Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rise of Patriarchal Society - iv

In my previous post on the same topic I mentioned that exclusive female rights over clan temples in my caste is a thing of past. Now, only males control the affairs. This phenomenon I interpreted as a natural outcome of family outgrowing and becoming a community itself. In my opinion, in a community structure, religious sphere would be controlled by males because of lack of female bonding at that level. But it appears my example may not be the most suitable one. Nevertheless, the whole context may be of some interest.

As I mentioned before, the taravadu/illam (the concept is similar to mUlasthAna concept of Tuluva-s, check Ravi Mundkur's posts) shrines were exclusive right of females belonging to certain illam/bari (clan). No male members were allowed inside the shrine(along with females of other illam-s).

The present situation is exactly the opposite. This change happened in the last century. It was brought about by an event called Ashtamangala Prashna.

Ashtamangala Prashna:
This is a type of Astrology mostly practiced in Malayalam and Tulu regions. The tradition resembles oracle astrology. The questions(prazna) related to various problems would be answered by Astrologers with the help of eight (aSTa) auspicious (maMgaLa) articles viz.,lamp, mirror, gold, milk, curd, fruit, books and white cloth.

In one such Ashtamangala Prashna it was found that gods were not happy with female centered shrines. Therefore, there should be a complete change in the shrine management. Not only males must officiate the rituals inside the shrine females must not even enter it. Of course, the chief astrologer, a Namboothiri, who had this divination had firmly established his divine aura by another prediction.

The Namboothiri felt that there was some dOSa (wrong) with the lamp. People around checked the lamp and couldn't find anything. In the end, it was observed there was a single strand of hair sticking to the lamp. Even today people talk about that lamp event.

The Taboo Replacement
It is unclear whether the lamp gimmick was constructed to overcome any opposition. That Namboothiri could predict something was wrong because of a hair,however, people there couldn't find anything wrong in the fact that their centuries old tradition has been turned upside down.

First of all, the change in the tradition required replacement of a taboo. The taboo of men entering the shrine. This taboo is exactly opposite to patrilineal Namboothiri taboo. But why didn't for so many centuries Namboothiri-s try to enforce their taboo?

Probably, until 20th century Brahmins were not really bothered about "little tradition(non Sanskritic/Vedic)" of other castes. Also, there is a caste of astrologers (non-brahmin), Kaniyan, also matrilineal, that probably involved in these cases in the past. Anyway, it is interesting to see that a matrilineal taboo has been replaced by a patrilineal taboo(of barring females from shrines).

It appears the change from matriliny to patriarchy not only killed matrilineal taboos, in its place it established patrilineal taboos. It looks like a logical development. In my opinion, the change from matriliny to partiarchy need not be a gradual process spanning over several centuries. A quick transition by establishing patrilineal taboos in place of matrilineal ones could be achieved in a single generation.


Sreekumar said...

This is indeed a very interesting case. For the adoption of another society's taboo so quickly so as to even forget your own earlier taboo sounds strange.
BTW, I thought illam was exclusively used by namboothiri's. Do any other group also use the name for their house?

Manjunat said...

Illam is the term for maternal lineage (Tavazhi?) used by artisan and occupational castes (including Muslims who speak a Malayalam variant in Tulu region) in Kasaragod and probably in Kannur. Whereas, I guess, Namboothiri illam-s denote their ancestral house like Nair Taravadu-s. However, Taravadu-s of other castes denote an 'original place' (Moolasthana) that are identified with their illam names.

Ravi Mundkur said...

The transition enforced/induced by oracles such as asTamangala from matrilineal supremacy to patriarchial controls is a very interesting observation.It shows how these priests are able to mould the mindsets of folks deliberately as they did (traditionally)since theremote past.
It appears that the tavazhi,taravada and illam concepts evolved at three sepearte time levels in the coast.The illam concept is not very evident in Tulunad.Or has it been masked?
How is that Muslims stuck to the illam concepts any idea?

Manjunat said...

How is that Muslims stuck to the illam concepts any idea?

It looks like Tulu/Malayalam converts to Islam (Byari-s) were divided into "talakkar" (people with illam) and "tala illatavaru" (people without illam) in the past. Maintaining the caste distinctions?(Wikipedia article)

The illam concept is not very evident in Tulunad.Or has it been masked?

Curiously, illatamu or illantramu (==lviing in the house of one's wife's father) is there in Telugu. Does 'mane aLiya' concept have any matrilineal beginning?

Sreekumar said...

I am not an expert in Namboothiri word usage, though I am sure that in central Kerala, Namboothiri's use illam for home and taravadu for ancestral home (e.g. by the younger brothers who have seperated from the joint family) and tavazhi for lineage.
I guess the events surrounding the ashtamangala prashnam would be very interesting for it certainly seemed to have a big impact on the future of the society. While I had always thought that these changes were a result of gradual and much slower social domination processes.

Manjunat said...

Namboothiri's use illam for home

Do they use it in their normal conversation? I guess Malayalis don't use 'illam' for home in their normal conversation. 'house' was one of the caste specific words in the past.(namboothiri - illam/mana, nair - veedu, tiyya - pora, outcasts - kudi) I wonder illam and mana though Dravidian words went out of usage because of this from the common vocabulary of Malayalis(illu for home is a common usage word for Tuluva-s and mane for Kannadiga-s).

tavazhi for lineage
I thought Namboothiri lineage is 'gotra'. tavazhi as I understood is taay + vazhi -> maternal line. Does it have some other etymology? Tulu lineage is bari(again matrilineal) and is cognate with vazhi.

Sreekumar said...

Do they use it in their normal conversation?
Yes, the namboodiris' do use illam/mana traditionally though the more popular words like veedu may also be used. I guess, caste system has a role to play because every effort was made to ensure that the upper class had distinct appearance and even language was used as a marker of caste.

I thought Namboothiri lineage is 'gotra'.
Again etymology is not my strong point, but as I understand 'gotra' is the original sanskrit term for lineage and Namboodiris use that as well as tavazhi. Though tavazhi probably refers more to the immediate past ancestors while gotra referring to the lineage of the rishi from which the family is supposed to descend from.

Ravi Mundkur said...

The adoption of two parallel concepts of gotra and tavazhi/bari in Namboothiri communities is evidently reflective of their time and environments that was dually influenced by (a)Tulu-Malayali and (b)Aryan traditions.
Do we have bari/tavazhi traditions in any of the Tamil,Telugu societies?

Manjunat said...

Do we have bari/tavazhi traditions in any of the Tamil,Telugu societies?

I have read that some Tamil communities like Chettiar and Pallar are partially matrilineal but I have not read about bari traditions among them.

By the way, Kannada word 'tavaru' (wife's maternal house) appears similar to tavazhi(though tavazhi is pronounced taavazhi, whereas 'a' in tavaru is short a). Is the word 'tavaru' a legacy of matrilineal past (must be more than 1500 years though!)?

Ravi Mundkur said...

Yes analogy between Malayali tavazhi and Kannada tavaru are quite striking.
We need to look into the origin of the word tavaru.