The late Madhaviah Krishnan born in Tirunelveli on June 30, 1912, was a pioneering Indian wildlife photographer, writer and naturalist. He studied in the Tirunelveli Hindu High School and developed an interest in literature, art and nature. In his article ‘A Bird Emblem for India‘ published in 1961, says that a decision was made to select a bird as the national emblem of India at a meeting of the Indian Board for Wildlife held in Ootacammund. The Swan, the Peacock, the Sarus crane, the Brahminy kite, and the Bustard were considered against the following criteria for the bird to be declared ‘national’:
It must be well distributed within the country.
It must be recognizable to the average person.
It must lend itself to the formal depiction, i.e., abstract depiction on Government publications, etc.
It must not be confused with the bird emblem of any other nation.
It must be associated with Indian myths and legends and represented in ancient Indian art and sculpture.
The choice was the peacock and was declared the “National Bird of India”.
Now, to the bane of India, we have the following declaration from Mahesh Chandra Sharma, a so-called eminent Judge of the Rajasthan High Court judge, before his retirement on June 1, 2017:
“Peacocks don’t have sex. The peacock is a lifelong brahmachari (celibate). It never has sex with the peahen. The peahen gets impregnated after swallowing the tears of the peacock.”
What would this ‘eminent and keen observing‘ judge of the Rajasthan High Court say if he sees this video?
Time is what a clock reads. In classical, non-relativistic physics it is a scalar quantity and, like length, mass, and charge, is usually ascribed as a fundamental quantity. Mathematically, time is combined with other physical quantities to derive concepts such as motion, kinetic energy and time-dependent fields.
Around 1602, Galileo Galilei studied pendulums and discovered isochronism, the key property that makes pendulums useful to timekeepers. He found that the period of swing of a pendulum is approximately the same for differently sized swings. From his findings, Galileo in 1637 had the idea for the construction of a pendulum clock, which was partly constructed by his son in 1649, but neither lived to finish it.
The above is a drawing is probably the first design for a pendulum clock designed by Galileo around 1641. Part of the front supporting plate is removed by the artist to show the wheelwork. Although the source says the drawing is by Galileo, it is undoubtedly the one drawn by his student Vincenzo Viviani in 1659, since Galileo was blind by the time he had the idea.
This pendulum clock was partly constructed by his son Vincenzo Galilei, the illegitimate son of Galileo Galilei and his mistress Marina Gamba in 1649 who was later legitimated by his father in 1619, but neither lived to finish it.
In 1656, the Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens, inspired by the investigations of pendulums by Galileo invented the pendulum clock. He patented his clock on June 16, 1657.
The Meter is a metric measurement slightly longer than a yard; thus, a 100-meter dash might take you a second longer than a 100-yard dash. – Definition of Meter by Merriam-Webster.
1 metre ≈ 1.0936 yard or 39.370 inches.
A seconds pendulum is a pendulum whose period is precisely two seconds; one second for a swing in one direction and one second for the return swing, a frequency of 1/2 Hz. Christiaan Huygens had observed that length as 38 Rijnland inches or 39.26 English inches; that is, 997 mm.
In 1660, Christopher Wren suggested the use of the seconds pendulum to define length to the Royal Society. In 1668, John Wilkins, an English cleric and philosopher in an essay proposed the adoption of a decimal-based unit of length using the universal measure or standard based on a seconds pendulum. However, the Royal Society took no official action on these suggestions.
During the French Revolution that lasted 10 years from 1789 to 1799, the French Academy of Sciences charged a commission with determining a single scale for all measures. On October 7, 1790, that commission advised adopting the decimal system, and on March 19, 1791, advised adopting the term mètre (Greek “measure”), a basic unit of length, which they defined as equal to one ten-millionth of the distance between the Earth’s equator and the North Pole through Paris, thus making the kilometre 1/10,000 of this distance.
In 1793, the French National Convention adopted the proposal. The use of metre in English began at least as early as 1797.
The metre (British spelling and BIPM spelling) or meter (American spelling) from the French unit mètre, derived from the Greek noun μέτρον (“measure”) is the base unit of length in some metric systems, including the International System of Units (SI). The SI unit symbol is m.
In 1799, the metre was redefined in terms of a prototype metre bar. However, it was later determined that the first prototype metre bar was short by about 200 micrometres because of miscalculation of the flattening of the Earth, making the prototype about 0.02% shorter than the original proposed definition of the metre. Regardless, this length became the French standard and was progressively adopted by other countries in Europe.
