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The Thiruvalla Settlement - A Case Study

The early Namboothiri settlements (Click here) developed rapidly, and the Namboothiris expanded all over Kerala, in such a way that by the 10th or 11th century AD, they could claim ownership over a large part of its arable lands, as well as a dominant role in its social and political institutions. The village community itself was reoriented - that is, a temple-centered, semi-autonomous, agrarian, caste society supplanted the semi-tribal social structure prevalent in the area. This process began by the establishment of the Namboothiri settlements in Kerala, and provides a clue to the understanding of social and cultural developments in the area through the ages.

The charters recording the endowment of the original settlements have not come down to us. But the various inscriptions discovered from different places show that the pattern of settlement and development in all the villages was similar, if not identical. Each temple worked as a centre and also as the pivot round which the village community revolved. Each observed the same rules of conduct regarding the organisation and administration of the village properties and allied matters. Therefore, any village settlement can be taken as a typical case of the system and the study of one particular settlement would give an idea of the process that was at work in Kerala.

Fortunately, such a study of the various aspects of atleast one settlement is possible in the case of the Thiruvalla settlement. Thiruvalla forms one of the important Namboothiri settlements which were established about the time of revival of the Cheras with Mahodayapuram as their new capital. According to tradition, it is one of the 32 original settlements of the Namboothiris in Kerala. A set of copper plates recovered from the temple gives much information, including those on endowments and decisions made from time to time. The dates of some of the important events recorded in the inscription cannot be far removed from the 12th century.

Apart from the above set of copper plates, the Vaazhappali copper plate of Rajasekharan (AD 830) and the Thiruvaarruvaay copper plate of Sthaanu Ravi (AD 861) are also available, both pertaining to two Upagraamams (satellite or subsidiary village) of the settlement, which show that by the middle of the 9th century, this village was so prosperous and well-established as to have subsidiary settlements. Besides, the fame of this temple had reached even beyond the Western Ghats, for Nammaazhvaar in Thiruvaymoli and Thirumangai Aazhvaar in Periya Thirumoli have praised this temple. Elsewhere, land grands to this temple are seen recorded assignable to the latter half of the 9th century. The continuing Namboothiri traditions and family names, and their relations with families in Thiruvalla, show that as early as 9th century, Thirupparappu in South Thiruvithaamkoor, at present in Tamilnadu, was a Braahmanan settlement subsidiary to Thiruvalla. All these together would go to prove that atleast by the close of the 8th century and through the 9th and 10th centuries, Thiruvalla had become a well-established and prosperous Namboothiri settlement.

In conformity with the general pattern found elsewhere in India, this settlement was also promoted by grants of land, as evidenced by the Thiruvalla copper plates. The wealth of Thiruvalla temple through donations accumulated gradually from as early as the period of Veera Chola (907 - 955), and as late as that of Manukulaadithya (962 - 1021). It is possible that much property was acquired even before and after these dates.

The donations which the temple received from time to time, and which caused its development, were in different forms and for different purposes. It is very interesting that apart from the donations made by local people and governors of nearby districts, those of persons far away from the village also constituted a major portion of the temple properties. It shows the importance of a Graamakshethram at that time in Kerala, irrespective of the fact whether it lay near or far away from the donor.

An important section of the temple properties compised land, the income from which was used for feeding Braahmanans in the temple, for the purpose of burning perpetual lamps in the temple, for daily lamps, for daily food offering to the deity, for purchasing ghee (melted butter) to the temple, etc. Apart from the above which forms only part of a vast area of landed property owned by the temple, lay lands the income from which was utilised for the conduct of festivals, ceremonies, etc. in the temple, for maintenance of the school and hospital attached to the temple, and for the emoluments paid in gold and as rice and paddy to the many temple functionaries. There were also properties belonging to the minor temples attached to it or in Upagraamams.

The temple received also wealth in gold from several sources. The rent from certain lands was payable in gold. The defaulters of certain duties and payments were liable for punishment in the form of fine payable in gold. This was in addition to many donations of gold in the form of bullion, ornaments and vessels. The gold deposit of the temple increased with the addition of the interest on loans granted by the temple. That the temple granted loans shows that it served also as a banking institution, exerting its influence on the economic life of people.

The temple got revenue from certain other sources. The royal dues from certain villages were made over to the temple. Another instance records the assignment of a whole village, Kutaavur, along with the right to exact the 18 kinds of taxes and the market duties together, to the temple.

The wealth thus acquired by the temple was set apart for different purposes. These included expenses for daily Poojaas. It is clear from the record that there were five Poojaas a day. It is significant that this practice continues even to this day. Apart from these Poojaas, there were the ritual bathing of the deity (Neeraattupalli-abhishekam) and the ritual procession round the inner Praakaaram (Sreebali). Property was ear-marked to meet these expenses also. A typical instance can be seen in the second Pooja (Pantheerati) of the temple. It was to be conducted with Nivedyam of 12 Naazhi (a measure or unit) rice. One lamp was to be burnt with ¼ Naaraayam (another measure) of ghee. Three Kazhinchu (a measure) of sandalwood was to be used for making paste ("Chandanam") and one Kaanam (a measure) for burning incense. One garland each was to be offered to the deities consecrated in the eastern and western sides of the main sanctum santorum.

