Friday, April 6, 2012

297. Weavers of Civilization

In early morning twilight, chipping at the serenity of the day-break is the monotonous thumping sound of a weaver’s loom  mingled with morning chorus song of birds. The harping looms continue until dusk, adding to the splendour of sunset when birds return to their nests smitten with   gleeful chirping and chattering. This harmonious sound of music from dawn to dusk was heard in the bye-lanes of every civilized villages and towns, where once thrived the colony of weavers.
Civilization in this world set in when the early men and women felt the need to dress themselves up to cover private parts, to protect the body from the vagaries of climate as well as to be fashionable in front of others. Early humans dating back to period 60,000 to 10,000 years ago clad themselves in leaf aprons to begin with and further graduated into loin cloths fashioned out of animal hides. The most popular Indian God Shiva is usually depicted with loin cloth made out of deer skin, suggesting that the concept and cult of divine Shiva originated and spread during pre-fabric tribal days in India.
Early humans grew long hairs on their head and in an effort to organize the long hairs had devised ingenious methods of making plaits out of long hairs. Braided or plaited hairs, hair weaving, and wigs have been recorded from period as old as 3400 BC in parts of Egypt and Africa. Weaving of the cloths could have further evolved from rope making and from observing the structure of plant leaves.  Weaving cloths fashioned out of threads fashioned out of fibres derived from cotton, flax, silk cotton or silk cocoons   may be as old as agriculture in the world. An indistinct textile impression found at Pavlov, Moravia, indicates that weaving was known in Palaeolithic Era.
In a Neolithic site at Anatolia, Near East, archaeologists have found fabrics, used for wrapping the dead.  It is carbonised in a fire and radiocarbon date is ca 6000-5000 BCE.  There is evidence of Flax (a slender erect tree with blue flowers) cultivation from 8000 BCE but the breeding of sheep with a woolly fleece rather than hair is seen much later in and around ca. 3000 BCE. Flax fibre was mainly used in Egypt around 3600 BCE.  Turkey has made a claim of earliest known linen cloth (woven in about 7000 BCE) and draped around an antler, i.e. horn of animal of deer family. 
In India, inhabitants of the Indus Valley civilization used cotton for clothing as early as 3300 to 2600 BC as evidenced from cotton cloth pieces found in excavated sites.  Cotton is mentioned in Rig Veda (dating ca. 1700-1500 BCE). “Cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill and their use spread to Mediterranean countries…” (Columbia Encyclopaedia).  Fine cotton muslins were exported to the Greeks and the Romans. The Roman historian Pliny lamented on the drain of Roman gold to India owing to mad love for Indian fabrics.  Marco Polo observed (in 13th Century) that brocading art of Gujarat weavers is par excellent. Muslins from Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) were prized collections.  Sham.Bha.Joshi (Shankar Bhaskar Joshi) tells the story of cotton (ಹತ್ತಿಯ ಕತೆ) in his Book “Karnata Poorva Sankriti, Vol.2”.  Westerners believed that cotton wool was coming from ‘Sheep-tree’ (ಕುರಿ ಮರ).  The Greek Historian, Herodotus described (in 5th Century BC) that the Indians wore clothing made from the wool, borne by wool-trees. He further wrote that this wool was more superior in beauty and quality than the wool of a sheep. It is only in circa 1600AD, European explorers found out that cotton plants are also grown in Americas. The Flax,  or the linseed is known by different  vernacular names:   Alsi (Hindi, Gujarathi & Punjabi), Ali Vidai (Tamil), Jawas, alashi and linseed (Marathi), Tishi (Bengali), Pesi (Oriya),Avise ginzalu (Telugu), Cheruchana vithu (Malayalam) and Agasi (Kannada and Tulu ?).  It is cultivated and harvested since prehistoric times in parts of Africa (Ethiopia & ancient Egypt) for nutrients and fibres.
