IYER COMMUNITY PART 2
I had an earlier posting IYER THE GREAT in two parts on 6-5-2013. Remaining of the subject is published in two parts. This is 2nd part and has become slightly lengthy.
My reading is from Wikipedia. I hope the posting could be informative to many youngsters like the first part.
Gopala Krishnan 25-2-2014
8. IYER AND COFFEE
Iyers have special liking to coffee. Tea cannot replace the requirement of coffee for an iyer. Many hotels run by Brahmins were called “Brahmin’s coffee club” though it was a restaurant. I do recollect my late Athimbar running Sree Radhakrishna coffee club at Madurai in 1955’s.
Until the turn of the last century, an Iyer widow was never allowed to remarry. Once her husband dies, an Iyer woman had to tonsure her head. She had to remove the kumkumam or the vermilion mark on her forehead, and was required to smear her forehead with the sacred ashes.
All these practices have disappeared now. We cannot see a paatti with tonsured head and wearing sandal colour narpattupudavai.
Now widows wear normal sari. Some apply black dot in forhead. Some youngster widows are remarried either by her parents or by the in laws themselves now.
10. TRADITIONAL ATTIRE
Iyer men traditionally wear veshtis or dhotis which cover them from waist to foot. These are made of cotton and sometimes silk. Veshtis are worn in different styles. Those worn in typical brahminical style are known as PANCHAKACHAM (from the sanskrit terms PANCHA AND GAJAM meaning "five yards" as the length of the panchakacham is five yards in contrast to the veshtis used in daily life which are four or eight cubits long). They sometimes wrap their shoulders with a single piece of cloth known as angavastram (body-garment). In earlier times, Iyer men who performed austerities also draped their waist or chests with deer skin or grass.
The traditional Iyer woman is draped in a nine yard sari, also known as madisār.
Now most office goers wear pants. Most wear Panchagacham during samskaras. Very few elders wear regularly panchagachham. Wearing dhothi was the style even during the time of my late father.
Recently many temple priests and iyers have started wearing colour dhothies. In Chennai we can see archakar regularly wearing colour dhoties.
Many elderly iyers too wear in home colour dhothi instead of plain dhothi.
Women folk has changed to sari and younger and middle aged to Churidar and Pants and shirt in recent years. Sari has become occasional wear.
11. PATRONAGE OF ART.
For centuries, Iyers have taken a keen interest in preserving the arts and sciences. They undertook the responsibility of preserving the BHARATA NATYA Shastra, a monumental work on Bharatanatyam, the classical dance form of Tamil Nadu.
During the early 20th century, dance was usually regarded as a degenerate art associated with devadasis. Rukmini Devi Arundale, however, revived the dying art form thereby breaking social and caste taboos about Brahmins taking part in the study and practice of the dance.
Compared to dance, the contribution of Iyers in field of music has been considerably noteworthy. The Trinity of CARNATIC MUSIC were responsible for making some excellent compositions towards the end of the 18th century. Today, there are Iyers who give traditional renderings as well as playback singers in Indian films like Nithyashree Mahadevan, Usha Uthup, Shankar Mahadevan, Mahalaxmi Iyer, Hamsika Iyer and Naresh Iyer .
Iyers have also contributed considerably to DRAMA AND FILMS, short story and temple architecture. The list is extensive to include here. From K Balachandar, Venniraadai moorthy, SV Ranga rao…. And our Malayalam actor jayaram and actress Kanika.
My note- Even during my marriage time it was customary to ask whether the girl knows singing. If so she was asked to sing during the time of boy coming to see the girl.(Ponparkal).
In the field of LITERATURE AND JOURNALISM, the Iyer community has produced individuals like R. K. Narayan, R. K. Laxman, Subramanya Bharathi, Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ulloor Parameswara Iyer, Cho Ramaswamy, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, to name a few. Some have also contributed in an equal amount to Tamil language and literature
The main diet of Iyers is composed of vegetarian food, mostly rice which is the staple diet for millions of South Indians. Vegetarian side dishes are frequently made in Iyer households apart from compulsory additions as rasam,sambar,etc.
Home-made ghee is a staple addition to the diet, and traditional meals do not begin until ghee is poured over rice and lentils. While tasting delicious, the cuisine eschews the extent of spices and heat traditionally found in south Indian cuisine. Iyers are mostly known for their love for curd. Other South Indian delicacies such as dosas, idli, etc. are also relished by Iyers. Coffee amongst beverages and curd amongst food items form an indispensable part of the Iyer food menu.
The diet of Iyers consists mainly of Tamil vegetarian cuisine, comprising rice .The food is taken only after it is purified by a ritual called annasuddhi which means "purification of rice"
In ancient times, Iyers, along with Iyengars and other Tamil Brahmins, lived in exclusive Brahmin quarters of their village known as an agrahāram. Shiva and Vishnu temples were usually situated at the ends of an agrahāram. In most cases, there would also be a fast-flowing stream or river nearby.
A typical agrahāram consisted of a temple and a street adjacent to it. The houses on either side of the street were exclusively peopled by Brahmins who followed a joint family system. All the houses were identical in design and architecture though not in size.
With the arrival of the British and commencement of the Industrial Revolution, Iyers started moving to cities for their sustenance. Starting from the late 19th century, the agrahārams were gradually discarded as more and more Iyers moved to towns and cities to take up lucrative jobs in the provincial and judicial administration.
