The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste

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There are different methods of assessment to understand any particular society. For example, in accordance with their respective academic and social backgrounds the anthropologists, ethnologists, and sociologists all attempt to study and understand communities. However, a complete understanding of any given community is impossible without taking its historical background and it requires an unbiased and unprejudiced approach. The writing of this series on the Paravars has been motivated by such a sense of responsibility.

As south India is situated along the ancient maritime trade routes that connected Europe and West Asia with the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, it was but natural that the ancient Tamil literature is replete with references to foreigners such as the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Arabs, and the Chinese.

In his work on ancient India, Ptolemy who appears to have resided in Alexandria during the first half of the second century AD had identified Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) and the Gulf of Mannar as a centre of pearl fishery. He had also mentioned that Korkai, the ancient Tamil port city to the east of Kanyakumari, as the cynosure of pearl trade.

An Arabic work of the tenth century, Adja’ib Al-Hind, refers to a merchant from Alexandria known as Cosmas Indicopleustes, who sailed to south India in the sixth century AD before Egypt was Arabised or Islamised.

To the pre-Islamic Arabs, ports and towns in South India, Ceylon, and south-east Asia were along their trade routes to China. In ancient Tamil literature, the pre-Islamic Arabs along with the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Jews, who had fled their homes in West Asia, were frequently referred to as Yavanas.

In the seventh century AD, the Islamic political-cum-religious revolution, based on the principle of equality that swept across Arabia opened a new chapter in world history. Very soon,  parts of the world stretching from Spain to Arabia and from Arabia to China, Persia, and Sind in the Indian sub-continent, came under the influence of the revolutionary wave of Islam.

Among the early Islamised Arab travellers who sailed to India in the 9th-century was Sulaiman al-Tajir. He was a merchant, traveller and writer initially from Siraf in modern-day Iran. He made several voyages from the Persian Gulf to the Malabar and Coromandel coasts, and China and wrote an account of his voyages around ad 850 AD.

J. B. Prashant More in his book “Muslim Identity, Print Culture, and the Dravidian Factor in Tamil Nadu” writes that Abu Zeyed Al Hassan of Siraf, though he had never set foot on Indian soil, edited and completed the work of Sulaiman al-Tajir by gathering information from merchants and travellers who had been to India and that he has left us a vivid account of certain social and political conditions of southern India and Ceylon.

According to Abu Zeyed in the densely populated country called ‘Al-Comary’, which has been identified as Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari), the inhabitants went barefoot, abstained from licentiousness and from all sorts of wine, and that ‘nothing indecent’ was to be seen in this region. However, Abu Zeyed mentions the ‘Devadasi’ custom that was prevalent in the country, where some females were consecrated to the gods and such females were allowed to have sexual relationships with foreigners in exchange for money.

Also, Abu Zeyed notes that the men and women of Ceylon were extreme licentious and even the king’s daughter did not hesitate to flirt with a newly arrived Arab merchant, with the full knowledge of the king. On account of such sexual permissiveness, Arab merchants of integrity avoided sending their vessels to Ceylon, especially when there were young men on board.

Neither Sulaiman nor Abu Zeyed refer to the presence of Tamil Muslim communities of mixed descent or otherwise, during the 9th-century. However, there is a strong possibility, though it cannot be clearly ascertained, whether relationships either with the women of the Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar or with the Devadasis of the Kanyakumari country resulted in offspring of mixed Arab-Indian descent.

Both Ibn Khurdadba (d. 912 AD), the famous Arabian traveller, historian and geographer who converted to Islam and the Arab historian Al Masudi (896–956), who were contemporaries of Abu Zeyed have nothing more to add to our knowledge of the origin of Muslim communities in the Coromandel Coast. However, Ibn Khurdadba noted that in the country of Kumar (Kanyakumari), both drinking wine and fornication were unlawful.

During the second half of the tenth century, neither did the Persian writer, Al-Istakhri (d. 957 AD), nor the Arab Muslim writer Ibn Hawqal (d. 978 AD), who spent the last 30 years of his life traveling to remote parts of Asia and Africa, shed any light on the Tamil Muslims of the Coromandel coast.

In the 9th century, Southern India came under the control of the Cholas but around the mid-1200s, after a series of battles reverted back to the control of the Pandyan kings.

The 9th century Tamil classic Thiruvasakam written by Manikkavasagar does not shed any light on the Tamil Muslim communities in the Coromandel Coast but mentions the Arab horse traders. that was carried on in the Tamil country with the Arabs.

Though the 12th century Tamil classic Periya Puranam written by the great poet Sekkilar does not mention the presence of Tamil Muslims on the Coromandel coast, we nevertheless find in it many references to ships, merchants and the conservative nature of the then Tamil society.

The earliest available written records by a foreigner about the Tamils of the southern coast are the accounts of Marco Polo (1254-1324), the Venetian traveller, merchant, explorer, and writer. In 1292 CE, while returning home from China in a merchant ship he entered the kingdom of the Tamil Pandyas on the Coromandel coast. His accounts reveal that the most powerful sovereign of the Indian sub-continent of that period was Nasiruddin Mahmud, the Turkish Sultan of Delhi and though both Sind and Bengal acknowledged his supremacy, no part of south India was under his control.

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King Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I

During the middle part of the 13th century, the Pandya kingdom was ruled by many princes of the royal line. This practice of shared rule with one prince asserting primacy over the others was common in the Pandyan Kingdom.

Between 1268–1308/1310 AD, the Pandyan king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I ruled most of the regions of the Pandya kingdom by asserting his primacy over other princes of the Pandyan royal family. The other co-rulers of the Pandiyan kingdom were Jatavarman Vira Pandyan I (ruled 1253-1275 AD), Maravarman Vikkiraman III (acceded 1283 AD) and Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan II (acceded 1277 CE).

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Yapahuwa rock fortress (Photo: Adam Khan)

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In Sri Lanka, Bhuvanaika Bahu I, the king of Dambadeniya who reigned from 1272 to 1284 AD moved his capital northward to Yapahuwa, lying midway between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura for security. The citadel Yapahuwa was built around a huge isolated granite rock rising abruptly almost a hundred meters above the surrounding lowlands which he strengthened with ramparts and trenches. The fortress was also known as Subhagiri as the rock was used by a military officer named Subha before King Bhuvenekabahu converted into his citadel.

In the late 1270s, King Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan sent an expedition to Sri Lanka headed by his minister Kulasekara Cinkaiariyan Aryachakravarti who defeated Savakanmaindan of the Jaffna kingdom, a tributary to the Pandyans. He then plundered the fortress of Subhagiri (Yapahuwa) and brought with him the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Bhuvanaika Bahu’s successor Parâkkamabâhu III went personally to King Maravarman Kulasekaran Pandyan”s court and persuaded him to return the tooth relic.

Sri Lanka was under Pandyan Suzerainty for the next twenty years and regained its independence only in 1308 AD.

The Persian historian Abdulla Wassaf of Shiraz claims that an Arab Muslim named Takiuddin Abdur Rahman, son of Muhammadut Tibi was appointed by Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan as the prime minister and adviser, he was also bestowed with the coastal cities of Kulasekharapatnam, Kayalpattinam, Fitan and Mali Fitan for his services to the crown.

In 1292 CE, while returning home from China in a typical merchant ship the Venetian traveller, Marco Polo arrived on the Coromandel Coast of India. Marco Polo refers to king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I as the “eldest of five brother kings“. His accounts reveal that the hitherto independent kingdoms of southern India were as yet untouched by foreign conquest and the gold accumulated through the ages lay in their temples and treasuries, making them easy prey for any invader.