Apart from the daily expenses, there were fortnightly expenses like those for the conduct of the Dwaadasi festival. Similarly, certain special offerings were made and dances performed on every 28th day on Rohini for which certain properties were set apart. Such offerings like those on Aathira, Uthrattaathi, the birthday of several chieftains, etc. are also recorded.

Also celebrated were important annual festivals like the "seven days' temple festival"as is clear from the mention of certain lands set apart for the purpose. A detailed schedule of the conduct of the festivities during Onam (Thiruvonam star in the Malayalam month of Chingam) is given in the inscription. This portion is very interesting in several respects as it reveals the relative status that the temple functionaries enjoyed in the society, and how important a temple festival was in the society in that period. There were also other festivals like "Vishu" and the seven days' temple festival.

The temple functionaries were paid emoluments both in gold and rice and also in the form of lands under service tenure. The former is called "Jeevitham" and the latter "Virutti" (both meaning livelihood). The latter involved the concerned official entrusted with lands, the income from which could be enjoyed as remuneration for the services rendered by him to the temple. This tenure was hereditary. In fact, this was both the cause and the effect of occupations becoming more and more hereditary and thereby marked the beginnings both of feudalism and rigidity of sub-castes in the whole country.

A Saala apparently for training in literary, martial and other arts, was attached to the temple. Inscriptions speak of endowments of land not less than 750 Kalam seed capacity. This was in addition to the daily meals and special meals on festive occasions with which the Chaattirar (inmates of the Saala) were fed. A rough calculation shows that there were atleast 175 Chaattirar in the Thiruvalla Saala. The significane of this institution can be realised only against the background of the political importance it had during those days.

It is seen that the temple sponsored a hospital also, though the constitution and functioning of this institution is not clear. But it is very important to note that the temple-oriented Namboothiri settlement also cared for the day-to-day requirements of the community around the temple.

The administration of this settlement also was not different, even in details, from the general pattern followed in other contemporary Namboothiri settlements in Kerala. Accordingly, here also one comes across the Ooraalar meeting in the temple and unanimously making various decisions. The offices generally found in other village settlements, viz., Poduvaal, Varrier, Samanjithan, etc. are present here also. Similarly, there were functionaries like Saanthi Atikal, Keezhsaanthi, Uvaachakal or Kottikal, Thiruvatimaar, Pantaarakal, Chaathirar, Pattakal, Thevatichikal, etc. in the temple, in conformity with the usual pattern followed in a typical temple of the period. Several Kaanams were instituted in this case also, as it was in other settlements for the discharge of certain specific duties. The inscription speaks of the Thirunaalkkaanam, Thiruvaathirakkaanam, Thiruttuvaatayikkaanam, Uthraatakkaanam, etc. each constituted for the conduct of the festival after which it is named, looking after the properties ear-marked for the purpose. Thus a careful study of the pattern of administration of the Thiruvalla settlement, against the background of the known evidences of the period, points to an understanding of the general pattern of administration in the Namboothiri settlements of Kerala.

The process by which a typical Namboothiri settlement of ancient Kerala developed during the period was more or less as follows. At first, a small colony of 10 or 20 families was established with a village temple as the centre. Gradually, more and more subordinate deities were consecrated in the temple. Festivals in relation to the temple also increased. Both these meant more and more temple dependants and more donations to the temple for the payments of the dependants and for other expenses. For the administration of the increased festivals, etc. new sub-committees were constituted in addition to the original governing body of the Ooraalar. Other small temples, subsidiary to the Graamakshethram like the Thiruvaayampaati temple or the Aatanthuruthi temple were also incorporated in the system. Upagraamams like Thiruvaaruvaay and Peringara within the Sanketham and Vaazhappalli and Maannar (Maannamangalam of the inscription) outside the Sanketham of the Graamam or settlement, came to be established as the settlement expanded. This expansion brought about a complexity in the nature of the settlement in all respects. The temple, which was originally meant as a centre of worship, became the centre of many social activities. Arts and literature were encouraged in the form of sculpture, wall painting, Devadaasi dance, Koothu, etc. Education was promoted through the organisation of the Saala. Even public utility services like hospitals and banking were attended to by the temple. This extension in space and range of social activities resulted in the growing strength of the settlement in political and economic fields. It is seen that villages were assigned to the owners of the settlement to protect them from "the wrath of kings and feudatories". Thus, in the political sphere the settlement is found to assume wider and wider powers. This explains the increased influence that the Namboothiris exerted in the political and economic history of Kerala.

It is thus revealed that the growth in all these dimensions, which began from an economic base, culminated in economic domination. The colonisers became masters of the land in every sense of the term. They were enabled to manipulate each institution of society in such a manner as to make it conducive to their safe existence and further prosperity. This is the real beginning of the process which moulded Indian polity and society for many centuries by providing it with a frame of feudal land tenure, social stratification, beliefs, customs, manners and culture.

| Article No:2.1.1 | Last update of this article:6th July 2001 |
Source: "The Tiruvalla Settlement - A Case Study" : in "Brahman Settlements in Kerala" By Dr Kesavan Veluthat - First edition; January 1978 (Sandhya Publications, P O : Calicut University - 673635)

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