rolls on the blood. When a son marries, a part of the father's sami moottai is given to him. The oldest piece of cloth is transferred to his sami moottai for sometime and then returned to the father's sami moottai. But the eldest son inherits the sami moottai of his father so that it will have the oldest blood-soaked cloth, which is normally seven or eight generations old.
Whenever they perform a pooja they invite all their relatives -- the Gotrakaars (who are related to him on the paternal side) are paid five rupees per head as gift; while the Sambandhees (who are related by marriage) are paid two rupees each.
2. SOME OF THEIR CEREMONIES:
They shave the head of the child whether it is male or female on the fifth day and name the child -- usually the male child takes the name of the city or village where it is born as e.g. Nellore Singh or Guntur Singh. Only the women have a feast consisting of cooked rice, jaggery (brown sugar) and ghee (clarified butter).
The dresses and ornaments for the bride called maangani are bought on the previous day and the bride and bridegroom tie the kankanam (a thread dipped in turmeric) to one another on that day. The groom pays a parisam (money) amount to the bride's people (this is around Rs.500/- now); and gives a feast to all the relatives. Betel leaves and dakshina (gift or money) are distributed to all. In the evening, the groom ties the taali (string dipped in turmeric) made of black beads to the bride. On the day of the wedding, another taali of black beads is tied to the bride by the groom. The festivities on this day take place in the bride's home. While their normal diet is of boiled rice only, on almost all pooja and festive days they restrict themselves to raw rice only. Drinking is quite a normal affair on all occasions. The women swing a series of lamps round the couple--perhaps to 'ward off the evil eye'. The next day, the Kankana Visarijanam (or removing the Kankanams) is done. The couple sit on opposite sides of a big vessel full of water. The bride's brother puts into the vessel a number of rings and slips a small coin along-with. Both the couple simultaneously search for the coin inside the water and one who gets it first is deemed the winner. (This custom appears to be followed among many Hindus also). The couple feed each other with idli (rice cake) and there is the ceremonial bath. The festivities then end.
3. AT DEATH:
The dead body cannot normally be kept overnight and must be cremated the same day. If death takes place on a Friday, a chicken is also taken along with the body and is let off free at the burial ground. The body is decked with new clothes and flowers and is placed on a bier made of fresh bamboos and is carried on the shoulders. The funeral procession is made up of friends and relatives who blow the horns, beat drums, sing and dance alongside. After the burial, they have a bath and only then return home. For men, eleven days of mourning are observed and for women only ten days. The obsequies or karumadhi is performed the next day.
Each family takes their sami moottai and they go to a place which is outside their dwelling area. Rice and vegetables are distributed to all the families and the cooking is done in the open. The cooked rice (raw rice only) and the saambhaar (a kind of soup) is kept in the plates all together near one place. The family in which death occurred, takes the sami thattu (a wooden plate of about 60 cms by 30 cms which is used only on occasions) and places alternately cooked rice and sweets on the plate. The relatives also place their share of rice etc. The deceased's name is uttered and a handful of the mixture is taken out and made into a ball and is kept aside. Those balls of rice are to be given to dogs only. Then the food is thoroughly mixed and distributed to all present. The other foods in the plates are taken by the families back and is eaten at home. The mud pots used for cooking are all broken at that place. The people have a bath and then return home.
During the course of the year, whenever money is available, they perform the first annual ceremony by killing a goat and giving feast to all the relatives. After this, there are no more ceremonies.
4. THE POOJA:
When money is available each family performs a Pooja to its deity. Generally expenses amount to five hundred rupees. For Kaali or Durga one goat is to be sacrificed. Kaali prefers toddy or arrack and two bottles of that are to be provided. Durga does not like this and for that deity two bottles of Ginger beer are to be kept. They require one bag of rice, 12 cocoanuts, a maund of flour, 6 viss of jaggery, 2 viss of oil, 1/2 viss of ghee and two rupees worth of camphor. Lot of flowers are also required. The sambandhees and the gotrakaars are invited and paid their dakshinas. There are the usual dances, drinking and singing during pooja. The priest dons the blood-stained skirt with tiny globular bells, sacrifices the goat and drinks the blood after offering it to the goddess. They have a good feast thereafter.
Some special poojas are alao performed but these appear to have gone out of use now-a-days. One of them is the Seven pots Pooja.