Marco Polo identified the port at Kayal under the control of king Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan. Ships from the Islamised countries of Hormuz, Kis, Dofar and Soer, Aden and the other Arabic countries touched Kayal, carrying merchandise and horses. Foreign merchants, mostly Arabs and Persians, were well received and treated with fairness by the ruler of Kayal who might have been Takiuddin Abdur Rahman.

In 1296 AD, Jatavarman Veera Pandyan II, the illegitimate but favourite older son of Maravarman Kulasekaran Pandyan associated himself with the government. Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan III, the legitimate younger son attained to that dignity sometime in 1302 AD.

Sundara Pandyan felt discontented by the preference given to Veera Pandyan by his father by advancing him to the position of co-regency. According to Muslim historians, Wassaf and Amir Khusrow, in 1310 AD, Sundara Pandyan killed his father Maravarman Kulasekaran Pandyan in a moment of rashness and placed the crown on his head in the city of Madurai. With the support of the troops loyal to him, he moved a part of the royal treasures to the city of Mankul (must be one of the Mangalams, Méla Mangalam or Kila Mangalam, in the western hills, not far from Madura and quite close to Periyakulam.)

The death of King Maravarman Kulasekaran Pandyan led to a long protracted war between his sons Veera Pandyan and Sundara Pandyan that lasted from 1308 to 1323.  During a skirmish, both the brothers fled from the battle field, each ignorant of the fate of the other but Veera Pandyan being unfortunate, and having been wounded, seven elephant loads of the gold fell to the army of Sundara Pandyan.

Until then, during Maravarman Kulasekaran Pandyan’s rule which extended over forty years, neither any foreign enemy entered his kingdom, nor any severe malady confined him to bed.

Until then, the Paravar community lived and traded their catch of fish and natural pearl oysters in peace and prospered.

Next: The Paravars: Chapter 6 – The Muhammadan Invasion of the Pandya Kingdom

Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste

 

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The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar

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In South India beaches are very much the preserve of Parava fishermen
In South India beaches are very much the preserve of Parava fishermen

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In Chapters 1 and 2, I dealt with the Hindu myths and the Jewish lore respectively that were readily accepted and endorsed by the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt which were considered “low and ritually polluting occupations.” From this chapter onwards I will be writing about what we know historically and from ancient Tamil literature about the origin of the Paravar community.

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, lime 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 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.

Stephen Neill in his work, “A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707” says:

The Paravas lived in a number of villages, perhaps about twenty in all, strung out over a narrow strip of land about a hundred miles in length, from Cape Comorin to Vembar. A hardy race, they live by the sea in two senses of that expression. For most of the year their livelihood is fishing; because of the association of this trade with the taking of life, they are not reckoned by the Hindus as belonging to one of the higher castes. They have developed astonishing skill in the management of their catamarans, each with its single lateen sail. This stern and exacting labour gives them immense physical hardihood and a strength of character which at its best is courage but may take the form of a rather rough aggressiveness. For the most part, the boats remain not far from the shore and return with the off-sea breeze in the evening. But violent tempests can arise and sweep the boats far out of sight of land; every year a number of lives are lost.

What gave variety to Parava life, and importance beyond the local scene was the annual pearl-fishery. The collection of oysters begins in March and lasts for twenty to thirty days. The oyster beds lie at a distance of five to six miles from the coast. Fantastic tales are told of the length of time that a diver can remain underwater; observation shows that the time is usually not more than a minute, and in no case exceeds a minute and a half. The work is extremely exhausting; by midday, the diver has done his work for the day and is ready to return to shore for the sorting of the catch. In a good season, the profits can be very high; but the man who does the hard work is far from being the only beneficiary.

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, 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.

In some villages, Karaiyars, a sub-sect of Paraiyars, and Mukkuvars also lived along with the Paravars. The Mukkuvars were found mostly in Kanyakumari and in the villages west of it. Members of these three castes – Paravars, Karaiyars and Mukkuvars – on the Fishery Coast were illiterate fisherman and divers who harvested pearl oysters and chanks.

The Paravar fishermen, with dark-brown complexion, wore only a kovanam (loincloth) and a white scarf around their head. Most of them were poor and addicted to intoxicating brews such as coconut toddy and arrack distilled from the juice of the palmyra palm.

Adultery was rampant among the Paravars.

The affluent males Paravars pierced their earlobes and wore heavy pearl-studded gold ear ornaments. Some writers say that a few prosperous Paravars had slaves.

The funeral custom of Sati where a widow immolates (burns) herself on her dead husband’s pyre existed among the Hindu Paravars since they believed that the women who committed Sati would live along with their husbands when reborn. Those women who refused to (immolate) themselves were forced to leave their home and become public women. And those who opposed the custom of Sati, male or female, were killed.

The Paravars were superstitious and the soothsayers and necromancers played a significant role in their lives. They sought the shark charmers to ward off shark attacks during fisheries.

Surprisingly, the Paravars did not slaughter cows for meat.

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The Rajagopuram of the Murugan Temple at Thiruchedur (Author: Vickyavw; Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

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The Paravars believed the unsubstantiated myth that god Kartikeya, also known as Murugan and Subramanian married a Parava lass named Deivanai and so they had a special affinity to the Murugan Temple at Tiruchendur which is considered as one of the six holy abodes of the deity. During the religious festivals of the temple, the inhabitants of the seven Paravar villages – Manapadu, Alanthalai, Virapandiapattanam, Punnaikaval, Thoothukudi, Vembar and Vaipar – took an active part along with the people of Tiruchendur. The Parava headman of Virapandianpattanam was given the first honour of pulling the vadam (Tamil: வடம்; rope) attached to the ther (Tamil: தேர்; festival car) of the deity during festivals.

Some writers say that the palanquins of the prosperous Paravars of Virapandianpattanam were borne on the shoulders of Idayars (shepherds) who bore the idols of the deities during festivities at the Murugan Temple in Tiruchendur.

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.

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Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period

Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stephen Neill F.B.A., A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
    Library of Congress catalogue card number: 82-23475 ISBN 0 521 24351 3 hardback, ISBN 0 521 54885 3 paperback.

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The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous:  The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore

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The most ancient sources of pearl, the queen of jewellery, are believed to be the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar that lies between India and Sri Lanka. Pre-historic people of these regions were probably the first to find the first pearls known to mankind, obviously during their quest for food.  However, to pinpoint an exact region where the discovery and appreciation of pearls first began may be difficult.

In 315 BC, the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, pupil and successor of Aristotle in the Peripatetic school wrote that pearls came from the waters off the coast of India, and certain islands in the Red Sea and in the Sinus Persicus (Persian Gulf).

Megasthenes, the Greek geographer and writer, who accompanied Alexander’s general Seleucus Nicator in his Asiatic conquests,  visited many regions of India, including Madurai, the capital of the Pandya kingdom. While in southern India, he also learnt about the neighbouring island of Sri Lanka which he called “Taprobane,” and its valuable resources, such as pearls and a variety of gemstones. Subsequently, in his famous work “Indica” he wrote that Taprobane was an important source of large pearls.

The Alexandrian-Roman geographer, Claudius Ptolemy ( c. AD 100 – c. 170)   wrote about the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar, both on the South Indian side and the Sri Lankan side.