The main problem with defining the length standard by an artefact such as the meter bar is that there is no sure way to determine if it has changed length due to age, deterioration, or misuse. It can be compared to other bar standards, but these may have changed length themselves.
In the 1870s and in light of modern precision, a series of international conferences were held to devise new metric standards. The Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre) of 1875 mandated the establishment of a permanent International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM: Bureau International des Poids et Mesures) in Sèvres, France. This new organisation was to construct and preserve a prototype metre bar, distribute national metric prototypes, and maintain comparisons between them and non-metric measurement standards.
The BIPM made 30 prototype standard bars of 90% platinum–10% iridium alloy. One of the bars was selected as the International Meter. In 1889 at the first General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM: Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures), the International Prototype Metre was established as the distance between two lines on a standard bar composed of an alloy of 90% platinum and 10% iridium, measured at the melting point of ice.
The Prototype Metre bars had a modified X cross-section named for the French scientist, Henri Tresca, who proposed it.
After selecting the bar for use as the International Prototype Meter, the other bars were calibrated relative to it and were given to nations to serve as their national standards.
The United States received the National Prototype Meter Bar No. 27, and No. 21 in 1890. The US adoption of the metric system in 1893 made the meter the fundamental length standard of the US, and No. 27 became the primary national standard for all length measurements.
Now, this original international prototype of the metre is now in the collection of the NIST Museum, Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA, because in 1960 the SI changed the standard of length to define the meter by the wavelength of light of a spectral line of krypton 86.
Synthetic plastics are a relatively new invention. For hundreds of years, people had been using organic plastics in some form or another. For example, in Medieval Europe, animal horns that had been scraped thin and flattened were used to make translucent windows. Another common plastic derived from natural sources are natural gum rubbers, which was later vulcanized and popularized by Charles Goodyear. As technology progressed, more natural plastics were used to create more products.
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug on trees in countries like India and Thailand. In the early 20th century, to insulate early electronic devices, the dawning electronics industries in America and Europe were importing shellac by the shipload which was quite costly. So, many companies were looking for cheap alternatives.
In 1907, Leo Henricus Arthur Baekeland (November 14, 1863 – February 23, 1944), a Belgian chemist working in New York, best known for the inventions of Velox photographic paper in 1893, made an extensive study of natural polymers such as the shellac he was attempting to replace. By combining phenol and formaldehyde he created polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, a completely synthetic polymer. By subjecting this synthetic polymer to pressure in moulds to force the air bubbles out, he created a smooth and hard plastic – the pervasive early 20th-century plastic called Bakelite, an inexpensive, nonflammable and versatile plastic, which marked the beginning of the modern plastics industry. He has been called “The Father of the Plastics Industry” for the invention of Bakelite.
Bakelite being resistant to electricity, heat, and chemicals, quickly found its way into a countless number of applications. Bakelite has been used to form the bodies of consumer electronics, insulating wires, parts for firearms, brake pads, camera bodies, and importantly the iconic black Bakelite telephones, and more.
At one point during metal shortages created by World War II, the United States government even considered making coins using Bakelite.
As per the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 and the Rules made thereunder, the wearing of helmets is mandatory. As per Section 129 of this Motor Vehicle Act, two-wheeler riders and pillion riders should compulsorily wear helmets. So, The City Traffic Police have decided to strictly enforce this rule and impose fines from ₹100 to ₹200 for not wearing helmets.
Now the helmet rule has been made compulsory for both the two-wheeler rider and the pillion rider.
On August 23, 2018, TK Rajendran, the Director General of Police, Tamilnadu, issued a circular to all police commissioners in cities and superintendents of police in districts to implement helmet rules strictly and book more cases on pillion riders not wearing a helmet.
The Court has made it compulsory for both rider and the pillion rider to wear helmets. I accept that wearing a helmet is a safety precaution but feel that it should be left as a safety guideline only and not be made a law and is against the basic concept of freedom.
If a rider and the pillion rider are not wearing helmets, then they in no way are causing any problem to other commuters or the flow of traffic.
Normally, wearing a helmet is very uncomfortable for old people like me and women in general, and it is excruciatingly harrowing for both young and old during the arid Indian summer.
The above incident happened on one of our well-maintained International Standard Indian roads. Was it due to the rider not wearing a helmet?