5. SEVEN POTS POOJA:
This costs noney and a good deal of determination as well. Three stones are placed on the ground to form an oven and a series of seven pots of decreasing sizes are taken. The biggest should be enough to hold one to one and a half measures of rice and the smallest could hold about 1/8 measure of rice. Raw rice alone is taken, is well washed and kept in the various vessels allowing enough water in each pot for purposes of cooking.The pots are then placed on the oven in decreasing size with the smallest pot on the top. A fire is lighted below. The group of people have their drinks, sing and dance around the pots. This stops when the rice in the topmost pot boils out. The priest will take that pot down and place it aside; then with his bare fingers he will stir the rice in the next pot. The water will not be warm (so they claim and believe) -- as anyone in the audience could check up by dipping his fingers! Again singing and dancing continue till the rice in the now-topmost pot boils out; this again is taken off and kept aside. As before, the rice in the next pot is stirred by bare fingers only and it would be found cold to the touch as before; this procedure continues till the rice in the biggest pot boils out. Then all the rice is mixed in the sami thattu with jaggery etc. and is distributed to all present. The people firmly believe in the above and our informant Pardesi told us that he had witnessed such a Pooja but had not been the priest on such an occasion.
6. MILK POOJA:
Another Pooja called the Milk Pooja has also been given up in recent years. Pancakes are made out of moistened wheat flour and are put into boiling oil for frying. The priest, i.e. the head of the family performing the Pooja, will dip his fingers into the oil to see whether the cake is well fried or not and this will be repeated a number of times. His fingers will not got scalded even though he dips them again and again in the boiling oil!
7. DISPUTES AMONG THE NAKIKORAVAS:
The main disputes are of two kinds. The first relating to saamisothu (or the bundle in which the metal plaques depicting the deities are kept) of the various families and the other to marital relations between the members of the tribe.
A man in the tribe has high prestige if he has a prestigeous sami moottai. The older the contents, the greater the prestige. An older man may bequeath his sami moottai to one of his younger relatives (if he has no children) but the other relatives may use all kinds of devices to get the moottai. They may act friendly towards the owner of the sami moottai or advance some money. The rivalry between the different individuals for possession of the sami moottai leads to disputes.
A primary marriage is one when an unmarried man weds an unmarried woman. If a man has contracted other forms of marriage he will again marry to have a primary marriage. Widows often attach themselves to other men as wives after the death of their husbands. A. woman may desert a husband and go and live with another man. A complaint will be made by the husband to the leaders. The man who has taken the woman is asked to pay back the former husband the expenses incurred by the former husband for marrying the woman (marriage expenses) which is about Rs.1000/-. In one case the husband demanded an additional amount of Rs.1000/- for having brought up the wife for many years before marrying her. Mr Raghupathy( a social worker among Narikoravas, has married a Narikorava girl and the couple run a school for Narikorava children near Saidapet) suggested Rs.600/- (instead of Rs.2000/-) a sum acceptable to the new husband but not to the old.
The old husband threatened to hold the kudumi (tuft of hair at the back of the head) of the uncle of the new husband. This uncle was highly respected by the group because of (i) his sami sothu and (ii) his model behaviour (good name). But if someone were to hold his tuft then it will be a great insult and his name will be spoilt. This dispute was not yet over. In the meanwhile the new husband wished to have a new bride (who is not married) and asked for Indira Gandhi, a girl who was studying in the Narikorava school at Saidapet.
There was another case where a man and a woman ran off together without the permission of the parents (when the parents were away). They had a nikka, an emergency marriage before Mr.Raghupathy (exchanged garlands in front of him) with some other people as witnesses. When the parents come they have to settle accounts. The man may have to pay back the marriage expenses to the former husband of the girl. The girl is pregnant now. They have to wait till the child is born so that they may celebrate the marriage. (Marriage is not celebrated if the woman is pregnant).
At Vayalur there is a leader named Palani. He has introduced a new code: the people of Vayalur will not give their women in marriage to men who are not settled. As a consequence a new group has settled down at Perunagar near Vayalur. They have no brick houses but yet they are settling down.
One of the Perunagar men was involved in theft of jewellery. (He had joined a group of thieves). It is said that the Narikoravas of Chinglepet area steal chicken. They are also said to steal small articles from shops. The shoplifters ask the salesman to get some thing kept far away from where he is sitting and steal some articles and hide them in their arm-pits. They also cover themselves with a cloth. It is said that the people from Villupuram area (who wear a lot of bead necklaces) go in a group and ask for change for ten rupees. When the change is given they swear that they got less and try to get some more money. They also sell nari-kombu "jackal horn", so called. Some jackals or cats have straight claw which they sell as peria nari-kombu (from jackal) and sinna nari-kombu (from cat).
Those who settle down have a tendency not to wear a lot of bead necklaces. (They wear gold-colored glass beads). Men wear the dhoti and women the sari.
Even though the Narikoravas have been reported to be living in Tamil Nadu for a few centuries now, their caste system, their modes of worship and their ceremonies differ very much from the common practices in Tamil Nadu and the influence of their neighbours have not changed them very much