In China, the earliest evidence of silk production was found at the sites of Yangshao culture in Xia, Shanxi, where a cocoon of ‘bombyx mori’, the domesticated silkworm, cut in a half by a sharp knife, is dated between 5000 & 3000 BCE.  The trade route, known as silk route had begun in 114 BCE during the reign of Han dynasty connecting East and West.  This 5000-mile route on land and sea linked traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers and urban people from China to the Mediterrean Sea region.  This route was instrumental in developing great Civilizations of China, Indian sub-continent, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia (Iran) and Rome. Sericulture is introduced outside China around 2nd Century. Legend is that a Chinese Princess, when she married a prince of Khotan of Central Asia, carried hidden the silk cocoons to be reared in her country of adoption.
Weaving is a general method of fabric or cloth production, require two distinct sets of yarns or threads:  Longitudinal threads are called Warp (ಹಾಸು) and the lateral threads are called Weft (ಹೊಕ್ಕು).  Weft is an old English word, meaning ‘that which is woven’. In a weaving Loom  the longitudinal warp threads in held in tight position while the weft thread, winds in between at right angles to the former.  Method of interlacing the threads decides the pattern of the cloth.  That is why a harmonious living in a society is compared poetically to agreeableness of warp and weft in cloth weaving where woof>weft or pick is propelled across the loom by a shuttle.
Thus, there seems to be uniformity in cultural beliefs, thinking and living patterns among traditional (pre-industrial) weavers.  This unity of form and substance is seen in weaving communities of the world in spite of geographical barriers. 
Spider being the symbol or totem of weaving, world literature abounds with interesting stories. Spider silk is collected, rearing thousands of Madagascar Golden Spiders, toughened scientifically and dresses are made in America, UK and France, just for record purpose.  News about making of a ‘waistcoat’ out of spider fiber has recently appeared in a print media. Though it is tested that tensile strength of spider silk is greater than steel, it is proved that it is not possible to rear spiders, as silk-worms.  Instinctively, spider eats one another’s head when herded together in close quarters. Collecting spider silk is not feasible unless this insect is immobilised.
Weaving communities
Weaving communities constitute an important segment of the Indian social fabric.  They belong to different ethno-lingual groups with varying religious-social practices. With the discovery of cotton and silk fabrics, they played an important role in trade and commerce – internal and external.
Their population prospered at sea ports where erstwhile merchant guilds (Nagar or Nakhar, say Trade Posts) concentrated. This merchant class had soldiers (sarthavahas) from their own group for protection from thieves on land and pirates in sea.  Leader of their caravan was called as ‘Maha Sarthavaha’.
Regional Caste-names
In Tulunadu a specific ‘Salian’ lineage prevails among most of the Tulu communities. The Salian bari refers to salia or taliya, the spider. It is not clear whether the Salian lineage is based exclusively on totem spider or it refers to group of early weavers in southern India.
However in the medieval and later ages, Shettigars migrated and settled in parts of Tulunadu. Characteristically they have introduced the worship of Veerabhadra in Tulunadu. The title Shettigar derived from Settikar (merchant) is akin to ‘Chettiar’ of Tamilandu. Some of these groups designate themselves as Padmashalis, originating from Andhra areas. Devanga is a popular weavers group in Kannada and Telugu areas.
Weavers have been grouped in Vaishya category of Chaturvarna. Though having Brahminical characteristics, they are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.  In Karnataka, there are 30/32 groups of castes of weavers. Padmashalis profess that they are independent of other groups as their cultural practices are based on Vedic codes of conduct.
The OBC List-115 of Central Government contains the following weavers communities: (1) Padmashali, (2) Devanga, (3) Jaandra, (4) Thogata, (5) Thogata Veerakashtriya, (6) Pattakaru, (7) Karmi Bhakthula, (8) Karakala Bhakkula, (9) Swakula Saali, (10) Neela Sali, (11) Nala Kandhi, Nessi, (13) Kurni, (14) Kurmi Setti, Saali, (15) Karikaala, (16) Kaikolan, (17) Senguwaakan, (18) Pattusali, (19) Shettigar .
Weavers as a profession take different caste names regionally:
Padmashalis (Andhra Pradesh – Telugu). They trace their origin to Goddess Padmavathi, consort of Lord Shrinivasa of Tirupati.
Devanga (Karnataka/Andhra – Kannada & Telugu).  Pure cotton cloth weavers.
Saliyar/Padmasaliyar, Chettiyar (Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh – Tamil & Telugu).