The Periplus Maris Erythraei (Periplus of the Erythrian Sea), written by an unknown Alexandrian-Greek author, in the second half of the 1st-century A.D (approximately 60 A.D.), mentions the route to the east coast of India, is through the Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka. It provides an extensive account of the pearl fishery in the Gulf of Mannar, particularly on the Indian side of the Gulf, and the pearl fishery of Epidprus (Mannar Island) on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf.

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The Gulf of Mannar

Gulf of Mannar (satellite image)

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The Gulf of Mannar is a large shallow bay, a part of the Lakshadweep Sea. It lies between the southeastern tip of India and the west coast of Sri Lanka. The estuaries of the river Thamirabarani of south India and the Malvathu Oya (Malvathu River) of Sri Lanka drain into the Gulf of Mannar.

Geological evidence suggests that in ancient times India and Sri Lanka were connected by land. An 18-miles (30 km) long isthmus composed of limestone shoals, and coral reefs, popularly known as Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge or Ramsethu, lies between the Rameswaram Island, off the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and the Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka. Adam’s Bridge separates the Gulf of Mannar in the southwest from the Palk Strait in the northeast. The sea in the area is very shallow, only three to 30 feet (1 to 10 metres) deep in places, and hinders navigation. Some of the sandbanks are dry. Some claim that up to the 15th century, Adam’s Bridge was completely above sea level and people travelled between India and Sri Lanka on foot. The bridge they say was breached, fissured and the channel deepened by storms when a cyclone devastated the region in 1480.

In ancient times, this coast was known worldwide for its natural pearls. Greeks, Romans and Arabs sought the beautiful pearls harvested in these waters. From the time of the known history of the Tamils, pearl trading became one of the principal sources of revenue of the Tamil kings.

The bed of the Pearl Fishery Coast in the Gulf of Mannar is a fertile breeding ground for pearl oysters. There were two distinct fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar – one on the South Indian coast, the other on the northwestern Sri Lankan coast.

On the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar, the Pearl Fishery Coast of southern India extended along the Coromandel Coast from Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin). This fishery coast has been known in different periods of time in various languages as the Cholamandalam coast, Colkhic Gulf, Comorin coast, Coromandel coast, Fishery Coast, Kuru-Mandala coast, Ma’bar coast, Paralia, Pescaria, Fishery coast, Tirunelveli coast, Madura coast, etc. The coast took its name from the presence of natural pearls in the bed which is a fertile breeding ground for pearl oysters.

The pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar stretch from the island of Mannar, off the northwestern tip of Sri Lanka, south to Chilaw.

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Map of the Pearl Fishery Coast (1889)
Map of the Pearl Fishery Coast (1889)

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The Pearl Fishery Coast in Southern India and in Sri Lanka were predominantly populated by the Paravar caste. The Paravars were fishers, seamen and maritime traders. Majority of the Paravars specialised in the seasonal harvesting of pearl oysters and chank and for thousands of years.

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.

In ancient times,  this Pearl Fishery Coast was known worldwide. Greeks, Romans and Arabs sought the beautiful pearls harvested in these waters by the many Parava fisheries that operated to exploit them. From the time of the known history of the Tamils, pearl trading became one of the principal sources of revenue of the Tamil kings. By the first century AD, pearls and shanks were among the important exports from southern India.

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Royal Flag of the Jaffna Kingdom.
Royal Flag of the Jaffna Kingdom.

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In the late 1270s, Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I sent an expedition to Sri Lanka under his minister Kulasekara Cinkaiariyan Aryachakravarti near the end of the Sri Lankan king Bhuvanaikabâhu I’s reign (1272-1285 AD). Aryachakravarti defeated Savakanmaindan of the Jaffna kingdom, a tributary to the Pandyans. He plundered the fortress of Subhagiri (Yapahuwa) and brought with him the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Bhuvanaika Bahu’s successor Parâkkamabâhu III went personally to King Kulasekaran’s court and persuaded him to return the tooth relic.

Most historians agree that on later expeditions it was this Arayachakravarti who stayed behind to create the Arayachakravrati dynasty in the Kingdom of Jaffna,  and raided the western Sri Lankan coast. From then on, the pearl banks came under the sole dominance of the Aryachakravarti line of kings of Jaffna kingdom.

Political and military leaders of the same family name left a number of inscriptions in the modern-day Tamil Nadu state, with dates ranging from 1272 to 1305, during the late Pandyan Empire. According to contemporary native literature, the family also claimed lineage from the Tamil Brahmins of Rameswaram in the modern Ramanathapuram District of India.

In 1450, a Tamil military leader named Chempaha Perumal under the directive of the Sinhalese king Sapumal Kumaraya of the Kotte kingdom  invaded  the region which remained under the control of the Kotte kingdom up to 1467. After that, the region once again came under the Jaffna kingdom.

The Arayachakravrati dynasty ruled the Jaffna kingdom from the 13th until the 17th century,  when the last ruler of the dynasty, Sankili II, also known as Sankili Kumaran confronted the Portuguese. Thereafter, the entire pearl fishery on both the Sri Lankan and the Indian side of the Gulf of Mannar came under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Portuguese.

The pearl fisheries of the Gulf of Mannar were controlled independently of one another, by the Pandya, the Chola or by the regional rulers on the Indian side, and by the Sinhalese or Tamil kings on the Sri Lankan side. Sometimes, the two fisheries came under the jurisdiction of the same authorities, such as the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Portuguese (in 1619), the Dutch (in 1658), and the British (1796), whoever controlled the regions on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar.

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Next: The Paravars: Chapter 4 – The Paravar Caste

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The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

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Parvaim 

Today, most of the Paravars live mainly in and around the seaport towns in the Tirunelveli district in south India and in some of the provinces on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka and are steadfast Roman Catholics. To the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste which was considered “low and ritually polluting occupations,” namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt, the following information about Parvaim and Ophir ought to warm their hearts.

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Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)
Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)

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In 1873, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4, Issue 07, January 1837, pp 130-134, a paper submitted by Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty (1807-1860), District Judge of Chilaw and Maniagar of Puttalam, Ceylon, a writer of great repute, says:

“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 Phœnicians in the Mediterranean. They are described in the Tamil dictionary, entitled Nigundu Súlamaní, under the head of Neythanílémakkal, or inhabitants of the sea-coast. In Sanscrit, they are called Parasavas, or Nishadas, and in Tamil, Parathar, Parathavar, and Paravar. The author of the Historia Ecclesiastica (published in Tamil, at Tranquebar, in the year 1735), identifies them with the Parvaim of the Scriptures, and adds, that in the time of Solomon they were famous among those who made voyages by sea; but it does not appear that there is any solid foundation for this hypothesis.” (Art. V.—Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas)

Tranquebar is present-day Tharangambadi, founded by the Danish East India Company in 1620.

The word Parvaim occurs only in 2 Chronicles 3:6 in the Bible, as the place from which Solomon obtained gold for decorating his Temple.

He also covered the house with precious stones for splendor; the gold was from Parvaim. (2 Chronicles 3:6)

Some scholars have suggested that Parvaim derives from the Sanskrit word purva, a general term for ‘east’. Whether there was such a place called Parvaim in the East is doubtful.

Ophir

Some scholars have identified Parvaim with Ophir, but it is uncertain whether it is even the name of a place.

