Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuluva-Malayali Matrilineal System - Part 1

I have argued before that matrilineal identity has been a non-conscious identity. It was a natural outgrowth in some old societies. I have been trying to understand its origin and its survival in non-tribal societies of Tulu and Malayala region. But its realization by the males has greatly eroded its relevance in these regions now. Its lack of strong foundation in the religious domain is driving it to extinction among some of the castes (mostly among Taravadu centric Malayali families). Though its survival in some other probably could be due to lineage system (in Tulu regions) whose origin itself is rather shrouded in mystery. It won't be surprising if the lineage system itself owes its existence to patrilineal ideas. Its influence in social and economic life were anyway superimposed by patrilineal caste ideas and acted subordinate to it. Thus the system itself has been devoid of philosophical ideas and unstable. But it's still intriguing how this system came about in the first place.

Origin from tribal past:
It has been argued that male were the sole hunters in the food scarcity regions. Both male and females hunted in food abundant regions. In my opinion, only in food abundance regions we can find matrilineal communities.

Influence of civilization and classes:
The primary civilizations were founded by sedentary populations and these were generally patrilineal. But there were chances that the secondary civilizations (new civilizations founded by tribes who came in contact with primary civilizations) could still be matrilineal. I would propose if that had to be the case then following two conditions need to be satisfied.
- Food abundance region thus both male and female were hunters
- The contact population from the primary civilization should be merchants and not priests or warriors.

Recorded history:
Megasthenes's Pandyas: Megasthenes' Pandyas were matriarchal people. However, the Pandyas were generally thought be from Tamil region. But I would assume the Pandyas that Megasthenes described were originally from Tulu region. Therefore the oldest mention is 3rd century BCE.

I would consider these Pandyas were influenced by Jinaism. The name is derived from Mahabharata hero Arjuna, one of the Pandavas. There is story in Mahabharata that mentions Arjuna marrying Manipura princess Chitrangada but their son growing as part of mother's family. This story has been used to give higher birth to the ruling matrilineal families. This story doesn't make much sense to patrilineal Pandyas of Tamil region therefore matrilineal Pandyas of Megasthenes only be from Tulu region who subsequently established their rule over Tamil region.

However, the problem with this theory is that;
- We don't have any idea about historical Tulu rulers prior to 5th century CE
- all the Tuluva kings with names like Chitravahana directly out of Arjuna story were found only from 7th century CE. This probably coincided with the establishment of Jain communities (of worldly people and not just monks) around this period in South India (the communitization of Jain identity later spread to north-west India by 8th century).

The Tulu dynasty was known as "Alupa". They claimed they belong to 'Pandya Vamsha' (Pandya clan) and the title was 'Sri Pandya Dhanjaya' (Sir Pandava Arjuna).

Here my mind runs wild. Now I believe even the name  AlUpa can have some kind of Mahabharata connection. Another story that is intricately connected to the story of Manipura queen Chitrangada is the story of ulUpa, a Naga(clan of Cobra) princess. According to Mahabharata she was married to Arjuna and brought up Arjuna and Chitrangada's son Babhruvahana. I think Alupa was actually mis-spelt Ulupa (the actual Sanskrit meaning is 'soft grass' also spelt Ulapa) or Alupa, also spelt Alapa Gana in an inscription, was an allusion to Naga clan(or Gana may indicate Jain identity as various Jain denominations were called Ganas). We have to observe the western ghats of India have the highest density of King Cobras (known as Naga) in the world. People are traditionally serpent worshipers*. I wonder if that could be the reason for the name Alupa.

The question is if we agree matriliarchal Pandyas were ruling Tulu region around 3 century BCE what has happened between 300BCE and 400 CE. Somehow, I feel Dravidian tribal matrilineal ruling classes and Prakrit merchant classes still not fully merged and ruling classes were still illiterate tribals.

To be continued...

* A particular region in west coastal Karnataka was known as Haiga which was derived from Haviga (where haavu in Kannada means snake). There is a Kannada Brahmin community which until 19th century identified themselves as Haviga>Haiga Brahmins but later Sanskritized the name to Havyaka.


SHE said...

Have you read - Rahul Sanskritayan's Hindi book - "Volga Se Ganga" (From Volga to Ganga). Here, the theory is that, (you may already have written somewhere) initial societies were matrilineal because there was no "one-man-one-woman" concept and the question of paternity would be difficult to solve. Hence the children took the name of their mother. This was when both men and women were hunters and gatherers and were always on the move.

Only after man started cultivating and had land for himself, did he settle down with one woman (perhaps because it was economically to his advantage, as he wanted someone to do household work) and then children started taking after the name of their father.

To start with all societies were matrilineal. But as societies became sedentary (as you write), some of them became patrilineal, where as a few kept their matrileny intact. Why was matriliney retained? What external conditions helped matriliney? Or was it because the men were gentle and were not of dominating nature? You mention two conditions here - Food abundance and merchant population. Please elaborate.

Your finding about Havyaka is amazing!

manju said...

Have you read - Rahul Sanskritayan's Hindi book - "Volga Se Ganga" (From Volga to Ganga).
No, I haven't. But I think taking mother's (family)name or father's (family)name are recent phenomenon. I suppose in old times people were identified with their place names (non-hereditary) too.

Why should unambiguity of paternity lead to identity with father?

You mention two conditions here - Food abundance and merchant population. Please elaborate.

I have written something about it here