From the earliest recorded times, the Paravars were an independent, seafaring people, involved in sea-related activities such as fishing, specializing in the seasonal harvesting of pearl oysters and chanks, navigation, boat building, and production of sea salt. In ancient times, being seaborne traders, they were occasionally given to piracy and smuggling.
In the Madras Census Report, 1901, it is noted:
… there are in reality three castes which answer to the name Paravan, and which speak Tamil, Malayalam, and Canarese respectively. Probably all three are descended from the Tamil Paravans or Paratavans. The Tamil Paravans are ﬁshermen on the sea coast. Their headquarters is Tuticorin, and their headman is called Talavan … The Malayalam Paravans are shell collectors, limo burners and gymnasts, and their women act as midwives. Their titles are Kurup, Varnkurup, and Nurankurup (nuru, lime). The Canarese Paravans are umbrella-makers and devil- dancers.”
It has been further speculated that the splitting of the latter two groups from the first may have been as a consequence of a desire to flee from the ancient tribal areas in Tinnevelly to avoid the oppression by the Muhammadans.
In the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4 in Art. V, “Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas” Simon Casie Chitty, Maniyagar of Putlam, Ceylon, M. R.A. S. &c., &c., &c. wrote:
In the classiﬁcation of the Tamil castes, the Parawas rank ﬁrst among the tribes of ﬁshermen, and they are generally allowed to have been the earliest navigators in the Indian Ocean, like the Phoenicians in the Mediterranean. They are described in the Tamil dictionary, entitled Nigundu Sulamani, under the head of Neythanilémakkal, or inhabitants of the sea-coast. In Sanscrit, they are called Parasavas, or Nishadas, and in Tamil, Parathar, Parathavar, and Paravar.
Little is known about the Paravars from the 5th to the 15th century.
Robin Arthur Donkin (1928–2006), an English historian and geographer who in 1990 served as a reader in Historical Geography in Cambridge University’s Department of Geography has argued that with one exception, “there are no native literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or indeed much sense of place, before the thirteenth century”, and that any historical observations have to be made using Arab, European and Chinese accounts.
Pandyan king Arikesari Maravarman (r. c. 670–710 AD), also known as Arikesari Parankusa, ruled parts of present-day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to the Velvikkudi grant (stone inscription), he won battles at Pali, Nelveli, Uraiyur and Sennilam. Except for Uraiyur, the identity of these places is not certain. E. Hultzsch identified Nelveli with modern Tirunelveli. The larger Chinnamanur grant states (stone inscription) that Arikesari Maravarman won battles at Nelveli and Sankaramangai, and also defeated the Pallavas. The inscription further states that he ruined the Paravar (a southern fishing community).
Though works in the Tamil Sangam literature such as Ettuthokai, Paththupaattu, Ahanaanooru, Madurai Kaanchi and Pattinappaalai refer to the lives of the Paravars, there are different views regarding events up to the early 16th century among the investigators of the Paravar history.
Madurai Kaanchi (Tamil: மதுரைக் காஞ்சி), a Tamil poetic work in the Pathinenmaelkanakku anthology of Tamil literature, belonging to the Sangam period (spanning from c. 3rd century BC to c. 3rd century AD) contains 583 lines of poetry written by the poet Mankuti Maruthanaar in praise of the Pandya King Nedunjeliyan II on the occasion of his victory at the battle of Talayanankanam. In this work, the Paravas are described as being most powerful in the country around Korkai:
“Well fed on ﬁsh and armed with bows, their hordes terriﬁed their enemies by their dashing valour.”
Madurai Kaanchi describes Korkai as the chief town in the country of Parathavar and the seat of the pearl ﬁshery, with a population consisting chieﬂy of pearl divers and chank cutters. When the Pandyan kingdom was powerful. the Paravas had grants of certain rights from the monarchy, paying tribute from the produce of the ﬁsheries, and receiving protection and immunity from taxation in return.
Isaac Rajendran and Freda Chandrasekaran have said in their work “History of the Indian pearl banks of the Gulf of Mannar”. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India. 18 (3): 549–550, that up to the 16th century the Paravars had held almost a monopoly of the rights to exploit the pearl fisheries, having negotiated with successive kings to achieve this.
The Pandyan kings allowed the Paravars to manage and operate the pearl fisheries because of their ancient skills in that activity, which required specialist seamanship abilities, knowledge of the location of the oyster beds and the art of tending them. The Pandyan kings exempted the Paravars from taxation and allowed them to govern themselves in return for being paid tribute from the harvested oysters.
