Mr. Chettiyar, Are You A Dravidian?
Did you know that the Chettiyars of Tamil Nadu derive their identity from the wealthy ‘Sreshtis’ of the Vedic civilisation?
It is thence amusing that many from the community are today active members of the Dravidian movement.
While one could dismiss that the word ‘Dravidian’ does not describe an ethnicity, this artificial construct is etched in the minds of several groups of people in Tamil Nadu who believe that they are the rightful heirs of a non-Aryan people with a highly sophisticated civilisation.
It is important to attempt to break this myth at the level of each community who are co-opted by the mischief makers and question if their inclusion in the Dravidian fold is valid based on their own definition of who is Dravidian, by origin.
Let’s take the case of the Nattukottai Chettiyars. The book that gives their history is called the Nattukottai Nagarathar Charithiram.
It clearly points to migration of the Chettiyars from a city in North India to Poompuhar where the Chola capital was at that time.
This migration is later than several Brahmin groups who we can learn about in Sangam literature.
Also note that some of the Brahmin groups in Tamil Nadu do not have a northern origin story and may very well be native people of Tamil Nadu from time immemorial.
We learn about the life of the Chettiyars of Poompuhar from works like the Chilappadikaram.
Chilappadikaram describes their life steeped in Vedic traditions. There is a description of the wedding between Kovalan and Kannagi, both belonging to this very community, who are the central characters of the Chilappadikaram.
The marriage is performed with Agni as the witness and Vedic Purohitas as the priests.
(மாமுது பார்ப்பான் மறைவழி காட்டிடத் தீவலஞ் செய்வது காண்பார்கண்)
The Chettiyar lifestyle depicted matches with that of any Vaishya community in India. It will not be a stretch of imagination, if I were to say that the Chettiyars could relate themselves to the Maheshwaris of Rajasthan or the Arya Vaishyas of Andhra and Maharashtra.
Moreover, the name Chetty or Chettiyar is derived from the name ShreshTi in Sanskrit, meaning a lofty personality or a leader.
This is an appellation given to Vaishyas across India, be it Seth in the north or Setti in Andhra.
We encounter this title in Sanskrit literary works like MRichchakatikam as well.
The Chettiyars were so rich that their settlement could afford a fort for itself within the city and hence the name ‘Nattu-Kottai’ Chettiyars.
They were the top taxpayers and very honest businessmen. They would even heed to certain unreasonable tax demands by the king.
They brought real prosperity to Poompuhar and the Chola kingdom.
In an evil twist of history, the Nagaraththars’ wealth bothered the jealous ruler. The ruling Chola’s enmity seems to be rooted in no specific cause. Like Bhartruhari says in his work Neeti Satakam,
मृगमीनसज्जनानां तृणजलसन्तोषविहितवृत्तीनां |
लुब्धक-धीवर-पिशुना निष्कारणमेव वैरिणो जगति ||
The livelihood of the deer, the fish, and of the noble people are respectively, grass, water and a content life.
But without any cause or reason, their enemies in this world are hunters, fishermen and wicked persons.
This behaviour could very well be compared with the anti-Brahmin Dravidian wave that swept Tamil Nadu in the 20th century.
The Chola king, I am sure, would have used the northern origin of the Nattukottai Chettiyars against them, notwithstanding the fact that the Cholas themselves claim to be descendants of the Vedic Manu and Shibi, who are part of our Puranas and Itihasas.
The Chettiyars of Poompuhar met with a fate comparable to the Brahmins of Tamil Nadu or may be worse.
Their women were shamed, their lifestyle was shattered, several were killed. The men who survived resorted to migrating to safer kingdoms.
In the kingdom of the Pandyas, where they sought refuge, the Chettiyar youngsters were married to the local women of the Pandya kingdom and then they slowly, but steadily, rebuilt their livelihoods.
While this incident teaches us that blind hate can lead to destruction of constructive pursuits that can bring prosperity to our own land, it also helps us understand that Chettiyars do not fit the typical stereotype of a “Dravidian” whose origins have to be non-Vedic and from the so-called land of Dravidians who would follow the so-called ‘Dravidan cultural practices’.
Today, we see several prominent leaders like Subha Veera Pandian from the Chettiyar community carrying the flag of Dravidian exclusivity and spearheading the Aryan hatred in Tamil Nadu.
Several Chettiyars, forgetting their Vedic past, directly or indirectly are actively working on minimising the Vedic and Sanskrit influences in their lives.
It is an irony that, because of the timely charity of the Chettiyar forefathers, that several Vedic pandits were able to settle down in Tamil Nadu when the Muslims in the north were pillaging our temples and plundering the agraharams.
The histories of several caste Hindu communities in Tamil Nadu also have a northern origin and need further exploration. Communities like the Kongu Vellalars claim their origin in Surya Vamsa Kshatriyas.
Other communities like Nadars, Thevars, Vanniyars and Pillais/Mudaliyars, have similar histories.
If Astika elders of these communities get together and decide to educate their youngsters with appropriate knowledge, a clear sense of history could settle in the heads of the next generation.
Hopefully, this will eliminate the unnecessary hatred that is brewing in the minds of certain people of Tamil Nadu for the ‘Aryan’ castes and for India in general.
Tamil Nadu today is producing a virulent breed of Aryan/India haters like Seeman, Thiru Murugan Gandhi and several others.
This is a serious issue for the integral unity of the country.
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