“Since medieval times the British have delighted in eating roast beef, roast pork, roast turkey. They sneered at the idea of roasting meat in an oven. For a true Briton, the proper way was to spit roast it in front of an open fire, using a turnspit dog.” – Jan Bondeson, author of Amazing Dogs, a Cabinet of Canine Curiosities.
“The Roast Beef of Old England” is an English patriotic ballad written by Henry Fielding for his play “The Grub-Street Opera” which was first performed in 1731. The lyrics were added to over the next twenty years.
‘The Roast Beef of Old England’
When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food, It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood. Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good Oh! the Roast Beef of old England, And old English Roast Beef!
Large chunks of beef prepared in the oven are usually referred to as roasts, but in a strict sense, only meats cooked on an open coal fire are truly roasted. The radiant heat of the coals gives the beef roast a richly browned crust and a hint of smokiness that can’t be achieved with oven roasting. Cooking the roast on a fire though not difficult entails a bit more work than cooking in an oven.
Cooking meat on a spit turned by humans dates back to the 1st century BC.
A roasting jack is a device which helps to rotate the roasting meat on a spit. It is also called a spit jack, a spit engine or a turnspit. While roasting meat on an open fire the person who turns or rotates the turnspit had to pay constant attention to turning of the spit and he or she was also subjected to burns and blisters. This tedious and exhausting job was usually assigned to the lowest ranking member of the household – invariably a small boy.
The term ‘turnspit’ can also refer to a human turning the spit or a Turnspit dog.
In the 16th century, households in Europe employed special breeds of dogs called Turnspit dogs to turn or rotate the spit. They were long-bodied, short-legged but compact and muscular. Turnspit dogs were named quite literally to run on a wheel called a turnspit or dog wheel.
To roast any meat, a Turnspit dog was hoisted into a wooden dog wheel mounted on the wall near the fireplace. The dog wheel was attached to a chain which ran down to the spit. As the dog ran, like a hamster in a cage, the spit turned.
According to Jan Bondeson, “Turnspit dogs were viewed as kitchen utensils, as pieces of machinery rather than as dogs… The roar of the fire. The clanking of the spit. The patter from the little dog’s feet… The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint.”
The very first mention of the Turnspit dog is in the first book ever written on dogs in 1576 titled “Of English Dogs” by the English physician, John Caius. He mentions the breed under the name “Turnespete“.
In 1809, the William Bingley’s Memoirs of British Quadrupeds also mentions a dog employed to help chefs and cooks. Hence, Caira Farrell, library and collections manager at the Kennel Club in London says, “They were referred to as the kitchen dog, the cooking dog or the Vernepator Cur.”
In Linnaeus’s 18th century classification of dogs, it is listed as Canis vertigus or “dizzy dog”.
Since the Turnspit dogs were considered to be common and lowly, no records were adequately kept about them and soon the breed was lost. The “Complete Dog Book” (20th ed.) of The American Kennel Club published in 2007 considers the Turnspit as a kind of Glen of Imaal Terrier and on May 13, 2014, The Kitchen Sisters in “Turnspit Dogs: The Rise and Fall of the Vernepator Cur” make it a relative of the Welsh Corgi.
According to Jan Bondeson, “One way of training the dog was to throw a glowing coal into the wheel to make the dog speed up a bit.” This type of horrific treatment of the Turnspits is reportedly what inspired Henry Bergh (August 29, 1813 – March 12, 1888) to start the American Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in April 1866.
In 1750, there were Turnspit dogs everywhere, especially in Europe and for a short time in America. By 1850 they became scarce, and by 1900 they disappeared altogether and considered extinct.
The traditional Chinese New year holiday is absolutely the worst time to travel anywhere in China when millions head home to spend the traditional Chinese New year holiday at their parental homes, and railway stations like Guangzhou in Guangdong, a province in South China, see around 175,000 passengers daily.
The phrase “All Men Are Same!” was coined after a Chinese woman lost her husband in a crowd during the festive season.
It was a nightmare for the Chinese woman and her husband to reach their cosy hotel in an alleyway off the main tourist thoroughfare. They had to push and shove their way through the thick crowd of people who all looked the same, and got separated.
She desperately searched for her husband and ultimately went with a man to his home who too had lost his partner in the crowd.
When we talk about the world’s all-time richest people, we immediately come up with names like Rothschild Family, John D Rockefeller, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.