However, there are still some agrahārams left where traditional Iyers continue to reside. In an Iyer residence, people wash their feet first with water on entering the house
In the agraharam formation I have seen Tulasi tharai in the Natumittam of the house adjoing kootam.
14. IYER LANGUAGE
Tamil is the mother tongue of most Iyers residing in India and elsewhere. However, Iyers speak a distinct dialect of Tamil unique to their community.
This dialect of Tamil is known as Brāhmik or BRAHMIN TAMIL. Brahmin Tamil is highly Sanskritized and has often invited ridicule from Tamil nationalists due to its extensive usage of the Sanskrit vocabulary.
Brahmin Tamil used to be the lingua franca for inter-caste communication between different Tamil communities during pre-independence times, it has been gradually reduced by Brahmin themselves in favour of regional dialects.
The Palakkad Iyers have a unique sub-dialect of their own. Palakkad Tamil is characterized by the presence of a large number of words of Malayali origin. Trivandrum Tamil has lesser Malayalam words comparing to Palghat Tamil. The Sankethi Iyers speak Sankethi which borrows words from Kannada, Tamil and Sanskrit. For Palghat Iyer it is velakku KATTHICHHACCHA instead of velakku EATTHIYACCHA of Tamil iyer( Whether you have lighted the lamp)
Being Malayalam as regional language those Iyers in Kerala are proficient in Malayalam. Our SRUTIVANI Magazine from Trichur and BRAHMASANDESAM AND SAPTHAPATHI are best examples of it. I was a contributor to Sapthapathi while in Trivandrum. These are all Malayalam magazines.
15. TRADITIONAL OCCUPATION
The traditional occupation of Iyers involved ministering in temples or performing Hindu religious rites. However, since ancient times, Iyers were never prohibited from taking to secular occupations. Iyers were frequently employed as administrators by ancient Tamil kings. During the rule of the Medieval Cholas, they even gave the kingdom its chief army commanders.
In addition to their earlier occupations, Iyers today have diversified into a variety of fields. Three of India’s Nobel laureates, Sir C. V. Raman, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan hail from the community.
It is a small percentage of Iyers who voluntarily choose, in this era, to pursue the traditional vocation of priesthood. How ever this situation is gradually changing now.
We have many iyers who are software engineers, accountants , working as officers and perform priest hood at convenient time. Recently I met at Bangalore a Tangore sasthrikal an Mtech, having a software company of his own and also perform as sasthrikal.
In Kerala many retired iyers have changed to priest hood and performing religious rites.
16. RITES FOOR THE DECEASED
Other important ceremonies for Iyers include the rites for the deceased. All Iyers are cremated according to Vedic rites, usually within a day of the individual’s death. The death rites include a 13-day ceremony, and regular Tarpanam (performed every month thereafter, on Amavasya day, or New Moon Day), for the ancestors. There is also a yearly shrārddha that must be performed. These rituals are expected to be performed normally by male descendants of the deceased. Married men who perform this ritual must be accompanied by their wives. The women are symbolically important in the ritual to give a "consent" to all the proceedings in it.
My note- In Kerala women too performs sraadha. I had my late chinnamami at Kidangoor performing sraadha to chinnamama, who had only a girl child.
17. SOME MISC IMPT ITEMS
1) The Temple Entry Proclamation passed by the princely state of Travancore which gave people of all castes the right to enter Hindu temples in the princely state was due to the efforts of the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer
2) During the early Christian era, Brahmin saints have been frequently praised for their efforts in combating Buddhism Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri and Muthuswamy Dīkshitar, who constitute the "Trinity of Carnatic music" were probably the first verified historical personages from the community.
3) During the British Raj, Iyers and Iyengars dominated the services by their predominance in the legal and administrative professions.
4) Most of the Dewans of the princely state of Travancore during the 19th century were Tamil Brahmins (Iyers and Iyengars). Some of the prominent individuals of the period as Seshayya Sastri, Sir T. Muthuswamy Iyer, Sir P. S. Sivaswami Iyer, Shungrasoobyer, Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, Sir S. Subramania Iyer and C. P. Ramaswamy Ayyar all had a legal background.
5) The most prominent freedom fighter from the community was Subrahmanya Bharati. Following independence, Iyers have diversified into a number of fields dominating the domain of classical arts in particular.
6) Total population 2004:~ 2,400,000 (Estimated)
Regions with significant populations
Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh
Languages -Brahmin Tamil, Sankethi
7) Related ethnic groups
Pancha-Dravida Brahmins, Tamil people, Iyengar, Madhwa
8) Apart from the prevalent practice of using the title "Iyer" as surname, Iyers also use other surnames as Sāstri or Bhattar
9) It has also been recorded that in the past, the Nayak kings of Madurai have held the title "Aiyar" while Brahmins have borne titles as Pillai or Mudali
10) Some Iyer communities also pay homage to the NARMADA RIVER apart from the South Indian river CAUVERY in their rituals and revere legends proposing a north Indian origin for their community.
Recollect our upakarma manthra- “Narmada sindhu kaveri, Godavari Namosthuthae… (Central Kerala reciting), I will be reposting my series NARMADA SINDHU KAVERI soon.
11) Iyer marriage rites, especially, is a mixture of some customs regarded Aryan and some considered Dravidian.
12) A 2008 study found that the most recent migrants of Iyers and Iyengars showed close similarities with Bengali Brahmins, Mahishya and Bagdi than the early migrants into Tamil Nadu.
Writer/Compiler- R. Gopala Krishnan, 70, retired AGM, Telecom, Trivandrum settled at Chennai.
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