Noted for coarse cloth weaving.  Pattu Sales among them are weavers of silk and super-fine clothes. They do not wear sacred threads.
Pattarya (Kerala – Malayalam).  Malayali weavers are also known as Chaliyan and Saliya/Saali/Saale. They are identified by their household names.
S(h)ettigar (Karnataka – Tulu & Kannada).
Caste Names Sale/Saliya, Salvi, Padmashali and Devanga are used severally.  Sometimes, they are used interchangeably.  However, Kannada and Telugu Salis differ from Malayalee Salis in many cultural aspects.  Former are mainly patriarchal, following Brahminical customs.
(In line with Padmasali the  Mulya (Kulal or Kumbara =earthen pot-makers) have coined  group name ‘Chakrashali’ )

Weavers communities
Devangas: They are one of the oldest communities in the caste system.  They trace their origin to Devala Rishi. According to legends Lord Shiva at the bequest of Brahma, created a man and called him Devala for providing clothing to Gods, who were naked in the Pre-ages.  Hence he is popularly known as Devanga, or the one who clothed the Gods.  It is said that Devanga took seven incarnations in four Yugas (Celestial Epochs). In Age of Krita he was known as Devala, in Treta as Devanga, Dwapara as Vidhyadhara, Pushpadanta and Betala, and in Kali as Varruchi, Chitrayogi, Devasthali, Devadasa and Devanga.  In each Avatar he manufactured the thread and clothes for Gods and men.
 Three-stranded Sacred Thread (Yajnopaveeta) of cotton fibre was reported to have been introduced by him. This tradition of wearing Yajnopaveeta was started by him and is adhered by Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. He was King of Amodanagar and taught to his followers and propagated Devanga Religion and philosophy.
They are spread in endogamous linguistic divisions as Sivacharya (Lingayat), Telugu, Kannada and Hatagars (Non-lingayat and Lingayats). Hatagars are Lingayats in Karnataka. In Maharashtra, Hatagars comes in Dhangar community. Edgar Thurston’s ‘Caste & Tribes of Southern India (Vol.2) says Hatagars is a sub-caste of Devangas, who are also called as Kodekal Hatagaru.
Koli:  Koli means a spider, one who spins a web or one who weaves a net.  It also means a fisherman, presumably because he makes and uses a net to catch his prey as a spider its web. Cultural and occupational identities can be traced to weaver’s communities in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bengal, Orissa, Maharshtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. (It is interesting to note that ‘Kol’ is used as Prefix or Suffix in many Place-names all over India).
Koshti:   They trace their origin to Markandeya Rishi of Bhrigu clan.  They served as soldiers under Shivaji and Peshwas and Tippu Sultan.  They believe that they are descendant of Rajhans, king of Devagiri (Berar).  They speak Marathi, Kannada and variant of Hindi.
Salvi:  Salvi silk weavers’ community migrated to Patan (Gujarat around 12th Century from Karnataka and Maharashtra under the patronage of Solanki Rajput King Kumarapala and rich merchants. ‘Shal or Sal’ means loom in Gujarathi (Note: Sal or Sala is also a tree, having scientific name of Shorea robusta. In Indian temple sculptures, it is used for ‘Salabhanjika’, a feminine figure breaking the sala branch of a tree).  Patan Patola silk sarees are very famous for their colour and geometrical designs.  It has become a status symbol of women as ‘Sridhan’.  Weavers in Zoroastrian Parsis migrated to Saurashtra (Gujarat) brought the knowhow of Sassanian motifs and brocade technique to India.  It explains why Parsee ladies are fond of wearing Silk saris with flower motifs and brocades (as seen in Mumbai).     
Patnuli/Khatri: It is a dialect of Gujarathi Patnulikarans, settled in Madurai. They are immigrants from Saurashtra (Gujarat).  They came to South on the invitation of the Nayaka Kings of Madurai.  They speak ‘Sourashtri’, which is Indo-Aryan language.  Though its origin is in North India, it is now widely spoken in South India, especially Tamil Nadu.  It is a mixture of Gujarathi, Kannada, Telugu and many secret technical terms and bits of slangs, peculiar to the community.  It is a minority language and Sahitya Akademi has recognized it as an independent language and not a dialect of Gujarathi and honoured two Sourashtric scholars by giving Bhasha Sanmana Award.