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King Hiram's freet brings gifts to King Solomon
King Hiram’s fleet brings gifts to King Solomon

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In the Bible (and the Torah) The Books of Kings and Chronicles tell of a joint expedition to Ophir, a port on the Red Sea, by King Solomon and the Tyrian King Hiram I from Eziongeber. They brought back vast amounts of gold, precious stones and almug wood from Ophir:

They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. ( 1 Kings 9:28)

Hiram’s fleet, which used to bring gold from Ophir, also brought from there a very large quantity of almug wood and precious stones. ( 1 Kings 10:11)

But now, because of the delight I take in the house of my God, in addition to all that I stored up for the holy house, I give to the house of my God my personal fortune in gold and silver: three thousand talents of Ophir gold, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the rooms for the various utensils to be made of gold and silver, and for every work that is to be done by artisans. Now, who else will contribute generously and consecrate themselves this day to the LORD?” (1 Chronicles 29:3-5)

The servants of Huram and of Solomon who brought gold from Ophir also brought cabinet wood and precious stones. (2 Chronicles 9:10)

In those times Solomon went to Ezion-geber and to Elath on the seashore of the land of Edom. Huram had his servants send him ships and his own servants, expert seamen; they went with Solomon’s servants to Ophir, and obtained there four hundred and fifty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 8:17-18)

King Solomon also built a fleet at Ezion-geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea in the land of Edom. To this fleet, Hiram sent his own servants, expert sailors, with the servants of Solomon. They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (1 Kings 9:26-28)

Almug (sometimes rendered Algum) is a type of wood referred to in the Hebrew Bible, however, the variety of this wood is unknown. King Solomon constructed the Temple using almug together with cedar and pine. Almug was also used to craft musical instruments for use in the Temple. Likely the wood brought from the distant country of Ophir was very valuable.

There are references to the ‘gold of Ophir’ in several other books of the Bible:

And treat raw gold as dust, the fine gold of Ophir as pebbles in the wadi, (Book of Job 22:24)

Daughters of kings are your lovely wives; a princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand. (Psalms 45:10)

I will make mortals more rare than pure gold, human beings, than the gold of Ophir. (Isaiah 13:12)

There are specific possibilities that Ophir is in the Southern part of India – a region well-known for gold, ivory and peacocks. In ancient times, sandalwood came almost exclusively from South India.

In a dictionary of the Bible published by Sir William Smith in 1863, Hurd and Houghton, 1863 (1870), a note on page 1441 says that the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, is derived from the Classical Tamil word Thogkai referring to peacock. Thogkai is just one of the classical Tamil words along with words for ivory, cotton-cloth and apes mentioned in the Torah.

This theory that Ophir is in Tamil Nadu, India, is further supported by other historians like K. S. Ramaswami Sastri, in The Tamils and their culture, Annamalai University, 1967, pp.16; Gregory James, Tamil Lexicography, M. Niemeyer, 1991, pp.10; Edna Fernandes, The last Jews of Kerala, Portobello, 2008, pp.98.

Some identify Ophir as Uvari, a coastal village in Radhapuram Taluk in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu State, India. It is 59 kilometres towards the South from Tirunelveli and 704 kilometres from Chennai. The main occupation of the villagers is fishing. Many of the men are sailors.

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 Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar

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The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: A Preamble

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In this and the next chapter, I will attempt to present in a condensed form some of the myths that pertain to the origin of the Paravars.

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Myth #1: Paravars are offsprings of a Brahmin and a Sūdra woman

The word ‘Tantras’ refer to various scriptures of several esoteric traditions rooted in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy.

Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765 -1837), an English orientalist and a former director of the Royal Asiatic Society, followed some of the Tantras while enumerating Indian classes, and he represented the Paravars as descendants of a Brahmin who consorted a Sūdra woman.

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Myth #2: Paravars are offspring of a Kurava male and a Chetty female

Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty (1807-1860) of Sri Lanka, a writer of great repute, cites the Jātībēdi Nūl (a work of some celebrity among the Tamils) which describes the Paravars as “the offspring of a Kurava (or basket-maker) begotten clandestinely through a female of the Chetty (or merchant) tribe.”

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Myth #3: Paravas descended from Varuna (the god of water)

Some Paravas have among themselves a different tradition about their origin. According to them, their progenitor was Varuna (god of water).

Soorapadman, the leader of the Asuras (evil spirits) after performing a tapas (an act of devotion through deep meditation) received a boon from Shiva that protected him from death except a being manifested from Shiva himself. Having gained immortality, Soorapadman vanquished the Devas (heavenly spirits) and made them his slaves. The Devas appealed to Vishnu, but he refused to help them. Next, they appealed to Shiva.

Shiva decided to take action against Soorapadman‘s increasing arrogance. He opened his third eye – the eye of knowledge – that started releasing flares. There were six flares in total. Shiva gave Agni, the god of fire, the responsibility to take the flares to Saravana Lake. Soon after, a beautiful child manifested on a lotus in the Lake with six faces.

Six sisters known as the Kṛttikā (constellation Pleiades) were given the responsibility of taking care of the child and thus the child came to be known as Kārtikeya.

According to an extension of the myth, the Paravars also manifested along with Kārtikeya and were nursed by the constellation Kṛttikā.  Since the Paravars were born out of the water they naturally became the descendants of Varuna, the god of water.

Kārtikeya became the supreme general of the Devas. He led the army of the Devas to victory against the Asuras. On the fifth day of Kandha Sasthi, Soorapadman visited Kārtikeya and saw his Vishwaroopam.

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Soorapadman vathai padalam
Soorapadman vathai padalam

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Soorapadman faced Kārtikeya in battle and was defeated even though he used illusions. As a last stand when all his illusions had failed him, Soorapadman transformed himself into a mango tree hoping to escape death. Kārtikeya with his vel (spear) split the tree in two. One half became the peacock, the vehicle of Kārtikeya and the other half became the cockerel, the emblem on Kārtikeya‘s flag.

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Myth #4: The fable in Valaivīcu kāviyam

In Valaivīcu kāviyam: Tiruviḷaiyāṭal kataippāṭal, an epic composed by the Tamil poet Ār̲umukapperumāḷ Cir̲avān̲, Parvati, the consort of Shiva, and her son Kartikēya, having offended the deity by revealing some ineffable mystery, were condemned to quit their celestial mansions, and pass through an infinite number of mortal reincarnations, before they could be re-admitted to the divine presence. However, when Parvati pleaded with Shiva, he reduced the punishment to one incarnation each.

About this time, Triambaka, King of the Paravas, and Varuna Valli his consort were performing tapas (acts of devotion) to obtain an issue. Parvati conceded to their prayer and incarnated as their daughter under the name of Tīrysēr Madentē.

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Shark

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Kartikēya transformed himself into a fish and roamed the North Sea for some time. He then entered the South Sea, where, after growing to an immense size, attacked the vessels of the Paravas and became a threat to their traditional fishing and seafaring trades.

An enraged King Triambaka publicly declared that he would give his daughter in marriage to whoever would catch the fish.

Shiva, assuming the character of a Parava fisherman, caught the fish, and was once again reunited with his divine consort.

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Myth 5: Ancestors of the Paravars were fishermen of river Yamuna

Some Paravars believe that they migrated from the ancient city of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and that prior to the Mahābhārata war, they inhabited the territory bordering the river Yamuna.

One day, Girika, the wife of King Vasu, bathing and purifying herself after her menstrual course, told him her state. But that very day the Pitris (spirits of the departed) of Vasu came unto him and asked him to slay a deer for their Sraddha (a ritual performed for one’s ancestors, especially dead parents). The king, thinking that the command of the Pitris should not be disobeyed, went a-hunting.