The Celebrity Net Worth website compiled a list of the world’s 26 richest people in the last 1000 years. Oddly, there are no women on the list, only three members are alive today and 14 of the top 25 are Americans.
Here is the list of the ‘26 richest people of all time’ (courtesy: independent.co.uk):
1. Mansa Musa I, (Ruler of Malian Empire, 1280-1331) $400 billion
2. Rothschild Family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion
3. John D Rockefeller (industrialist, 1839-1937) $340 billion
4. Andrew Carnegie (industrialist, 1835-1919) $310 billion
5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (last Emperor of Russia, 1868-1918) $300 billion
6. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (last ruler of Hyderabad, 1886-1967) $236 billion
7. William the Conqueror (King of England, 1028-1087) $229.5 billion
9. Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company founder, 1863-1947) $199 billion
10. Cornelius Vanderbilt (industrialist, 1794-1877) $185 billion
11. Alan Rufus (Fighting companion of William the Conqueror, 1040-1093) $178.65 billion
12. Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft, 1955- ) $136 billion
13. William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (Norman nobleman, ??-1088) $146.13 billion
14. John Jacob Astor (businessman, 1864-1912) $121 billion
15. Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel (English nobleman, 1306-1376) £118.6 billion
16. John of Gaunt (son of Edward III, 1330-1399) £110 billion
17. Stephen Girard (shipping and banking mogul, 1750-1831) $105 billion
18. Alexander Turney Stewart (entrepreneur, 1803-1876) $90 billion
19. Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster (English noble, 1310-1361) $85.1 billion
20. Friedrich Weyerhaeuser (timber mogul, 1834-1914) $80 billion
21. Jay Gould (railroad tycoon, 1836-1892) $71 billion
22. Carlos Slim (business magnate, 1940- ) $68 billion
23. Stephen Van Rensselaer (landowner, 1764- 1839) $68 billion
24. Marshall Field (Marshall Field & Company founder, 1834-1906) $66 billion
25. Sam Walton (Walmart founder, 1918-1992) $65billion
26. Warren Buffett (investor, 1930- ) $64billion
Mansa Musa I
Topping the list is Mansa Musa I (c. 1280 to c. 1337) was the tenth Mansa of the wealthy West African Mali Empire making his fortune by exploiting his country’s salt and gold production. The term ‘Mansa’ translates to “sultan“, “conqueror” or “emperor”.
As a young man Mansa Musa I built many mosques which still stand today.
After Mansa Musa I death in 1331, however, his heirs were unable to hang on to the fortune, and it was substantially depleted by civil wars and invading armies.
In 1509, Afonso de Albuquerque was appointed the second governor of the Portuguese possessions in the East. In 1510, he defeated the Bijapur sultans with the help of Timayya, on behalf of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). From then on, the Southern Province, also known simply as Goa, became the headquarters of Portuguese India, and the seat of the Portuguese Viceroy who governed the Portuguese possessions in Asia.
A new fleet under Marshal Fernão Coutinho arrived with specific instructions to destroy the power of the Zamorin of Calicut. The Portuguese captured Zamorin’s palace and destroyed it and set the city on fire. Zamorin’s forces rallied to kill Coutinho and wound Albuquerque.
In 1513, the wounded Albuquerque relented and entered into a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut to protect Portuguese interests in Malabar. The Zamorin and the Portuguese signed a treaty giving the Portuguese the right to trade as “they pleased“.
At this point in history, one of those curious ﬁgures, unimportant in themselves, by whom at a given point the course of history would be changed stepped on to the stage.
Dom João da Cruz
In 1513, as part of the treaty, the Zamorin sent a fifteen-year-old young Chetti as his agent to the court of King Manuel in Lisbon. Some writers claim that this youngster was a Nair and a relative of the Zamorin. The young man spent three years (1513-1516) in Lisbon and learned to read and write Portuguese. He became popular with King Manuel. and he got baptised with the name Dom João da Cruz. On March 12, 1515, he was knighted, made a fidalgo (a noble), and along with the title of nobility received the habit of the Order of Christ and a life grant that went with it.
Sometime between 1515 and 1518, hostilities were renewed when the Portuguese attempted to assassinate the Zamorin.
João da Cruz returned to Calicut from Lisbon in 1516. The Zamorin dismissed him from his service as he had changed religion and appropriated some properties of da Cruz.