Theodore Maynard in his work “The Odyssey of Francis Xavier” has claimed, the south Indian coastal areas around Kanyakumari were “the greatest pearl fishery in the world”, and that the Hindu people who fished for oysters there ” … were known as the Paravas, a caste sufficiently low, although not of the very lowest.”
Although Robert Eric Frykenberg, in his book “Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present” has described them as a “… proud and venturesome seafaring folk engaged in fishing, pearl diving, trading, and piracy,” Adrian Hastings in his book “A World History of Christianity” has pointed out that the piracy (and some smuggling) was only an occasional activity and that their more normal occupations demanded courage, strength and stamina, which made them “hardened adventurers”.
During the reign of the Pandya kings, the Paravars had their headquarters at Korkai harbour and were spread out into several fishing hamlets in the pearl fishery coast of Gulf of Mannar and adjacent Comerin coast:
Alanthalai, Chethupar, Idinthakarai, Kanyakumari, Kootapuli, Kovalam, Kumari muttam, Kuthenkuly, Manapad, Mookur, Muttom, Palayakayal, Periathalai, Periyakadu, Perumanal, Pozhikkarai, Pudukarai, Punnaikayal, Puthanthurai, Rajakamangalam Thurai, Thalambuli, Thanumalayan Pillai Thoppu, Thiruchendur, Thoothukudi, Uvari, Vaippar, Vembar, Virapandianpatnam
The Paravars had a succession of chiefs among them, distinguished by the title ‘Adiarasen‘, later, the leaders were known by titles such as: Thalaivan, Pattankattiyars, Araiyars and Adappannars.
Chinnaswami Subramania Bharati (December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921), popularly known as “Mahakavi Bharati” and “Bharathiyar” a Tamil writer, poet and journalist, social reformer, and an activist for the Indian independence wrote a song titled Viduthalai (Freedom). In the first stanza he says:
பரவ ரோடு குறவருக்கும்
மறவ ருக்கும் விடுலை;
(Transliteration: Paravarodu Kuravarukkum Maravarukkum Viduthalai)
“Along with the Paravar, freedom for Kurvar and Marvar;”
Thus Bharathi celebrated the liberation of India for the ancient Tamil tribes from the foreign yoke, decades before she actually gained independence and envisaged how the people from all castes will embrace it and pave the way to an egalitarian society.
KURAVAR is a community of non-pastoral hunter-gatherers who lead a life of nomadic gipsies.
From ancient times to the present day, the Paravars coexist peacefully along with the Maravar (Thevar) community in inland villages since they are blood-related and hail from the same stock. Popular titles of “Rayar”, is shared by members of these two castes of the Pandya kingdom. My grandfather and father are natives of Manakkarai, a village near Vallanadu (between Palayamkottai and Thoothukudi) where the Maravar and Paravar communities live in peace. At Manakkarai, the Marava elders would greet me as one of their relatives saying:
“Glad to see you marumagane (nephew). You really resemble your late father, our maaple (cousin), Vincent’.”
To be continued…
- Pandyan Dynasty (en.wikipedia.org)
- Paravar (en.wikipedia.org)
- Arikesari Maravarman (en.wikipedia.org)
- Duarte Barbosa (en.wikipedia.org)
- Robin Donkin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Donkin
- தேசீய கீதங்கள் (lakshmansruthi.com)
- Mukkulathor (en.wikipedia.org)
- The Paravars: A Preamble (tvaraj.com)
- The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths (tvaraj.com)
- The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore (tvaraj.com)
- The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar (tvaraj.com)
Isaac Rajendran and Freda Chandrasekaran, “History of the Indian pearl banks of the Gulf of Mannar”. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India. 18 (3): 549–550,
Donkin, Robin A. (1998). “Beyond price: pearls and pearl-fishing: origins to the age of discoveries”. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. American Philosophical Society. 224. ISBN 978-0-87169-224-5.
Maynard, Theodore (1936). The odyssey of Francis Xavier. Longsman, Green.
Frykenberg, Robert Eric (2008). Christianity in India: from beginnings to the present (Reprinted ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-19-826377-7.
Hastings, Adrian (2000). A World History of Christianity. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 166–168. ISBN 978-0-8028-4875-8.