Print edition : April 08, 2011

SEGREGATION of burial grounds has existed in the Tamil country from time immemorial, say experts. C. Santhalingam, veteran archaeologist and secretary of the Madurai-based Pandiya Naattu Varalaatru Peravai (Historical Society of Pandiya Nadu), said people belonging to different communities lived in segregated habitations called cheris and each of them had its own burial/cremation ground.

According to him, the burial practice started from the megalithic period. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, we have evidence for megalithic burials. In such burials there are so many types, such as dolmens, dolmanoid cists, slab cists, urn burials, menhirs, hero stones, umbrella stones and cap stones, he said.

The southern Tamil Nadu region has several urn burial sites, he said. Recently at Pulimankombai village in Andipatti taluk in Theni district, archaeologists discovered some inscribed hero stones that belong to the 4th century B.C. These are the earliest hero stones with inscriptions so far found in Tamil Nadu, he said. In Sangam literature, there are plenty of references to hero stones and the Pulimankombai discoveries corroborate them, he added.

In the early Tamil epic Manimekalai, of the 5th century A.D., different types of burials such as cremation and burial- suduvor (cremation), iduvor (burial), thaazhiyil kavippor (urn burial) and thaazhvayin adaippor (cist burial) are mentioned, Santhalingam said.

Throwing light on the hero stone culture, he said, In some districts, including Tiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri, several inscribed hero stones have been reported by archaeologists. They were erected for the heroes who dedicated their lives to the cause of safeguarding the villagers and their cattle. In the process of reclamation of forest lands, they would have encountered dangers from wild animals and lost their lives. For such valorous persons also hero stones were planted. Their names and their country's names and other details were inscribed [on the stones]. Such practices continued from the 4th century B.C. up to the 16th century A.D.

Referring to the changes that unfolded in pastoral life, he said people switched to cultivation as the main occupation. Concomitantly, rigid state formation also started in the Tamil land. From the 6th century A.D. onwards, the Pallavas in northern Tamil Nadu and the Pandyas in southern Tamil Nadu established their states.

As migration of the Brahmin community started from the north to the south, its members were patronised by the rulers (the Pallavas), who provided them fertile land, called Brahmadeyas' or Chaturvedimangalam', with exclusive water rights, Santhalingam said. So far in Tamil Nadu, around 800 Brahmadeyas have been enumerated from the 6th century to the 13th century A.D. These lands were owned by Brahmins, and the tillers, who were landless farm labourers, lived in separate areas called pidagais (hamlets). Each chaturvedimangalam might have had three or four pidagais.

As there were separate dwelling areas for landowners and farm labourers, their burial grounds also must have been segregated, he said. People also lived in segregated habitations known as kammala cheri, Parai cheri and Andhana cheri. So, each community had separate habitations and burial grounds, he added.

In support of the argument, he said, such differences could be seen in the Raja Raja Chola inscription of the 11th century A.D. ( South Indian Inscriptions, Volume-II, record No.5), which speaks of Vellan sudukaadu (burial grounds of the Vellalas), Parai sudukaadu (burial grounds of Dalits), Eala cheri (habitation of toddy tappers) and Parai cheri (habitation of Dalits). The stone inscription dated A.D. 1014, the last regnal year of King Raja Raja Chola-I, refers to the boundaries of a land.

The stone inscription was reported from the Thanjavur region and has been published in South Indian Inscriptions, Volume-II as record No.5 dated A.D. 1014. The inscription speaks about land boundaries; when land was donated to a temple, the four boundaries were demarcated. So, during the donation, burial grounds or land given to Jains and Buddhists were exempted from the donated land.

Santhalingam also referred to another stone inscription, dated to the 18th century A.D., found at the Kuduminathar temple in Kudumiyanmalai village in Pudukottai district. It speaks about burial-related services rendered by some persons of the Valayar caste and engaging in such practices was banned by their own community, which also appealed to their kin not to take up such menial jobs.

He said: Though there is no evidence to show that each community adopted its own custom in performing the last rites, there is some historical evidence to show that when persons with royal background or some heroes were buried, their belongings such as swords, ornaments, diadems, haras made of metals and semi-precious stones such as carnelian, paste beads, glass beads, jasper and crystal beads, etc., were also buried along with the mortal remains. In some other places, we have unearthed earthen pots with their names, scripts and graffiti. From these pieces of evidence, we can differentiate the burial of royals and commoners. Gold diadems were collected from Athichanallur, the earliest 1000 B.C. burial site excavated 100 years ago on the banks of the Tamiraparani river in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin district.

S. Dorairaj
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