At that time, private trade was thriving in the Portuguese settlements. To earn his livelihood by trading, da Cruz obtained a loan of 7400 pardaos from the Portuguese feitoria of Calicut. Since he occupied a privileged position as a knight of the Order of Christ, he received the necessary licences to export pepper and ginger to Portugal for three years till the Portuguese crown officially monopolized spice trade in 1520.
In 1521, the ship carrying his cargo drowned and he was unable to repay his loans.
In 1525, the Portuguese crown gave João da Cruz permission to send 100 quintals of pepper and 30 quintals of ginger to Cambay.
From 1516 until this time the Zamorin had extracted 35,000 pardaos from João da Cruz for becoming a Christian in Portugal.
João da Cruz shifted his residence from Calicut to Cochin probably against the background of the strained relationship between the Portuguese and the Zamorin. In Cochin, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Portuguese for not having paid back the loan, which then came about 4000 pardaos.
However still hopeful he placed certain requests before the Portuguese crown that would safeguard his entrepreneurial activities, and which would ultimately help him to improve his financial position. In one of his letters, he expresses a variety of desires:
The post of captain and factor of Quilon, which, if conferred upon him, would enable him to prevent pepper-smuggling to Vijayanagara kingdom;
The monopoly right of selling horses to Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin), to the king of Travancore, to the kingdom of Tumbichchi Nayak and to the kingdom of Vettumperumal who resided in Kayattar and the neighbouring principalities which were involved in wars with Vijayanagara and Bijapur;
The office for collecting the tribute of the Pearl Fishery Coast which was lying in the territory of Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin).
The Portuguese crown granted João da Cruz only his second request.
In the first quarter of the 16th century, the Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast paid a small tax to the state for permission to scour the deep for pearls. This contribution which was paid to the Pandya kings till then came to be shared by the two powers between whom the coast was divided namely King Chera Udaya Martanda, the king of Travancore who annexed the southern half of the coastal territory and the Vanga Tumbichi Nayak, who possessed himself to the north.
In the first half of the sixteenth century, the Paravas had to contend with the demands of a variety of rulers. Both the Chera and the Pandiya kings were not far away. The king of Vijayanagar still claimed a rather shadowy sovereignty as far as Cape Comorin, though effective power was exercised by Visvanatha Nayakar, who from the city of Madurai claimed dominion over the northern villages of the Paravas. A new crisis appeared on an already complicated scene with the arrival of a race of Moors (Arabs) who made the ancient port of Korkai their headquarters. These Moors who had considerable experience in pearl-ﬁshing started monopolising the traditional pearl harvesting trade of the Paravars. They converted many Paravars to Islam and married Paravar women.
In 1516, the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery were farmed out by a Muslim who became the virtual master of the coast. This personage must have been a descendant of Takiuddin Abdur Rahman (See The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period). Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese factor at Cochin in the early sixteenth century mentions in Volume II of his book “The Book of Duarte Barbosa“:
A wealthy and distinguished Moor has long held the farm of the duties levied on seed-pearls. He is so rich and powerful that all the people of the land honour him. as much as the King. He executes judgment and justice on the Moors without interference from the King.
The ﬁshers for seed-pearl (the Hindu Paravars) ﬁsh all the week for themselves save on Friday when they work for the owner of the boat, and at the end of the season, they ﬁsh for a whole week for this Moor, whereby he possesses a great abundance of seed-pearl.
The Portuguese managed to wrest out a share of the profits by way of a tribute from the local kings against threats of attack.
In 1523, Joao Froles, appointed as the ﬁrst captain and Factor of the Pearl Fishery Coast was sent to Tuticorin to take control of the area. All dwellers on the Pearl Fishery Coast became aware of the new power that had emerged in their midst.
Joao Froles succeeded in farming out 1,500 cruzados as the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery for a year. The Muslims who couldn’t farm out that much retaliated by attacking the poor Paravars. In consequence, the Portuguese had to maintain a flying squadron to ward off the attacks of the Muslims.
From 1527, the Hindu Paravars were being threatened by the privateers of the Zamorin of Calicut aided by the offshore Arab fleets, the local Tamil Muslim Paravars, and by the Rajah of Madurai who wanted to wrest control of Tirunelveli and the Pearl Fishery Coast from the hands of the Rajah of Travancore. In due course, the Rajas themselves joined the Moors, anticipating great advantages from the pearl trade which they Moors carried on, and from their power at sea.