Sengunthar or Kaikolars:  Their community is found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Sri Lanka.  They put ‘Mudaliar’ after their names as a Title, which is supposed to be a variant of ‘Moodley’ title of weavers of South Africa. Etymological meaning is ‘Kai (hands) + Kol (Shuttle used in looming).  Kol also means iron/metal and spear.  They are known as ‘Men with daggers with strong arm’.  They are warriors with red dagger. They enjoyed special rights as Temple Trustees.  ‘Devadasa’ system is said to have originated by them. They were ‘Khaikula’ weavers in the beginning and were militarized during Chola Empire in Circa 800 AD.  After 13th Century they became full time weavers on the decline of Cholas.  Being specialized in export and transportation, they were associated with ‘Ayyavole 500’ and were responsible for transporting goods manufactured right from Vindhya Mountain region, Godavari basin to Sri Lanka.  In this way, they settled in all major ports, including Mangalore and Malabar areas.  Their skill in handling export goods is proverbial in Malabar. 
 Though reported in Madras Census-1901 as ‘grain carrying Oriya people’, they are attached to Devanga weavers and receive their name from the fact that they do acchupani, i.e. thread the long comb-like structures of the handloom. They correspond to Jatipillais of the Kaikolan weavers, who do acchuvelai.
Talye/Talyer aka Settigars
‘Talye or Talyer’ is a weaving community of Tulu Nadu (undivided South Kanara). Talye means spider in Tulu. ’Ta’ (ತ) generally interchanges to ‘sa’ (). So Talye and Salye are synonyms. In Government records they are known as S(h)ettigars, which originally stands for a Title in the Organizational set-up of Devangas.  They are known as ‘Sale, Sali or Saliga/Saliya’ in Kannada and Malayalam. Gujarat weavers are also known as ‘Saliya’.
They speak a mixture of corrupt Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu, as they are supposed to have come to Tulunadu from interior Karnataka to East Coast (Andhra Pradesh, Pandya Maduradesha of Tamil Nadu) and then West Coast through Kerala.  There were also called as ‘Billimagga’ (qv Billmagga 240-242 in ‘Castes and Tribes of Southern India-Vol.1’, by Edgar Thurston) as they were weaving only white cloths. “White cloths are required for certain Gods “..and Bhutas (erroneously mentioned as ‘devils’)..” on occasions of festivals, and these are usually obtained from Billimaggas”.
“The Bilimaggas follow the makkala Santana law of inheritance (from father to son).  They are said to have seven Gotras, and those of the Mangalore, Kundapur and Udupi Taluks are stated to belong respectively to the 800, 700 and 500 nagaras.  The caste deities are Virabhadra, Brahmalinga and Ammnoru.
For the whole community, there is a chief headman called Paththukku Solra Settigar, or the Setti who advises the ten, and for every village there is an ordinary headman, styled Gurikara.  The chief headman is usually the manager of some temple, and the gurikara has to collect the dues from the members of the community.  Every married couple has to pay an annual tax (of twelve annals) and every unmarried male over twelve years of age of six annas towards temple fund…….” (Edgar Thurston)
Ayakattu/Kattemane – A social set-up
 As ‘Mahasabha’ is to Andhra Devangas, Kattemane/Ayakattu is to Kannada Devangas.  Mahasabha or Kattemane has a jurisdiction over a limited area. This organization has the following hierarchical set-up:
Yejamana: It is not a hereditary post but is from identified families on the basis of good conduct and character.   He is compared to a king, guided by Settigar.
Settigars:  Similarly, post is not strictly hereditary. He is compared as Advisor or Minister, enjoying position next to Yejamana. They are selected locality-wise these days, as streets where Devangas live are reduced.
Saasarajus: They are assistants to Settigars in social matters and to priests in religious matters.  They work as go-between members of the Mahasabha / Kattemane and the Yejamana (President) as messengers of disputes through Settigars and carry back decisions of the Settigar/Yejamana/Mahasabha to complainants.  They are paid by Devanga families annually and hold the Post till their death.