The whole forest was maddened by the sweet notes of the kokila and echoed with the hum of maddened bees. The king became possessed with desire, and could not keep his mind away from the thought of his beautiful wife Girika. Beholding a swift hawk resting close to him, the king, acquainted with the subtle truths of Dharma and Artha, said, “Amiable one, carry thou this seed (semen) for my wife Girika and give it unto her. Her season hath arrived.”

The swift hawk took it from the king and rapidly soared through the air. While thus passing, the hawk was seen by another of his species. Thinking that the first hawk was carrying meat, the second one flew at him. The two fought in the sky with their talons and beaks. While they were fighting, the seed fell into the waters of the Yamuna wherein dwelt an Apsara named Adrika, transformed by a Brahmana’s curse into a fish.

As soon as Vasu’s seed fell into the water from the claws of the hawk, Adrika rapidly approached and swallowed it.

Ten months later, Parava fishermen caught that fish. From the stomach of that fish came out a male and a female child of a human form. The Apsara after having given birth to the twins, and killed by the fishermen was freed from her curse. She left her fish-form and assumed her own celestial shape.

The fishermen approached King Uparichara, their ruler, and said, “O king, these two beings of human shape have been found in the body of a fish!”

King Uparichara took the male child under his wings who later became the virtuous monarch Matsya. The King gave back the fish-smelling daughter of the Apsara to the fishermen, saying, “Let this one be thy daughter.”

That girl, named Satyavati, gifted with great beauty with tapering thighs and had a graceful smile – an object of desire even with an anchorite was also known as Machchakindi).

As was customary with the Parava fisher-women Satyavati ferried passengers over the waters of the Yamuna river. One day, while engaged in this vocation,  the great wandering Rishi Parasara saw the celestial beauty and desired to consort with her.

He said, “Accept my embraces, O blessed one!”

Satyavati replied, “O holy one, behold the rishis standing on either bank of the river. Seen by them, how can I grant thy wish?”

The ascetic thereupon created a fog which enveloped the region in darkness. The maiden, beholding the fog became suffused with the blushes of bashfulness and she said:

“O holy one, note that I am a maiden under the control of my father.
O sinless one, by accepting your embraces my virginity will be sullied.
O best of Brahmanas, my virginity being sullied, how shall I,
O Rishi, be able to return home?
Indeed, I shall not then be able to bear life.
Reflecting upon all this,
O illustrious one, do that which should be done.”

That best of Rishis, satisfied with all she said, replied:

“Thou shall remain a virgin even if thou grantest my wish.
And, O timid one, O beauteous woman, ask for the boon that thou desirest.
O thou of fair smiles, my grace hath never before proved fruitless.”

The maiden then asked the rishi for the boon that her body might emit a sweet scent instead of the fish-odour that it had. The illustrious Rishi thereupon granted her wish.

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Rishsi Parasara and Satyawati
Rishsi Parasara and Satyawati

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Having obtained her boon, she became highly pleased, and her season immediately came. She accepted the embraces of that Rishi of wonderful deeds.

She thenceforth became known among men by the name of Gandhavati (the sweet-scented one); and since men could feel her scent even from a distance of a yojana (16 km), she was also known as Yojanagandha (one who scatters her scent for a yojana all around).

After this, the illustrious Parasara went to his own asylum.

Satyavati gratified with having obtained the excellent boon in consequence of which she became sweet-scented and her virginity remained unsullied conceived through Parasara’s embraces. She brought forth the very day, on an island in the Yamuna, the child begot upon her by Parasara and gifted with great energy. The child, with the permission of his mother, set his mind on asceticism. He went away saying, “As soon as thou rememberest me when the occasion comes, I shall appear unto thee.”

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Vyasa (Author: Ramanarayanadatta astr)
Vyasa (Author: Ramanarayanadatta astr)

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It was thus that Vyasa (the arranger or compiler), the author of the Mahabharata, as well as a character in it, was born of Satyavati the fisherwoman through Parasara the ascetic.

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The Paravars: A Preamble


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Fishermen (Source: Heritage Vembaru)

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The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.

There is a variety as well as a discordance of opinions about the origin of the Paravars. The available materials on the origin of the Parava communities are so full of contradictions that it is almost an impossible task to reduce them to order and coherence.

There are many theories – most of them myths from Hindu Vedas and Puranas and a few slanting towards Jewish. Many of these myths were readily accepted and endorsed by the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste which was considered “low and ritually polluting occupations,” namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt.

In his book “The Madura Country: A Manual, Compiled by the Order of The Madras Government” published in 1868, James Henry Nelson of the Madras Civil Service states:

THE FISHERMEN belong to several castes. They are usually called Sembadavans if they fish in tanks and streams, and Savalakaarans if they fish in the sea. Those again who live on the sea-coast, karei, are also called Kareiyaans. Some of them are Mahometans and some of them are Paravans.

These last were the earliest converts made by the Portuguese: and resorted to the first Roman Catholic Church in Madura before the time of Robert de Nobilibus. They are constantly spoken of by the Jesuits. After they lost the protection of the Portuguese they sank into great poverty and wretchedness.

The Paravas of the District appear from the list to have numbered only five and thirty in 1850-51. This seems very strange. Formerly they were very numerous along the whole coast from Cape Comorin to the Paamban Pass, and I know of no reason why they should have died out. I can only account for the fact of their fewness (if indeed it is a fact, which I doubt) by supposing that most of them are now either Roman Catholics or Labbeis, i. e. Mahometan converts, and appear as such in the census returns.

It appears from a letter of Father Martin dated 1st June 1700, that when the Portuguese first came to India, they found the Paravas groaning under the yoke of the Mahometans, and assisted them to shake it off on condition of their becoming Christians.

The Paravas flourished after this and built many substantial villages. But they became poor and wretched after the decline of the Portuguese power: and when this letter was written, were in a very miserable condition.

Though works in the Tamil Sangam literature such as Ettuthokai, Pathupattu, Ahananuru, Maduraikkanci 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.

Simon Casie Chitty mentions in The Ceylon Gazetteer that the ancient name “Taprobane” for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) might have been named after the Paravars:

Among the Greeks and Romans, it was known by the name of “Taprobane,” the etymology of which is disputed by many authors. Some deduce it from the Phoenician words “Tap-parvaim,” or “the shore of the Parvaim;” alleging that the latter (whom they identify with the modern Paravas) were at one time masters of the commerce of the Island; others, from “Tapo-rawan,” or “the Island of RAWANA,” the giant king who was conquered by RAMA; others from the Sanskrit term “Tepo-vana,” or “the wilderness of prayer;” while many, with more probability, suppose it to have originated from the Pali word “Tamaba-pannya,” which signifies a betel leaf, and to which the Island bears some resemblance in its figure.

Little is known about the Paravars from 5th to the 13th century. There are no native literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or places, before the arrival of the Portuguese, and the ‘en masse’ conversion of the Hindu Paravars to Roman Catholicism. Therefore, any historical observations have to be deduced using Arab, European and Chinese accounts.

Every origin myth is a tale of creation and they describe how some new reality came into existence. In some academic circles, the term “myth” properly refers only to the origin and cosmogonic myths. Many folklorists reserve the label “myth” for stories about creation. Traditional stories that do not focus on origins fall into the categories of “legend” and “folktale.”

According to Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Romanian historian of religion, writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago, nearly every sacred story in many traditional cultures qualifies as an origin myth. By tradition, humans tend to model their behaviour after sacred events, seeing their life as an “eternal return” to the mythical age. Because of this conception, nearly all sacred stories describe events that established new paradigms for human behaviour, and thus nearly every sacred story is a story about a creation.