In 1528, following a defeat of the Moors by the Portuguese, retribution had to be paid to the Portuguese. The Muslims coerced the Hindu Paravas to pay additional tributes during the pearl fisheries. Soon the oppressed Hindu Paravars were reduced to virtual slavery, and for the first time in history, the Paravars lost their right over the pearl fishery.
In 1532, during a pearl ﬁshery near Tuticorin, a Muslim man taunted a Parava woman selling homemade savouries. She went home immediately and told her husband of what happened. The enraged husband accosted the Muslim. During the ensuing brawl, the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava who wore large ornaments on his ears.
This incident provoked the Paravars who felt that the honour of the entire Parava community compromised. After some days of secret plotting, the Paravars without warning attacked the Muslim quarters of Tuticorin. The rest took off from the city for their lives and committed themselves to their little boats. These events sparked off a civil war between the Paravars and the Muslims.
According to a report dated December 19, 1669, written by Van Reede and Laurens Pyh, respectively Commandant of the coast of Malabar and Canara and senior merchant and Chief of the sea-ports of Madura:
“they (the Paravars) fell upon the Moors, and killed some thousands of them, burnt their vessels, and remained masters of the country, though much in fear that the Moors, joined by the pirates of Calicut, would rise against them in revenge.”
The revenge of the Muslims was terrible. The Muslims of the neighbouring towns joined the fracas. The rich and mighty Muslims then swore to exterminate the Hindu Paravars. They collected an army, made an alliance with all the petty rulers of the neighbouring areas who were dependent on the Viceroy of Madura, and advanced against Tuticorin by land and sea. The Nayaks of Vembar and Vaipar, far from joining this confederacy with the Muslims, defended the Paravar territories.
The Muslims offered a bounty of five panams per Paravar head to the mercenaries most of whom belonged to the Maravar caste.
The gold coin called panam was of light 15-carat gold. It was the main monetary medium used for exchanges in Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin, where 19 panams formed one Portuguese cruzado.
The Paravars of Tuticorin and its vicinity were pitilessly massacred on this occasion. The persecution lasted for some considerable time. As the heads of Paravars piled up, the bounty paid to the mercenaries was reduced to one panam.
The Hindu Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope for the future. Some writers feel that a little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts since the Muslims who had the pearl fisheries under their control needed the Hindu Paravars to eventually go out to sea and continue with their occupation and pay them the taxes for harvesting pearl oysters.
The Hindu Paravars were much in fear that the Moor pirates of Calicut might help the local Paravar Muslims to take revenge on them. In this situation, the Paravars thought of the Portuguese, the new power that had mushroomed amidst them, and seek their protection.
The Paravars, along with Mukkuvar and Karaiyars are the oldest groups of the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. These three seafaring-related social groups are regionally distributed and are predominantly found in the Pearl Fishery Coasts on both sides of the Gulf of Mannar with each group dominating a certain coastal belt. Moreover, there has been significant intermarriages among the Paravar, Mukkuvar, and Karaiyar castes.
Prior to the 16th century, the 60 or more hamlets, villages and towns on the Coromandel Coast were solely occupied by the Hindu Paravars interspersed with villages occupied by Muslim Paravars. There were also Paravar settlements located away from the coastal areas. On the Sri Lankan side, the Paravars inhabited the coastal areas from Jaffna to Negombo.
The Parava pearl harvesters were forever exposed to the dangers of hostile sea creatures such as sharks, underwater currents, surface waves, drowning as a result of shallow water blackout on resurfacing; and when the divers climb back on board, the water coming out of their noses and ears is tinted with blood. They generally don’t live to advanced age: their vision weakens, ulcers break out in their eyes, sores form on their bodies, and some are even stricken with apoplexy on the ocean ﬂoor.
In his book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World, the French novelist Jules Gabriel Verne writes about the perils encountered by the pearl oyster harvesters of the Pearl Fishery Coast in the Gulf of Mannar. Though the book published in 1870 is a fiction, Jules Verne’s description in Chapter 3 about the hazards encountered by the Parava pearl harvesters in the Gulf of Mannar is real.
In some regions of the Pearl Fishery Coast in southern India, pearl oysters could be found on shoals at a depth of 5–7 feet (1.325–2 meters) from the surface, and in the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar at depths ranging from 30 feet to 90 feet (9 to 27 metres). However, divers had to go 40 feet (12 meters) or even up to 125 feet (40 meters) deep to find enough pearl oysters, and these deep dives were extremely hazardous to the divers. The pearl-divers had no technology to aid their survival at such depths.