Karanika: He maintains the accounts of Mahasabha under Yejamana and Settigars
Archakas:  They are appointed and paid Priests in Community temples
Gurus: They are local Swamy (Pontifs) for Devangas, assisted by their Disciples, known Jangalu.  They are well-versed in religious and ritual matters and their words are supreme. 
Singamu/Singamvallu: Mendicants, helping in funeral matters. They are taken care of by community members.
Revival of Guru Peetha
In May1990, Kannada Devangas have installed at Hemakuta Gayatri Peeth, Hampi Devanga Mutt (District Bellary), Sri Sri Sri Dayananda Puri Maharaja as Jagadguru of all Devangas to revive the Guru Peeth. This Guru Peeth was established during Vijayanagara Empire but was defunct for historical reasons unknown. Sri Muddusangaswamy was the then Jagadguru.
Settigars – a breakaway group!
Historically, it appears that Settigars, basically a Title under the Community’s Social Organizational System, are a breakaway group of Devangas /Padmasales of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Compelling economical considerations, like demand of dowries, etc., forced Settigars to move away from the mainstream.  They were loyal Chiefs under Vijayanagara Empire, particularly during Tuluva Dynasty rule.  
There is an old adage in Tulu: “ಸಾಲ್ಯೆ ಪ್ರತ್ಯೇಕಾದು ಹಾಳಾಯೆ, ಸೆಟ್ಟಿ ಪ್ರತ್ಯೇಕ ಆವಂದೆ ಹಾಳಾಯೆ” {Downfall of a Salye, i.e. weaver, is certain if he forsakes family or community. Shetty (agro-merchant class) is ruined by remaining undivided}. Weavers as a class live in clusters in lanes and bye-lanes of villages or towns.  Such a communal locality is called ‘Keri’ (ಕೇರಿ) in Kannada/Tulu and ‘Teru’ in Malayalam and Tamil. Weaving being a family-based profession a child learns the trade by watching and when he crosses teenage he learns all tricks of the trade.
Similarity of clan names (Bari) among weavers and other castes in Tulunadu and Malabar signifies the division of labour within the communities in initial stages of evolution. (See the Post on ‘Baris’.)
Edanga-Balanga (Left & Right Hand)
It is a vertical power division within the caste in Southern India. It is a distinction of higher (right hand) and lower (left hand) position based on Purity and Pollution irrespective of belonging to polarized Sects of Shaivas   (worshipping Shiva, Vinayaka and Veerabhadra and Goddess Maariamma/Bhagavathi)   and Vaishnavs (worshipping Vishnu incarnations and Padmavathi).   Devangas and Kaikolars are considered as Left-hand castes whereas Padmashalis of Andhra consider themselves as Right-hand class. Weavers migrated to Malabar and South Kanara Coasts from Karnataka-Andhra via Tamil-coast are normally left-hand ones. However,   switch over is also observed from Left-hand to Right-hand and vice versa. Conflicting stories are woven to describe a fall from Balanga to Edanga.
A caste follows different professions and followers of these professions are again sub-grouped and are known by different caste names.  It is a fact, which we see in Census Reports of Colonial Era. Strife of royal dynasties for supremacy and upholding their faith has been a cause of migration, cross fertilization and conversion.  There has been a trend of coalescing on basis of traditional professions
There has been breaking, assimilating, and breaking and coalescing at different points of time.  We will find this when we read ‘Bunts, Mogaveeras, Billavas, Kapus, Komatis, Mudirajas, Balijas, Kavars, Kavarai, etc. in Thurston-Rangachari’s Book on Castes & Tribes.  In spite of these, we observe a linguistic connection, shaping the unity.  Language acts as a binding tool.
The generalization made above also applies to weavers of South India.  It is a welcome sign that they are forging themselves to a unified group as ‘Padmashalis’ these days.
They thrived under feudal system but lost their dominant position in colonial era. Spinning and weaving is considered as ‘a wheel of progress’ and hence spinning wheel is rightly adopted by Mahatma Gandhi during freedom struggle, to uphold cottage industry. With growth of Power-looms and modern textile mills, weaving by traditional weavers is limited to certain brands of specialized weaving, which are known by regional names.
- Hosabettu Vishwanath (Pune)  

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Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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