Mircea Eliade says that an origin myth often functions to offer an aura of sacredness to the current order. Here are some observations:

  • When the missionary and ethnologist C. Strehlow asked the Australian Arunta why they performed certain ceremonies, the answer was always: “Because the ancestors so commanded it.
  • The Kai of New Guinea refused to change their way of living and working, and they explained: “It was thus that the Nemu (the Mythical Ancestors) did, and we do likewise.
  • Asked the reason for a particular detail in a ceremony, a Navaho chanter answered: “Because the Holy People did it that way in the first place.

We find exactly the same justification in the prayer that accompanies a primitive Tibetan ritual: “As it has been handed down from the beginning of the earth’s creation, so must we sacrifice. … As our ancestors in ancient times did—so do we now.” 

This reminds us of the doxology, a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services often added to the end of canticles, psalms and hymns. For example, the Catholics while praying The Rosary recite:

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  As it was, in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

And so also are the glorified myths borrowed from the Hindu Vedas and Puranas and a few from the Jewish traditions that have been concocted, accepted, and endorsed by the affluent Paravars who wish to hide the stigma placed on their low and ritually polluting occupations namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt.

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Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

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The Origin of the Name ‘Perera/Pereira’


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Catalan is a Western Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin and named after the medieval Principality of Catatonia, in northeastern modern Spain. Pereira is a topographic name derived from Catalan Perera meaning ‘pear tree’.

There are other variants for Perera in the Iberian Peninsula meaning “pear tree”:

In Catalan: Perer
In Extremadura, Salamanca and Valladolid: Perero, Pereros
In Portugal: Pereira, Pereyra, Pereyras, Das Pereiras, Paraira 
In the Pyrenees: Pereire, Pereyre
In Galicia: Pereiro, Pereiros

The Portuguese colonists introduced the name Pereira to the Goanese in Goa and to the Paravars in Tamil Nadu in India.

Perera and its variants are common surnames in Portugal, Brazil, India, and Sri Lanka, and in most of the Lusosphere (regions where people speak Portuguese, either as native speakers or as learners).

After Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in February 1510, the Portuguese converted the Hindu Goanese to Catholicism and gave them Portuguese names such as Fernando, da Souza, Pereira and so on.

In 1516, when the Hindu Tamil Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast in Southern India sought the help of the Portuguese to circumvent the oppression of the Middle Eastern Arab Merchants and their Muslim Paravar brethren, one of the stipulations laid out by the Portuguese was that the Paravars should convert to Catholicism.

The Middle Eastern Arab Merchants getting wind of these negotiations dispatched two envoys to Cochin to bribe the Portuguese Captain Pero Vaz de Amaral, to not allow conversion of the Paravars to Catholicism, but Pero Vaz refused to do so.

Pero Vaz immediately arranged for the baptism of 85 Paravar leaders in Cochin by the Vicar General, Miguel Vaz, probably in December 1535. The Paravar leaders were given  Portuguese names as surnames. Pereira was one of the names given to the   Paravars as a surname.

In 1505, Lourenço de Almeida, a Portuguese explorer and military commander made his first voyage to Ceylon and established a settlement there. From then on, the Catalan name “Perera” became one of the surnames among both the Catholics and Buddhist Sinhalese.

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The Origin of the Name ‘Fernando’


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the powerful seafaring Middle Eastern Arabs having the support of local South Indian rulers started forcing the under-privileged Tamil Paravars of the caste-ridden Hindu society to embrace Islam. They converted a significant number of Paravars to Islam through preaching and by marrying Tamil Paravar women thus giving rise to a new generation of Muslim Paravars.

From 1532 onwards the majority of the Tamil Hindu Paravar community was converted ‘en masse‘ to Catholicism by the Portuguese and were baptized with Portuguese  names as surnames. The most popular name amongst these was “Fernando.”

Currently, the Paravars in Sri Lanka are an officially gazette-notified separate ethnic community. There are significant numbers of Paravars in Colombo, Negombo and Mannar. In Colombo, most of the Bharatha community members are prosperous traders and are socially and economically active.  Most Paravars in Negombo and Mannar are seafaring fishermen. 

Majority of the people belonging to the Paravar Community in India and Sri Lanka bear the surname “Fernando.” In Tamil Nadu, the question: “Are you a Fernando? is construed as, “Are you a member of the Paravar Community?

In Sri Lanka, many Sinhalese people use the name Fernando irrespective of whether they are Catholics or Buddhists.

First, let us look at the origin of the name Fernando.

There were two main branches of the East Germanic tribe known as “Goths”: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Romans labelled them as “barbarians. The Romans initially settled the migrating Goths in their realms. Between 376 and 476  these aggressive outsiders dismantled the Roman Empire in western Europe. In 410, a Visigothic force led by Alaric I, the first King of the Visigoths from 395–410 sacked Rome. By 476, the Goths achieved total independence from the declining Roman Empire. The Goths extended their power from the Loire in France to the Straits of Gibraltar that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Visigoths conquered Spain in the 6th century, and as a result, many Spanish surnames are of Germanic origin.

A Visigothic tribal personal name, Frithnanth, composed of the elements “frith”, meaning peace along with “nanth”, meaning daring or brave gave rise to some twenty different spellings ranging from Ferdinand, Fernandez, Fernando, and Ferrandiz, to Hernan, Hernando and Hernandez. In this case, the given name as Ferdinand was introduced into most parts of Europe from the 15th Century. The Hapsburg dynasty took it to Austria where it became a hereditary name and owes its popularity in large measure to King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (1198 – 1252), who recaptured large areas of Spain from the Moors and was later canonized.

The Iberian Peninsula also known as Iberia, located in the southwest corner of Europe, is principally divided between Portugal and Spain. The Iberian and Italian name equal to the Germanic name Ferdinand is Fernando and Ferdinando respectively.

Fernando became the Spanish and Portuguese form of Ferdinand. The feminine form of Fernando is Fernanda in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish surnames ending in -ez originated as patronymics denoting “the son of”; thus originated the name Fernández (son of Fernando). And in Portuguese, surnames ending in -es are used as patronymics denoting “the son of” for example Fernandes (son of Fernando).

By the way, I am a Tamil Catholic belonging to the Paravar community and my surname is Fernando. 

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Oh, Sweet Poison, Thy Name Is Sugar!


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj
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“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” – Richard Johnson, Nephrologist, University of Colorado Denver

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What does the word “sugar” mean to you?

To me, anything that tastes sweet: cane sugar (sucrose), beet sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, honey, syrups, sugary drinks, molasses, agave the popular ingredient for tequila, chocolates, toffees, confectioneries, etc.

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Baby and cake icing (Source: tammydeyoungdesigns.com)
Baby and cake icing (Source: tammydeyoungdesigns.com)

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Most of us had our first singular experience of sweetness when we licked the dab of cake icing or a drop of honey from the finger of one of our loving parents.

Even though sugar tastes delicious it is not a food.

Though it is habit-forming it is not a drug, but many people get addicted to it.

The more sugar you taste, the more you want.

Sugar provides instant energy and quickens the muscles, but it is not a nutrient.

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Old Lady enjoying her huge ice cream (Source: Lupe Clemente/flickr.com)
Old Lady enjoying her huge ice cream (Source: Lupe Clemente/flickr.com)

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Sugar is the universal name for a variety of carbohydrates, derived from various sources.

Carbohydrates supply energy for working muscles. They provide fuel for the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism, and prevent the protein from being used as energy.