Some pearl-divers greased their bodies to conserve heat, put greased cotton in their ears. Some wore a tortoise-shell clip to close their nostrils. Many divers gripped a large heavy object such as a rock to descend to avoid the wasteful effort of swimming down.
The Parava pearl harvesters dived down to the seabeds on the ocean floor to gather the pearl oysters or mussels. The oysters were then brought to the surface, opened, and the tissues searched. To find at least 3-4 quality pearls more than a ton of oysters need to be searched.
Like Jules Verne, Captain James Steuart, Master Attendant at Colombo, in his book Account of the Pearl Fisheries of the North-West Coast of the Island of Ceylon (1834) describes a typical pearl-diving session:
The crew of a boat consists of a tindal or master, ten divers, and thirteen other men, who manage the boat, and attend the divers when ﬁshing; each boat has ﬁve diving stones, the ten divers relieving each other so that ﬁve divers are constantly at work during the hours of ﬁshing.
The weight of the diving-stones varies from ﬁfteen to twentyﬁve pounds, according to the size of the diver; some stout men ﬁnd it necessary to have from four to eight pounds of Stone in a waist belt, to enable them to keep at the bottom of the sea till they have ﬁlled their net with oysters: the form of a. diving-stone resembles a pine, and it is suspended by a double cord.
The net is of coir-rope yarns, eighteen inches deep, fastened to a hoop eighteen inches wide, fairly slung to a single cord. On preparing to commence ﬁshing, the diver divests himself of all his clothes except a small piece of cloth; after offering up his devotions, he plunges into the sea, and swims to his diving-stone, which his attendants have hung over the side of the boat; he then places his right foot or toes between the double cord on the divingostone, and the bight of the double cord being passed over a stick projecting from the side of the boat, he is enabled, by grasping all parts of the rope, to support himself and the stone, and raise or lower the latter for his own convenience, while he remains at the surface; he then puts his left foot on the hoop of the net, and presses it against the diving-stone, retaining the cord in his hand; the attendants taking care that the cords are clear for running out of the boat.
The diver being thus prepared, he raises his body as much as he is able, drawing a full breath, and pressing his nostrils between his thumb and ﬁnger, he slips his hold of the bight of the diving stone double cord, from over the projecting stick, and descends as rapidly as the stone will sink him.
On reaching the bottom, he abandons the stone (which is hauled up by the attendants to be ready to take him down again) clings to the ground, and commences ﬁlling his net: to accomplish this, he will sometimes creep over a space of eight or ten fathoms, and, remain under water a minute; when he wishes to ascend, he checks the cord of the net, which is instantly felt by the attendants, who begin hauling up as fast as they are able; the diver remains with the net until it is so far clear of the bottom as to be in no danger of upsetting: he then pulls himself up by the cord; which his attendants are likewise pulling, and when by these means his body has acquired an impetus upwards, he forsakes the cord, places his hands to his thighs, rapidly ascends to the surface, swims to his diving-stone, and by the time the contents of his net have been emptied into the boat, is ready to go down again. A single diver will take up in a day from one thousand to four thousand oysters.
They seldom remain above a minute underwater: the more common time is from ﬁfty-three to ﬁftyseven seconds; but when requested to remain as long as possible, I have timed them from eighty-four to eighty-seven seconds: they are warned of the time to ascend by a singing noise in the ears, and ﬁnally by a sensation similar to hiccough.
Many divers will not venture down until the shark-charmer is on the bank, and has secured the mouths of the sharks: while some are provided with a written charm from their priests, which they wrap up in oil-cloth perfectly secure from the water, and dive with it on their persons. … This worthy man is paid by the government and is also allowed a perquisite of ten oysters from every boat daily during the ﬁshery.
The hazardous, ritually polluting traditional work of the Paravars such as harvesting pearl oysters and deep sea fishing required courage, resourcefulness, strength and other survival skills. Though they were hardened adventurers, they were also threatened and oppressed by stronger predators coming from inland fortresses or from deep-water fleets manned by Arab and Lebbais (Tamil Muslim Paravars). The latter constantly threatened, raided, pillaged or enslaved the Paravars.
The claim that the Paravars were warriors under the liege of Pandyan emperors is in a certain way true because the Paravars of the Pear Fishery Coast did have armies to protect the fisheries and their people from the attacking Arabs and the Tamil Muslim Paravars.