Before learning to grow food, the carbohydrates that our ancestors consumed for energy must have come from whatever plants that were available to them according to the season.

Around 6,000 BC, people in New Guinea cultivated sugarcane. They drank the sweet juice by chewing the stalks of the sugarcane. The cultivation of sugarcane spread gradually from island to island, and around 1000 BC reached the Asian mainland. By 500 BC, the Indians were processing crystalline sugar from sugarcane. By 600 AD sugar found its way to China, Persia, and northern Africa. Eventually, by the 11th century, it reached Europe. In England between the 18th and 19th centuries consumption of sugar increased by 1,500 percent.

By the mid 19th century, Europeans, Americans and the people of the civilized world became habituated to the use of refined sugar and considered it as a staple item of food.

Now, we consume sugar daily in one form or another because our body cells depend on carbohydrates for energy. An ingrained love for sweetness has evolved within us and we use sugar generously to sweeten almost all our raw, cooked, baked, frozen food and drinks.

There is good and bad food. Health experts point their finger accusingly at all foods that have sugar and brand them bad. They say that we are in fact poisoning ourselves by satiating our sweet tooth. Some even use the adjective ‘toxic’ to describe sugar and say it disrupts the body’s usual hormonal cycles and endangers our internal and external organs.

All experts say the use of sugar results in high rates of obesity, metabolic disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other ailments.

Testing urine by smelling and tasting was once the primary method used to diagnose diseases. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) of Kos noticed that a patient’s urine smelled differently as the course of fever changed. The Greco-Roman doctor Galen (131-201 AD) of Pergamon believed that urine revealed the health of the liver, where blood was supposedly produced. He stated, evaluating the urine was the best way to find whether or not the body’s four humours – blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile – were in equilibrium.

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Thomas Willis (1621–1675) by John Wollaston (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
Thomas Willis (1621–1675) by John Wollaston (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

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In 1675, Thomas Willis (1621-1675), an English physician who played an important part in the history of anatomy, neurology and psychiatry, and a founding member of the Royal Society of London, was the first in modern medical literature to diagnose diabetes by the taste of urine. He observed that the urine of the diabetics tasted “wonderfully sweet, as if it were imbued with honey or sugar.” His taste test impelled him to append the latin word ‘mellitus‘ for honey to this form of diabetes. Ancient  Hindu, Chinese, and Arab texts also have reports of the same sweet taste in urine of patients suffering from diabetes.

Haven Emerson (1874-1957), Emeritus Professor of Public Health Practice at Columbia University, New York, pointed out that significant increase in deaths from diabetes between 1900 and 1920 corresponded with an increase in sugar consumption.

In the 1960s a series of experiments on animals and humans conducted by John Yudkin, the British nutrition expert revealed that high amounts of sugar in the diet led to high levels of fat that paved the way for heart disease and diabetes. But Yudkin’s warning was not heard because other scientists blamed the rising rates of obesity and heart disease to cholesterol caused by much-saturated fat in the diet.

Even though the Americans changed their diet by consuming less fat than they did 20 years before, obesity increased.

Why?

The culprit was sugar and fructose in particular.

Now, we eat most of our sugar mainly as sucrose or table sugar. Americans include high-fructose corn syrup as well.

One molecule each of two simple sugars – glucose and fructose, having the same chemical formula, but with slightly different molecular structures, bond together to form a molecule of sucrose.

Because fructose is about twice as sweet as glucose, an inexpensive syrup mixing the two was an appealing alternative to sucrose from sugarcane and beets. In the 1960s, the U.S. corn industry developed a new technology to convert corn-derived glucose into fructose from which high fructose corn syrup was produced. Despite its name, the high fructose corn syrup has 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and three percent other sugars.

The various avatars of sugar are metabolized differently in the body. Our body cells prefer the simple sugars fructose and glucose to the heavier disaccharide sucrose. Enzymes such as sucrase in the intestine split sucrose into fructose and glucose instantaneously. Glucose travels through the bloodstream to all of our tissues.

The human body regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose reaches all the tissues in the body through the bloodstream. It stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin, the hormone which helps remove excess glucose from the blood, and boosts production of leptin, the hormone which suppresses hunger.

All body cells convert glucose into energy, but only liver cells can convert fructose to energy by metabolizing it into glucose and lactate.

Too much fructose from sugars and sugary drinks including fruit juices taxes the liver by making it spend much energy on converting and leaving less for all its other functions. This leads to excess production of uric acid that induces the formation of gout, kidney stones and leads to high blood pressure. According to some researchers, large amounts of fructose encourage people to eat more than they need since it raises the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger.

Sugar also triggers the body to increase production of Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol often informally called bad cholesterol. LDL cholesterol transports their content of many fat molecules into artery walls, attract macrophages, and thus drive atherosclerosis.

Also, excess fructose increases fat production, especially in the liver. The fat converts to circulating triglycerides that are easily stored in fatty tissue, leading to obesity and a risk factor for clogged arteries and cardiovascular diseases.

Some researchers have linked a fatty liver to insulin resistance – a condition in which cells become unusually less responsive to insulin, exhausting the pancreas until it loses the ability to regulate blood glucose levels properly.

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Richard J. Johnson, MD, University of Colorado
Richard J. Johnson, MD, University of Colorado Denver

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Richard J. Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado Denver has proposed that uric acid produced by fructose metabolism also promotes insulin resistance thought to be a major contributor to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, the disorders that often occur together.

Rich Cohen in his article “Sugar Love” (A not so sweet story) published in the National Geographic quotes Dr Richard J. Johnson:

“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.

Why is it that one-third of adults [worldwide] have high blood pressure when in 1900 only 5 percent had high blood pressure? Why did 153 million people have diabetes in 1980, and now we’re up to 347 million? Why are more and more Americans obese? Sugar, we believe, is one of the culprits, if not the major culprit.”

Now, more than one-third of adults and nearly 12.5 million adolescents and children are obese in the United States. In 1980 about 5.6  million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes. However, in 2011 more than 20 million Americans were found to be diabetic.

Dr Arun Bal, diabetic foot surgeon warns:

“India is facing an epidemic of diabetes. At present, confirmed diabetes patients in India are 67 million, with another 30 million in prediabetes group. By 2030, India will have the largest number of [diabetic] patients in the world. Diabetes is not only a blood sugar problem but brings along other complications as well.”

Dr Suresh Vijan, an Interventional cardiologist, also warns:

“The incidence of heart disease is increasing at a rapid rate. It was 1.09% in the 1950s, increased to 9.7 % in 1990, and 11% by 2000. This rising trend will make India the heart disease capital of the world… Indians face a dual risk of heart disease and diabetes. The risk of death due to myocardial infarction is three times higher in diabetics as compared with non-diabetics. Life expectancy too is reduced by 30% in diabetics as compared to non-diabetics; this translates into a loss of eight years of life… Increased consumption of dense-rich foods along with increasing sedentary lifestyle has increased the incidence of diabetes and heart disease.”

Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, is crusading against the use of sugar. His YouTube videos “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” and “Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0” have gone viral.

It’s not just the heart, diabetes takes a severe toll on vision too.

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Don't Lick the spoon !(Source: news.discovery.com)
Don’t Lick the spoon ! (Source: news.discovery.com)

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The Different Avatars of Sugar


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj
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Image source: nourition.com
Image source: nourition.com

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Sugar is the universal name for a variety of carbohydrates or saccharides that have a sweet taste.

The word ‘sugar’ immediately brings to our mind the white crystals we add to tea and coffee to make it sweet.

However, scientifically, the term ‘sugar’ refers to various types of substances derived from different sources: simple sugars known as monosaccharides, and compound sugars: disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.

Any word that ends with “-ose” would most probably denote a sugar.

The range of sweetness we experience when eating foods is determined by the different proportions of sugars found in them.

Many chemically-different substances that are non-carbohydrates may also have a sweet taste but are not classified as sugars. Some of these are used as low-calorie food substitutes for sugar and are categorized as artificial sweeteners.

Saccharides

Saccharides (Greek sacchar: sugar)  are one of the most important biomolecules. They are also known as carbohydrates and control the energy in cells, provide structural integrity, and provide a role in the immune system, development and fertilization in all living things.

Natural saccharides are generally simple carbohydrates called monosaccharides having the general formula (CH2O)n  where n is three or more.

Plants use carbohydrates to store energy and to provide supporting structures. Animals and humans consume plants to get their share of carbohydrates as a source of carbon atoms for the synthesis of other compounds.

Carbohydrates supply energy for working muscles. They provide the fuel for the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism, and prevent protein from being used as energy.

Monosaccharides

Monosaccharides (Greek monos: single, sacchar: sugar) or simple sugars are the most basic units of carbohydrates with the general formula C6H12O6. Examples of Monosaccharides include Glucose (dextrose), fructose (levulose) and galactose. They have one sugar unit with six carbon atoms and five hydroxyl groups (−OH).  They are the building blocks of disaccharides and polysaccharides (such as cellulose and starch). 

Monosaccharides normally found in food (Source: socialphy.com)
Source: socialphy.com

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Each carbon atom that supports a hydroxyl group (except for the first and last) is chiral (a molecule that has a non-superposable mirror image), giving rise to a number of isomeric dextro– and laevo-rotatory forms all with the same chemical formula. For instance, galactose and glucose are both aldohexoses but have different physical structures and chemical properties.

Monosaccharides form an aqueous solution when dissolved in water.

Glucose

Glucose, also known as D-glucose, dextrose, corn sugar, grape sugar and blood sugar is a simple dietary monosaccharide found in plants. It is one of the three dietary monosaccharides, along with fructose and galactose, absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion.

Glucose

The name “glucose” is derived from the Greek word γλευχος,  meaning “sweet wine, must”. The suffix “-ose” denotes a sugar.

In a biological sense, glucose is found everywhere. It occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices. It is the primary product of photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates get converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It is used as an energy source by most organisms, from bacteria to humans.

Use of glucose maybe by either aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, or fermentation. Glucose is the human body’s key source of energy, through aerobic respiration, providing about 3.75 kilocalories (16 kilojoules) of food energy per gram. Aerobic respiration requires oxygen.

Simplified reaction:

C6H12O6 (s) + 6 O2 (g) → 6 CO2 (g) + 6 H2O (l) + heat
ΔG = −2880 kJ per mol of C6H12O6

The negative ΔG indicates that the reaction can occur spontaneously.

Glucose can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs.

Fructose

Fructose or fruit sugar, is a simple dietary monosaccharide found in honey, fruits that grow on trees and vines, flowers, berries, and most root vegetables. It is the sweetest of the sugars.

Fructose

Fructose, a 6-carbon polyhydroxy ketone is an isomer of glucose – both have the same molecular formula (C6H12O6but they differ structurally. It is often bonded to glucose to form the disaccharide sucrose.

Along with glucose and galactose, fructose is absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion.

Commercially, fructose is processed from sugarcane, sugar beets, and maize.

Galactose

Galactose (Greek galakt: milk), a monosaccharide sugar, is a constituent of the disaccharide lactose along with the glucose. It does not occur in the free state. It is less sweet than glucose.

Galactose

Galactose is a component of the antigens found on the surface of red blood cells that determine blood groups.

Disaccharides

Sucrose, maltose, and lactose are compound sugars or disaccharides, with the general formula  C12H22O11. They are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules with the exclusion of a molecule of water.

Sucrose

Sucrose is the granulated sugar that we customarily use as additive in our food. It is a disaccharide with one molecule of glucose covalently linked to one molecule of fructose.

Sucrose

Animated sucrose molecule model
Model of a sucrose molecule (Author: RedAndr)

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Sucrose is found in the stems of sugar cane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, in particular fruits and some roots such as carrots.

After eating, during digestion, a number of enzymes known as sucrase split sucrose into its constituent parts, glucose and fructose.

Maltose

Maltose, also known as maltobiose or malt sugar, is a disaccharide formed during the germination of certain grains, the most notable one being barley, which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar’s name. It is less sweet than sucrose, glucose, or fructose.

Maltose

A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose.

Maltose is formed in the body during the digestion of starch by the enzyme amylase and is itself broken down during digestion by the enzyme maltase.

Lactose

Lactose is the naturally occurring disaccharide derived from galactose and glucose found in milk. A molecule of lactose.is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose.

Lactose

A molecule of galactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of lactose.

After consuming milk, during digestion, lactose  is broken down into its constituent parts by the enzyme lactase. Children have this enzyme in them. In some adults, the enzyme lactase does not form as they grow up and are unable to digest lactose.

Oligosaccharides

Oligosaccharides (Greek oligos: a few, sacchar: sugar) are polymeric carbohydrate molecules containing a small number, typically three to nine, monosaccharide units. They are commonly found on the plasma membrane of animal cells where they play a role in cell recognition.

Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)

Fructo-oligosaccharides, also sometimes called oligofructose or oligofructan, are oligosaccharide fructans. They consist of short chains of fructose molecules.

FOS occur naturally and are found in many vegetables.

FOS exhibit sweetness levels between 30 and 50 percent of sugar in commercially prepared syrups and are used as an alternative sweetener. Due to consumer demand for healthier and calorie-reduced foods, FOS emerged commercially in the 1980s.

The range of sweetness we experience when eating foods is determined by the different proportions of sugars found in them.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)

Galactooligosaccharides  occur naturally and consist of short chains of galactose molecules. These compounds can be only partially digested by humans.

Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS)

Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) are widely used in animal feed to improve gastrointestinal health, energy levels and performance. They are normally obtained from the yeast cell walls of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are polymeric carbohydrate molecules composed of long chains of monosaccharide units bound together by glycosidic bonds. Typically, polysaccharides contain more than ten monosaccharide units. Cellulose, starch, glycogen, xanthan gum in plants, etc., are polysaccharides.

3D structure of cellulose, a beta-glucan polysaccharide. (Autho - Ben Mills)
3D structure of cellulose, a beta-glucan polysaccharide. (Autho – Ben Mills)

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Polysaccharides have a general formula of Cx(H2O)y where x is usually a large number between 200 and 2500. Considering that the repeating units in the polymer backbone are often six-carbon monosaccharides, and the general formula can also be represented as (C6H10O5)n where 40≤n≤3000.

Definitions of how large a carbohydrate must be to fall into the categories polysaccharides or oligosaccharides vary according to personal opinions of scientists.

Polysaccharides are an important class of biological polymers. Their function in living organisms is usually either structure or storage-related. Starch (a polymer of glucose) is used as a storage polysaccharide in plants, being found in the form of both amylose and the branched amylopectin. In animals, the structurally similar glucose polymer is the more densely branched glycogen, sometimes called ‘animal starch’. Glycogen’s properties allow it to be metabolized more quickly, which suits the active lives of moving animals.

The different proportions of sugars found in food determine the range of sweetness we experience when eating them.

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